Sales Force Automation: Managing CRM and ERP Solutions
Our experience in the Indian market has shown that organizations have ended up using different applications to manage customer information. Sales and Customer service employees use CRM applications while the Accounting and Finance teams use ERP applications. Another important point to note has been that while CRM applications have been developed with cross organizational collaboration in mind, most ERP applications have been restricted to use within the Finance department. Further, many companies have tended to buy their CRM and ERP applications from separate vendors who are specialists in their respective areas. This combination of factors has resulted in applications struggling to address key business process needs where the customer lifecycle crosses the front-to-back-office divide. The result is, a) departmental silos of information, b) process duplication, c) inefficiencies d) manual intervention.
The 'Prospect-to-Quotation-to-Payment' cycle is an example of where these issues can arise. Given the departments involved at various stages of this cycle, namely, account management, quotations, sales orders and accounts receivables, mistakes at any stage in the process can be costly and result in delays. As an example, if a sales person makes a quote based on an outdated price list or stock availability and then converts this into a customer order, imagine the nightmare that would result in the organization. Also, sales and customer service reps may struggle to provide order related information to customers due to limited visibility of transactional data.
Front-to-back office integration is the 'final piece in the customer-centricity jigsaw' as it brings together disconnected business processes, applications and data. This then gets translated into a) improved management of customer relationships, b) decrease in costs, c) increased profitability, and d) overall competitive advantage.
Front-to-back office integration is made up of three elements,
1) Consistent data sharing between related entities within the CRM and ERP applications. Customer data is always structured according to specific application types. Therefore we need to be able to create dynamic links from entities within the CRM system (eg: company) to the corresponding entity within the ERP system (eg: account). Therefore a CRM's out-of-box ERP integration will provide for bi-directional synchronisation of customer information, both financial and non-financial.
2) 360 degree customer visibility, regardless of whether customer data originates in the CRM or ERP application. Providing the CRM and ERP users with access to both financial and non-financial information eliminates customer data 'blind spots'. Further it enables all to share deeper and more meaningful customer insight based on a combination of CRM and ERP derived intelligence.
3) 'Straight through' processing which enables a user to initiate a transaction which then automatically triggers all related business processes as appropriate and passes seamlessly from one application to the next without the need for manual intervention.
Small and medium businesses in India often struggle to make this happen given certain immediate priorities they may have in the short term. However many of them are now realising that 'standalone' systems would probably not exponentially enhance internal efficiencies and customer satisfaction. In this respect we are seeing several segments open up to the idea of front-to-back office integration. Some of these include,
The time has come for businesses to realise the 'final piece in the customer-centricity jigsaw puzzle'. Those who discover this faster will necessarily ride the growth wave with front-to-back office integration, gain competitive advantage and build a base of satisfied customers.