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Client Engagement: CRM for the Rest of Us

May 22, 2009

Customer Relationship Management grew up through the 90’s aiming to automate the seemingly last of the business challenges: sales and marketing. The holy grail of high tech was to computerize and measure what are significantly human interactive functions. As such, we saw many companies rise and fall trying to find the right parts to tackle such as prospecting, sales engagement, contracting, order processing and delivery. Depending on the software vendor’s positioning, the vendor either focused on backend integration with ERP and SCM systems, or it focused on the front end user needs for mobility and desktop application integration. Few vendors could cover all areas well and eventually most failed when the SaaS model lured so many to the ease and affordability of web-based applications.

 
Looking at CRM applications today, few are functionality different than the original ones providing contact management, calendaring, the ability to store documents and trigger workflows defined by the user’s sales process. CRM systems can report and track the sales process and ensure that associated information is stored and shared effectively within a company and its authorized partners. Most CRM systems also allow integration with marketing to coordinate lists, note customer/prospect touches and ultimately measure campaign results and ROI. This is all very helpful in the pre-sales stage, particularly with product companies.
 
However, in a service-driven organization, the products are the people and the projects that they deliver. Managing time and productivity are what determines profit and customer satisfaction. Managing a customer relationship goes well past a specific sales opportunity. 
 
Client Engagement Systems (CES) are unique from CRM in that they integrate the sales functions such as contact management and lead tracking together with project management, document management and collaboration across multiple companies – including the client – that are critical to a successful project delivery. Taking advantage of the cost advantages of the web and the advancement of online collaboration technologies, CES is finally a way to deliver practical CRM-like functionality for smaller, services businesses and others that want to have the control of their client interactions before, during and after the sales process. Therefore, CES requires:
 
  • The system to be project focused as much as client focused. This means that a customer may have multiple projects at any given time or over a period of time. That same customer may also be involved with other projects in and outside of their own company.
  • Team members are able to fluidly participate in one or more projects without having to manage multiple log-ins or user profiles. As a team member of multiple projects, each individual is responsible for effectively managing his/her own work load and deadlines and he/she may report to multiple project leaders and managers.
  • External team members will often participate in projects to supply necessary service. Ideally, these partners should not have to install costly software or have long learning curves to using the system. 
  • The lifetime value of a client or project should be assessable from initial contact through implementation. Unlike product sales, service engagements do not usually have a fixed cost of goods that can be applied to an ROI analysis. Each project expense will vary from project to project, customer to customer and even project member to project member.
  • Managers can see and compare staff participation and availability to optimize productivity in pre- and post-sales work.
  • Past project information is archived but easily accessible as it may influence a future sales cycle with that company or person.
  • Ultimately, CES provide a collaborative environment for more than sales and marketing personnel to work together in supporting the successful acquisition and retention of customers.
The CRM system user interface and functionality are designed for sales people. Thus, they are optimized for quick input and access to customer-specific sales and marketing information. CES, however, are designed for everyone that influences the customer at any time, especially in a services organization. Therefore, they have numerous application interfaces depending on the person, role and need. CES doesn’t assume other systems will feed into and out of it but rather that the system is the sole place for client information relative to the relationship and engagement overall.
 
Finally, a CES can take on a more vertical flavor to reflect the functional differences among services organizations. For example, a software development company may need tools for integrating bug tracking information and support knowledge. A marketing consulting company may need document versioning and image libraries to help them effectively collaborate on projects. Time tracking may be utterly critical to a software business. Personal time management may be more useful to marketers. Thus, the ability to provide vertical benefits are more likely to be seen in s CES environment since it encapsulates the entire life cycle interaction of the company’s and individual’s roles beyond a single client, project or timeframe.
 
In a tough economy where process optimization and customer retention are key success factors, services companies, in particular, can truly benefit from CES as a better way to obtain and retain profitable clients.

Ms. Dver is chief marketing officer for Actionize.com, a client engagement system for marketing consultants. She is the author of the book, “No Time Marketing” and she has been published in Forbes, BusinessWeek, Entrepreneur, Promo Magazine, Chief Marketer, and dozens of other marketing and CRM focused media.

ContactCenterSolutions publishes expert commentary on various telecommunications, IT, call center, CRM and other technology-related topics. Are you an expert in one of these fields, and interested in having your perspective published on a site that gets several million unique visitors each month? Get in touch.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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