Build Links First
Another problem is that many companies try to implement CRM before they have any information links between their front office sales and marketing systems and their back office inventory and order fulfillment systems, said Richard Lee, principal of High-Yield Methods, a CRM technology consulting company based in St. Paul, Minn. Lee cited as an example a 100-employee wine and spirits distributor his consulting firm worked with that wanted to implement a CRM system without the ability to give sales staff accurate inventory information when they visited customers.Sales people also didnt have current accounts receivable information, which was an important factor because state regulations barred distributors from taking new orders from retailers whose bills were unpaid over 30 days, he said.Click here to read why SMBs have to be just as concerned as large enterprises are about IT security. The company was able to develop a CRM system that provided real-time access to the back office systems reliably committed to selling goods they knew was in inventory, he said. The system was responsive enough so that sales people could get instant updates on whether particularly hot items were in stock if the dealer committed to buying it. Its getting to be easier to link front office and back office systems, he noted, through the use of XML coding, which enables data exchange between formerly incompatible information systems. Further, customers have pressured CRM software vendors to provide application programming interfaces that enable data exchange links with databases or other applications such as supply chain and inventory systems, he said. SMBs are actually in a better position than ever to get into CRM because the software vendors are catering to them more than ever, observed Chris Selland, principal analyst with Covington Associates LLC, a specialty investment banking company in Boston. Most of the recent CRM deployment activity is in the SMB space, he said, because most of the Fortune 500 companies have already deployed their CRM systems. Large enterprises will "make selective investments to fill technology gaps ,but the fact of the matter is most of the growth in the market now is coming from SMBs," Selland said. Consolidation in the CRM sector along with the advent of aggressive new hosted CRM service providers, such as RightNow Technologies and Salesforce.com, means that prices have come down while SMBs still have many vendors to chose from and negotiate with, Selland said. Editors Note: The Ziff Davis Internet SMB Solutions Virtual Tradeshow is run by eSeminars, a division of Ziff Davis Media, parent company of Ziff Davis Internet. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis about productivity and business solutions.