Customer Relationship Management (CRM) applications bring multiple aspects of the buyer and seller exchange together.
A survey of top business executives conducted in 2008 jointly by Gartner and Forbes Insights identified "high-quality customer care" as the leading corporate attribute "most key to sustaining long-term growth in a recession." Ranking not too far behind that attribute in the same survey was having good "customer or market intelligence."
Assuming these findings are still true in 2009, it follows that software applications designed to help meet those needs have high importance. This creates a new emphasis on a need for CRM applications.
CRM as a Product Type
CRM is a software type that has grown out of the logical merging of applications for contact management (tracking information about communications with customers), sales automation (computerized tools that simplify office tasks related to selling), and sales analysis (identifying what products and services sell best). 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.
Of course, there are other streams contributing to the confluence. As call center management applications become more sophisticated, VOIP technology is reducing the costs of communicating with customers by telephone. Business intelligence, particularly relating to corporate performance management, is gaining in importance. Buyers' use of the Internet to purchase products directly, perhaps without ever connecting with a salesperson, is changing the nature of the buyer-seller relationship. Enterprises have to meet all these challenges and are increasingly looking to CRM apps to provide solutions. Fortunately, many CRM apps are delivering.
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 requires 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 encapsulates the myriad considerations growing out of direct Internet sales and electronic communications between supply chain partners. Analytics must use customer behavior and preferences to help decide what new product, service, and marketing efforts an enterprise needs to stay competitive.
Overriding all these concerns is the need for teamwork by all enterprise employees who interface with customers. So features such as centralized and accurate customer information, workflow capability, reporting and display options, and collaboration tools that let employees confer about specific customers are more than useful. The ideal result is an application that can help you "customize" your customer relationships to better reflect their uniqueness. Depending on the size of your organization and the nature of the market you serve, perhaps not all of these features are necessary or affordable, but all are helpful.
CRM Apps for System i
Although there are scores of CRM applications on the market, all with varying capabilities and qualities, it's a bit of a challenge to find those that work specifically with the System i. (As you've probably discovered yourself when researching other software types, many software vendors are maddeningly elusive about identifying on their Web sites the platforms with which their products work. In researching this article, this writer found it darkly ironic how many CRM companies—none of which are listed here—don't serve their own potential customers all that well. Too often they have salespeople at their toll-free telephone numbers who can't tell you what OS their product supports but assure you their support line people know. And the support line people, of course, don't know either but insist that the salespeople have that information.)
CRM apps compatible with the System i break down into three types: those that run natively under i5/OS or Linux, those that don't but are compatible with Lotus Notes/Domino in System i environments, and those that are offered under a Software as a Service (SaaS) program and require only a browser for access.
These 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.
Of course, when looking for any software or service, it's always helpful to consult the MC Showcase Buyer's Guide.
CRM Solutions Running on System i
Browser CRM, Ltd.
Browser CRM is a Web-based CRM application that is written in Zend Corporation's PHP language and runs under Linux or Apache on the System i. Browser CRM tracks contacts, tasks, calendar information, documents, and opportunities. It lets users access information from anywhere via browser, enables configuration to support multiple views of data, and offers a customizable user interface.
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 customer relationships, sales, marketing, content, and customer service. In addition to CRM functions, it offers a hierarchical security structure, dashboard views, sales forecast reporting, targeted marketing communications tools for staff and customers, and workflow features.
Harris Business Group, Inc.
HarrisData Customer Relationship Management
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 M3 Customer Sales and Service Suite
Lawson's CRM suite has been based on the Intentia Movex application since Lawson and Intentia merged in 2006. The suite also includes solutions for project, service, and rental management operations.
SAP Customer Relationship Management
SAP CRM On-Demand
SAP CRM provides a broad pallet of CRM functions for marketing, sales, service, partner channel management, and business communications activities. The product also supports industry-specific processes such as trade promotion management. SAP CRM requires installation of SAP NetWeaver, the company's service-oriented architecture middleware package.
Wintouch eCRM is written in RPG and designed with the System i in mind. It supports client/server operations, tracks all customer communications, and provides user-defined reports, integration with Lotus Notes/Domino and Microsoft Outlook/Office, built-in business intelligence tools, GUI access to green-screen apps, DB2 integration, and setup and deployment customization options.
CRM Solutions Using Lotus Notes/Domino
Ardexus MODE follows the methodology of Dr. Keith T. Thompson's book, Sales Automation Done Right, and accordingly focuses on the sales function. Features include tools for sales forecasting, automated sales coaching, prioritization of salespersons' time, lead tracking, marketing campaign planning and history, after-sales service, and a sales-cycle-planning Web portal.
Tracker Suite for Sales
Tracker Suite is a product family primarily focused on project management. However, the Tracker Suite for Sales product provides basic CRM features tailored for the sales force. Modules include a database with tools for contact management and prospect tracking, a portal for accessing the prospect database, a central repository for marketing documents, a prospect activity scheduler, and other CRM automation tools.
Basic Business Systems, Ltd.
CRM: Sales and Marketing
CRM: Sales and Marketing provides contact information storage with personal details, customer communication history, lead creation and delegation tools, reminders, and task lists. It includes five modules for contacts, sales leads, document creation, marketing campaigns, and task management, which users can implement standalone or as an integrated application.
PSC Group, LLC
Designed for companies of all sizes, enTouch CRM features integrated components that users can add one at a time, unlimited tailoring for external and internal users, a secure embedded infrastructure with multiple office tools (e.g., calendar, address book, mail merge, work lists, wireless device support), and an integrated document repository.
Salesplace contains modules for sales, marketing, customer service, and mobility. The Sales module provides tools for managing leads, opportunity timelines, accounts, activities, quotes, and product catalogs. Marketing offers lead conversion, campaign management, mass mailing, and data quality tools. Service features case management, routing and workflow of docs, a problem-solution database, and a Web self-service portal. Mobility integrates BlackBerry technology with the application.
Major CRM Solutions Available on a SaaS Basis
NetSuite CRM+ consists of modules for order and incentive management, project tracking, , partner management, and a customer portal. NetSuite also provides customer Web site hosting and site traffic analytics. Designed to automate the customer lifecycle from browsing to repurchase, outstanding features include automatic commission-tracking without spreadsheets, full purchase histories without interacting with accounting or ERP apps, complete tracking of sales and marketing campaign effectiveness, and a suite of Web-based financial apps.
Oracle CRM on Demand
Oracle CRM on Demand includes integrated modules for sales, service, marketing, call centers, analytics, mobile devices, and Web services support. Web 2.0 features enable mashups with other applications and portals, industry-specific functions, real-time and historical reporting, and support for multiple national languages and currencies.
Salesforce CRM has become the poster child for cloud computing and, currently in its 28th iteration, provides extensive services for all sales- and service-related CRM functions. Nonstandard features include deal-details tracking, interfaces to multiple other application types, real-time approvals and workflow for documents, lead and campaign management, and forecasting and analytics. The offering is backed by extensive infrastructure, data display, and customization options.
SAP CRM On-Demand
SAP CRM On-Demand is a Web-based sales management application available as a service. It focuses on sales force automation, service quality, and marketing communications for customers. The offering integrates with SAP's ERP application and requires installation of SAP NetWeaver, the company's service-oriented architecture middleware package.