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Using Cloud Services : Collaborating on Contact Management - Exploring Contact Management and CRM Applications

6/30/2011 6:38:33 PM
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Understanding Contact Management and CRM

Whether we’re presenting simple address book–based applications or sophisticated sales automation programs, it all comes down to how the application uses the information you provide about a person—which is, in essence, contact management.

All About Contact Management

Contact management is the act of storing information about friends, family, and business colleagues for easy retrieval at a later date. We’re talking names, street addresses, email addresses, phone numbers, and the like, stored in some sort of computer file.

Simple computer-based contact management takes the form of an electronic address book, like the Address Book application built in to Microsoft Windows. Applications like Address Book store this contact information on a single computer, where it can easily be recalled and utilized. These programs often interface with your email program, for easy insertion of email addresses.

That said, contact management can be more involved and more useful than simple name/address storage. More sophisticated contact management applications help you track all sorts of details about your friends and colleagues, from personal info (birth date, spouse’s name, children’s names, favorite restaurants, and the like) to business info (employer, department, job responsibilities, and so forth). These contact management systems typically integrate this personal/professional information with calendar functions and a task manager.

Web-based contact management applications enable you to access your contact information from any computer connected to the Internet. Instead of storing personal contacts on your home PC and work contacts on your office computer, you store all your contacts in the cloud, where they can be accessed from both home and work.

All About CRM

Many businesses require more practical use of their contact information. It’s not enough to have the equivalent of a digital Rolodex on hand; that contact information can be injected into various automated processes to help establish and maintain lasting and productive relationships with the company’s customers.

This process of managing the needs, wants, and buying patterns of customers is referred to as customer relationship management. CRM helps companies understand and anticipate the needs of current and potential customers; it’s an essential tool for building strong customer relationships.

CRM software not only stores customer contact information, it also stores and analyzes all data relating to a particular customer, and then uses that data to help you determine how best to relate with that customer. For example, you can use a CRM program to discover which customers order the most from your company—and then trigger regular phone calls or emails to those customers. Or you can use CRM to find out which customers have the most contact with your technical support department, and then ward off future support calls by proactively sending out support info or scheduling a special support seminar.

When CRM is used by sales staff, you get a subset of CRM called sales force automation, or SFA. SFA applications perform all the customer-centric tasks expected of CRM apps, but with a sales-specific approach. For example, you may use SFA software to track when to make follow-up sales calls or to provide additional information to key prospects.

CRM and SFA applications have been around for decades, almost as long as we’ve had personal computers. Only recently, however, have these two applications moved into the cloud. As you can imagine, making CRM and SFA web-based makes key contact information (as well as automated processes) available to any salesperson anywhere on the road; all you need to do is log onto the app’s website to access important customer data and perform necessary operations.

Note

Not all CRM applications are as yet fully web based. For example, ACT, one of the most popular CRM software programs, is not a cloud computing application. Although it does offer web access, the application and related data is fully hosted on the company’s servers, not in the cloud.

Exploring Contact Management and CRM Applications

The line between contact management, CRM, and SFA applications is blurry enough to make clear distinctions impossible. To that end, we’ll look at all three types of applications in one long list—starting with the industry-leading Salesforce.com, and proceeding in alphabetic order from there.

Salesforce.com

The most popular web-based contact management/CRM available today is offered by Salesforce.com (www.salesforce.com). In fact, the company offers several different cloud services:

  • Salesforce.com, a software-as-a-service CRM application designed for sales, marketing, customer service, and other uses

  • Force.com, a platform-as-a-service application designed for developers who want to design or customize their own sales force apps

  • AppExchange, an online marketplace of add-on software for Salesforce.com, developed by independent companies

All these cloud services are buttressed by a robust community and support structure, including blogs, forums, education and training initiatives, and the like.

The company’s primary application is the self-named Salesforce.com. The company offers a hosted collection of on-demand business applications that include the following:

  • Sales Force Automation, which includes activity management, channel and territory management, forecasting, mobile access, email templates, and real-time analytics that help companies increase sales productivity and grow revenues

  • Service & Support, a customer service solution for enterprise call centers

  • Partners, a partner relationship management application that enables collaboration and partnership with channel partners

  • Marketing, which includes tools to execute, manage, and analyze the results of multichannel marketing campaigns

  • Content, which enables companies to share documents and other content across the organization

  • Ideas, which helps a company build online communities with their customers, partners, and employees

  • Analytics, which offers real-time reporting, calculations, and dashboards to help improve decision making and resource allocation

In addition, Salesforce enables clients to build their own custom applications. The company also offers a range of prebuilt industry-specific applications that can be plugged into the main application architecture.

Salesforce offers so many useful applications it’s difficult to provide a quick overview, but as an example of the types of applications provided, let’s take a quick look at the Activity Management component of the Sales Force Automation module. The specific applications offered in this component include activity tracking and collaboration (to track tasks and activities, schedule joint meetings, and set up automatic templates for recurring tasks), activity scheduling (including the ability to publish calendars for shared resources and set appointment reminders), sales activity reports, and team management functions (assigning and managing a team for large accounts, with specific roles for each team member). All of these tasks help salespeople and sales managers manage complex relationships with demanding customers.

