For the past several years, software-as-a-service (SaaS) has been the engine that is keeping the customer relationship management software industry running. SaaS CRM darling Salesforce.com continues to show strong revenue growth in a battered economy. (Though some financial analysts rightly point out Salesforce's top-line growth has failed to translate into bottom-line benefits.)
So SaaS has been good for sales of CRM software, but has it helped companies reap more benefits from CRM?
For years now, companies have been trying to illustrate clear business benefits gained from CRM. Yet Richard Boardman of Mareeba Consulting, one of several folks interviewed in a MyCustomer.com article on CRM's sticking points (free registration required), says "the majority of CRM projects add little real value still." SaaS is at least partly to blame, Boardman says:
Interestingly, I think we would be far more advanced today if it hadn't been for advent of the software-as-a-service vendors, which triggered a second wave of hype, as hundreds of millions was pumped into convincing people that being 'in the cloud' somehow allowed people to defy the gravity of implementation reality. There was always someone tweeting from some SaaS vendor conference somewhere 'Wow, XZZ mega-corp has just rolled out CRM to 10,000 salespeople in three weeks!!!!', and just maybe they did, but they certainly didn't do it in a way that added any value to XYZ mega-corps, bottom-line. Ultimately SaaS is just CRM but sat in a server farm somewhere, rather than in your own racks. The challenges of rolling out CRM are the same whatever the deployment model. ...
Preach it. I wrote about the same issue a while back. While inattention to underlying business processes appears to be a problem common to many CRM deployments, I think it's worse with SaaS because so many vendors promote speedy implementations as a primary differentiator between their products and on-premise CRM software.
Take time to identify relevant business processes and look at the workflows associated with them. (Business process management software can be helpful here.) Let those processes help you determine your functionality and integration needs. SaaS CRM products offer varying levels of customization. You'll want to select one that matches up with your projected needs.
Hiring a consultant can be helpful, assuming you get one who understands the importance of CRM processes. (Fortunately, that appears to be a growing number. Because SaaS reduces installation times and generally provides less revenue from system configuration and customization, consultants are focusing more on helping clients with the operational shifts that may be needed to accommodate a SaaS model.)
Boardman and the other folks interviewed by MyCustomer.com also mention user adoption, another issue I touched on in my post. I liked the suggestion of Barton Goldenberg, author of "CRM Automation" and president of ISM Inc., who told me the key to getting people to use a CRM system is ensuring it delivers at least three pieces of valuable information back to folks for every one piece of information that you ask them to add into a CRM system. He calls it the "3x factor."
The MyCustomer piece wraps with seven tips for maximizing CRM value, with suggestions focused on technology, processes and people. While this post has stressed the importance of processes and people, my favorite tip actually involves technology: Learn about your CRM system, as many companies are not leveraging all of their systems' capabilities.