6 Best Practices for SaaS – CRM Implementation

6 Best Practices For SaaS - CRM Implementation
6 Best Practices For SaaS – CRM Implementation

What is Cloud-CRM?

CRM (Customer Relationship Management) has been helping small and big businesses to market, sell and make deliveries to their customers, directly communicate with the customers, and maintain customer contact service centers targeted to address their concerns and issues. In this process, they are able to improve their overall revenue and bottom lines. Many readymade CRM solutions are available in the market that can be customized as per the specific business’s requirements.

These CRM solutions and underlying customer data have traditionally been residing within the environments of the company, running on the company’s own infrastructure. The fast paced innovation-hungry technological evolution has witnessed the emergence of the cloud-CRM, i.e. the CRM solutions and the customer data do not reside on an organization’s own servers, but rather accessed via the cloud computing architecture, over the Internet. Cloud CRM is also called Software-as-a-Service CRM (SaaS-CRM).

Why is Cloud-CRM/SaaS-CRM gaining popularity?

In 2013, Gartner reported that the worldwide CRM market grew 13.7% from $18B in 2012 to $20.4B in 2013, with 41% of all systems sold in 2013 being SaaS-based [Source: https://www.gartner.com/doc/2711518]

All the cloud computing benefits are applicable to the users of SaaS-CRM. Perhaps the biggest driver is the high cost efficiency, since the organization need not invest on heavy infrastructure or skilled manpower. Updates, backups and maintenance are all taken care of by the SaaS vendor. The CRM apps and related data residing on a cloud can be accessed via apps downloaded on mobiles and personal tablets, as well as laptops, by the authorized employees, agents and supervisors of the company on the go, from anywhere/anytime. The solution is very flexible and can integrate region specific variations, for instance. It is easily and economically scalable, and can even be scrapped /closed conveniently. The monthly/quarterly budgets can be better aligned, due to clear visibility of the outsourcing costs. Since stringent SLA’s guide the vendor service contracts, the SaaS-CRM would be up and running 24/7 without directly involving the IT of the company.

Studies reveal that 15% of organizations have replaced all or most of their on-premise customer service applications with SaaS solutions, while 24% use SaaS to complement their existing solutions.

6 Best Practices for effective SaaS-CRM deployment:

To leverage the benefits of SaaS-CRM, it is imperative to use the right strategies and a planned approach towards step-by-step implementation of SaaS-CRM within the organization. Listed below are some best practices that can help business houses:

  1. Make a Sound and Accurate Business Case:

    Before going the cloud way, the organization needs to study the benefits and trade-offs of SaaS CRM solution in depth, map it against the in-house CRM alternative. The pros and cons of both options should be carefully weighed, and the risks identified, as applicable to the specific business’s needs. The cost and flexibility benefits should be evaluated considering the licensing fees, internal labor costs, user training costs, storage capacity and support costs. It is also useful to examine whether the CRM solution can seamlessly be moved in-house in future, if desired, to ensure a smooth transition without a breakdown of well-established services.

  2. Choose a Vendor for Long-Term Association:

    It is always beneficial to choose a vendor who can give full end-to-end solution to ensure project continuity and accountability. A vendor, who provides the entire gamut of SaaS professional services such as project management, change management, system integration, application expertise, business process re-engineering, data conversion, software customization and technical and user training, is the best choice. Although it may seem like a tall order at the onset, it would greatly reduce the implementation time and streamline support and later upgrades.

  3. Include the ‘Right’ Elements in the Contract:

    Once the SaaS solution and the vendor have been shortlisted, it is time to work out a tight contract. It is imperative to involve internal technical experts into the contract negotiations, since business, sales and customer service heads may not be completely aware of the technical nitty-gritties of the solution. It is also beneficial to ensure that stringent SLA’s are mentioned within the contract, which the vendors may be reluctant to include. These SLA’s will safeguard against breakdown or outages. The technical know-hows can help to identify hidden costs. The disaster and recovery procedures must be explicitly mentioned, and tightly coupled with the SLA’s. The expected levels of customer support, both during initial implementation, and during operations must be delineated clearly, to ensure smooth support at all stages. The contract should safeguard the company from being abandoned by the vendor at a later stage, by adding a penalty clause or by phasing out delivery-linked payouts. The impacts and costs involved in scaling up or down should be covered. One important aspect often overlooked is the availability of company’s data back into the company’s systems in a usable format at the end of the contractual period, which could be a grave loss.It is good to include an NDA signed by the vendor protecting the company’s sensitive data.

  4. Choose the Right Implementation Strategy:

    There needs to be a balance between the speed of CRM implementation and the correctness of the deployment, without taking risky short cuts. The implementation plan should adopt a phased approach, which ensures trackability, tighter control and increases accountability, in turn speeding up the entire implementation process. The scope and priorities must be clearly identified. The detailed timeline should clearly mention the minor and major milestones, deliverables and acceptability /exit criteria for each phase, aligned to the overall goals, objectives and timeliness. The system configuration phase for user relevance should be included in the timeline. There is a need to build a strong team comprising of an executive sponsor, a dedicated project leader, and representatives from the user community, vendor consultant and SaaS solution administrator and technical experts from the business units and/or IT.

  5. Incorporate the Right Data Security Processes:

    It is essential that there is a push for adherence to industry standards levels of security and a guarantee of data protection. The roles and access rights of those who have access to the company’s precious and sensitive data must be specified explicitly. The data plans should mark vendor’s role in data conversion/integration and handing back data in a usable format at the exit of the alliance. It should be impressed upon the SaaS vendor to furnish the information about the security and protection of its data centers, data redundancy schemes deployed, and to clearly reveal any third party applications that may have access to the company’s data. Taking feedback from other customers of the vendor about the efficiency of their disaster recovery robustness is also helpful.

  6. Formulate a Strong Support Framework:

    To ensure that the solution is running smoothly and reliably at all times, it is important to define the role of the vendor in the support and management of SaaS CRM. Designate support staff that comprises of a tightly coupled team comprising of both the vendor and the company’s staff, with roles clearly defined for each. The vendor should also train the support staff and provide help-desk support. Ask for visibility well-in-advance for the upgrade and maintenance schedules. In this aspect, the support framework needs to be well established just like that for any in-house system, since it ultimately affect the company’s own business and customer service. Provision well for a possible change in vendor management or a business acquisition of a merger of the vendor’s business, in the dynamic global market. Lastly, revisit the solution with the vendor periodically to re-align and fine-tune it to changing/new scenarios within the business.

By adopting the above mentioned best practices while implementing a SaaS-CRM solution, the enterprises can gain a business-oriented and streamlined view of customer data and related information. For small to medium businesses, this means quick and cost-effective access to the CRM benefits. A well-implemented system will be superior and give better visibility to understand the effectiveness of the company’s marketing and sales pitches.  The goal of CRM, after all, is to provide useful insight into the company’s strategies and help them plan successful, customer oriented actions that can be managed more effectively and with real-time feedback on their impacts on business.

The CRM-cloud technology is trending in the enterprise world, giving the advantage of engaging host technology without maintaining heavy infrastructure and cumbersome database. By outsourcing the CRM needs, businesses can turn their focus towards bettering the business goals and capitalizing on the market leads.This also addresses a very important business need – integration of social media onto all areas of business.

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