Today I received an e-mail from Barnes &
Noble about the release of a new book by an author I like. I also
received five spam e-mails for various mortgage rates and a
newsletter from an association to which I belong. What do they all
have in common? They are examples, good and bad, of customer
relationship management, or CRM.
Most CRM systems focus on three primary areas of the business
process: marketing, which involves building a profile of the needs
and interests of the audience; sales, which involves structuring
the presentation and solution in a way that addresses the
prospect’s needs and provides a formalized means of following up
with the prospect; and customer support or help desk, which then
manages the ongoing relationship with the customer.
In this column, we will focus on systems helpful to planners
working at small- to medium-size companies.
Among a host of options, Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft’s Dynamics
CRM product (www.microsoft.com/dynamics) is a solution that can be
deployed as is and also one that many companies are building
extensions for, to address specific vertical market
For example, several providers of association management
systems have developed a variety of forms and reports that use the
Dynamics CRM database to present the information in a way that
addresses their needs. The major attribute of Dynamics CRM is its
tight integration with the full Microsoft Office product line.
(Costs vary greatly, depending on modules and users.)
Other solutions worth taking a look at range from those that
can run locally on your network or PC, to those that are available
only as an online solution. One of the best-known is ACT! from
Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Sage Software (www.sage.com). The most
recent version has expanded customization capabilities and wider
integration with Microsoft Office products as well as with many
accounting and invoicing systems. Prices start at $200.
Those looking for a fully distributed solution (accessible
anywhere), hosted via the web and offering a broader range of
capabilities at a more affordable price, might want to consider San
Francisco-based Salesforce.com (www.salesforce.com), RightNow CRM by Bozeman,
Mont.-based RightNow Technologies (www.rightnow.com),
Techexcel CRM by Lafayette, Calif.-based Techexcel (www.techexcel.com)
and NetSuite CRM from San Mateo, Calif.-based Netsuite Inc. (www.netsuite.com).
All of the above companies have worldwide offices and a wide
variety of tools and add-ons to their basic CRM products. The costs
for these systems are driven by the number of staff you will have
using the system and can be as low as $65 per user per month.
The most important thing to consider when evaluating CRM systems
are your specific marketing and profile needs. If you only are
involved in marketing a set of seminars, meetings and educational
programs to a predefined audience, you might want to look at a
solution like ACT! However, your existing membership or meeting
management system might already have the ability to define and
track profile information about your members or attendees.
Too often, we overlook the fact that our current databases hold
a world of information about our audience, such as their interests,
what meetings they have attended, etc. Perhaps the initial step in
considering CRM is to take a good look at your internal systems and
determine what gold already resides in your database.