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Before You Make Your Next CRM Investment, Consider All Your Options: The Real Value of an End-to-End, Integrated Solution

by Sanjeet Mall | SAPinsider

January 1, 2010

Uncover long-term benefits of creating and supporting an adaptive, customer-centric call center and planning and executing a killer sales force automation strategy while working with a reliable technology partner.

In the present economy, your company is likely keeping a tight lid on IT spending and refraining from any huge splurges on technology. And for those investments that your company is making in IT, you must ensure that whatever you buy will provide not only short-term efficiencies and cost savings, but also long-term value and the ability to fulfill future business requirements that may arise.

In the customer relationship management (CRM) space, for example, two of the most-implemented CRM scenarios are call center software and sales force automation (SFA) tools. Let’s investigate the long-term value of an end-to-end, integrated solution in each of these scenarios, as well as the pitfalls of a shortsighted, cost-only investment decision.

A Flexible, Customer-Focused Call Center: Boosting Efficiency Without Sacrificing the Customer Experience

A call center is a must-have function for a customer-focused organization. But it’s not a cheap operation to run, regardless of the software you use to support it. That’s why many organizations are pushing first-level support online — to Web portals and interactive forums, for example. For these organizations, the call center is the last line of defense.

But even if your organization already leverages online support channels and runs a lean-and-mean call center, can technology still deliver additional value — and lower costs? The answer is most definitely yes, but only if you choose the right technology and the right software partner.

Creating an Adaptive Call Center

Let’s consider an example. Most public transport authorities — railways, for instance — field countless incoming customer queries: Because of the weather delay, will my train leave on time? Has the train from New York City arrived yet? How many seats are available on the 10:15 train to Paris? One way to field this influx of customer calls is to institute a central call center with dedicated agents and then route all questions there. This solution works, but it is very expensive.

Another (more efficient) solution is to route incoming calls to railway officials in remote locations. These remote employees have access to all the relevant train schedules and station information they would need to properly answer customers’ questions — and they have the extra bandwidth to field these questions when their remote stations aren’t busy. Extend this concept further, and you could employ anybody with a phone and a computer to provide basic scheduling services for customers.

Supporting an Adaptive Approach: 6 Key Requirements

To make this decentralized yet adaptive call center strategy work correctly, you need software that enables the following capabilities:

  1. All agents should be able to express their availability and skill sets on the fly (for example, an agent can note that he can answer scheduling questions but cannot rebook a trip) — no matter where they’re located or what kind of speaking device they’re using, be it mobile, IP-based, or a landline. That is the central idea behind newer software-based communications solutions; unlike traditional, hardware-based solutions, the new generation of technologies (including SAP Business Communications Management1) can allow users to base their decisions on information spread across various SAP systems.2
  2. You need a zero-client footprint, such that your agents — wherever they may be and whatever type of computer they might have — don’t have to install anything on a particular platform to use the software. Instead, your application needs to be Web-based, and therefore computer-agnostic. SAP is a wise choice here; none of SAP’s business applications have to be installed on a client.
  3. You’ll need a call router that can optimize routing based on numerous factors: agent availability, agent skill, cost of routing, consequences for the organization (you’ll want to avoid routing to third-party agents who may damage customer relationships, for example), or customer preferences (if a customer speaks a certain language or likes a particular agent, for example). Organizations should be able to tweak these rules in real time. Here, the interplay between SAP Business Communications Management for routing and SAP Customer Relationship Management (SAP CRM) for customer information is particularly strong (see Figure 1). 
    Figure 1 Through the integration of SAP CRM and SAP Business Communications Management, agents have a complete view of a customer's information and history; the integration allows agents to quickly see whether other agents or sales reps are available
  4. Customers should have a means to provide feedback and voice their preferences (“I’d prefer not to work with that agent ever again,” for example). With SAP CRM, you can issue on-the-fly customer surveys over an interactive voice response (IVR) system (from SAP Business Communications Management) and analyze the results through SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse (SAP NetWeaver BW).
  5. You’ll need a way to reward agents, through both real-time credit updates and regular bonus payments. Incorporating these costing and billing capabilities into your CRM workflow is a unique strength of SAP, thanks to the seamless integration of SAP CRM with SAP ERP Financials.
  6. You shouldn’t have to worry about keeping up the company books. Consider, for example, that an agent fields a call from a customer whose trip was cancelled by the railway at the last minute, and the agent must issue a voucher for a free future trip. This transaction must be tracked and consolidated in the back end, and this should happen automatically (your agent shouldn’t have to know how to use your financials system). Nobody has more penetration in this particular area than SAP; SAP ERP Financials is simply the best and most reliable financials solution on the market.

These capabilities represent a basic view of a much more complicated process — all to answer questions as simple as whether or not a train is delayed. But the technological inner workings of an efficient call center should stay behind the scenes; the end customer should be shielded from technical complexity.

With SAP systems, this call center workflow is seamless to the end user. There is excellent synergy between all of the involved systems — they were each designed to do a particular job, but they were also designed to work together perfectly. This is the real value proposition of an end-to-end solution.

Agile SFA: Planning and Executing a Killer Sales Strategy

Let's look at another example of a commonly implemented CRM scenario. When it comes to CRM, most companies want to start with a sales force automation solution. SFA technology is fairly straightforward in terms of scope (it typically consists of tools that automate and record the end-to-end sales process), and it enables your sales force to plan better, execute more efficiently, and reduce redundancies in their day-to-day activities. 

