CRM – No longer the Lone Ranger

The Australian logistics industry is clearly buoyant at present. Demand for imports is high and the export market, particularly for metals, minerals and grain is strong.

In the midst of this upward trend, the time is right for logistics companies to look at how they manage and maintain customer, supplier and stakeholder relationships in order to ride this wave of opportunity.

CRM is the obvious solution and most organisations will already have considered, if not implemented, a form of it.

From a seemingly rocky start that saw the CRM industry riddled with over-ambitious and failed projects, it has now reached the point of mass adoption and is recognised as both successful and sophisticated. Companies are using it to automate the majority of their business relationships, processes and rules with measurable ROI.

But have the benefits of integrating CRM with existing or additional databases e.g. ERP been explored in as much depth?

The answer predominantly is ‘no’ — an alarming fact given integration is acknowledged as one of the simplest ways to draw the greatest value from an IT investment.

Today’s customer has no firm loyalty but expects to have a consistent, satisfying, and personalised experience at every contact with an organisation.

This is regardless of whether they are dealing with representatives from sales, accounts, management or dispatch. It’s also regardless of how they choose to interact, be it face-to-face, by phone, email or via the Web.

For a business, this translates to the need to provide staff with access to up to date and extensive customer details, regardless of whether they are in the office or on the road.

For example, arming your drivers, freight teams, warehousing teams, and purchasing teams with this information is vital as it ensures every customer contact gives you the opportunity to fine tune your retention and acquisition efforts.

Equipped with more information than ever before, a new breed of CRM customer is emerging. One that has acknowledged CRM and ERP solutions have ‘grown up’ and now offer significant return on investment.

Some of the key benefits integrated CRM and ERP solutions are delivering for logistics companies are:

– The ability for sales teams, management and dispatch to view information typically held in accounting packages, e.g. open sales orders, invoice history and credit status directly from the CRM system — i.e. no need to double back through different databases to source this information

– The ability to change account information in the database while on the road, knowing that the next time you synchronise, the information will automatically transfer to the CRM database and, from there, into the back-office accounting systems

– The ability to view all of this information, on-hand and know that each time you synchronise, it updates the central database automatically.

This results in:

– Greater flexibility for staff in managing customer accounts; streamlining operational overheads and simplifying processes across the business

– Improved ability for staff to respond more quickly to customer requests and issues; strengthening relationships through outstanding service delivery.

No longer is CRM the poor cousin to ERP nor is it a standalone product. Integration bridges boundaries between disparate systems and provides users with a single view of customers.

Successfully integrated with an ERP database, CRM has the potential to become the tool by which 80 per cent of an organisation’s employees conduct 80 per cent of their work.

After all, a CRM solution is not just about capturing information regarding who your customers are and what they’ve done but, used in the right way, it should provide insight to your team that helps them decide what to do next with each and every one of your customers.

It’s important to remember that an integrated CRM solution will impact nearly everyone within your organisation in some way.

A successful integrated CRM and ERP implementation needs to be about ‘more than just the product’ – it needs to be a philosophy across the organisation. To achieve this, nominate a project champion to evangelise the solution and drive adoption across the business.

The benefits of CRM come not only from how you integrate the solution with existing or new databases, but also from the implementation plan you follow.

To ensure successful integration, planning is essential. Begin by defining the need for you integrated CRM/ERP solution and establish a common, company wide goal.

The best product in the world will not meet expectations unless it is implemented in a way that matches your requirements.

The more thoroughly you embrace a company wide CRM philosophy, the more your company will benefit from it.

It’s great to start your implementation with a departmental focus, but keep your larger goals in mind — the most exciting benefits of a CRM solution will be experienced when the entire company can access the wealth of information it offers.

Beyond loading software onto a server and tailoring it to specific needs, an implementation requires the involvement of all employees who will be using the system.

Fail to obtain this support and you can safely assume that the system will not be fully utilised. Reassure staff that they will receive all training required from initial roll-out onwards and follow through on this commitment.

Finally, never lose sight of the fact that the customer is the reason for your implementation.

Get feedback from customers to see if their satisfaction levels are really increasing. If there are improvements they would like to see, a good CRM solution will offer you the flexibility to tailor the solution to meet specific demands.

Effectively implemented and integrated with your ERP solution, CRM can deliver not only localised efficiencies, but also pack a long term strategic punch for the business!

Written by Mike Lorge, Managing Director, Sage Business Solutions, Australia and New Zealand

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