With my focus in business process and actual relationships development, I do not often consider specific CRM solutions. In fact, if asked to help a client with selecting a CRM solution as recent as 3 years ago, I might have told them to avoid ASP type
solutions at all costs. Application solutions providers (ASP) just did not have their act together as far as providing a full customer service solution.
Things have really changed.
Application solution providers (ASP) have come a long way since the concept first premiered in the late 90s and can provide a viable relationship management solution for a reasonable investment.
While remaining as vendor neutral as possible, here are some of the things that limited the viability of past ASP CRM systems:
ASP models do not easily integrate into legacy systems. Not all ASP solutions allow full integration to back-end legacy systems, most 2nd generation products (like Salesforce.com and Upshot) offer J2EE, XML, SOAP, DSML and other documented
APIs to connect to any data you need. While the integration is difficult at times, you do not have to hire in-house staff to manage the ASP product and you always have experts on hand to solve problems.
Reporting across CRM and other business intelligence is difficult. All ASP systems support the export of data for in-house reporting, but for those systems that support legacy integration, they offer rich reporting tools inside the application
with access to other data inside your company. It is important to know in advance what data you would like to report on and how you would like to use this intelligence. Being prepared in this manner reduces your integration costs.
Web based CRM packages have limitations on slow speed connections. Most web-based ASP solutions are optimized for slow speed connections and mobile devices. Remember, even if you have an in-house solution, speed of exchanging data over networks
is primarily governed by volume. Fortunately, the some ASP providers have features to let you work temporarily without a network connection.
CRM ASP tools tend to be general in nature, without support for specific business processes. As ASP solutions supported more industries, their tools became more flexible than ever before.common with in-house solutions, all ASP offerings can
be customized to support your specific needs. They are more likely to have done that type of customization in the past, so you will probably benefit from their experience.
Limited support for automation like event triggers and scheduling. In the past you could not apply decision-making rules to data in ASP systems, today most of these tools provide some solution to support this. With common interfaces and full
access to your data, this automation does not have to reside inside the CRM product itself. Anything you can do with a packaged solution you can do inside existing solutions. Certainly having your own staff familiar with programming the ASP system helps
translate your business process to solution you select.
Most solutions have a heavy emphasis in electronic marketing channels and are not practical for traditional methods. This has completely changed. Many product support multi-channel campaigns, while providing enhanced support for email and web
integration. Whether you use direct mail, space advertising, telemarketing, or any other form of marketing, most ASP solutions can successfully track them. Often campaign management available in ASP solutions are extremely advanced and integrates well
with any marketing you are current practicing.
Inventory management integration is difficult if not impossible with ASP solutions. This is becoming more a limitation of legacy systems than the actual ASP solution. If your legacy system has a documented API, it is likely you can securely
connect directly to it. Some solutions even provide modules that support fulfillment and warehouse inventory levels, even over private secure networks.
ASP solutions focus on services companies and do not help manufacturers. According to Cary Fulbright, Senior Vice President of Products at Salesforce.com, Over 30% of our customers are manufacturers who reside in over 40 countries and use 10
different languages. Not only are ASP solutions functional across industry barriers, but language and business culture. You will find today's CRM solutions are more flexible than ever, the key is to know your companies requirements and how you will use
the product to improve customer relationships.
Most ASP models only address sales, marketing, and with few support features. Now that companies are realizing their organization evolves around customer desires, CRM has taken on a greater role as a complete sales, marketing, and support information
resource. Most ASP CRM solutions provide modules or include comprehensive customer service solutions addressing all aspects of customer interactions. Often these solutions go beyond basic customer needs to even support ERP, inventory management, automated
fulfillment, call center integration and electronic service desks.
All ASP solutions require Internet access at levels that is not practical for field offices and on customer sites. While that is the most obvious means of accessing an ASP solution, many provide dial-up access, wire-less, and an disconnected
mode that lets you be away from an Internet connection. Periodically you will have to connect to a network to check email; most ASP solutions use the same types of communications you use for any other business service. While the Internet is becoming easier
to access, these features give users the greatest flexibility.
There are fewer differences between ASP type CRM solutions and their in-house counterparts. Solutions are more flexible than ever. However, not just any solution will be right for your business. If after reading this article, you are considering an
ASP type CRM then you should read Greg Gianforte�s The Insiders Guide To Selecting The Right ASP for 12 selection criteria to get the solution right for you.
Now that more CRM packages are providing the same base features, perhaps it is time to focus on the relationship building aspects of customer interactions. It is not so much the tool you use, but how you use it to advance your business objectives. Remember,
choose a solution that best fits your business processes and you will have a greatest probability of a return on investment.