The human element in CRM solutions

It would be hard to find a more critical function than CRM. Customers are your company’s lifeblood. You spend dearly to find and woo them, and then dearly to keep them on your side. CRM systems promise to smooth and accelerate that process. Which is why CRM has become one of the most competitive categories of enterprise apps.

Until recently, the solution for large companies has been enterprise software — often customised by costly consultants. ASP-based CRM providers such as Salesforce.com, UpShot, Salesnet, and RightNow Technologies were suitable mainly for small and midsize companies. That’s no longer true.

Pure-play ASPs now offer the customisations that meet enterprise-scale challenges. Siebel Systems, the leader in packaged CRM software, is introducing ASP-based versions of its line and is teaming with IBM to provide OnDemand hosted services. Such changes could benefit CRM customers and disrupt both vendors and VARs.

But one nice thing about ASPs is that they focus on elements that really matter — functionality and ease-of-use — rather than on the back-end details of software. With that in mind, here are three key elements to seek when choosing your next CRM solution.

A truly customisable interface that can adapt to your processes and offer a personalised view of data users rely on. This can be critical for your most people-oriented employees, your salespeople. They’re not going to waste time puzzling through a complicated UI that doesn’t meet their individual needs.

Support for the tools they prefer. E-mail is the killer app of the still-young Internet era. Most salespeople were using e-mail as a default CRM before CRM was invented. So you should look for systems that seamlessly integrate e-mail, voice mail, instant messaging, mobile communication devices, and any other geegaws your reps like to use.

Integration with business processes. CRM is too important to function in a vacuum; people using the system must be able to see inventory, place custom orders, check payment history and credit status. Typically, such data resides in legacy apps and databases, so your CRM system must be able to peer into and modify these as needed.

These elements are so important that they oftentimes outweigh price concerns, though fortunately the best solution is not always the most expensive.