While specialist roles are still commonplace within the UK’s business world, a significant shift has been seen over the last few years as a growing number of firms blur the lines between different departments. Collaboration has been the watchword, with companies hoping to encourage marketers and IT departments or HR and finance departments to combine forces and share their mutual expertise.

As roles become more fluid, technology has played an important part in changing how disparate parts of an organisation can come together and ensure that it performs to the best of its ability. For instance, it can make it easier for different departments to communicate information between each other effectively, offering pragmatic support to collaborative schemes.

Furthermore, it can also help homeworkers and staff engaging in flexible working practices not become isolated from the central decision-making process, by ensuring they have access to the data they need to get involved in this and preventing them from becoming isolated.

Businesses that install CRM software will find it easier to share customer-focused information throughout their company. This is preferable to utilising decentralised databases, which offer several disadvantages, notably the risk of losing important statistics and the time spent moving the figures from one place to another.

Always better when we’re together

Collaboration has long been underlined as a crucial part of innovation and growth within the corporate world. This trend has perhaps become more pronounced as businesses become bigger and more global – it takes more of an effort for international firms to engage in this process, as fruitful as it can be.

Marketing consultant Brian Honigman recently wrote a blog for the Huffington Post extolling the virtues of inter-department working, describing it as a “driving force for continued efficiency among everyday tasks and a necessity for improving the outcomes of many business activities”.

According to Clinked, 75 per cent of companies expect online collaboration tools to be an important part of their business over the course of the year.

While CRM software doesn’t exactly fit this description, it is an important part of how organisations can share data between departments.

This prevents, for instance, a situation where only marketing experts are examining figures that could actually prove useful for people in all parts of the company – front-line sales workers or executives could also benefit from examining this data, and with a CRM process in place they will be able to do so.

“Collaboration in the digital age can help spur original thinking with connections happening across locations and departments that couldn’t’ have previously occurred. By nature, collaboration brings different voices, teams, specialties and opinions together to solve an existing problem,” concluded Mr Honigman.

CRM and innovation

Of course, there needs to be a recognition that technology alone cannot help firms provide innovative solutions to problems. Without the right staff in place, the centralised data offered by CRM software will not be turned into actionable insights.

However, having the information at the fingertips of the whole organisation will make it easier for exciting, collaborative projects to take place and, ultimately, increase the likelihood of finding solutions to organisational problems.

With companies across all industries aware of the importance of innovation, particularly as technology advances at pace, placing this power in the hands of workers can both improve morale and give companies a chance to move ahead of their rivals.

CRM and homeworkers

The advent of flexible working over the last decade has seen a growing number of firms allow staff to work different schedules, eschewing the typical 9-5 approach.

Manifold benefits emerge from this approach – for example, it can improve diversity by ensuring that mothers can combine their career with family life.

Disadvantages include the possibility that workers will not be able to examine the same data as their colleagues because they are not in the office. CRM processes can offset this by ensuring the information is spread across the staff, wherever they are carrying out their role from.

As customer relationship management (CRM) processes become more popular among UK firms hoping to automate some of their marketing procedures and utilise the information they have collected on their customers, the way businesses utilise the technology is beginning to change.

This has been heightened by the way in which the software has been updated, with Microsoft Dynamics recently announcing plans for a new version of their CRM system that will place increased focus on social media and integration.

In a new report, William Band and Kate Leggett of Forrester have highlighted some of the major trends within CRM as more companies embrace the software.

Writing for Computerworld Magazine, Ms Leggett explained some of the highlights of the study, which found that many firms are keen to improve the experience of their customers throughout the whole sales experience.

“To make meaningful improvements, organisations must align their customer experience ecosystems. That requires understanding customers’ deep needs, viewing interactions from the customer’s perspective and socialising customer insights,” she declared.

She also highlighted the importance of mobile CRM, with a growing number of consumers now buying things on tablets and smartphones. While all vendors have some form of solution in this area, businesses will need to carefully consider how best they can utilise this development to their advantage.

