In my experience, pipeline/forecast is one area of a CRM system that changes frequently. Way to frequently.

Fortunately, these changes require less coding changes today through Windows Workflow Foundation (Dynamics CRM) and Workflow Automation (Salesforce) that in CRM days of old.

Not going to comment on whether it is right or wrong, just that it happens, often, as a matter of fact in many organizations. Change Sales VP, there will be a change to the sales process. Change the compensation model and the forecasts will change. It happens all the time and makes numbers from sales very short term and difficult to do long term trends. The best way to improve accuracy, find a sales process that works and then measure the core of that process. Less change, more value.

One of the biggest challenges that CRM systems have is integration with back end systems. In the cloud with hosted CRM, this in some ways is actually a bigger challenge than it was in the past.

From CRM to ERP
Pipeline and Forecast data are the most common and most important data from CRM into an ERP system. Business process determines the complexity of the integration.

Examples of complex integration requirements can be found with just in time manufacturers (e.g., Dell). These organizations will integrate forecast data into their supply chain for competitive advantage. More common CRM to ERP integration is less complex. Generally and regardless of complexity, this integration occurs on set schedules (e.g., Weekly) as part of the sales process. True real-time capabilities are not required or necessary. Real-time availability by a vendor (product, SaaS, or ISP) will be of more concern.

Some Sales organizations have a culture of frequently adjusting pipeline and forecast requirements. This is often seen with changes in Sales and Executive management. Ideally, the change in business process would not impact the data integration; however, the technical configuration may need adjusting as well.

From ERP to CRM
Product and Price List data from ERP to CRM is always a complex integration. Technical configurations can be complex. The volume and frequency of updated data can also be complex.

Most large contracts are negotiated with customer specific pricing, terms and conditions. For many organizations negotiated contracts are the norm and the lifeblood of the company. As a result there are typically no set of constants or rules across all negotiated customer specific prices lists. Individual negotiated contracts for all large customers would create a scenario of hundreds or thousands of unique price lists. This creates tremendous complexity for technical configuration as well as the volume and frequency of updated price list data.

From CRM to Business Intelligence/Analytics
While the two previous requirements focused on the sales force automation areas of CRM, integration with business intelligence and analytics tools could and often cover the spectrum of CRM applications: Sales, marketing, customer service, etc. Each department has their own tools and key performance indicators.

Functional requirements arise from leveraging the right data to enhance the customer relationship. Three areas of concentration are data mining, decision support and analytical tools. These integrations often are “nightly data dumps” from the CRM system into the business intelligence tool.

In the past 24 hours, I have had two diametrically opposed customer experiences. One was delightful, the other made me cancel my account.

I used to bank with a large national bank. When the wife (Disclosure: the wife works for Amazon but does not read my blog) and I married, we consolidated accounts to another bank, but kept this account to have a local presence. This arrangement worked for the last 7 years. Yesterday, I received my statement which included in my opinion ridiculous fees. Now, I was never informed that these fees would be incurred. The statement was the only notification. I am sure that there was some fine print that I missed; however nearly $20 for a “free checking” account is just poor business. I went to the local branch to close the account and they did do their best to try to keep my business. Given how these fees were incurred, large unnamed bank did not want my business any longer, so I was happy to oblige.

This afternoon, I re-started working on a project to extend a WiFi antenna into my attic. This has long been on my to-do list. During the basement remodel when I wired the house with coax and Cat 5e, I even ran a 50 ohm coax cable into the basement to extend the antenna. I never finished the project. Recently, I purchased what I believed to be the correct TNC connectors. Well, I goofed. I bought the wrong ones. The return process from Amazon (Disclosure: the wife does not work for the retail side of Amazon) was dead simple. I was not even required to return the connectors. Amazon just gave me the refund! While I may be a great customer, the shipping and restocking costs were likely more than the cost of the connectors. Not only does it make good business sense, it is an incredible customer experience. Hey, I am even blogging about it.

So who are you, large unnamed bank or Amazon? Can you delight customers while still making sound business decisions? How will your customers rate their experiences? Keep these questions in mind and stay customer obsessed in 2012!

