By Lisa Witepski
(The following article appeared in an edition of Future Marketing)
How are local companies fairing when it comes to embracing technology for their sales and marketing efforts? Future Marketing spoke with Mark Annett, general manager of Camsoft Solutions’ CRM division for his opinion on the subject.
There was a time not too long ago when it was relatively difficult to attribute the term “early adopter” to South African companies – attitudes towards new technology were considered hesitant, to say the least. In fact, if you wanted to find people with lots of tech savvy and great ideas you would generally have had to look to academics at Universities and Technikons. That’s all changed in recent years though, and there are now countless established and new businesses alike that are reaping the rewards of a culture that embraces innovative technologies. What does this mean for Customer Relationship Management, i.e. CRM?
“The past five years have seen a significant change in the way South African companies have exhibited an openness to accepting new technologies – an immediately obvious example being our love of gadgets,” opines Camsoft’s Annett. “South Africa ranks as one of the fastest growing countries in the world in terms of cell phone usage – and it’s not all talk. Accessing data via GPRS on a cell phone is becoming more popular and the trend is on a very steep growth curve as subscribers realise what opportunities are available with this technology. With the advent of 3G, albeit in its infancy worldwide in terms of availability at this stage and with prices needing to come down before it is adopted more widely, there will likely be a further push in demand for wireless data access over mobile networks. Already with GPRS though, which is relatively inexpensive and can be “always on” without the necessity of dialing up each time, wherever there’s a GSM signal there’s the opportunity to search on Google, do your online banking or access your company’s customer database. A recent survey by the financial newspaper, the Economist, revealed that cellular technology is empowering businesses on a scale that could never have been anticipated even two years ago. In addition to voice calls, part of this empowerment is the independence that a cellular phone provides in that office-based information can be at the users’ fingertips while they are remote from the office for any length of time.
Then of course there’s been the steady demand for PCs, and, in the last year, a sudden marked increase in the popularity of laptops as the multiple benefits of lower prices in real terms together with the rand strengthening and improvements in battery life making these devices more attractive as desktop PC replacements. The mobile workforce has never looked in better shape, with reasonably-priced equipment making cutting-edge technology purchases more affordable than ever before. Of course, technology usage varies a great deal across income groups, but technology tends to have an irrepressible tendency to filter down from the big spenders at the top to those with smaller budgets at the lower end, who then get exposed to what is possible and can motivate management at their companies to make the investment in appropriate technology.
It’s inevitable that successful businesses are bound to make use of available technology to improve the way they go about doing business – and one tool that is really proving its worth is CRM. “We’ve recently seen significant growth in the uptake of CRM by a wide range of companies in various different sectors of the economy – and for many it is now accepted as a business necessity,” Annett notes. Recent enterprise surveys have borne this out in that respondents identified CRM as the second most important investment that companies anticipate they will be making in the coming year after management consulting services out of a list of the 5 most important aspects required to run a successful business today.
There are many reasons for this rapid uptake and they are also quite varied, observes Annett. “We’ve noticed that smaller companies in particular have been very keen to benefit from CRM. This may be because they have realised that there are tangible benefits in the ability to act quickly and take advantage of opportunities as they are presented. Decision-making processes in smaller companies are generally also swifter than in their larger counterparts, which helps them to be nimbler in taking advantage of good opportunities to improve the way they go about doing business. The advantages of a good CRM system also become more apparent, more quickly, in smaller organisations, so that the return on their CRM investment is more immediately obvious and can very easily be determined. “That’s not to say that all big companies are dragging their heels though. They, too, are embracing CRM, especially those that are showing strong growth, which isn’t too surprising”, adds Annett.
