V. It's a Sin to Not Automate Business Processes
Businesses don't achieve ROI by putting data into a CRM system. They achieve ROI when manual business processes are automated and productivity increases.
Business process automation is both a driving factor in achieving user adoption and if achieved, one of the most cited benefits of CRM applications. However, it is also difficult to achieve and one of the least realized CRM results. For example, in terms of business processes, the sales function is typically the least understood and documented departmental function in the company. This often results in inconsistent processes, significant staff performance disparity and large fluctuations from person to person, team to team or period to period. It also speaks volumes to the old adage, "you can't manage what you can't measure".
CRM systems which integrate and automate staff activities with company defined business processes or best practices provide a key advantage in realizing consistent performance, improved productivity and repeatable successes. CRM software vendors use a variety of creative tools and methods to combine activity with automation, however, the two most powerful tools to review when comparing SaaS CRM solutions are workflow designers and content management systems (CMS).
Workflow Design Tools
Workflow design tools permit staff to create and automate business rules and processes throughout their CRM application. Workflow routines define automated processes to occur based on a triggered event, change in data, or lack of action within a specified timeframe. Workflow routines can send alert notifications, create and assign tasks or activities, change field values (such as a resource assignment), create a checklist or request an approval. Customer-facing activities and processes can be prescribed in advance (in a best practices fashion), automated, and measured for efficiency and continuous process improvement.
Some sample workflow process automation benefits and capabilities include the following:
- Manual processes can be automated to significantly improve staff productivity;
- Business processes can be assigned to resources based on an event, for example, assign and schedule a sales qualification or discovery when a lead is distributed to a sales rep;
- Workflow events can be client facing; such as sending personalized e-mail or fax communication based on a schedule, the absence of activity or the occurrence of an event;
- Workflow processes are not limited to only basic conditions, and should permit extensibility throughout the CRM application and potentially integrate with other business software systems.
Some sample business process automation scenarios may include the following:
- New lead or prospect assignment based on product, territory or other account assignment criteria;
- The assignment of a sales methodology, sales plan or the creation of a number of staged sales activities for a sales rep to complete when assigned a new prospect or new sale opportunity;
- Customer service incident escalation based upon customer status, incident type or after a certain amount of time has elapsed;
- Automated e-mail or fax distribution to customers on their anniversary or when they have not received any correspondence from the company for a designated period of time.
Workflow is the enabler to process automation and business process improvement (BPI). Utilizing a tool which automates processes and measures their performance equips management to compare their operating efficiency to Best Practice benchmarks or identify bottlenecks, inefficient processes and other opportunity areas for re-engineering.
CRM publishers whom provide workflow tools to predefine alert notification conditions, map processes in optimal fashion and define repeatable or exception based business rules are creating automation and saving users and management countless hours of manual effort.
When evaluating CRM systems, look for workflow tools that avoid programming, confusing syntax or technical input and instead use a visual design environment for developing business rule routines by dragging and dropping tasks and events into user-defined sequences. An intuitive interface will allow setup and configuration by non-technical staff. Workflow tools should also be reviewed for logical design, process measurement and system-wide applicability. Recognizing that users are not always logged into their CRM application, workflow and alert functionality should integrate with e-mail and mobile telephones.
Content Management Systems
Most CRM publishers provide some type of electronic file repository which is helpful but far from empowering. However, electronic file repositories increase in value when bundled with content management and document management functionality such as HTML WYSIWYG editors, dynamic forms/field integration, Check-In/Check-Out, version control and audit trail histories. CRM publishers which can empower users to create and publish their policies and best practices to custom web pages and integrate that information to specific reference or action points in the CRM application are providing a means to deliver the right information at the right time. CRM-based content management systems should be reviewed for ease-of-use in creating custom content and simplicity in staging content where it may best be consumed.
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CRM software publishers whom provide workflow tools to predefine alert notification conditions, map business processes in optimal fashion and define repeatable or exception based business rules are creating automation and saving users and management countless hours of manual effort.