CRM, integrated with your core-business software

In this post I would like to tackle an issue that has often become a point of dispute between different “schools of thought”: Do you need your CRM module, integrated with your core-business-function software, or not? How does an integrated CRM module help you (better) than a separate system?
First, we need to remember that (most will agree) CRM is not “this” or “that”. Every operation or enterprise has its own needs and requirements. Everybody is looking at their customers in a different way: Somebody may be particularly interested in the accounting balances and early warning on high ones. Another may be interested in Ticket/Problem handling. A services company might be interested in keeping time records per customer per project. The examples are endless. For that, I will try to provide general answers that have (I hope!) global applicability.

Firstly, I will acknowledge that separate CRM products will often offer more functionality (since that software vendor specializes in the CRM area). But there are some issues that a separate software cannot solve. Here goes:

  • Customer-centric software
    We can safely assume that any software that includes some form of CRM includes (at least) a central customer database. This is essential not only for your CRM functions but also for your sales and/or back-office operations, whatever they might be. I have seen traditional systems (yes, older, but still functional) that do not have a central “Persons” repository. Or if they have, they do not protect the user from creating multiple entries for one “Person”. This will be a “CRM nightmare”.
    Therefore, a system with an integrated CRM module will most likely have a central customer database.

  • Customer file accuracy
    If your CRM is not integrated with your core-business software, then, by definition, you will have at least two (2) customer files in your organization. This will obviously add more work for the maintenance and synchronization of these two files. A few years ago, I have worked in a project where the enterprise had 8 customer files! And they tried to compile them in one “CRM-targeting” file.
    Also, we must not forget another angle of the same issue: Different customer files may have different available fields. Sure, all files will contain name and surname, but what about date of birth, number of children, education etc. Here are some examples:
    1) If you are a bank and you need to cross-sell new products to existing customers, you need this information on your core-business software and not on your CRM.
    2) If you are a car dealer, you need to know when the last visit of the customer in your workshop was, in order to produce a mail list for “I haven’t seen you for a long time” customers.

  • Work on the same “desktop”
    You will increase productivity if you give the end-users the CRM functions that they need, on the same environment/desktop. They will not have to login to a different system, switch to another screen, see different colors, follow different user interface rules etc.

  • Introduce more users into the CRM functions
    If you achieve the above, then the usage of the CRM by more users in your organization will come almost naturally. Imagine an Accounting dept. user that sees a problem on an invoice to be able to immediately record the issue on the CRM module of the Accounting system. And immediately a sales support officer to see the problem and take action! Fast, easy, paperless and phone-less! In the same example, if the CRM was not integrated, then the accountant should switch to another screen, search the Persons database to see if this person already exists, create it if it doesn’t and then record the problem.
    In other words, traditional non-CRM users will be enabled to new CRM functions. The Management of your Customer Relationships will be enabled for everybody!

  • Build a customer-centric philosophy of the enterprise
    Adding new users on the “CRM vehicle”, will result in turning your enterprise towards a more customer-centric philosophy. This leads, in my opinion, to extroversion, which is definitely a target for modern-day enterprises.
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