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CRM Integration More Important than a Pretty Interface

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Posted October 3, 2014 By Ann All     Feedback

CRM vendors are striving to improve their software's user interface. But are they neglecting data integration?

I recently wrote about a growing emphasis on usability in CRM applications, especially mobile apps. Vendors are focusing on improving the user interface of CRM, to boost the software's stubbornly low adoption rate.

About that adoption rate, Gartner released a widely cited report in 2003 that found 42 percent of CRM software licenses purchased by companies were never used.  Sure, that was 10 years ago. But the trend seems pretty consistent. An AMR Research analyst I interviewed in 2007 told me his firm found that 25 percent of CRM licenses went unused.

In a new survey by CRM vendor Tactile, 41 percent of salespeople said they entered little to no information in their employer's CRM system. Over half entered data into the system once a week or less, and 34 percent said they never entered customer contact information into the company CRM system.

Not surprisingly, Tactile found that 55 percent of respondents relied on a mish-mash of emails, documents and spreadsheets to manage their deals and contacts. Thirty-nine percent of the sales folks use mobile apps for contact management. Also popular are spreadsheets (27 percent), LinkedIn (21 percent) and good, old-fashioned business cards (28 percent). To follow up with customers and close deals, respondents use the phone, email and calendar apps, in that order.

Tactile obviously uses these results to promote its own tools, especially its mobile and syncing capabilities. But they also help illustrate a couple of larger issues.

CRM Functionality and Flexibility

First, vendors may be focusing too much on attractive interfaces and not enough on underlying functionality. Sales people just want to close deals, and they will use continue to use tools like spreadsheets – which are certainly not pretty - if that is how they get business done.

Also, sales people want flexibility in how they get their work done. Barton Goldenberg, founder and president of CRM advisory ISM Inc. and author of "CRM Automation," stressed this point when I interviewed him back in 2007.

He told me: "[Sales people] don't necessarily like to be boxed into certain rules. If you ask sales people how to close an account, they will say there is no one right way and they don't want to be told how to do that. You have to make sure you work very closely with them, giving them information that will help them make a sale but not asking for too much rigidity because they need flexibility to make the sale."

Integration and Customer Experience

And then there is integration, an issue that makes many user eyes' glaze over. Yet integration is essential for companies that want to leverage their CRM systems to offer a better and more holistic customer experience. Lack of integration is a particular problem for mobile CRM, as Loraine Lawson recently wrote on IT Business Edge. Scattering data across multiple, siloed systems makes it nearly impossible to maintain the kind of end-to-end CRM processes needed to deliver that elusive customer experience.

Lawson illustrates the scope of the problem by citing a couple of surveys from Scribe Software: one from late 2013 that found just 16 percent of companies support full integration between CRM and their other business systems, and one from 2012 in which 35 percent of respondents said they planned to handle CRM integration by manually re-entering data.

The good news is, integration's star appears to be rising, at least among marketers. According to new Teradata research, integration is the "highest" or a "top" priority for 60 percent of senior marketing executives. Nearly half of them make full integration with current technologies their top criteria in evaluating new marketing technology.

While integration is essential to creating optimal customer experiences, companies also must stress cross-functional participation by having sales, marketing, customer service and other teams work together. Of course, this will be easier if customer information is available to all of them through, you guessed it, integration. Fifty-four percent of respondents to the Teradata survey said they encouraged teams to work together to achieve customer centrism, making it the top response.

Goldenberg told me that involving stakeholders from relevant business functions must not be an afterthought. He recommended doing so during the requirements gathering phase, noting that, "What you're figuring out with this cross-functional capability is when information is valuable across groups."

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