The (CRM) Truth is Out There Part 1

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If a consultant tells you that your CRM should provide a “360 degree view of the truth” it’s like a coach instructing his players to “go out there and give it all you’ve got”; it’s true, but not particularly useful. When it comes to customer Truth in CRM, the key realization is that you’ve probably already got all the information you need…but the most important stuff isn’t in your CRM.

For example, consider these low-hanging fruit CRM requirements:

  • Marketing automation
  • Lead management
  • Sales management
  • Activity reporting

For many organizations, marketing automation and lead management will represent net new functionality, and a CRM-centric implementation of them can be quite successful. But CRM-only implementations of sales management and activity reporting often fall short of expectations, for slightly different versions of the same reason: the Truth is already Out There.

In this article I’ll discuss the sales version of Truth: where it is, the advantages of exposing it in your CRM, and some high-level implementation guidance.

Sales Management Beyond the Pipeline

If the “sales management” functionality you want is limited to pipeline management, a CRM-centric implementation may work out well. But for most organizations, pipeline management really isn’t enough. For example, e-com and B2C sales organizations might not even have a sales pipeline, in the sense of opportunity records carefully attended by account managers. And from my experience with B2B sales managers responsible for pipelines made up of large complex opportunities, I’ve learned that pipeline management is at best incomplete. To paraphrase one of these guys, “A standalone sales pipeline is just made up. It’s what our reps say they’re going to sell, but it doesn’t track to actuals.”

This is a fundamental truth, and if you’re in this situation there’s an easy test you can perform to gauge the extent of the problem: Compare the Dynamics CRM Sales History report with monthly sales numbers from your accounting department. Any time I’ve done this little test it turns out that CRM opportunity records (closed; Status = “Won”) are a lousy proxy for sales.  Here the Truth comes from accounting, and the value of making it available within your CRM can be significant.

From the trenches, a couple of real-world examples:

Empower your Sales Team

In a recent engagement I worked with a client whose sales reps are commissioned on paid invoices. The only access the reps had to accounts receivable information was by making one-off requests to accounting. They were often surprised when customers got behind in payments, and since their commissions got cut in half after 60 days in AR, this wasn’t a good situation!

We implemented a relatively simple integration with their (QuickBooks) accounting system: daily refreshes of invoices (including payment status) now get pushed to CRM, each rep has access to the data for their accounts, so now the only reason they’d be surprised is if they didn’t check (which they never don’t, if you know what I mean.) Given their commission plan, I wasn’t very surprised when average AR outstanding dropped from 47 days to about 30 in the first two months.

Unleash your Marketers

Another recent CRM project was with the marketing department of a medium-sized bank. Their marketing efforts had previously been focused on acquiring new customers, but a new directive from the executive team was to do more to grow business with existing customers…and in particular with their most profitable ones.

In a variation on a theme I hear over and over, the marketing manager articulated her challenges:

We focus on non-customers because we don’t have good access to the information we need on existing customers. Our master customer records and account information are in a mainframe system we don’t have direct access to. IT can generate lists, but it takes a while, and even when we get them we have to upload them to Constant Contact to send emails, and we don’t have any way of automating the follow-up. It’s just way too time-consuming and it doesn’t scale.

In this case the solution involved two main components:

  • ERP integration: Providing access to customer and (bank) account information in CRM, again via a daily refresh from their bank-specific ERP. This provides access to their customer master records, and to all the details they need about customers’ banking activity. Customers are represented as CRM contact records, so they can now build the required targeted marketing lists right in CRM. For example, a refinance campaign can be targeted directly to mortgage customers with good credit histories and high interest rate loans.
  • Marketing automation using the ClickDimensions add-on. Once you can create the targeted lists, what do you do with them? That’s where ClickDimensions comes in. They use it for email campaigns against those targeted lists, and we helped them implement a combination of nurture processes and event-driven workflows to automate the post-email follow-up.

It turns out that if one of these targeted customers clicks the “request more information” link in the spring 2013 Refinance email, they’re pretty likely to refinance. Of course, they pretty much already knew that…but without the combination of actionable information and marketing automation it was hard to do anything about it.

Implementation Considerations

Whether your ERP application is JD Edwards, Baan, Microsoft Dynamics AX, QuickBooks, or anything in between, there are plenty of good data integration options available. Scribe is the most popular data integration application for Dynamics CRM, but there are plenty of other approaches available. The following figure illustrates some of the more common integration approaches we encounter:


From left to right across the top of the figure, here are a few of the most important points to keep in mind:

  1. Connect to a Data Warehouse. Like many verticals, banking has a few niche applications with industry-specific functionality; two we encounter most often in the banking vertical are Fiserv and FIS. Sometimes the data are hard or impossible to access directly, and in these cases the customer may already have developed a data warehouse to support reporting apps or other consumers of the data. When a data warehouse is available, it can be easier to point your integration application to the warehouse rather than directly to the ERP application.
  2. Connect to a SQL Database, using Views. Modern enterprise ERP applications often store data in SQL, and Scribe can connect directly to the database in these scenarios. However, even in these cases it’s generally better to create custom views to expose just the data elements you want to push to CRM than it is to go directly against the underlying tables.
  3. Integrating with QuickBooks. We used to say that after Microsoft Word, the next most popular “word processing” application was Excel. There’s probably an analogy in today’s SMB accounting space; with Excel and QuickBooks jockeying for market share leadership, depending on the size of the business.

In the real double-entry accounting market, there’s no question that QuickBooks is the dominant player, which raises some interesting integration issues. Largely because it’s targeted to organizations that may not have dedicated IT staff, the QuickBooks database isn’t always easy to get to. For example, many organizations run QuickBooks with the data stored in a file on the accountant’s local drive. To make it easier for third-party applications to do interesting things with QB data, Intuit created a service called the Intuit Sync Manager. Regardless of which version of QB you have, this lets you sync selected QB data elements to the Intuit-hosted cloud service, and from there third-party applications can have delegated access to your data. My favorite example in this space is the QB-CRM integration from a firm called Living Business Online. If you run QuickBooks and Dynamics CRM, you should consider this application to integrate the two.

The Moral of the Story

If you’re in the planning process for a CRM implementation, the benefits of starting out by integrating your ERP with your CRM are significant and should be taken into account. If your current CRM is disconnected from your accounting application, you should consider integrating it.

So if the sales version of the Truth comes from your accounting system, where is your activity Truth? As with sales, the good news on the activity front is that important components are already out there, and I’ll discuss those in a follow-on article. In the meantime, if you want a sneak preview and your CRM users use mobile devices or talk to customers on IP phones from Cisco or Avaya, check your call logs.

By Richard Knudson, Magenium Solutions, Illinois Microsoft Dynamics CRM Partner,

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