While digging through some older posts, I came across the “Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook” release announcement from 18 months ago. Google recently released version 2.5 of the product just over 1 week ago. An open question was how Microsoft would respond. Windows Live was the response. The functionality matched Google Apps for email, contacts and calendar. Windows Live versions of the Office suite have followed.

Exchange has long been a category killer for Microsoft. Google is going for the jugular. The most obvious objection to Google Apps will be “our guys love Outlook.” You do not hear much about the product, yet it is still being updated while scores of other Google projects bite the dust. Windows Live did go through a major upgrade over the summer. I use the Windows Live email for one of my accounts. I have been a happy gMail user for years, but wanted to see how the service matched up. The summer upgrade helped tremendously. No longer will emails from the same domain end up in my spam folder. The down side was that I lost 6 months of emails in the upgrade. Nothing terribly important, but occasionally, I find myself searching for one of those lost messages.

The Google vs Microsoft enterprise battle is just starting to heat up. Will be interesting to see what this looks like in a year.

Taking a look back on Cloud Service Level Agreements (SLA) from approximately a year ago and seeing what has changed for the enterprise. The SLA is nothing new and have existed in information technology for many, many years. I can tell you firsthand that SLA remains critical to the selling proposition. The questions on uptime, outages and compensation do not have easy answers. It would be nice to see an industry standard on what 99.999% actually means.

The SLA is now out in the open to all users of a cloud utility. There is still an lingering question of uptime. Two significant changes in the past year have been the introduction of new cloud services, like Windows Azure, and the mass adoption of Twitter to report uptime experience in real time.You still do not have a meter or gauge detailing realtime usage or uptime. Concerns still remain around what actually constitutes an outage? A period of time? As a client, how would you prove it? If there was an outage and the client could prove it, how does the client receive compensation? These questions can be answered in as many ways as there are cloud or cloud application providers. It will be interesting to see how improvements to the cloud improve SLAs in 2010.

In my experience, pipeline/forecast is one area of a CRM system that changes frequently. Fortunately, these changes require less coding changes through Windows Workflow Foundation (Dynamics CRM) and Workflow Automation (Salesforce). I have seen this both from the consulting side and as a user. 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 in management, there will be a change to the sales process. New 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.

All consultants like to ask questions. Sometimes too many questions. Here are 5 that I keep on hand for initial client engagements.

  1. What do your expectations of a service provider?
  2. How do you see out team helping you address challenges and opportunities?
  3. Why are you changing providers?
  4. How do we learn about the business to relate action and implementation to ROI?
  5. What are the good, the bad and the “do not repeat”?

What questions do you use or what to see asked?

Interesting reading. Worth checking this out. Some “real” posts coming soon.

Economist.com: Cloud Computing Debate

The first priority of a CRM deployment should be to learn about existing customer data within the enterprise. It is obvious, but often overlooked. I often make it the top priority when scoping CRM services. Is all that customer data in all of the right hands? 99% of the time it is not. It needs to be in the hands of the people working with the customers. My approach is to get that data to them. Usually, this is an instant success which give a solid foundation for future successes.

Second priority is to understand cost per call. Before the deployment, I have to be able to calculate cost per call (the $ metric). This is true for a services or sales force automation deployment. By correlating the cost per call to improvement, I can calculate a cost per call improvement. This is ROI. Automate your internal processes so that you can pull everything you know about your customer into a single view for your rep (sales or service).

Keep these two priorities in mind and your CRM implementation will be on the road to success.

A “Know your customer” re-post. Have a great weekend.

“Know your customer” is the mantra.

When you know the customer, good things happen.
– Example, Client A increased user adoption to 70% of total call volume. ROI increase 25% in one quarter.

When you know your customer, you can spot trouble a mile away.
– Example, Client B re-organized and has a new executive sponsor. He has called the ROI model into question.

When you know your customer, the relationship goes beyond business.
– Example, Client C asks for advice on improving the ROI model and photography equipment for his vacation.

Solid read on the state of the cloud @ Fortune Brainstorm Tech: A kinder, gentler cloud.

Check it out.

My $0.02 on questions you need to answer in mapping out your Social CRM strategy:

  • Where are your customers?
  • 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?

Any others?

In a recent conversation, the topic turned to the future direction of CRM. Normally, I would wax philosophic on this but it is really pretty simple.

Marketing is taking over more and more of the traditional sales cycle. Sales will spend less time educating and more time selling qualified prospects. Marketing will own the wide part of the sales pipeline more than it ever has before. Prospects can gather a wealth of information by themselves and they will do it. Prospects will self-qualify more than ever before. Sales Enablement solutions are finally getting traction. Sales will adopt CRM because sales enablement will finally offer them value rather than “sales accounting”. Social CRM plays to the marketing side of CRM and early indications are that it will lead to bottom line results.

The enterprise can and will learn from early adopters. In the end it all comes down to the community of customers that your enterprise builds and nurtures. How do you grow prospects? How do you nurture them into customers? How do you show the love to those customers post-sale? These will be the macro-trends that CRM will see in the next few years.

All of these new services will be hosted software as a service solutions in the cloud and the challenges around integration will still be there. I look forward to checking this post 2-3 years from now and seeing how I did.