Social platforms such as Twitter will become even more influential, Forrester predicted, fundamentally altering the way firms interact with their customers.

“Yet, nearly ten years into the social media boom, many executives are still reactive about adopting social media technologies, instead of focusing on the goals they want to accomplish,” warned Ms Leggett.

Again, CRM can be helpful here by making it easier for employees at all levels of the business to analyse social media trends, helping firms to create proactive policies rather than relying on the impact of a handful of experts in this field.

Fundamentally, more firms will attempt to become agile and flexible by using their CRM systems, concluded the Forrester researcher.

And Microsoft have been listening to these types of reports and are working hard to make sure that they stay ahead of the curve when it comes to everything mentioned above.

At the recent Convergence 2014 event Microsoft outlined exactly how they are going to be meeting these needs (social interactions, monitoring social trends, aligning with customer needs, making the system more intuitive, making the whole system more mobile and interoperable and much, much more) with their flagship CRM product.
To see a summary of the Convergence 2014, see my other blog: Microsoft Dynamics CRM: Product roadmap and future vision.

CRM – consumer relationship management – has always been a part of the business world, although it is only relatively recently that the technology and software to automate this process has begun to gain traction.

Software such as Microsoft Dynamics CRM, along with the advance of cloud computing, has made it increasingly easy for firms to incorporate automation into their marketing processes.

From the financial services sector to the resources industry, there are a host of possibilities offered when it comes to adopting CRM technology, as long as organisations have the planning and talent in place to take advantage of the programme.

But what are the specific benefits of the technology? Here are five reasons while your business needs CRM if it is to perform at the best of its capabilities.

Boosting productivity

Because a CRM system can help firms manage information about clients and customers, allowing them to keep it all in the same place and making it easier to browse, it can reduce wasted time spent attempting to collate this data.

With the levels of information companies are being asked to deal with expanding, software such as this could be crucial if firms are to avoid spending huge amounts of time and money on big data analytics.

And as marketers are put under an increasing amount of pressure to justify their work as budgets are trimmed, productivity should be at the forefront of their minds.

Reducing personnel costs

CRM is not a magic bullet for all the marketing issues facing British firms – having the right talent and expertise in place is still crucial if companies want to engage with potential and existing customers.

However, it can reduce personnel costs by automating a host of processes that would otherwise need to be done by staff. The software also has the potential to cut attrition rates by lessening the stress placed on workers – simply having information placed at their fingertips will make their role considerably easier.

Finally, because CRM spreads data among a team it ensures everyone can work on it, making it easier to introduce flexible working within a company.

Increasing sales profits

CRM is fundamentally about driving up sales through more effective data management. By allowing companies to have more knowledge about their existing customers, it enables them to develop focused, effective marketing campaigns – meaning return on investment should increase.

It allows firms to build up a clear picture of what works and what doesn’t when it comes to attracting clients or encouraging them to increase their orders, thus ensuring that businesses don’t repeat the same marketing mistakes time and time again.

This, along with the cash savings CRM can offer, should see profits begin to rise for firms that integrate their software properly and ensure staff are well-trained when it comes to its use.

Cutting integration costs

This benefit is specifically linked to Microsoft Dynamics CRM, which allows firms to elude one of the issues that can emerge when attempting to utilise this kind of software.

Because many companies already operate on Microsoft systems, using its CRM solution tends to be an easier, quicker and more efficient procedure than bringing in an external programme and attempting to make it work.

When it comes to training employees on how to use CRM, Microsoft’s offering can also be easier, as people who are used to the company’s software portfolio are likely to find the learning curve less steep.

Monitoring the success of campaigns

As marketing budgets are squeezed and chief marketing officers asked to provide definitive figures regarding their return on investment, having a quantifiable way of measuring a campaign’s success (or otherwise) can be vital.

CRM allows companies to track each advertising scheme they launch and assess how well it is performing, meaning under-par concepts can be easily dismissed and popular ones maintained or repeated.

Ultimately, it makes the marketing process easier to measure, producing hard data and figures that can be used to support a particular campaign.

