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Randolph Johnston

Integrated CRM Opens Doors to New Business

When critical applications “talk,” clients and customers listen.

December 12, 2011
by Randolph Johnston, MCS, MCP

TechByte

A new breed of customer relationship management (CRM) software provides CPA firms and other organizations with the power to connect their applications, data and staff in ways that greatly enhance the ability to attract and retain business.

“Integrated CRM” serves as a data “hub” for centralized information management across an organization. This is in contrast with “basic CRM” solutions, which focus on contact management or sales force automation (SFA). Basic CRM does not integrate with other applications, leaving organizations wasting time on tasks such as redundant data entry.

The new CRM, on the other hand, is part of a major trend toward application integration in the accounting profession. Vendors understand that for accounting firms to grow, it’s essential that all staff members stay informed about key information and metrics. Smart integration allows apps to “talk” to one another and share data without necessarily sharing a single platform or database. Integration also offers flexibility and choices — enabling users to select best-of-breed apps and customize a business solution that meets their unique needs.

Vendors have not delivered the new generation of CRM software with the attitude of “we’re here to replace what you have; you need to start from scratch with us.” Instead, these systems come ready to integrate with core applications that are used every day — empowering organizations to continue to use what works and leverage their current investment in tools, training and staff to elevate productivity and effectiveness to new heights.

Integrated CRM offers firms and their clients the ability to view data for meaningful, accurate insight into the core areas of business, including sales and marketing, operations and service delivery, customer service and support, and billing and collections. Acting as the information hub, integrated CRM software interacts with other mission-critical apps. For example, integrated CRM can enhance online document management through products like SmartVault and improve marketing campaigns through two-way communication with services such as Constant Contact. Integrated CRM also can connect with email applications such as Microsoft Outlook and client accounting software such as Intuit QuickBooks. Add SharePoint integration to the mix, and the CRM hub significantly increases the organization’s ability to work efficiently, capture opportunities, and effectively communicate internally and externally.

If you use CRM as your business data hub, you can use the software in a desktop product, via a Web browser, on tablets, or on your smartphone. This means you can conveniently and remotely review data pulled from your key operational systems

Integrated CRM provides organizations with access to the marketing and other tools they need to generate additional business while also effectively serving and retaining existing clients. This should be of particular interest to CPA firms. An AICPA survey earlier this year found that gaining new clients and retaining existing ones were two of the top three priorities for accounting firms, regardless of size. For firms with between two and 20 professionals, client acquisition and retention ranked as the top two priorities.

The first step in implementing an integrated CRM hub in an organization is to review the CRM products that offer seamless integration. Market leaders include Results CRM, Sage CRM, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, and Salesforce CRM. With each CRM product, you need to find out if it offers direct, two-way integration with your organization’s applications. For example, if you or one of your clients uses QuickBooks for accounting, you can augment the product by adding Results CRM along with Results for the Web for business development and SmartVault for document management. The end result is an integrated hub, visible in Results CRM, that gives you access to key QuickBooks information, needed documents through the integrated SmartVault interface, and accessibility through Web browsers and tablets for a single unified view of the business. You can then drive your marketing efforts with integration with Constant Contact, keeping the marketing campaigns and contacts updated with the two-way interface. This is far more effective than simply uploading a group of contacts into Constant Contact.

Talk, they say, is cheap, but applications that talk to one another can provide great value in the form of centrally stored data accessible from any application interface. True power comes from true integration. Wouldn’t you like to create a super solution today?

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Randolph P. Johnston, MCS, MCP, is executive vice president at both K2 Enterprises and Network Management Inc. He is a nationally recognized educator, consultant and writer with more than 30 years of experience in strategic technology planning, systems and network integration, accounting software selection, business development and management, disaster recovery and contingency planning and process engineering. Please note the product recommendations and advice expressed in this article are solely the author’s and in no way reflect the views of the AICPA or CPA Insider™.