CRM has evolved a great deal over the past few years and is becoming more accessible to more people in an organisation with a variety of different access devices being used. The gradual improvement in available bandwidth in South Africa, together with decreases in cost, has also meant that a company’s CRM system can be available to more people in an organisation – and sometimes even a company’s clients, if appropriate – around the clock, 24/7. Annett firmly believes that the demands exercised by businesses on Telkom and ISPs has forced telecommunications companies to take cognisance of their needs and adjust pricing accordingly. “This is shown in the provision of services such as ADSL which has recently seen major price reductions locally. Static IP addresses with ADSL have also now been made available. As a result of this repositioning by service providers, it has become a lot simpler and more economical for most companies to consider implementing web accessibility to their business systems. This accessibility is enhanced by the services offered by such systems, such as online trading, client service logins and general customer management.”
“Now, almost all of the most basic, entry-level cell phones are typically WAP-enabled, so that even without browser capabilities on a phone, accessibility to a CRM database can be provided to mobile workers,” Annett states. “Simply put, CRM is already one of the most powerful means of getting closer to customers – and providing better service results in more business and better profits. It therefore makes sense to have as much accessibility to a CRM solution as a company can afford, even when workers are not in the office. The result is a comprehensive business-building solution.”
Annett cites Maximizer’s CRM solution as a good example of what can be possible. “The Maximizer Enterprise eCRM version can be web-enabled, meaning that users can access the customer database wherever they are – in their car, in the field, in another city, or at a client’s premises, for example. Similarly, customer log-ins to the company website can be tracked so that details of their online activities on the site’s web pages can help the company determine what the customers’ needs and interests are without having to be present at any time during the online visits.”
The increasing use of wireless technology is also impacting on the manner in which people conduct business. Annett speaks of a current initiative to transform the town of Knysna into a wireless zone. “This technology has, in the past only been available in offices, and with the imminent availability of new standards, such as WiMax which allows wireless connectivity over distances of up to 50km, it is anticipated that there will be an even greater uptake of wireless enabled services. Wireless networks have huge advantages, improving connectivity significantly to a variety of resources via the Internet. From a business perspective, this has exciting implications. Telecommunications costs are typically one of a company’s biggest overheads, so reducing costs has a noticeable impact on a company’s bottom line. Furthermore, it is often said that efficient communication is essential in ensuring that a company’s message is heard, and with cheaper communication the message can spread further.” Technologies enhancing cost-effectiveness also make it possible for small businesses to establish a larger presence, punching above their weight, so to speak. “Any company can realistically own and manage their own website. This becomes like a virtual office; but, unlike a conventional office or storefront, it is accessible beyond the hours of nine to five.” This translates into more opportunities – and bigger profits for companies.
But what of the argument that all this technology detracts from the human touch, the value of which can never be overestimated? “Far from being a company’s attempt to divorce itself from its clients, the use of technology actually makes for increased interaction. After all, it enables the company to communicate with its customers 24 hours a day. Looking ahead, what kind of new technologies can we expect the future to bring, and how will companies respond? “Poor bandwidth availability and high prices for this much-needed resource has, for many years, proved an inhibiting factor in the uptake of technology by companies and individuals alike. With this obstacle gradually being cleared, the way is being paved for even more advanced products. It’s not difficult to imagine a future where every home and business enjoys access to almost unlimited bandwidth, as is already pretty much the case in some first world countries today. This will undoubtedly change the way we communicate, bringing a variety of additional, hitherto undreamt-of services into the reach of people and businesses that are prepared to invest in and embrace technology.”
By Mike Richardson, Managing Director EMEA
With all the publicity this week around the CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer deciding that home working should be withdrawn, and following some media speculation that this facility was being widely abused at Yahoo, I jokingly exchanged a few words on the topic with our President here at Maximizer, Vivek Thomas, during my weekly call to Canada as he was working at home that day.
The following day BBC Radio, TV News and National Press were running the same story and I mentioned some of the thoughts and opinions to some Staff and Management Team here at Maximizer EMEA.
Opinion was divided; on the one side the ability to disappear to your home office as a Manager to do that bit of research or create the next marketing piece is certainly appealing. If you are a highly disciplined staff member it can certainly work very well.
