7 CRM Innovations Worth Having Small Business
I was in South America last week watching vendor after vendor demonstrate their industry-specific customer relationship management (CRM) systems for a client. After watching several demos in quick progression, you begin to pick up on what is truly innovative about an offering versus what is a “me, too” copy from others or simply “lipstick on a pig,” as they say.
Trust me, we saw plenty of pigs. Luckily, CRM for every industry is in a bit of a competitive upheaval as this extremely fragmented marketplace goes through a much-needed consolidation. The crème is rising, my friends, and the best are fighting it out, adding feature after feature to get ahead of the pack.
Let’s take a look at some of the more innovative features and why they might be “must-haves” in your next CRM purchase.
Flexible User Interface
The ability to personalize the user experience is essential to strong user adoption. Personalization starts with the user interface (UI), from SugarCRM’s ultraflexible screens to the new flat, tablet-centric look of Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Flexibility includes other UI elements, as well, from integrated charts, three-dimensional graphs, and drill-down reports to inline editing within list views. Calendar views always prove popular, as is the ability to create a new record quickly through an overlay on the current screen, the latter of which Zoho CRM nicely provides.
Mobile access is at the top of everyone’s lists, with more than a quarter of all CRM transactions now being conducted on devices other than the office PC. Dedicated mobile applications that mirror the personalized user experience of a full client while leveraging the mobile platform are essential, as is the ability to access CRM over the Web on a variety of platforms and browsers without concern for performance or restricted functionality. Most of the major CRM players offer this, but be sure to ask for a feature comparison between interfaces to ensure parity.
Server-Side Mail and Address Synchronization
When a user sets a rule to add e-mails from a particular client to the CRM system, it’s nice to have that flow occur automatically regardless of whether that user’s Microsoft Outlook or other mail client is operating. Server-side agents ensure that a user’s e-mails and contacts are constantly synchronized between the mail system and the CRM application, making use of CRM that much more effortless. A few CRM providers offer this for Microsoft Exchange Server, but a company named Riva provides this solution between 12 different CRM platforms and the major e-mail platforms, including Microsoft Office 365, IBM Lotus Notes, and Novell GroupWise.
Workflow, Approval, and Routing
The ability to easily create rules and automate tasks based on your business workflows is critical to CRM adoption. Most major vendors now offer this ability, and some have been heavily investing in the functionality to make it even more robust. The platform’s ability to receive and route leads, and then notify the assigned salespeople by e-mail is proving extremely valuable. I don’t think it will be too long before notification options even include sending texts or pop-up alerts to mobile phones. Microsoft’s new dialog processes are brilliant.
Social integration was the hot topic a few years back, with SugarCRM leading the way. Salesforce.com quickly jumped into the mix, and recently Microsoft has stepped up its game, as well. Selecting a company and instantly seeing its Twitter timeline or tweets related to it is great functionality that most of the major vendors now provide in some fashion. The ability to follow particular CRM records, and then later view all of the activities related to that record is also now appearing. I suspect that we’ll soon see this “social listening” of a company or contact’s Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn accounts advance to “social population,” where a record is created or updated based on activity occurring on the social networks.
The ability to view all of salesperson’s accounts on a map is a oft-requested feature among my clients. This ability is difficult to develop, however, which is my guess as to why we don’t see it in more platforms. Oracle and SAP are the leaders here, with SAP providing global positioning system support to locate nearby leads.
CRM vendors can’t do it all, and thus we often see true innovation developed by their partners. Salesforce rules the day here, as its AppExchange continues to house some of the most groundbreaking add-ons. The best part is that you can often install these apps in your Salesforce CRM option with just a click. A strong partner ecosystem with one-click integration is a great way to ensure that your CRM application will stay on the leading edge of the innovation curve.