Most businesses today are under increasing pressure to respond to change expeditiously to adapt to the ongoing needs and demands of their customers, the changing competitive landscape, and the evolution of the marketplace. An organization’s CRM system can either effectively support or hinder their business agility and capacity to respond to change, affecting overall corporate performance and customer satisfaction. In this article want to bring out the importance of flexible CRM systems and how the right solution can support and even advance an organization’s ability to evolve in lock-step with changes as they occur enabling them to attain and maintain a competitive advantage.
Most organizations have unique business processes and rules—even businesses that operate in the same industry or market. Whether your company’s unique traits include specialized processes that give you a competitive advantage or complex informational requirements due to a diverse and multi-tiered customer set, understanding the importance of flexibility in a CRM system’s architecture is key to avoiding implementation failure and to ensuring the solution meets your organization’s requirements over the long term. Most CRM vendors will claim their solution is customizable. Understanding what that really means, however, can make the difference between attaining your organization’s goals and implementation disaster. In this paper, you will learn about the different categories of “customization” and the role a flexible architecture plays in being able to customize with ease, as well as flexibility’s importance in deploying, upgrading, and integrating your CRM system successfully. By understanding these factors and how they relate to your organization’s needs and resources, you can ensure the CRM solution you select enables you to operate as an adaptive enterprise, which is critical to maintaining a competitive edge in today’s business climate.
When searching for a CRM solution, many organizations will start assessing their needs by reviewing their customer-facing business processes, as well as their internal information requirements. It is usually during this phase that companies realize that no software package will accommodate their needs “out-of-the-box” and that the ability to adapt or mold the software to their way of doing business will be key to generating tangible results.
The industry often uses the terms “customization” and “configuration” interchangeably to mean “tailoring the software to meet unique business requirements”—but in practice, these terms do not mean the same thing. There are several areas of a CRM application that may require tailoring to meet an organization’s particular needs. Some of these changes are anticipated and provided for within the software, which will offer easy ways to “configure” these options. Other more elaborate changes may require deeper technical engagement with and alteration to the underlying software—these are “customizations.” Examples of these two kinds of CRM tailoring include the following
• Creating rules (such as report filters, escalation levels, and other business rules) that make the system behave in the manner you want and produce the information you need
• Adding fields, changing field names, and adding or changing field values (that is, data options for populating the field) to capture required information
• Formatting data elements on the screen, such as changing the order in which fields appear, as well as how they look (for example, putting required fields of entry in a different-colored font)
• Scripting logic to drive process or workflow (for example, if the credit department puts an account on hold, an internal notice is automatically sent to the account manager handling the account)
• Managing the application programming interface (API) to enable integration with other applications/systems. (Although many CRM vendors will provide tools to integrate their software with industry-standard applications, such as accounting packages, this form of tailoring is still often required)
To summarize, configuration changes are generally those that can be accomplished by non expert users, without the need for extensive programming or changes to the basic crm modules (though you may have to consider your resources and the skill level of existing staff—for example, config resource may be needed to configure more complex implementations that address end-to-end business processes). Engaging an external consultant or the software vendor to make configuration changes will cost you both time and money—be sure you know what configuration options you need and whether they are provided in the CRM software you are considering.
True customization changes are generally those that need to be made by technical specialist —actual modifications to the application or template through system-level properties or programming code. For example, a non-typical sales process to manage RFPs could potentially be modeled by adding tables and code to customize the sales module within a CRM application, but this would require programming experience.
Today’s CRM vendors deliver systems with differing degrees of configuration and customization capabilities, and enterprises need to clearly understand and evaluate this functionality as it relates to their business needs. By clearly defining your business processes and requirements and understanding the important differences between configuration and customization, you will be well prepared to avoid implementation surprises that can result in substantial costs to your organization.
In their search for the optimal CRM solution, many organizations either put too much focus on assessing which requirements the software will meet at the time of implementation (whether out of the box or with tailoring) or not enough—they are sold on a “best in class” notion and believe they will simply “make it work” (in other words, they believe they can adapt their way of doing business to the software). The best CRM solution is one that is capable of supporting your business model and processes at the time of implementation, as well as on an ongoing basis: it should be flexible and adaptable, so that it can be altered and scaled as your organization changes and grows. All too often, organizations make a choice based on ease of accessibility or other perceived advantages, and then due to inflexible architecture find themselves being held ransom when the need arises to adapt the software.
Implementing a solution with underlying inflexibility can mean locking business processes in at the point in time of implementation, which can prove to be a significant barrier to the organization’s ability to respond to change as needed—something that is becoming an increasing necessity for most businesses today—ultimately hindering their performance. A system’s inability to be adapted rapidly and reliably to meet the organization’s changing requirements is a top reason for CRM failure. As with most business processes, the most effective CRM processes are not devised once and then never revisited—they need to be continually analyzed in relation to changing customer needs and expectations, as well as changes in the market and competitive landscape. The most successful CRM implementations are in organizations that are constantly assessing their CRM practices, with the objective of creating a triumph for both their customers and themselves.