In fact I am sure, like me, you have days at the office where your ‘things to do list’ of six items, flies out of the window within five minutes of arriving at your desk. For me, on Thursday that started with an early call from a Business Partner with an idea to offer a discount to a win a deal in the Emirates, and then Anita, my Head of Marketing pop’s her head in to discuss whether we should hold our next event at the local swanky Hotel or at Canada House in Trafalgar Sq… several further phone calls and a couple of urgent emails later and it’s already getting dusk outside. In contrast, if I had taken the decision to work from home that day, I would have completed all six tasks on my ‘to do’ list and then some. So personally, working from home increases productivity, especially as I can access my CRM and emails via my smartphone and iPad, but why then do I find myself agreeing with Mayer?
Answer; not everyone is as disciplined as I. In my mind, allowing my staff the ability to work from home can have serious drawbacks (as well as benefits). Namely, it’s nearly impossible to manage staff who aren’t as committed and disciplined, when you can’t monitor their activities, because you cannot physically see them. For example, how do you know if an employee is writing that time sensitive bid proposal or browsing for that last minute holiday deal in the sun? There is also the negative impact on working relationships, especially for staff that rarely come into the office. Such individuals miss out on the dynamics and banter with their colleagues, which fuel’s team work, supporting productivity between departments.
So what is the outcome here?
Luckily for me, as the Managing Director of Maximizer ‘Customer Relationship Management (CRM)’ software, the decision to promote or withdraw the ability to work from home was easy. Maximizer CRM web access offers all my employees the ability to logon to Maximizer and work on their ‘Hotlist’ tasks, lists of opportunities, customer service tickets and marketing campaigns from home; while I can measure the productivity of my home-workers via the easy to use and ‘real-time’ dashboards and Crystal Reports built into the software.
In short, I can instantly see how many calls an employee makes, how many emails are sent, and which customer or prospect records have been updated, whether the employee is sitting physically next to me or in Timbuktu!
So instead of questioning whether my staff are productive when they work from home, I look at my Management Team and whether they have the skills to co-ordinate the workload for home-workers.
Now some roles and tasks will never lend themselves to be measured in such a way, and maybe employees who undertake these roles should be restricted to the office. However, roles which can be monitored, such as Sales, Marketing, Customer Service etc., my question now is, do I trust my Managers? And as long as I do, and I believe my Managers support their teams by providing regular updates, set realistic and timely goals and create a culture of transparency, whereby employees know what is expected of them in and out of the office – I believe home workers can be extremely productive.
By Diego Lunardi, Business Development Manager, Maximizer Software EMEA
So we’ve all heard the news that Yahoo are looking to ban homeworking, my managing director has even written his own blog on the matter. Yet, as I was listening to BBC London radio (coincidently, while driving to work), I found myself reflecting on the many views and opinions expressed by the callers, even if some of the facts and figures were spiced up by the presenters.
As I listened, a question popped into my head (as I sat in traffic) – am I being productive during my one hour commute? Followed by: do these two hours driving affect my productivity at work? If I were to work from home, would it mean working two extra hours? And so on…
Then one comment on the radio captured my attention and I posed myself a different and what I consider the critical question for my situation – do I have the right tools to be as, if not more productive when working from home?
In my case, the answer is simple: yes!
The main tool I require to do my job and deliver against my targets and key performance indicators is my Maximizer Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. Other tools that are also vital include the usual email client and MS office suite – but luckily for me, these are also integrated into my CRM. So as long as I have my laptop, or even my iPad, and an internet connection, I can function at full productivity, no matter where I am – coffee shop, customer’s office or simply at home.
Yes, it is true: when working from home temptations are always around the corner, namely the fridge, but are we exempt from distractions when in the office? Would you not make a coffee when in the office? Would you not have a chat with your colleagues about the last new cool gadget? Would you not be able to browse the internet? And the list could go on…
In fact, the more I think of the list of potential disruptions, the more it becomes clear that I am more likely to be interrupted and fall for distractions when in the office with all my colleagues around, than at home. So why am I still uneasy at the thought of working from home?
