Tailoring CRM

CRM resellers and vendors are offering customers vertical solutions.

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A large hedge fund company found that as its assets under management grew, it became hard to deliver personalized service in a cost-effective way. As the number of clients increased, it became harder to sell, cross-sell, and track new investments, and it became almost impossible to track and forecast money coming into each fund. "Answering questions required multiple phone calls, and preparation of custom spreadsheets, as well as the delivery of monthly estimates and other specialized reports, required Herculean efforts by administration staff," says Yacov Wrocherinsky, CEO of Infinity Info Systems, a New York-based CRM reseller.

The answer was Infinity's Relationship Productivity Manager for Hedge Funds, a combination of a core CRM system, which is built on Best Software's SalesLogix; Infinity's custom model for Hedge Funds; and consulting services to tailor it to each firm's needs. Features include new business/pipeline tracking to forecast money coming into funds, compliance reports to make sure firms are satisfying government requirements, and integration with Outlook, Word, and Excel.

Once Infinity implemented RPM for Hedge Funds, assets under management grew nine-fold, while staff grew from three to five.

Partner Insights

"Generation of client reports was faster, of higher quality, and more reliable since much of the manual effort of faxing and emailing was eliminated. Client service feedback improved since clients got answers on the first phone call, and employee frustration was reduced since it was easier to focus on new business rather than the hassles of getting information and preparing reports for people," adds Wrocherinsky.

An implementation can take as little as eight weeks, and pricing starts at $20,000. Such jobs are the reason that in each of the last three years, Wrocherinsky has seen his firm's CRM practice grow 35 percent.

The hedge fund experience illustrates the market for CRM software.

Once pretty much a one-size-fits-all application, CRM is rapidly developing for markets that have special needs.

"The industry is changing. CRM software overall is more verticalized, and people are more demanding. Being able to tailor CRM to fit a business model is allowing more people to embrace it," says Wrocherinsky.

To meet the demand of its customers, Infinity has developed a series of templates focused on verticals such as financial services, hedge funds, biotech, and distribution. All templates are built on Best Software's SalesLogix platform.

Like Wrocherinsky, other resellers and vendors are developing specialized applications to fit different types of customers and different business models.

"In the last year, we've seen the CRM market break up like an ice pack. Competition is at a higher level, customers are more sophisticated, and Web mobility, integration, and verticalization are all factors," says Jon Van Duyne, the general manager of Best's CRM Business Unit.

Vendors such as NetSuite, Interface, and Cole Valley have CRM products aimed at specific industries. For example, San Mateo, Calif.-based NetSuite recently released NetCRM Services Edition with service-specific features such as service item management, project/job tracking, a client self-service center, advanced activity and time tracking, and document management.

"We wanted to reach companies that provide a service rather than a product. No company is the same, and we want the solution to fit our customers," says Mini Peiris, senior director of product marketing for NetSuite.

Other vendors are letting their channel members develop many of the specific features. "We're relying on partners to use their knowledge and tweak our customizable product to fit specific client needs," says Craig Downing, an Accpac vice president.

Similarly, Microsoft is relying on its VARs to do much of the fine-tuning for its CRM line.

"They're taking the core CRM capabilities from Microsoft CRM and modifying it to deliver a solution that fits perfectly with their customers," says Brad Wilson, general manager of Microsoft CRM business.

Many Microsoft CRM resellers say the software's ability to be customized is a top reason for offering it in the first place.

"The genius in the Microsoft product is the ability to tailor it to fit a certain company's functionalities, rather than have an industry-specific solution. With CRM, it doesn't make sense to build ten different flavors. We prefer to take implementations as lessons learned, and continue to tweak the product to fit our clients' needs," says Steve Templeton, president of West Palm Beach, Fla.-based CPA firm Templeton & Co.