Embracing big data can help chief marketing officers (CMOs) leverage their position and gain more influence within an organisation, as long as they have the right tools in place to manager it, according to a new report.

B2B market research company Circle Research and marketing agency dnx surveyed 52 marketers from B2B and B2C organizations in the UK and Europe, finding that 83 per cent of respondents have already put plans in place for big data investment.

According to the survey, the main reason behind this spending is that big data can offer granular, detailed understanding of consumer behaviour – allowing businesses to put more reactive, engaging plans in place for their own customers.

Some 69 per cent of people in the sample are already utilising this information to shape their overall operational and commercial approach.

Furthermore, there is a ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ element to the widespread investment seen across the sector, with nine out of ten respondents worrying that insufficient spend on big data could see firms placed at a competitive disadvantage to their rivals.

Drew Nicholson, the chief executive of dnx, said technology is now in place to gain an unprecedented level of insight into what makes consumers tick, whatever the service or product involved in the process is.

“Whether it’s search, affiliate, display or email blasts, all of those things you can measure and work out if they’re helping your business or not,” he explained.

However, he warned that a shift in thinking may be needed before companies can fully embrace the potential of big data; although creativity remains crucial, it is vital that this approach is leavened with the use of hard information.

“Marketers need to be prepared to roll their sleeves up and get involved in the data, maybe a slight cultural change [is needed] in the way they think about things,” he explained.

British financial services firms need to improve their use of new marketing channels if they are not to be left behind by their rivals, with the sector typically behind the curve when it comes to the adoption of innovative advertising solutions.

Strict legislation around data protection and complex target audiences have been two factors in retail and investment banks’ unwillingness to change their marketing plans, an expert has claimed.

Ben Mott, client services director at Smith & Milton, wrote in the Guardian that brands such as Red Bull and Virgin have been at the forefront of developing social media strategies and engaging with consumers – compared to these global corporations, financial services companies are lagging behind.

One factor in this confusion is a lack of integration – the “siloed, product-led nature [of retail and investment banks] means their divisions all have their own voices”, declared Mr Mott.

“With the advent of social, they are trying to reorganise this internally instead of focusing resources externally to engage with customers,” he explained.

Social media can be extremely complex for financial services organisations, forcing them to deal with a number of different issues while putting pressure on them to keep sensitive information as secure as possible.

“A lack of trust in the financial services category makes it hard even for the good companies to use it effectively. In fact, most customers have their head in the sand when it comes to communicating with the big bad world of banking,” the expert indicated.

However, this does not mean firms should simply ignore the possibility of connecting with British consumers – if anything, it heightens the urgency with which they should be adopting engaging marketing techniques.

It is important financial services organisations keep track of changes in marketing approach if they are to regain the trust of prospective customers, concluded Mr Mott.

Natwest Business Banking, owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland, recently praised the impact Microsoft Dynamics CRM had on its marketing policy.

Companies that take advantage of real-time marketing (RTM) opportunities can see their conversion rates soar, according to a new report from Monetate and Econsultancy that took in the opinion of some 900 respondents across the globe.

Some 84 per cent of company respondents and 82 per cent of agency respondents consider RTM to provide a better customer experience.

However, only 47 per cent and 46 per cent respectively are seeking improved retention by using RTM, suggesting some challenges are facing businesses who want to adopt this kind of technology.

Responsive marketing techniques can also have an impact on brand perception, it was claimed, with 34 per cent of companies citing this as a factor in their efforts to implement RTM policies.

A major factor in this shift has been the widespread adoption of mobile devices; as more consumers use smartphones and tablets when out and about. This is creating a huge amount of data for marketers to utilise, as long as they have the correct technology in place to take advantage of it.

Variables such as weather, transactional data and content viewed can help leverage marketing action and ensure businesses know how their customers are acting.

John Healy, chief operating officer at Monetate, said: “Thanks to the mobile revolution, the amount of data now available to businesses has increased exponentially, and what we have previously known as ‘real-time marketing’ is rapidly evolving beyond social to include the full range of channels available to digital marketers.”

