CRM - Customer Relations Management

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CRM - Customer Relations Management

What is CRM and Why Do I Need It?

A CRM system, which generally refers to the Customer Relations Management software that a company uses to manage any of its client processes, will benefit absolutely any client-driven organisation. Sometime CRM may refer to the broader process of managing customer relationships in general. Initially, companies may ask themselves whether they need such a system. Depending on size and scale and budgetary constraints, a CRM can be designed or adapted to benefit organisations in any industry.

A CRM usually has three components – Contact Management, Sales Management and Accounting Managements. On a purely customer basis, CRM systems assists organisations excel in the following ways:

  • Strategise, execute, and monitor the effect of marketing campaigns
  • Provide context and value to customer knowledge and management
  • Record, analyse and adapt to customer preferences and sales opportunities

Depending on the organisation, CRM’s may stand alone or it may also incorporate the following:

  • Accounting systems
  • Generation of invoices
  • Logistics and product delivery tracking, volumes and preferences

Great CRM systems do not simply address each of these components, they provide integration of the entire system so staffing and human resource needs are minimised. Ideally an organisation will save time and cost in no longer needing to reproduce and different reports and re-enter information into their IT system. They also allow sales process automation so that staff can assist more customers and finalise more orders in a shorter period of time. Sales process automation is usually centred around contact management systems for tracking different steps in the sales process. In depths applications will even incorporate sales opportunities, forecasts, and product knowledge. Marketing modules facilitate a similar automation through tools like automated email, social media and monitoring of responses to marketing initiatives.

CRM’s may include customer service and support, analytic capabilities and business intelligence tools, predictive analytics, teamwork and cross-department tools, and contact managers. Facilitating social media is an exciting area of development in CRM applications.

While CRM software can benefit all organisation types, organisations should evaluate their need for CMS before deciding on which software to adopt into their information systems. A CMS that is suitable for a large multinational organisation will not be appropriate for a smaller enterprise. Businesses that provide a lot of customer support will benefit the most from CRM software. CRM’s, like websites, CMS’s and other IT tools, are best when customised to suit  particular organisation.


Popular Open Source Customer Relationship Management Systems and Feature Comparison

SugarCRM is an extremely popular CRM system that has been downloaded over one million times. It is available in over 75 languages, support is available in over 14 languages, and over 400 extensions and plug-ins are available for download. SugarCRM also has iPhone compatibility and is fully integrated with social networking sites like Twitter. It manages customer accounts with contact, quoting, and contract functions but has a strong marketing capability, with a campaign wizard that allows for multi-channel campaigns, email marketing, lead management, and marketing analytics. Contained within its customer support function are case management tools, inbound email tool, self-service portal for customers and a bug tracking device that helps manage product problems.

ConcourseConnect is an open source business social software and community platform that is aimed at helping employees, partners, and customers connect. The strength of ConcourseConnect is that it allows large online communities to be created very quickly. It is apparently the first application to bring online community, social networking, integrated customer relationship management tools and comprehensive management tool together in the one software package. ConcourseConnect comes in two versions. The source code version is available for download for free while the commercial version provides greater integration capabilities and is priced at around US$5,000 per year. ConcourseConnect integrates CRM capabilities with communication tools such as blogs and forums and helps businesses leverage the information available from these commercial networks.

Hipergate is fully open source and includes seven different modules which can be activated on a user, group or domain basis. Collaborative tools include intranet, personnel directory, working timetables, and forum. Contact management tools include customers, suppliers, salesforce automation, distributional lists handling and marketing campaigns. Project management modules includes task follow-up, resources by project, work reports, and team management. It allows templates for corporate communication, shared documents, e-Shop, invoicing, stock control, and training courses managements.

Compiere is another CRM business application that incorporates Enterprise Reesource Planning (ERP) features. A popular program that has been downloaded more than 1,800,000 times, it is aimed for small and medium-sized enterprises and modules include financial management, purchasing, material management, order management, project accounting, sales, service, eCommerce and Performance Management and Reporting. Unlike Hipergate, SugarCRM and ConcourseConnect, Compiere does not incorporate marketing modules. Only the ERP component is open source, other versions are available for purchase.

XRMS CRM is an open source CRM business solution that is expandable and integrates and manages sales, service and marketing data in a single information store. It incorporates business intelligence tools and computer telephony integration.

openCRX is a CRM application that contains sales generation and fulfilment modules, marketing, partners, suppliers and intermediary activity. Groupware allows users to manage emails, contacts and calendars, account management tools help manage customer information through contracts, activities, products and status. Product and price management tools allow for product offering design such as product bundling and flexible pricing rules. The Sales Pipeline helps team members share sales information, track the progress of deals, and record deal-related information. Prospects and existing customers can be easily managed and the sales pipeline can be integrated with any enterprise resource planning software to access real time stock information.

Other popular open source CRMs include openCRX, which has virtually unlimited scalability, system-wide audit-trail, role-based security. Opentaps, which like Compiere, incorporates both ERP and CRM and is web-based. Opentaps incorporates eCommerce, Point-of-Sales, inventory, customer management and general ledger. CiviCRM is web-based and designed for non-profit organisations and non-governmental groups and compatible with Joomla! and Drupal CRMs. Cream 3.0 is logistics-based, with a strong focus on tracking sales orders, payments, shipments, online and print subscriptions but includes a module for tracking the effectiveness of promotional campaigns.


Pros and Cons of Open Source and Bespoke; Open Source Vs Bespoke

While there may be benefits to both open source and bespoke CRM software, the central issues must be time and cost. Open Source CRM applications require much less implementation time lags and are therefore present a very short time-to-market and useability. They are thus very cost-effective, requiring a relatively small outlay on the part of the organisation.

While quality control and coordination of the release of various version of the software may seem to be of concern, because of the expertise required in developing these products, many open source CRM’s usually come with subscriptions and a commercial focus, leading to long-term client focus. There is usually little basis for customers to worry that their product will be discontinued.

Open source reduces vendor lock-in and can potentially give customers more control over the product. Reduced the total cost of ownership, open source CRM’s additionally present a less expensive outlay and ongoing costs. However, these benefits will depend on the particular industry and the individual organisation. For example, any perceived saving costs of developing software may be insignificant when other factors are taken into account. Upgrading or installing a new CRM system is more than just about the software. Issues such as hardware, implementation and integration services and internal costs must be taken into account. Any organisation that is aiming to cut costs by using open source software should consult a professional software developer who can manage the cross integration and compatibility of each component of the new system. For optimal performance, any new CRM, whether or not it is open source, needs to be adapted and designed to suit particular organisational needs.


Conclusion: Reaping Benefits!

Thus, strictly speaking, CRM is not just software but refers to the entire customer relations process. A CRM process incorporates CRM software and can be of benefit to absolutely any organisation. It helps manage customer relationships, marketing, contacts, assist with accounting and generation of invoices and even logistics and product delivery. There are many open source CRM’s available. Many are characterised by an unlimited ability for scalability and adaptation. A recent trend has been to incorporate social networking tools to facilitate marketing.

An optimal CRM system will integrate processes across each functional area to ensure smooth client service and core organisational operations. Staffing and human resource requirements are minimised as is time and data-entry requirements. CMS’s will encourage optimal cross departmental communication and sales process automation. The system can highlight sales opportunities, forecasts and encourage product knowledge. It assists staff in customer service delivery and support and provides business intelligence tools. While open source software is readily available, any business or organisation that is looking to implement a CMS system should consult a developer who can assist with integrating and adapting the software for their current business systems and hardware.

Author: Amy Chen
Source: Internal
Posted on: February 16th, 2011
Category: CRM

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