Increase in Demand

Many accounting software resellers, seeing a steady increase in CRM, are focusing more manpower and effort into their CRM divisions. That includes Cranford, N.J.-based Solution Strategists, which created its CRM department last year to focus on Best's SalesLogix. It recently hired Colin Warren as director of CRM.

"Right now, CRM accounts for about 25 percent of our revenue, and within the next couple of years we hope to make it at least 50 percent," says president Art Nathan. In fact, the firm was expecting to quadruple its entire CRM practice in a matter of weeks.

The spur is a customized receivables management solution designed to provide its customers in the accounts receivable services industry with functions that include collections services, outsourcing, traditional invoicing and electronic bill presentment, deductions management, and bankruptcy services.

One Solution Strategists' client had been using an internally developed program that it quickly outgrew. This is where Solution Strategists was able to help.

"Our client needed a programming tool that allowed for the quick and easy duplication of the business processes already defined by the original application. By using SalesLogix, the new program could not only be used internally, but could also be easily rolled out to each of our client's Fortune 500 customers," says Warren.

Danny Baker, principal of Baker Consulting's CRM division, has also seen CRM revenue increase by 30 percent. The Greenville, N.C.-based SalesLogix reseller has seen the number of seats increase from fewer than 50 seats to about 100 seats. In addition, Baker has often found that when clients implement the software in one department, the CRM system trickles through the company. For example, in a recent $150,000 SalesLogix engagement, the CRM system was first implemented to manage accounts, contacts, and sales activity for 75 users in the sales department. It moved to the marketing department, where a catalog was created, and finally was implemented in the customer service department.

More Talk Than Action

However, not everyone is seeing interest in CRM increase. "In our market, more people are interested in talking about CRM, but it hasn't taken off in the closing deals department," says Chris Gryskiewicz, executive vice president of Templeton & Co.

Although CRM contributes to less than 20 percent of the firm's revenue, "It's an important component that has significant potential in future years," says Steve Templeton.

The firm developed CRM for Professionals, focused on people, such as accountants, who bill by the hour. The product, based on Microsoft CRM, was developed to automate the firm's own processes and manage leads.

"It's become a focal point for our organization. We use it as a portal for company-wide announcements, staff can check their CPE status and client information, and we're moving it to operational issues such as tracking tax due dates," says Templeton.

Despite the plan to market the software to other firms, the interest hasn't surfaced yet. "If I had to pick any market to sell to, it wouldn't be ours, they're not tech-savvy," adds Templeton. "CRM for Professionals is more of a hobby right now than a practice focus, but if there are firms who want to jump on board, we can tailor it to fit their needs."

Nevertheless, vendors are lining up to serve organizations that are more concerned about managing relationships than sales, including accounting firms, law firms, financial services, and consulting services.

Recognizing Opportunities

Vancouver, B.C.-based TenDigits saw an opportunity for CRM to exist on handhelds and ran with it, designing MobileAccess for Microsoft CRM to provide Blackberry users access to their CRM data, including contacts, accounts, opportunities, leads, and activities.

Previously, TenDigits worked on large CRM engagements with Pivotal Systems' CRM application, but decided to become a Microsoft ISV.

"We changed because Microsoft's CRM is easier for clients to use, cost of ownership is low, and there's no competition when it comes to functionality," says president Sean Gochler. MobileAccess, the wireless application, establishes access to CRM data through the MobileAccess server. The system allows for data changes from the field and the office and instant access to current data.

"People with PDAs want even more out of them now. They're going to start looking to put applications on their devices. Our solution allows users to stay connected to people, and instantly makes available organizational processes that allow mobile professionals to speed delivery, follow-up, and increase service levels with clients," says Gochler.

Changes made remotely, such as schedule entries, contact changes, and opportunity updates are instantly available on the office server and the Blackberry. In addition, entries made by administrators in the office are automatically pushed out to the person in the field. MobileAccess is $495 per user.

Protech Associates, a Microsoft Independent Software Vendor, saw a similar opportunity and created a CRM package for membership associations.

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