Will Google enter the enterprise applications market?
It is a matter of time.

The recent GM announcement signal that the company is almost there. For many enterprises, the first business process to be put into place is CRM. Google will enter the enterprise application space in CRM to better leverage existing services.

Considerations:
1) gMail is becoming widely used in the enterprise. The cloud is proving privacy can work.

2) Email is the de facto CRM application. Sales, service and marketing all rely on email to connect with customers.

3) Google has great corporate data research with finance.google.com.

4) Searching for anyone (customer, prospect, etc.) involves a Google search in addition to searches in other services like LinkedIn, Jigsaw and Gist.

5) Alerts could be configured to prompt action based on search results.

6) Sales, service and marketing are becoming more about individual and less about the company due to social tools.

7) Microsoft and, Google partner, Salesforce are battling it out for cloud-based CRM. gCRM would be less robust, but give companies a reason to move from Office to Google Docs.

So what does Google need that they do not have today? I see 3 big pieces.

One, process across marketing, sales and service:
Process is a must. Organizations turn to a CRM system to give them best practices and process flows that they do not have. In my experience, all CRM clients are looking to improve process through technology — not the other way around. Process for marketing, sales and services organizations are very different, but all have a common thread of measuring the cost per call (also called contact, customer, or incident).

Two, sales pipeline and forecasting
Sales pipeline and forecasting is an extension of process, but it needs to be more flexible and dead simple to configure. Why? Because the average VP of Sales is on the job just 19 months. Every new VP of Sales will want to be measured by his or her own agreed to metrics, not by the old metrics that got the last VP ousted. This is very common and will be so for the foreseeable future.

Three, integration to back-end systems. Integration with back-end systems is one of the constants in CRM. This can be any system from ACD call routers to an ERP system. In the 30 or so CRM deployments I have been involved with, integration has played an critical part every time.

If Google will address these three missing pieces in a way that is robust yet flexible, gCRM will be a winner.

Amazingly my $0.02 on questions you need to answer in mapping out your Social CRM strategy still ring true:

  • Where are your customers?
  • Where do they go when they have issues with your products and services?
  • Is that channel cost effective for you?
  • How open is that conversation?
  • How are you making them successful?
  • What keeps them from flaming the CEO?
  • How many are willing references?
  • How many are actively referencing business to you?

Any others?

I have been revisiting the idea of customer intent and its implications. Social media has exploded given customers and prospects the ability to express intent. Buyers signal. Customers signal. Competitors signal. These signals are important data points for the Sales, Marketing and Service — the 3 big users of CRM systems.

A great recent example of this phenomenon is the Netflix price increase. Customers revolted and the company found itself in reactionary mode. Reid Hastings’ blog post will be remembered and studied for years. Is it a coincidence that Amazon’s (Disclosure: The wife works at Amazon, but does not read my blog) Kindle Fire announcement states the following?

There are two types of companies: those that work hard to charge customers more, and those that work hard to charge customers less.

The real interesting thing about these two companies is one forget their competitive advantage and the other did not. Kindle Fire and the new Kindles look like winners, Netflix is left spinning Qwikster, which is already being compared to New Coke. Amazon listened to customers, Netflix did not.

This example shows the implications for CRM. Signals are positive or negative. Sales, Marketing and Customer Support have to be able to filter and respond to the signals that matter to their mission. In the end, it is all about how you support the customer across the customer life cycle. The next evolution in CRM will be how to focus on the signals and understand customer intent.

Having a hard drive fail is never a great situation.

I have been pretty fortunate only 4 drives have failed in 20 years.  Probably about 100 drives in total which is a 4% failure rate which is about double the norm. It is infrequent, but traumatic. I can remember every one.  The most recent was the newest hard drive I purchased a Kingston SSDnow 64 GB solid state drive. this drive lasted 4 months. Before the failure, I was very happy with the drive. Quiet and fast. I could cold boot in less than 20 seconds. Then nothing. Drive not found said the BIOS. Tried the drive on another PC. Drive not found said that BIOS. Wonderful.