Most Salesforce tasks can be managed via the use of customized dashboards. Each dashboard presents a visual display of key sales metrics. You can create your own custom dashboards to measure those activities of most importance to your company or department. For example, the dashboard shown in Figure 1 tracks closed sales to date, sales activity, open support cases, key account performance, leads by source, the top five open leads, and other key metrics.

Figure 1. Tracking key metrics via a custom Salesforce dashboard.

As you can no doubt gather, Salesforce has applications for companies of any size and type. Pricing is customized for each account, typically costed by number of users and applications used.

bConnections

As popular as Salesforce.com is, it isn’t the only web-based CRM solution available today. Witness bConnections (www.bconnections.com), a contact management program augmented with essential CRM functions for small and medium-sized businesses.

The bConnections application starts with a list of companies you do business with, and a list of contacts at those businesses. (Figure 2 shows a typical contact info entry screen.) This contact information is hosted on the web and accessible from any Internet-connected computer.

Figure 2. Entering contact information in bConnections.

The application includes a web-based calendar that sales management can use to manage the activities of all their reps. It also tracks leads and sales opportunities, to help you better prepare sales forecasts. All activities are summarized in the application’s Executive Summary dashboard.

BigContacts

BigContacts (www.bigcontacts.com) is a web-based contact manager designed for workgroups as small as 2 people or as large as 2,000. It features an address book, group calendar, task manager, and to-do lists. Its CRM functions include sales tracking, activity reports, team management, and mobile access. Pricing is on a per-user basis.

eStudio Contact Manager

For more basic contact management, check out eStudio Contact Manager (www.same-page.com/contact-management.html). This is application is an online address book specifically designed for business contacts. The address book can be accessed by multiple users from any Internet-connected computer, making it ideal for real-time contact management for sales teams, project groups, and small businesses.

As you can see in Figure 3, contacts can be organized into a series of hierarchical folders. Specific contacts can be found by browsing the folders, by browsing alphabetically, or by searching. You can search by any parameter, including name, organization, title, phone number, and the like.

Figure 3. Viewing the folder-based contact information in eStudio Contact Manager.

Highrise

Highrise (www.highrisehq.com) is a very sophisticated contact management application. Each contact record can include basic info (name, address, email, and so on), as well as notes, file attachments, images, links to audio and video files, emails, and so on. You can even add tasks you need to get done (call, email, send a thank-you note, and so on) regarding this person; these tasks show up in the individual’s contact page as well as in your master to-do list.

Contact information (including individual notes and emails) can be aggregated by company on special company pages, like the one shown in Figure 4. Key information is summarized on your personal dashboard page, which provides a bird’s-eye view of your latest activities and upcoming tasks.

Figure 4. Viewing contact data for a specific company with Highrise.

Apple MobileMe Contacts

MobileMe Contacts is Apple’s new web-based contact management application, useable by anyone with a Mac or Windows computer—as well as anyone using Apple’s iPhone, as shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5. Apple’s MobileMe Contacts, viewed on an iPhone.


MobileMe Contacts (www.me.com) is a straight ahead contact management app with no CRM pretentions. It’s essentially an address book stored in Apple’s cloud that remains in sync with whatever device you use to access it. It also synchronizes with the contact information in Apple’s Address Book and Microsoft’s Outlook, Outlook Express, and Windows Contacts programs. Also neat is its integration with Google Maps, which is used to map locations and provide directions.

For millions of iPhone users, MobileMe Contacts will automatically be the contact management application of choice. But here’s the thing—it’s also a worthy application if you don’t have an iPhone; its jazzy interface and synchronization features make it a strong contender for regular PC users, as well.

MyEvents

MyEvents (www.myevents.com) is a combination contact manager, web calendar, task manager, and online community builder. You store all your contacts online, where you can access them via any web browser or wireless device. The calendar function is ideal for both personal and group events, via shared public calendars. Plus you get online file storage and sharing, online digital photo albums, hosted web pages, and community bulletin boards and chat rooms.

Plaxo

Plaxo (www.plaxo.com) is an odd little beast. At its heart, it’s an online address book, with contact information stored in the clouds and accessible from any Internet-connected computer. But it’s also been accused of being spyware (because its Outlook plug-in is installed automatically when you install various partner software, most notably AOL Instant Messenger).

Plaxo’s status as cloud service comes from the hosting of contact information on the company’s servers, and the automatic sending of invitations to all contacts in a user’s email address book. When information on a specific contact is updated by one user, that updated contact information automatically appears in the address book of all other users who have that person as a contact. (Figure 6 shows a typical Plaxo contact page.)

Figure 6. A typical Plaxo contact profile.

More recently, Plaxo has altered its offerings to include more social networking types of functionality, as well as a web-based calendar. The company was also acquired by Comcast, which intends to use Plaxo to drive its SmartZone communications hub.

