Sales Force Automation: Managing CRM and ERP Solutions
Sales Force Automation
Sales force automation (SFA) is used loosely throughout the industry and means different things to different people. Basically, SFA includes all of the technologies, techniques, and strategies on which successful sales are built. It's an activity that brings you together with your customers and improves communications and productivity. Customer resource management (CRM) falls under this umbrella.
The goal of SFA is to streamline the entire sales process in order to make businesses more efficient, to improve customer interactions, to increase overall customer satisfaction, to and save time and money.
Customer Relationship Management
Managing sales data and processes can be simplified using today's software solutions. These products automate nearly all of the tasks that salespeople and their support staffs once performed manually. As a category, these products are generally referred to as customer relationship management (CRM) solutions.
CRM applications started as simple contact-management software that salespeople ran on their PCs. Then vendors began to develop products that automated a larger number of processes and tied together all of the sales data across the organization into one comprehensive source.
Though the features of a CRM solution can vary from product to product, there are a few industry-standard functions:
- Contact manager. A CRM solution must have a powerful yet easy-to-use contact manager to track sales leads; it should give you instant access to relevant information about your clients.
- Marketing encyclopedia. This feature includes base of information about different vertical industries, competitors, and products. It's a valuable tool that diminishess research time and informs you of your clients' needs.
- Forecasting module. The forcasting module lets you analyze where and when leads are generated. This information helps you to determine how to spend advertising and marketing budgets in the future.
When looking for a CRM solution, these features aren't necessarily standard, but you may find them helpful:
- Localization support. This is an excellent feature if you have international customers. A CRM product with localization will automatically convert data, such as currency information, to its foreign equivalent. Add a rate-of-exchange feed, and you can get automatic and up-to-date exchange rates for world currencies.
- Support for mobile devices. Not all CRM software includes support for personal digital assistants, but if your salesforce uses Palm organizers or Windows CE devices and needs access to CRM modules, look for software that offers connectivity options for popular handhelds.
- A Web-centric approach. Like many other applications, CRM solutions are becoming Web-based. This means that they are built entirely on Web technologies, and you can access them through a Web browser. These applications are generally more affordable, easier to implement, and simpler to maintain than their client-server counterparts.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) vs. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)
CRM and ERP both offer ways to automate processes and run your business more efficiently. However, the systems were originally designed to streamline different functions.
CRM solutions are used to manage contacts, accounts, opportunities, activities, marketing, customer support, and many other sales and service-related processes. CRM calls for knowledge of business needs and customer demands.
ERP is a system of managing operations and business functions, which include product planning, purchasing, inventory, customer service, order tracking, and other back-end business processes. ERP requires knowledge of financial and manufacturing processes.
The lines between CRM and ERP are beginning to blur as ERP vendors incorporate CRM functions into their software and CRM vendors add ERP capabilities to their offerings. Both industries are working to develop all-in-one applications to streamline internal operations and customer activities.
Web-Enabled vs. Web-Based CRM Solutions
Although Web-enabled and Web-based customer relationship management (CRM) applications are similar, there are some fundamental differences.
- Web-Enabled Solutions. In the rush to develop products that deliver sales force automation features through a simple browser interface, quite a few CRM vendors have added browser front ends to their products in order to make their software "Web-enabled." Many have integrated e-mail management features, call center support, and e-commerce applications into their software; however, their products are based on client-server technology not Web technology.
- Web-Based Solutions. Other vendors are building true Web-based applications that utilize the Web as part of their platforms. With these solutions, you don't need to distribute software to all of your employees because the application runs over the Internet. Generally, Web-based applications are cheaper and easier to manage than their client-server-based counterparts.
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