An SFA solution can be a very smart and valuable investment for an organization — but only if you select the right technology. If you buy a solution that only solves your short-term SFA needs, you could be missing out on massive long-term value. For example, if the SFA solution is not integrated with SAP ERP, you won’t be able to see the payment history of your target account. There’s also a very real possibility that you’ll have to completely “redo” your system landscape in the long run if you implement a short-term solution now. So how can you avoid falling into this trap?

At its core, an SFA solution helps sales reps plan better so that they can do more with the limited resources they have. Every day, your sales force likely focuses on outbound activities for one of two purposes:

  1. Opportunity creation and realization
  2. Customer maintenance

(Depending on your industry, these processes may have slightly different names, but the functions are essentially the same.) To optimize these two activities, you need a plan, and then you need your sales force to execute on that plan.

Successful Planning

A good sales plan needs to reflect your company’s overall strategy — whether that is maximizing revenue, maximizing profit, increasing market share, or something else entirely. It must also clearly state what sales reps’ objectives are, how their success will be measured, and what needs to happen weekly (or even daily) to ensure that reps are headed in the right direction. Remember, too, that resources are always limited, so sales reps will need to maximize every call or visit in line with your overall corporate strategy. For example, if your overall objective is to maximize revenue, your sales rep would need to target accounts with the biggest sales volume — not the biggest margins — in order to execute on the overall strategy.

To get your plan into a format that sales reps can execute on, you need key metrics like profitability analysis, past order history, return rates, probability of a buy, opportunity cost, probable length of the sales cycle, and more, so that the reps can strategize their sales calls and visits. This information comes from various systems — your ERP system, your data warehouse, or a different legacy or third-party solution. The job of a CRM system is not to own all of the information, but to make it available in an intuitive and actionable format (see Figure 2). When crafting your sales plan, mere snapshots of loosely related customer data aren’t helpful. This is why many one-off SFA solutions will fall short; they simply can’t provide the depth, breadth, and ease of information access that an integrated suite of end-to-end enterprise applications can provide.

Figure 2 SAP CRM can consolidate sales pipeline information from different systems on one screen

Executing on the Plan

Now that you have a plan in place, you need to execute. Again, you need to provide your sales organization with the right toolset — be it one application (unlikely for an efficient organization) or multiple information sources — to execute on your plan in line with your big-picture strategy. Above all, you cannot afford to miss any opportunities to gather and analyze customer information — and these things need to happen transparently and seamlessly. Your current sales cycle needs to generate valuable information and insight for the next cycle. And then, the next cycle needs to be refined based on your organizational goals — revenue maximization, for example.

For this to happen, you need tools that can slice and dice data in real time. This is where the value proposition of a connected SFA system shines brightest. The vital information you have in SAP ERP must be realized in the front-end CRM system. If it’s not, then you are ignoring quite a valuable chunk of information. For data to evolve into valuable insight, you need to analyze it through an application like SAP NetWeaver BW or any of the SAP BusinessObjects business intelligence (BI) solutions (see Figure 3). These systems need to work together in real time — with no down time. And the only way they are going to do that (at a reasonable cost) is if they’ve been designed that way.

Figure 3 SAP CRM can pull data from SAP NetWeaver BW or an OLTP system and display it on a dashboard

Make no mistake about it: The single most important and underestimated reason for project failure is tenuous integration between systems. You need a software partner that provides this integration out of the box and offers best-of-breed functionality for all aspects of the process. This is not only a software solution — it’s a comprehensive set of best practices that are continually refined year after year. And this only comes from experience implementing tens of thousands of systems globally.

Summary: Team Up with a Reliable, High-Value Technology Partner

Technology is always changing in a quest to become faster, cheaper, and more powerful. And that’s a good thing. A savvy organization is one that can distinguish flash-in-the-pan trends from truly valuable enhancements; it can wisely adopt certain technologies — and completely ignore others — to achieve its business goals.

To get there, many organizations work with a tested, reliable technology partner that can provide all the technological options (on-premise, hosted, hybrid, and on-demand), rather than entrusting valuable enterprise business processes and information to a hosted partner, whose future existence may be unstable.

Your software investments need to grow with you — they must be seamlessly integrated with each other; they must be globalized; they must be secure, reliable, and available 24/7; and they must support you, regardless of the direction you may want to take your business in the future. If these are attributes you value in a software vendor, I’d encourage you to think twice about investing heavily with hosted solution providers. Hosted applications will surely continue to mature, but for critical enterprise functions, an on-premise provider may be your best bet.

For more information, please visit

Sanjeet Mall ( is Vice President of CRM Solution Management at SAP AG. He has more than 10 years of experience in putting technology to work to solve business problems. Sanjeet has been working with SAP CRM since SAP CRM 3.0 and has served as a product manager and chief CRM consultant for many Fortune 100 companies. He is also currently spearheading SAP’s unified communications initiative. Sanjeet holds degrees in computer science and business.

1 To learn more about SAP Business Communications Management software, which replaces traditional communications systems hardware with a software-based IP telephony solution, please visit [back]

2 For example, calls can be routed based on customer classification information pulled from SAP Customer Relationship Management (SAP CRM) or payment history from SAP ERP. [back]

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