Record Systems as Deal Savers

Transaction systems have all the fun but systems of record do all of the work; at least it seems that way. Maybe you’ve never thought of it this way but unless both kinds of systems are working well — and working together — your results will suffer.

Record systems can tell you what happened, but by themselves they don’t bring in business. Transaction systems like CRM and billing can bring in business, or at least advance the effort, but without some history to inform their efforts, they can just as easily flail away.

Configure, price and quoting software is a great example (and far from the only one) of a system that must bring together elements from each kind of system. As a primarily transaction-oriented system, CRM is rarely good at providing historical context.

For instance, if a customer engages in a discussion to buy 100 items, and later changes to 50 or 125, the original number is often erased. Or, it only survives in unstructured notes. But if the customer eventually buys 50, is there an opportunity to potentially sell 50 or 75 more? How is this information managed? Often it’s just kept in a salesperson’s head.

Monitoring the Deal

Understanding the change and its direction may also reveal much about how well the deal is progressing for a vendor. So often, when dealing with a repeat customer that is upgrading or extending a deployment, it’s critical to understand what’s been already purchased, and that goes well beyond core products. Has the customer previously bought an adequate amount of training? What about warranty, maintenance, and essential auxiliary products? Has the customer successfully completed the onboarding process?

There’s nothing worse than having to go back to ask for additional budget to complete an order or a deployment. That’s often when the budget is depleted and there’s little recourse for getting more, so strange deals have to be struck to make things work. Unfortunately, that blows up the original deal’s profitability.

Having ways to bring historical data into current and future transactions is critical, and it goes beyond a sales transaction. For example, deals of any size and scope have contracts with many unique conditions. Frequently, we need to refer to contracts because the people who perform are usually different from those who craft the deals. Also, contracts contain a variety of information in one place, including products, services, subscriptions, and their various billing and payment models.

Connecting Systems with Dashboards

In the past, contracts were often filed away and rarely reviewed. Today they are integral to managing ongoing relationships — because these agreements are sources of knowledge for completed deals — or for existing customers wishing to renew or extend their commitments. Having easy access to contracts in association with the more quantitative data stored in transaction systems is very important. But we should also note that contracts represent unstructured data. Accessing them is important, but who wants to re-read them every time there’s a question?

Fortunately, today’s dashboards representing the key elements of contract deliverables tuned to each vendor’s business model are easy to set up and powerful in execution. Dashboards are another great example of a system bridging the front and back office divide — or, if you like, the difference between records and transactions.

Transaction systems were once much simpler because they required little history to operate. Some demographics, quantity, price, description, and totals did most of the work in a deal. Back office records systems sent out bills when needed. But today, customers are just as likely to subscribe as to make outright purchases, quantities can fluctuate with each billing cycle, subscribers can come and go, and businesses can offer new and different product combinations at blistering rates.

That’s why systems of record are making their way into the front office, while transaction systems are reaching into the back office for data to support increasingly complex customer-facing business processes. Sometimes it seems like the distinction between front and back offices is going away.

Denis Pombriant

Denis Pombriant is the managing principal of the Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant's research concentrates on evolving product ideas and emerging companies in the sales, marketing and call center disciplines. His research is freely distributed through a blog and website. He is the author of Hello, Ladies! Dispatches from the Social CRM Frontier and can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on Google+.

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