June 22, 2012
Unified communications does not, by itself, fix problems. Just because your customers’ employees can click-to-call or get voice mail as email doesn’t mean they’re getting the most out of UC. The real aim of UC is to help companies operate more smoothly and with greater productivity needs that have grown especially important in a struggling economy where every dollar matters. When they’re deploying UC, end users expect to make the most of their not-insignificant investment. So, one important way to help them do that is to combine their UC with customer relationship management (CRM) platforms.
UC-CRM integration “can change the way our clients’ businesses run,” said Jim Watt, president and CEO of IT reseller and consultancy Dynamic Solutions Group. That’s because it boosts staff productivity. Here’s why. Many companies have CRM platforms think Salesforce.com, ACT, SugarCRM, Microsoft Dynamics and so on in place. They also have IP phone systems with UC and its accompanying features. These components all do their jobs well, but do not automatically talk to each other. Together, however, they add a whole new level of efficiency.
“CRM has a 360-degree view of the customer,” said Watt. “When you mirror with the UC system, you’re getting more accurate data more easily.” For example, CRM with UC works with inbound and outbound calls. The CRM piece will dial the phone and provide a notes screen with pertinent information from previous client discussions. “[You] know who the customer is, any conversations we’ve had,” said Watt. “You’re prepared for that call and can react if it’s your best customer or your worst customer.”
Randy Kremlacek, owner and president of TeleDynamic Communications Inc., an IT reseller, said there’s growing recognition among end users that this kind of functionality can be done, and at affordable prices. “People are now asking, where before, they never asked because they thought it was going to be proprietary software.”
They all want to achieve one goal: higher productivity, Kremlacek said. Take a recent TeleDynamic implementation as a mini case study. Every time a customer, new or existing, called San Francisco’s largest cab company, they had to provide all of their information (phone number, address, etc.). Repeat data-gathering was a waste of call center agents’ time. As a result, TeleDynamic proposed that it program the company’s UC and CRM platforms to work together and recognize callers’ numbers. If customers have called in before, the automated system would ask them whether they wanted to be picked up at their home address or any of the alternate addresses they had used in the past. The cab company was sold. TeleDynamic did the job and the results are hard to argue with. The cab company handles about 80,000 calls per month. Now, 60,000 of those are fielded by the interface built by TeleDynamic. The best part is, for the cab company, “there are zero costs associated with that transaction,” said Kremlacek.
You, too, can help your customers get similar results by enabling their UC and CRM software to talk. And there are a couple of ways to make money when doing this. Provided the customer has both a UC and CRM system in place, your work unifying those platforms will yield a project management fee. If a client doesn’t have a UC or CRM system, you also will earn margin on sales of the required platform. And, once you’re in, the opportunities to upsell continue. “Think of this as a Trojan horse,” said Graham Potter, chief product officer at Star2Star Communications, whose UC software soon will work with CRM bundles. “Once you’re implemented with the customer, you can push all kinds of different apps.”
But before you dive in, you need to be aware of the potential snags in UC-CRM integration, and gain insight into critical best practices for skirting those challenges.
Understanding What CRM Means to Your Client. Ask questions of the customer to uncover their vision for merged UC-CRM. Tying CRM into inbound calls often is easier than outbound, because it can hit a database such as MySQL, said Watt. With outbound, a channel partner likely would have to add functionality to someone else’s product. “That’s sometimes hard or impossible,” Watt said.
Licensing. While customers are getting wise to the fact that UC-CRM doesn’t have to involve expensive and proprietary software, that doesn’t mean the bill can’t balloon. “The cost of CRM integration can sometimes shock customers,” said Angie Reed, product marketing manager for Digium Inc., creator of the Switchvox UC system. So, if the customer is looking at a UC platform, and the CRM or UC developer adds cost for licensing with other brands, be sure the client is aware of the extra expense.
Internal Expertise. Programmers are crucial to blending UC and CRM processes because your clients will ask for custom applications as they realize the capabilities of their combined platforms. You’ll need someone on staff who can deliver on these requests.
Be Your Own Case Study. Using integrated UC-CRM in your own company can help you sell to customers, said John Young, vice president of worldwide channel sales for Fonality, whose UC systems work with various CRM packages. Tracking the productivity and other gains within your company will help you speak to customers’ needs.
Integrate UC and CRM Platforms Yourself. If you’re among the ranks of resellers wanting to capture all of your customers’ telecom and IT spend, using and selling UC-CRM is a good way to do that. However, you should consider bringing the expertise in-house. “Bringing in a third party to do CRM … opens the door for that third party to capture other business the reseller needs,” Young said.
Have an Accurate Scope of Work. Too often, partners overlook basic project management. In the case of a UC-CRM deployment, make sure you and the client are working from clear boundaries and expectations. Among other frustrations, this will help you avoid “scope creep,” or the piling on of tasks not included in the original proposal.
Identify Sales and Engineering Champions. Put time, money and effort into making these two people knowledgeable about UC-CRM integration because special expertise is required, Kremlacek said. Bringing together back-office and CRM systems takes technical know-how and a different vocabulary.
Find a Good Developer, Inside or Outside Your Company. Craft a long-term partnership with this person. Otherwise, “every time you want to do something, it’s a one-off thing and a real problem,” said Kremlacek. Partners need to have one developer who can work on the apps end users want on a case-by-case basis.
Provide Training and Documentation. Phone vendors want to sell systems and apps vendors want to sell CRM packages, “but have no earthly idea what telecommunications is,” said Watt. Close that gap by teaching end users how to make the most of their integrated UC-CRM. “If combined right, it will make a positive impact” and differentiate you to your clients. Telesphere‘s CTO, Sanjay Srinivasan, agreed, adding that partners should document all work flows in the pre-development phase. That way, “the customer completely understands how to use the integration and the benefits thereof.”
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