The best thing about this drive failure was really understanding that my data was not impacted. Dropbox, external drives and a FTP server had everything that was mission critical. I was able to swap the original drive into my Dell Vostro V13 and was back to work. Kingston was very responsive once I navigated their site. Drive replaced upon receipt of the original drive. Total turnaround was 5 days. A half-day to reinstall the drive with OS and programs and I am back. Not thrilled that I lost the original drive, but it could have been much worse. Kingston was great. They should make it a lot easier to find how to get help. The current site is difficult to navigate when your blood pressure is up.

The lesson: PCs are now merely the tool to access data, not the repository of data. Email, files, etc. all live off-device. More and more capability is pushed off the PC until we have a true “network computer.” The biggest issue I now face will be replacing the iTunes Library. Moreover, this will make me think about how we interact with computers and how that will change in the future.

There is an old adage that is all too often followed, “Want more sales? Hire salespeople.”

Sales and who you hire to represent your company is critical. The success or failure of CRM, revenue generation and the company in general are dependent on how the organization learns from prospects and customers.

A terrific read on this by Veritas founder, Mark Leslie: The Sales Learning Curve

Social CRM is gaining momentum to be the next big buzz word. Some great posts on the subject have been making the rounds, but none more than “Why CRM ain’t CRM if it isn’t Social” by Dr. Harish Kotadia. His points are clear and intiutively understood by most CRM practitioners. In my view, social media makes it possible for buyers and customers to signal intent on an unprecedented scale. Buyers signal. Customers signal. Signals can be positive or negative to the organization. Most companies, even great CRM companies, do not understand this shift.

    Before mapping out a social CRM strategy, answer these questions:

  • Where are your customers? Where are your prospects?
  • Where do they go when they have issues with your products and services?
  • How open is that conversation?
  • How are you making them successful?
  • What keeps them from flaming the CEO?
  • How many are willing references?
  • Where is your organization’s focus?

CRM is about being customer-centric. Sales, Marketing and Service are the usual suspects of customer-facing departments. Each has created internal barriers to what part of the customer that they own. These barriers erode in a socially connected world. Marketing tweets how great the product is and gets a nasty reply from an existing customer. Now it is out in the world naked and transparent. Marketing likely does not even know who to contact in their own company to get the problem fixed. This is real and happening today. I have seen it. I will continue to see it for a long time.

I have been taking a look the the mobile banking space as it relates to CRM for financial institutions. Many major banks offer mobile solutions today and often cite mobile technology as their top innovation initiative. Expect the growth will continue alongside rising smartphone popularity, younger consumers’ spending, and comfort with mobile payment systems. American consumers have nearly doubled mobile banking use in the eighteen months prior to October 2010.

ClairMail caught my attention as the early leader. The company offers a mobile banking and payments platform that is in use at 8 of the top 12 US banks. There is a pretty good chance your bank uses ClairMail’s technology. The platform offers messaging, mobile web and smart client applications which provides 100% mobile coverage. Interestingly, the mobile phone is more secure than a web transaction and gives the bank and customer, real-time, actionable alerts and notifications. This ticks 3 big CRM boxes, acquisition, retention and conversation. Because of these capabilities the company has been successful in deploying at those 8 banks as well. 800% increase in customer adoption for their clients is truly impressive. Joe Salesky, Chairman, Founder & CSO has stated often that the challenge is to determine, “How can you (the bank) expand a relationship, when you have very little interaction with this customer (the bank customer)?”

The banks are ready and the customers of those banks seem to be ready. The company has a strong first-mover advantage. I would expect a shake-out of the space in the next 12-24 months. It remains to be seen; however, if this technology can adapt to lower cost footprints like the cloud. Banks are understandably fanatical about security. They may not have any interest in moving to the cloud.

ClairMail recently released fraud management product to more quickly identify fraudulent transactions. This is a very interesting company and one to watch. Check the TechCrunch article: Clairmail Brings Fraud Management To Mobile Banking Technology.