In this post I want to build  on what I touched on last week, and use a brief case history to illustrate a couple of the benefits of integration to other internal systems such as finance or ERP applications.

In this example the client is an office equipment supplier, largely selling through a field sales team. They had an in-house developed CRM system which was primarily used for basic contact management, largely tracking customer and prospective customer contacts and interactions with them such as phone calls and meetings.

The client also used an ERP system which tracked information about their customers, the equipment the customers had purchased from them, and any related service issues which might require an engineer’s visit.

These two systems weren’t integrated which led to a couple of significant problems:

Firstly, from a sales standpoint, salespeople didn’t generally have access to the ERP system, and therefore didn’t have a good picture of what equipment their customers were using, which undermined their ability to manage their assigned customer base.

Secondly, the marketing team were unable to initiate targeted direct marketing campaigns (i.e. sending email or letters) to customers.

This was because the ERP system, which was the master source of data about customers and their purchases, tracked very little information about the people at a customer. Largely this was limited to a person in the accounts payable department or the person the engineer needed to liaise with for a service visit, who were generally not the person that would make or influence future purchase decisions.

Information about these key contacts was maintained in the CRM system, however information about installed equipment wasn’t. Data about which of organisations were customers wasn’t routinely maintained, and it was pretty much impossible to reconcile the data in the two systems.

A new system was implemented that replaced the existing in-house developed CRM system and, most importantly, was integrated with the existing ERP system. Users of the CRM system could now easily see up to date information about their customers and the equipment they’d purchased.

Potentially insightful information was also surfaced to them through a series of dashboards and system-initiated alerts. This included situations where leased equipment was approaching the end of its agreement or had reached a suitable up-sell point, where a customer had enquired about ending a lease, where equipment was being used outside of recommended throughput, and machines that had received higher than normal service calls.

Access to better information positioned salespeople to more effectively identify up-sell and cross-sell opportunities, and retain the customer over time, thereby significantly increasing sales.

The other big benefit was that the existence of contact and customer data in a single system gave the marketing team the platform to initiate direct marketing programmes on a scale and effectiveness that was previously unimaginable.

Most importantly they could now initiate highly targeted campaigns based on purchase history data that was only previously available in the ERP system. For example, a campaign could be sent to people who had a specific model of machine outlining, for example, the benefits of related products or a new replacement version.

This new channel was particularly effective because previously the company had been reliant on the salesforce keeping their customers updated about the latest products, offers, and news. Targeted direct marketing provided the mechanism to provide regular updates to a much wider range of contacts than had previously been the case.

This proved very effective in supporting the sales team’s efforts to retain and grow the customer base, and a significant source of new leads and sales opportunities.

While the benefits of the CRM system were broader than the two aspects I’ve picked out for the purposes this article, these capabilities led to a particularly high return on investment in this particular case.

In wrapping up I wanted to note a couple of things: When the CRM industry talks about integration with back end systems it’s often under the somewhat hazy and uninspiring notion of the ‘360 degree view of the customer’, which all rather masks the existence of some pretty powerful concrete benefits of the sort that I’ve outlined in this post.

The other point is that integration with back end systems isn’t generally unduly complex, especially if it’s one way into the CRM system, and it may be a very cost-effective way of achieving rapid operational benefits. Something it may be valuable to consider for both new and existing systems.

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