6. More variants of CRM. This is a form of enterprise software, but I’m mentioning it explicitly because it seems like this area has such potential. CRM (“Customer Relationship Management”) means all sorts of different things, but a lot of the current embodiments don’t seem much more than mailing list managers. It should be possible to make interactions with customers much higher-res.
My Idea – MRC
Now this is my kind of idea. About three years ago I was in charge of building and launching an internal CRM system, so this is probably the one time on this blog that I’ll be posting about something that I’ve thought about for more than an hour or two. To start, here are a few personal observations I’ve had about what works for a typical CRM system.
- Be flexible – if your system can’t support a new field or minor business requirement within a very short window (1 week is about the max), users will be frustrated and resort to their old CRM system (namely pen/paper, Excel, rolodex, filing cabinets, etc…)
- People work primarily through their Email inbox – use that to your advantage
- Provide a very clear “what’s in it for me” explanation for your two main user groups – the day-to-day users and the execs who rely on the underlying reporting
- Make it look good – simple things like having a few slick visual reports or extra user-centric “wow, cool!” features available for a demo/training session can heavily influence the initial impressions of any new system and help with the critical issue of early user buy-in and adoption
The simplest explanation of my idea is “Xobni for CRM” (MRC, get it?). The idea is to work within a user’s inbox to pull structured CRM-style data from their unstructured daily communications. Instead of relying on a centralized independent database to store all of this information, all of the data would be stored within the users inboxes and a few special accounts created on the corporate mail system. This enables online/offline scenarios, eliminates typical privacy/security concerns, reduces the need for separate hardware, and allows the system to be as reliable as the corporate Email servers (which are arguably the highest-priority boxes in a company).
To best illustrate how this could work, here’s a typical scenario:
Scenario – Account Manager following up on a lead
The Account Manager (let’s call her Shirley) attended a conference and has a business card from a lead (let’s call him Frank). Shirley opens up her inbox to fire off an Email to Frank. Now, instead of writing an Email from scratch, she clicks on the “Templates” section of her MRC plug-in and finds a fantastic pre-written Email that she’s used with other leads before. Note that this is a plain-text (or HTML) Email, which can be modified and personalized as needed. The one difference between this mail and any standard Email is a small check-box in the header that says “Track This” – this is checked by default, but can be unchecked if Shirley wishes to keep this mail private.
Shirley clicks send, and two separate Emails are sent – the original mail to Frank, and a behind-the-scenes mail that is sent to the MRC system account. This mail provides structured Email back to the master system with information about the communication – the fact that Shirley is mailing a potential lead, the Email address of the lead, the fact that Shirley sent it, the time the mail was sent, etc.. The system also scans the mail to see if Shirley made simple minor updates to the Email that can be used to further understand the lead. For example, imagine the template had a line that said “I’m interested to see if we can meet to discuss your company product product from company name this week. I’m available on insert times here to discuss in more detail.” If Shirley entered the info into the template, the system would pull it out and store it – if not, though, no big deal.
The next day Shirley has a message in her inbox from Frank. When Shirley opens it, the system would recognize Frank’s Email address and the sidebar on the right-hand side of her inbox would be populated with key information about Frank, including his name, his company, previous Emails, the status of the lead, any upcoming appointments, etc.. In addition, the system would reach out to professional networking sites like LinkedIn to pull in additional details about Frank, his current position, and his company. Shirley could go in and easily edit any of that information (or enter new information). Also, if someone else in Shirley’s company had previous contact with Frank or someone from Frank’s company (via Email domain matches), the system would pull up that account manager’s profile and interaction history.
In Frank’s Email message, he responded with a new date/time for the meeting. The system would recognize this date/time combination and add a button to the MRC sidebar to “Create a new meeting”. By clicking on this button, Shirley would open a new template – if Shirley was free at this time, it would be a calendar invite with Shirley’s phone number/online meeting place info. If Shirley was busy at this time, it would be a new template that included several open times on Shirley’s calendar (similar to what Xobni does). Again, if Shirley accepted the privacy agreement, the meeting would automatically be tracked as part of the engagement history with this lead.
I could go on with more scenarios around the executive reporting level or other scenarios around creating mass Emails or adding/removing custom fields, but it would all revolve around this concept of having awesome templates, easy access to valuable data about people/companies, and using a design-first UX philosophy that makes using the CRM system…dare I say it..fun? At the very least, visually pleasing and not painful.
Speaking of cool CRM solutions, one of my favorites is Rave – great example of using design to drive adoption of an Enterprise product.