Business Intelligence Can Give CRM A Boost

Industry experts at a CRM conference in San Francisco made it clear that using basic business intelligence can help boost users' adoption of CRM and lead to a better payoff on investments.
One reason companies have a hard time getting the most out of their customer-relationship-management deployments is that they don't make sure they're giving salespeople and other customer-facing employees something they can work with. Whether the interface is cumbersome or the data isn't useful, users often are turned off by CRM applications they perceive as a burden rather than helpful tool.

Industry experts gathered at a CRM conference in San Francisco on Thursday made it clear that simple design and use of basic business intelligence can help fuel user adoption of CRM technologies and ultimately lead to a measurable payoff on CRM investments.

Kevin Nix, group VP at Siebel Systems Inc., told attendees that many of the CRM and sales-force-automation deployments he sees suffer because they overwhelm users with too much information, much of which either isn't useful or is off-target. "You have to ask yourself what problem you're trying to solve," Nix said. "Are you trying to build a command control center, or are you trying to make your sales force more effective?

Delivering usable information requires analysis of the various data streams that can feed a CRM system, which is where business intelligence comes in. Shaku Atre, CEO of Atre Group, a business intelligence consulting firm, and often referred to as the "mother of business intelligence," said investing in a layer of business intelligence above the CRM system helps to define customer profiles that can lead to better business decisions. For instance, CRM apps too often are used as tools to attain and retain as many customers as possible--when in fact they should also inform salespeople if certain customers are actually costing a company money, Atre said. "If we are losing loss-generating customers," he added, "that may not be bad at all."

That's the kind of thing public television station KQED in San Francisco is trying to address. Edward Chen, the station's IT director, has been leading a proof-of-concept business-intelligence deployment that's helping KQED identify donors who gave last year but not this year. "We're starting to use that data to figure out where our actual revenue opportunities are and where we need to give up," said Chen. The goal is to use the success of the proof-of-concept to build momentum for a business-intelligence deployment across KQED. But even if the station opts not to pursue that kind of scope, Chen plans to share the proof-of-concept with other public stations, most of which are constantly struggling to keep donations flowing in.

Rebecca Wettemann, a VP and analyst at Nucleus Research, told the attendees that adding a layer of business intelligence to support CRM is a good strategy for companies that want to leverage their existing IT investments. "A small investment in business intelligence can extract value from your CRM system," Wettemann said.

But sometimes the struggle is getting users to access the information in the first place, as the California State Automobile Association has learned the hard way. The insurance provider deployed Siebel's CRM software for financial services in 2002; a year later, it found that salespeople were rejecting the tool because they found the interface too cumbersome. "No matter how much you train them, if it's too complex, they won't use it," said Vlad Kaminsky, a CSAA senior technology consultant. "They may say, 'I don't sell as much if I use this tool.'" Now the company is considering ditching its Siebel app and replacing it with software from E.phiphany, whose marketing module it uses.

Atre said complexity is the surest path to a CRM system being rejected by users. "They don't want to be challenged by technology."

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