At its best, RTM can surprise or delight customers, helping build up brand loyalty and making people generate positive associations with a particular company or service.

However, companies need to be careful to avoid the kind of nuisance factor that can come by contacting consumers too regularly or carrying out their marketing in an invasive way.

Utilising CRM processes can ensure businesses keep track of their data and take advantage of RTM techniques, while integrating the approach throughout the whole company.

CRM (Customer Relationship Management) can serve a multitude of purposes for the enlightened organisation.

Here we will take a very brief look at just one of them – improving revenues and cross-selling.

Know your customers and their behaviours

For decades, if not centuries, companies have collected significant amounts of information about their customers.

Typically, that was often obtained unintentionally and the organisations concerned didn’t even realise the potential the available information was offering them.

CRM software changes that. It allows you to collect information, from potentially disparate sources in your company, then consolidate it in to an integrated single-customer view.

That’s important because once you have the total view of a customer you may be able to better understand their behaviours.

Understanding customer behaviours

There are three main reasons why you need to understand things such as what your customers are purchasing, when they are purchasing and where and how much they are paying. These are:

  • Identifying opportunities to cross-sell. This is an established technique that allows you to formulate sales propositions, delivered directly to an individual customer, that may be particularly appealing to them based on their past commercial behaviour patterns;
  • Customer retention. It’s sometimes overlooked that trying to retain and expand your existing customer base is as important as trying to acquire new ones.  CRM can help you to analyse and understand customer attrition and then take the important step of stopping or reducing it;
  • Improving profitability is easier if you understand and can segment your customer base into profitable sub-categories. That allows you to identify those that are profitable and concentrate your product development and sales priorities into such areas. However, it also helps you to identify segments that are less profitable and potentially to disengage from those if you cannot identify remedial actions.

Avoiding guesswork and intuition

In the past, much commercial development in the above areas was based upon guesswork combined with high-level statistics and an inherent assumption that one-size-fits-all.

Today, CRM techniques allow you to ultimately bring down your selling and product development levels to the lowest level of granularity – i.e. an individual customer.

These are powerful tools and techniques which, used appropriately, might revolutionise your sales and customer acquisition/retention.

This talk was given by Marisa Kopec, Vice President and group Director of Serious Decisions at the Microsoft Convergence 2014.

According to statistics, companies distributing content onto their website claim that 60-70% of their content goes unused. Why is this?

Marisa argued that traditional workflows and content processes are breaking down. Why? There is a lack of “Audience” based content pieces and an override of “Product” content. The content you are distributing must be personalised in order to attract your audience and the buyers of your product. However marketing campaigns should already target this problem, by designing your content into your different categories of your buying processes.

Who is your audience? Who are you targeting? You must architect your content to suit your audience. Originating your content influences your audience to share your content not only online, but physically throughout their network. To ensure you reach out to the correct people, you must ensure your topic list and business issues are relevant to your audience.

Within businesses, there is a conflict between employees and teams on who they believe has the responsibility in producing and creating the content for the company. Is your workflow integrated? If it is then you shouldn’t have the following issues; do your employees have clear roles and responsibilities suitable to them? Or are your employees conflicting and competing with one another with their roles and responsibilities? Are you revolutionised as a company? When producing content within your company it shouldn’t only be a whitepaper or a document. You should be thinking ahead on how you’re going to distribute your content, throughout social media, emails and campaigns.

PDF’s are beginning to go out of fashion. As a marketer you should be thinking ahead and into the future before designing and creating your content. Not only will people be looking at your content on a computer, they will be looking at it through their mobile devices.

Mobile is booming ever more and soon we will need to produce all our content that can be seen on small screens, which will influence a different design process. Over time your team will adapt into originating the content for your company rather than typically sending out your usual run of the mill product fact sheet or whitepaper. The personalisation of your content is significantly important as it is more likely to transform conversations into more buying prospects.