Then it hit me! While at home, how can I ‘prove’ my productivity? I raised this with a colleague and she stated she preferred to be in the office, even with the distractions, because when she worked from home (and she was thinking about her old job) she had to work twice the number of hours to ensure she could provide sufficient evidence of the fact that she had been working!
I guess from her manager’s point of view, this was a bonus, but I don’t want to have to work 15 hours from home to be able to prove to my boss that I have been working. And although I know I have the discipline to ensure I get the work done, do I need the additional pressure of proving it? Once again, I realised that my Manager can track and measure my activities, whether I am in the office or at home via our CRM, so the need to prove myself has been eradicated.
There are a number of pros and cons to consider for and against working from home. If I work from home, it can be argued that I would be more productive and in the tough economic climate, when maximizing productivity is king, surely I should work from home all the time! Yet immediately, I find myself mentally shouting NO!
Being in the office is somehow like being at school, there is always something to learn and often from the same colleagues who you would criticise for interrupting you. Interaction is essential, it facilitates new ways to do things, knowledge transfer, sharing best practices, team working, as well as enabling motivation and competition, which improves overall individual performance, the company itself and ultimately, customers will benefit from this!
At the end of all this, I have come to a very simple conclusion: home working can be highly productive and therefore beneficial, but to succeed it requires the right balance between office and home, discipline and most importantly, the right tools, such as CRM access!
By Andrew Heriot, Head of Service, Maximizer Software EMEA
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) should be Customer led. Having worked in the CRM software industry for more than a few years, it is my experience that the most common reason for CRM failure occurs when companies fail to realise that CRM is about people first and foremost. In short, CRM is not purely about the software, but how willing an organisation is to commit to an approved customer–centric philosophy.
It is vital that companies really listen to customers’ needs, concerns and challenges – and then align products or services to give customers what they want. Implementation of CRM software on its own is not a magic bullet that will revitalise sales and boost profitability. Companies need to engage effectively with customers and put the ‘relationship’ back into CRM, and for many, this will require a culture shift in the way they do business.
There are numerous means of seeking and encouraging customer feedback: blogging, online live chat, posting comments or even a simple suggestion box. It is what companies do with the feedback, how it is logged and how responses are co-ordinated that is all important, whether in good times or during the current economic downturn, it is those companies which focus effectively on their customers that flourish in competitive markets.
At Maximizer, we established an online Suggestions Portal for our client community: customers are able to make suggestions about the product, review and comment on other peoples’ ideas and vote for them. Using this method, we can see where we need to put effort into our product, as well as discuss the best approaches to developing the Maximizer CRM product roadmap.
We recently released Maximizer CRM 12 Winter 2012 software across EMEA, and many of the great new features and enhancements are a result of listening to the ideas of our customers. By drawing on community feedback, our product development team decided to optimise the system’s mobile capabilities for smartphones such as Android and iOS based devices. In particular, we noted that enhancing our web access platform for the iPad & Samsung Galaxy Note was a desired requirement amongst our users.
In addition, after undertaking a poll with our current users globally and taking into account the current business concerns, we noted ‘productivity’ was a key issue, hence in our current release we also introduced a new streamlined workflow and performance enhancements designed to increase efficiency.
I am sure, however, that many management executives will question whether realigning company culture and placing customers at the centre of all operations will really generate or increase business opportunities.
Well, I cannot offer the sought-after guarantee. However, at Maximizer, as detailed above, we strive to put the customer in the driving seat and at the centre of product development and service. And using this method, judging by the number of customer upgrade requests we have received for our latest solution, Maximizer CRM 12 Winter 2012 has proven to be our most successful release to date.
In conclusion, if you are looking to implement a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, take my advice: first, complete a detailed review & audit of how you interact with customers and all customer facing processes, and then improve them if necessary to drive top line and bottom line success.