Why CRM and Email should live under one roof – not in separate applications
There are dozens, even hundreds, of software applications now on the market that help manage customer relationships. Especially since the explosive growth of cloud-based and software-as-a-service (SaaS) models we have seen the large established CRM brands joined by countless new CRM solutions, all trying to capture a part of a hotly contested market.
Some specialize in particular industries, others offer high degrees specialization in specific functions and business processes, yet others again lure companies with flexible pricing models, plug-ins, support communities, custom developments or integration with other systems such as ERP, social media, e-commerce, channel marketing etc…
And yet, many organizations who implement CRM technology, fail to realize the expected returns and benefits promised by CRM. While there is more than one reason for this, one particularly stands out from the rest, because it’s so obvious and easy to understand: email, as the central customer contact management tool, still lives outside of the CRM environment. This is true for almost all CRM solutions, despite the varying degrees of integration possibilities on offer.
Why is it that the separation of email and CRM is such a barrier to ROI? Consider the following reasons:
#1 Email is the still the preferred communication medium
When sales staff aren’t talking to customers directly face-to-face or on the phone, they use email for customer communications. In practice this means that their email client, for example Microsoft Outlook, or a browser client such as Gmail, take center space in your staff’s workday – it’s the first program to open in the morning, and the last to close that night.
Staff are happy to dedicate so much of their time to email clients not only because they are familiar and useful but because they really could not do their job without. Unfortunately, if their focus is on email, it’s unlikely they dedicate enough of their valuable time to CRM. And without rigorous use, CRM doesn’t deliver meaningful value.
#2 Contact information is usually saved in the email client
Most email clients let you save contact data, such as contact name, address, organization, phone numbers etc.…These contact lists are normally owned separately by each individual person, not shared across the organization from a single unique database.
With contact management being such a central element of CRM, and of course much more comprehensive for this task, separately managing contact data both in the email client and in the CRM, with duplicated and out-of-sync data, creates all sorts of headaches and inefficiencies. Without commitment to a rigorously maintained, ‘single-source-of-truth’ CRM contact database for all customer relationship activities, the success of an investment in CRM faces serious hurdles.
#3 Saved emails are used as information repositories
With emails separate from CRM, many of us employ emails as a form of information archive and intelligence. We save emails in elaborate folder structures and search through them whenever we need to remember what was said and when and to whom. Even disregarding how inadequate and ineffective this practice is, nurturing the habit of prioritizing saved emails as sources of information fosters slack or ad-hoc use of the CRM for customer information management.
#4 A separate email server affects security & control
In the days and age of governments, companies and criminal entities hacking, spying and stealing digital information, email security has become a hot topic. Cloud-based email solutions offer either very limited security and encryption or none at all, and emails are stored far away from company control in a nameless server on the other side of the globe.
Even with email communication between company staff, each email first leaves the company premises and firewall before passing through the cloud and returning to the internal recipient. For organizations who take their security serious this poses an unacceptable risk. Most therefore install an internal email server such as Microsoft exchange. However, apart from the cost factor of such a solution, emails in this scenario are still at risk of being deleted by the user while retrievals from server archives can be difficult. Furthermore, integrating CRM with a separate email server is a complex and imperfect undertaking.
The only appropriate way to tackle all of these security and control shortcomings is to include a dedicated email server inside the CRM. Imagine a CRM solution where the email server is already completely integrated, where emails are automatically & consistently connected to people, projects, opportunities, organizations, etc.… and cannot be deleted from these connections (except with high-level admin rights).
Our main message is not only that CRM is so much more powerful than email for managing customer information and relationships. Of course it is.
The point is that the still common practice of keeping email and CRM separate has many significant disadvantages, many of which are endangering the success of the CRM implementation. In our opinion, the walls between CRM and email should come down, bringing both applications under one ‘organically’ integrated roof.