People Matrix

People Matrix (www.wolfereiter.com/PeopleMatrix.aspx) is a web-based contact management application tweaked for human resources use. In addition to basic contact management, it includes job applicant data, and lets users send mass emailings about job postings and the like. You can also use the program to post job announcements to your company’s existing website, accept online job applications, and track your history of communications with individual contacts.

PipelineDeals

PipelineDeals (www.pipelinedeals.com) offers an easy-to-use web-based CRM solution. The application lets you track contacts, leads, milestones, deal status, and other key data. As the name implies, PipelineDeals is deal focused. You attach all data and accompanying files (Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and so on) to a specific page for each current or pending deal.

One of the key reporting features in PipelineDeals is the Deal Home Page, a dashboard that provides a quick snapshot of deal status and upcoming activities. Events and activities also display on the program’s integrated web calendar.

SalesBoom

SalesBoom (www.salesboom.com) provides web-based CRM and back-office solutions, with different editions for different-sized businesses:

  • Enterprise Edition, for larger organizations. Includes inventory management, product management, accounting, and human resources management solutions.

  • Professional Edition, for medium-sized businesses. Includes marketing automation, sales force automation, and customer service and support solutions.

  • Team Edition, for small businesses. Includes sales force automation, contact management, and customer service and support solutions.

All of SalesBoom’s sales force automation solutions include lead management, contact management, account management, opportunity management, and forecasting features. The Enterprise Edition also includes quote management, contract management, commissions management, and a product database.

SalesJunction.com

SalesJunction.com (www.salesjunction.com) offers a web-based CRM and SFA contact management system, priced on a per-user basis. Unique features include management of service cases, mass email sales campaigns, and sales pipelines. (Figure 7 shows a Sales Funnel report, which provides a breakdown of activity in an individual sales pipeline.)

Figure 7. Tracking sales pipeline activity via a SalesJunction.com Sales Funnel report.

The company’s Pro Edition also includes territory management functionality, which lets companies set up, assign, and work leads by territories. Individual users can be assigned to multiple territories, and managers can be assigned to manage as many territories as you like.

SalesNexus

Web-based contact management software is what SalesNexus (www.salesnexus.com) offers. It was designed from the ground up around the needs of salespeople, sales management, and marketing professionals.

SalesNexus features include the ability to create and store proposals, estimates, quotes, and sales sheets; customized sales pipeline and activity reporting; management of automated email marketing campaigns; and automatic lead creation from website forms. In addition, SalesNexus can capture and report the source of website leads.

The SalesNexus contact database cleanly interfaces with your company’s email system, so that all inbound and outgoing emails between a contact and anyone in your organization are automatically attached to the contact’s record. The application also includes support for mobile phone and handheld digital devices, and syncs with Microsoft Outlook contacts, calendars, and tasks.

Zoho CRM

Our final contact management/CRM application is Zoho CRM, available in three different editions: Free Edition (for up to three users), Professional Edition, and Enterprise Edition. The application includes the following modules:

  • Sales & Marketing, which integrates sales with campaigns, leads, sales pipeline, and forecasts

  • Inventory Management, which provides a complete integrated inventory management system

  • Customer Support & Service, which employs cases and solutions to integrate the customer support process with sales data

  • Reports & Dashboards, which help you analyze sales and marketing trends and key metrics

The application also includes an Outlook plug-in that enables you to synchronize your Zoho CRM contacts, tasks, calendar, and emails with Microsoft Outlook.

Zoho’s Sales & Marketing component is a full-fledged CRM/SFA application. It includes lead management, opportunity management, account management, contact management, activity management, sales management, and sales quotas functions. For example, Figure 8 shows Zoho CRM’s Potentials tab, which tracks sales opportunities end to end in the sales cycle.

Figure 8. Tracking sales opportunities in Zoho CRM’s Potentials tab.

CRM: More Than Just Software

Customer relationship management may have started out as a software application championed by ACT, SAP, and other technology companies, but it has grown into a holistic business philosophy. The goal of CRM is to solidify customer relationships, and in turn increase profits by reducing the costs associated with selling to each customer. Although some of this can be accomplished via software (both traditional and cloud based), it takes a lot more than technology to fully achieve the goal.

The key to making CRM work is to adopt a customer-centric approach. Technology is just one part of a three-pronged initiative; a company must also include its people and processes in its CRM strategy.

All the people throughout the company—from the CEO to each customer service rep—must embrace the customer-centric approach. The company’s processes must then be changed to support the CRM initiative; the company must also ask how this process can better serve the customer. Finally, the company must select the best technology to drive these improved processes, typically in the form of cloud-based CRM solutions.

Building customer relationships doesn’t happen by just subscribing to a web-based CRM application. For CRM to be truly effective, the entire company must buy into the initiative. Yes, cloud computing can help, but it’s just a part of the solution. For CRM to truly take hold, the company must be serious about changing to a customer-based focus.

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