One feature of CRM technology that I don’t think users make enough of is the ability to create, store, and manage mail-merge templates within the system.  These templates allow commonly used documents and emails to be quickly generated automatically, inserting relevant data held in the system, such as name and address.

This may not sound terribly exciting, but the effective use of templates can have a number of significant benefits:

Improve productivity – documents and emails can be generated pretty much at the touch of a button avoiding staff creating them from scratch each time. As written communications often make up a big part of people’s workloads, the productivity gains can really add up.

Quality control – in the absence of standard documents, staff tend to be left to their own devices and outputs can be frighteningly variable in terms of quality and compliance with corporate standards such as branding. The ability to manage templates within the system means that companies have much better visibility and control of what gets sent out.

The ability to optimise – if the documents being sent out are designed to sell the company’s products and services, for example quotations, the ability to control these outputs, and further improve it over time by testing different wording and formats, can have a very big impact on lead conversion rates.

Given that it’s not particularly time-consuming to do, doesn’t require the help (and cost) of third party implementer, and is a feature common to most CRM systems; creating a suite of mail-merge templates that really meets the documentation needs of the user community, and, as importantly, looking to hone and extend it over time, can be an under-appreciated, and frequently overlooked, way to make a big difference with your CRM software.

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A lot of businesses have some form of telephone-based sales and marketing function, and most will make use of CRM technology to support their activities. In this post I wanted to highlight a number of ways that companies can potentially use their CRM systems, beyond the basics of logging conversations and call-backs, to improve the effectiveness of these teams:

Social profiles – understanding a potential customer’s social context can provide a useful means to better understand and sell to a prospective customer. A lot of CRM systems allow users to track LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, Facebook and other social profiles and activities, which can be hugely helpful in researching and approaching potential customers.

Telephony integration – most CRM systems can be integrated to the phone system, but surprisingly few organisations choose to do it. One of the big advantages of joining the two up is that outbound calls can often be automatically logged in the system which increases visibility of activity and can substantially improve productivity.

Managing collateral – making sure that staff have the right sales collateral to hand such as price-lists, brochures, white papers or case studies can make a big difference. Many CRM systems allow you to manage and maintain collateral within the system ensuring that it’s easy to email out, that users have access to the most current versions, and are not sending out something happens to be on their hard drive and is three years out of date.

Integration with marketing automation software – marketing automation applications can automatically track a prospect’s visit’s to your website and provide additional functionality such as lead-scoring which rates the prospective customer’s likelihood to buy based on the frequency of visits and content accessed. Many CRM applications have integrations with marketing automation packages, and being able to see within the system which prospects are engaging most with your content, can be a very effective means for the telephone sales team to focus their attention on the potentially most interested customers.

Integration with mass email marketing tools – in the same way that sales staff can benefit from seeing how their prospects are engaging with their web content, integration with email marketing applications can help them see who is opening emails, which links they are following, and the content they are subsequently viewing. Again, this gives the sales team vital clues as to who their most interested prospects may be.

Dashboards and reporting – while most organisations set up some level of reporting it’s surprising how few set up the range necessary to fully support their processes. Most businesses can benefit from building out their reporting and dashboarding capabilities. This may include sales activities completed, leads generated, sales pipeline, sales conversion rates, and progress against quota. It’s also useful to ensure that reports are set up at both the traditional management level but also in a way that helps individual sales people understand their own progress and identify what they need to do to enhance performance.

Quote management – a lot of systems allow salespeople to generate standard quotations and proposals from within the system. This has a couple of key benefits. Firstly, it helps address the problem whereby salespeople are using their own individual templates which may well be of varying quality and conformity with corporate standards. Secondly it provides better visibility and tracking of the resulting quote which might otherwise go off the radar saved on individual hard drives.

Social collaboration tools – since Salesforce.com launched its Chatter functionality many other CRM vendors have released similar social collaboration capabilities. Using these tools in a telephone sales setting can be a very effective way for users and teams throughout the business to work together to open up and develop opportunities.

Data enhancement – with many CRM vendors providing services that allow companies to acquire new data and enhance existing data, the opportunity often exists for businesses to easily extend their pool of potential customers as well as target their activities more effectively.

Workflow capabilities – again many CRM applications have workflow capabilities which allow actions and activities to be created automatically. This gives huge scope to remove previously manual updating of the system and increase employee productivity, for example, using workflow to automatically create follow-up calls.

These ten items are just a subset of the many potential ways that your CRM system can often be better tuned to support phone-based sales and marketing. And tuning can be well worth doing. Given the principle of the aggregation of marginal gains, even modest improvements in productivity and effectiveness, can add up to a very big difference to the bottom line.

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Last quarter’s CRM software news in 60 seconds…

March 9, 2014

In case you missed them, here’s my 60 second bullet point round-up of the main CRM software stories last quarter: December Oracle announces it will buy Responsys for $1.5 billion to fill out Oracle Marketing Cloud January Microsoft acquires Parature for $100 million to extend its Dynamics CRM customer service capabilities Verint purchases customer service [...]

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The hidden dangers of replacing vertical CRM software with generic offerings

March 2, 2014

One of the big shifts we’ve seen in the CRM market in recent years is the progress that generic CRM software such as Salesforce.com, Microsoft Dynamics, or SugarCRM has made in markets that were once dominated by vertical specific CRM solutions. As I touched on in my last post, generic CRM solutions are often able [...]

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Choosing CRM software – the dangers of recommendations – an addendum

February 22, 2014

In my last post I wrote about the dangers of recommendations when selecting CRM software, and I just wanted to add a few points that I didn’t cover last time out. Firstly, the post was very much in the context of the dangers of recommendations from other users of CRM, but I think it’s worth [...]

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Choosing CRM software – the dangers of recommendation

February 15, 2014

While recommendations from people we know is probably the biggest influence on our purchase decisions for goods and services, I’ve never been too convinced as to how well this works when choosing CRM software. As a case in point, I had a conversation this week with a business owner who was struggling with a recently [...]

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CRM and influencer management

February 11, 2014

Given how important influencers, (academics, industry analysts, journalists, bloggers, professional advisors etc.) have become, as their ability to make themselves heard has increased, and the ability of marketers to influence more directly has declined, I’m surprised how little use organisations make of their CRM platforms to support influencer marketing. For example, as consultant who helps [...]

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Dull maybe, but essential – the role of the usage manual in CRM implementation

February 4, 2014

Point 57 in the ’99 ways to get more out your CRM software’ was: 57. Develop a usage manual – does everyone understand how they should be using the system? Often different people will use it in different ways, and that impacts key outputs such as reports. Creating a usage manual will help define how the system [...]

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A worked example as to why process inefficiencies provide rich pickings for CRM technology

January 31, 2014

Carrying on my elaboration of some of the points in the ‘99 ways to get more from your CRM software’ post, point 69 suggested that you might consider reviewing your processes, rather dryly noting that: ‘analysing your existing business processes can be extremely insightful. You may find they don’t work quite as well as was [...]

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CRM’s role in aligning sales activity with opportunity…

January 26, 2014

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m in the process of fleshing out some of items on the ‘99 ways to get more from you CRM software post’, where brevity was a necessary constraint at the time. Item fifteen was about share of purse, and there was a bit of a back story which [...]

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