Demand for customer relationship management (CRM) apps remains high, with an emphasis on customization and mobile-device access.
Managing a customer relationship to promote loyalty and repeat sales has evolved to the point where an initial sale is almost less important for the revenue than it is for providing the gateway to an ongoing relationship between seller and buyer. Especially in times when the general economy isn't booming, keeping customers feeling happy and special is more important than ever.
Key to maintaining business relationships with those one hopes will be repeat customers can be CRM applications. These solutions not only help vendors promote goodwill by helping keep track of buyer preferences and future opportunities, but also help sellers keep their best foot forward in maintaining customer satisfaction.
CRM Apps: A Cornucopia of Services and Aid
CRM applications evolved from earlier solutions designed for contact management (tracking information about communications with customers), sales automation (computerized tools that simplify office tasks related to selling), sales analysis (identifying what products and services sell best), and call-center management. Today's CRM apps generally provide features from all of those software types while melding them into an integrated system that can also provide features as diverse as business intelligence, mobile-device access, and document generation.
Although obviously customers have been important in the world economic system all along, CRM applications today help sellers customize their relationships with buyers to a new level of tailoring.
Top CRM applications today are expected to include help in the areas of sales, marketing, customer service, e-commerce, and analytics. In sales, companies need to identify new opportunities with existing customers (cross-selling, up-selling), sales trends, sales margins, and general sales performance. Marketing requires help with planning and executing campaigns, analyzing campaign results, and developing and delivering targeted marketing materials. Good customer service also mandates a consistent approach to buyers by all departments of a company, usually best enabled by giving all employees interacting with customers the same information about those customers. E-commerce gathers in the functions of direct Internet sales and electronic communications between supply chain partners. Analytics help articulate customer behavior and preferences to help sellers decide what new product, service, and marketing efforts they need to stay competitive.
While all these concerns provide a backdrop, in the foreground there's also a need to coordinate teamwork among all enterprise employees who interface with customers. This puts a premium on features such as centralized and accurate customer information, workflow capability, reporting and display options, and collaboration tools that let employees confer about specific customers.
CRM Apps on the System i (AS/400, iSeries, IBM i)
CRM apps compatible with the System i break down into three types: those that run natively under i5/OS or Linux, those that are don't but are compatible with Lotus Notes/Domino in System i environments, and those that are offered through the cloud as Software as a Service (SaaS) and require only a browser for access.
Beyond those basic three types is often the additional requirement that a CRM solution be able to integrate with in-house solutions that cover other aspects of business operations.
"IBM i customers often have customized enterprise resource-planning, supply-chain, or other home-grown applications," notes Touchtone Corporation Founder Reza Saraf. "They expect their CRM application to be highly customizable, perhaps more so than other platform customers."
In addition, Saraf reports that his own company's customers are looking for "integration with other vendor products and services," as well as "industry-specific dashboards" to help CRM users stay on top of their own customers' needs.
As CRM applications continue to evolve in their sophistication, CRM solution buyers continue to demand features that help with "contact and activity management, workflow, mobile access, and reporting," Saraf observes. Saraf also believes that cloud computing is the technology that will have the biggest future impact on the market for CRM applications. As the cloud computing trend grows, it seems likely that more software users will opt for cloud access so they don't have to maintain the overhead of systems for running software in-house and can take advantage of software-feature upgrades as soon as the vendor makes them available.
CRM products compatible with the IBM i are summarized below. Obviously, the descriptions here point to only a few outstanding features. You should consult the vendor Web sites noted to get complete information about the depth and variety of features offered by each product.
And as always when looking for products or services, be sure to check the MC Press Online Buyer's Guide.
Customer Relationship Management Apps for System i
Browser CRM, Ltd.
Browser CRM is a Web-based CRM application that runs under Linux, Apache, or Windows on the System i or other ISP servers. It's also available on a SaaS basis directly from Browser CRM. The application lets users access information from anywhere via browser, enables configuration to support multiple views of data, and offers a customizable user interface. It also tracks contacts, tasks, calendar information, documents, and opportunities.
Clear C2, Inc.
C2CRM is available as either a server-based product or a hosted service for System i and runs under Linux as well as i5/OS. It offers applications for managing sales, marketing, business intelligence, and customer relationships. Specific features include dashboard views, sales forecasting, workflow features, and security protections.
Harris Business Group, Inc.
HarrisData CRM features a customer self-service portal for accessing order information via browser, an e-commerce site that lets customers browse product information and make purchases, and a contact-management database that contains customer-related contacts, events, and activities.
Lawson's CRM suite is aimed at medium-sized enterprises. The suite also offers applications for managing e-sales, direct sales, marketing, rentals, maintenance orders, services, and general projects.
SAP CRM provides a range of CRM functions for marketing, sales, service, partner-channel management, and business communications activities.
Wintouch eCRM is written in RPG and uses a Java applet for Web access. It supports client/server operations, tracks all customer communications, provides user-defined reports, and integrates with Lotus Notes/Domino and Microsoft Outlook/Office.
CRM Solutions Based on Lotus Notes/Domino
Ardexus MODE provides modules for marketing, sales, service, and reporting, as well as the ability to interface with BlackBerry mobile devices. In addition to integration with Notes/Domino, MODE integrates with MS Outlook and most ERP application systems.
Although primarily focused on project management, the Tracker Suite for Sales product provides basic CRM features that include modules for working with prospects, expenses, personnel, and CRM-related workflow.
Basic Business Systems, Ltd.
CRM: Sales and Marketing includes tools for synchronizing contact information from multiple sources, managing leads and sales, tracking opportunities, and streamlining document creation.
Salesplace is tailored for SMBs specializing in financial services, logistics, insurance, medical, pharmaceutical, and manufacturing and distribution markets. It contains modules for sales, marketing, customer service, and mobility and includes integration with Web and BlackBerry technology.
Major CRM Solutions Offered on a SaaS Basis
NetSuite CRM+ is a cloud solution that provides sales-force automation, marketing automation, customer support and service, and customization services. Designed to automate the complete customer lifecycle, NetSuite CRM+ includes Web-site hosting, site traffic analytics, and a customer portal.
Oracle CRM on Demand includes integrated modules for sales, service, marketing, call centers, analytics, mobile devices, and Web services support. The product line also includes applications tailored for enterprises specializing in medical, pharmaceutical, insurance, automotive, and financial services.
Salesforce CRM offers Web-based apps focused on sales-force automation and CRM, customer service and help desk, social-media monitoring and marketing, and enterprise social-network management.