Customer relationship management technologies are a bit misunderstood, partly because there are so many different flavors of CRM programs and services available today, and partly because getting disparate business processes to work together can be quite complex.
Adding to the confusion is the fact that some applications that are called CRM systems are merely glorified contact management programs. Meanwhile, other vendors provide fully integrated CRM solutions that are powered by potent databases capable of organizing customer contact information and coordinating the data with sales and billing, account status, sales history, or even service tags ultimately binding all this information with a back office accounting system.
As if all this isn't perplexing enough for the average small business owner, CRM systems can be hosted by third-party application service providers or built from the ground up and hosted in-house to make related applications appear to work together in real-time.
Bewildering, perhaps, but the common thread between these seemingly dissimilar functions is that CRM technologies allow small- and medium-sized businesses to better serve their customers and better customer service makes for happy customers that will buy from you again, and again, and again.
Marketing Based Transactions
Based in Atlanta, AAA Mortgage is a residential financing business that has about 40 employees operating out of three different offices. The company has been in business since the 1990s, but recent low interest rates created refinancing opportunities for the small operation to kick its business into high gear. AAA Mortgage turned to Microsoft CRM as a way to tie in its sales and marketing promotions with customer data, working in a way that would also accelerate the company's loan closing process.
Hal Todd, AAA Mortgage marketing manager, explained what being a mortgage broker is all about.
"As a mortgage broker, we find public borrowers for residential transactions," Todd said. "We match customers up with our various investor programs, so they get the financing program terms they want at rates that are right for them."
Todd said AAA Mortgage uses three different marketing tactics to draw new customers to its door.
"We do wide-cast marketing through television or radio advertising and mailers, we pursue referral relationships with builders and real estate agents to promote outside sales, and we do direct marketing by phone and mail," Todd explained. "We're big fans of direct mail because we use unique identification numbers on all our mailers so we can track the performance of every message sent."
Components of the System
The business management system for any mortgage house revolves around the loan origination process. For AAA Mortgage, this means that its business management system has to store all the data they have compiled for each client, so the information can be culled to produce specific documents for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). These documents have to be prepared for every single transaction in order to secure underwriting approval from a residential lending institution.
Todd said AAA Mortgage's business management system is the central component to its daily operations. The problem was how to get the data in the business management system to be more customer-oriented and tied into its direct market campaigns.
"Our challenge was how to get a point-of-sale tool that's customer centric," Todd said. "We tend to be technologically advanced we use IP telephony and manage various marketing databases in-house. What we needed to figure out was how we could take that unique identifier in our marketing materials, populate it with our customer data, and still have accurate information that could also match all the data up with a credit report source, such as Equifax, TransUnion and TRW, and be used to prepare the HUD documents."
AAA Mortgage wanted a sleek, complete Web-based application that could pull data from its marketing database to get customer information, and bring it back to a loan officer so the loan transaction files could be prepared for HUD. The solution would also have to integrate closely with the company's back-office systems, as well as be relatively intuitive and easy to use.
Before AAA Mortgage landed on Microsoft CRM as its solution, Todd said the company evaluated at several CRM systems.
"We looked at Siebel, but that was overkill for a company our size," Todd said. "PeopleSoft was costly and implementation would have been tough. Oracle was untenable because we have a Microsoft backend, and Salesforce.com not configurable with all our systems. But with Microsoft's .NET programming built into its CRM application, we could build a Web service to make our applications work together. Once the system was built and integrated, Microsoft CRM provided us with a cost of ownership that was ridiculously cheap less than $1,000 per user."
AAA Mortgage envisioned that Microsoft CRM would be the perfect solution to complement the company's existing Great Plains back office systems and integrate closely with other existing technologies employed by the company. The mortgage brokerage was willing to spend what it needed to develop a system that readily integrated with its business processes and its people.
Next week, in the second part of our examination of AAA Mortgage's CRM deployment, we'll take a look at the system integrator that the company turned to in order to make its intuitive loan processing program a working reality.
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