Currently there is usually a missing link between sales and marketing. Marketing is creating content which is completely irrelevant to the way sales are trying to sell. Future plans for content should always be discussed between teams in order for the buying and selling process to be in line with one another. This will trigger a company or person to take action into the buying process, and once that is complete, we can take it to the next level to help them convince their one internal process to pick our business.

Natwest Business Banking opted for a Microsoft Dynamics Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to replace a number of other software processes because of the flexibility and integration it offers, the company has claimed.

Now part of the Royal Bank of Scotland group, the company spoke to Microsoft about the benefits it gleaned from utilising the software.

In 2011, the prestigious financial services organisation found that its legacy technology was beginning to show its age and decided a full CRM overhaul was needed if the firm was to provide customers with the service they demanded.

David Russell, head of CRM for business & commercial banking for the Royal Bank of Scotland, said: “To improve our business banking division, we wanted to create a consolidated view of all customer touch points and streamline processes to free up employee time to better focus on those customers.”

He explained the bank was also hoping for analytics capabilities that would “allow us to further improve those customer relationships, while driving cross-selling opportunities through value-added customer interactions”.

The personalisation offered by CRM has proven beneficial both to the financial services firm and its customers, declared Mr Russel.

Natwest looked at a host of options beyond the Microsoft version of the software but decided that its integration capacity made it the best option, in addition to the fact that its interface would be more familiar to users across the organisation.

“In order to get the adoption we needed, we knew we didn’t want a system that our users viewed as yet another software program they had to learn and use,” he said – rather, they were aiming for a process that would be considered helpful and intuitive.

Some of the additional benefits cited by Natwest include a rapid return on investment and a boost in customer relationships, with workers able to prepare for meetings in a matter of minutes because the information they need to do so is right at their fingertips.

You have made it this far and grown your business to this point, so you may well be questioning whether you really need a CRM or not. Not to forget the opposite side of the spectrum; those who did adopt a CRM and found it to be a burden rather than a benefit. As time passes and the technology significantly improves, however, the list of reasons to implement a company-wide CRM is growing by the day – but the question you need to ask yourself is which CRM is right for you?

The correct CRM should go further than simply easing and aiding internal processes; it should be a catalyst for sales growth. For example, if a sales rep can see savings of several hours a week, the time they would have previously spent sourcing client information and researching is replaced by having tools such as InsideView at their disposal. Now the time saved means they can dedicate even more time to what they do best; selling.

How to use CRM

Forward thinking CRM systems and strategies can help you track your finances far more efficiently. Once again, in an indirect way, tracking your ROI will help grow your business beyond its current levels. How? If you can accurately track which campaigns are having the most impact on leads, you can ensure that you recreate them. Rather than only having every other campaign as noticeably beneficial to your company, pick the bits that work best from the successful campaigns and run with them.

What’s more, a CRM allows you to track which customers are the most profitable to your organisation. Unlike a simple database or excel file, a CRM such as Microsoft Dynamics can alter how you view your figures. The ability to re-align data can help you find sales patterns more easily – then stick with what’s working and make improvements where necessary. For example, whilst one customer might actively purchase the most from you, the time you spend dedicated to them means that they’re not necessarily the most profitable customers. Successful use of a CRM will help you find out how to alter the balance so as to increase sales with different customers.

Grow with your CRM

An impressive advantage associated with CRM is, not only does the software help your company grow but the CRM follows you there. The more advanced CRMs are completely flexible and adaptable and will aid you throughout the various stages of your business. They can be constructed and reconstructed in various ways to help your business if it decides to take a change in direction. Microsoft Dynamics CRM has a huge app store with a range of add-ons which helps the CRM be as sales-powerful as it is all rounded. The store is segmented in a way that shows which tools are best suited to which department of your company and also range from paid expansion to completely free additions.

Having read a little more about the usefulness of using a CRM and how it can help your business, your question may have changed from ‘Do I need CRM?’ to ‘Which CRM do I need?’ In which case, get in touch and we’ll be happy to support you.