CRM, It's All About the Data

By Patricia Fusco | Posted April 26, 2004

Customer relationship management technologies allow small- and medium-sized businesses to better serve their customers. And better customer service makes for happy customers that will buy from your small business again, and again, and again.

In the past, many CRM deployments were stopped dead in their tracks due to faulty, inconsistent data sets that prevented a small business from having a clear, unified profile of each customer. Software makers, such as Microsoft CRM, are making it easier for its business partners, such as I.B.I.S., to tackle the problem. The result is that CRM is becoming more appealing for growing businesses like AAA Mortgage.

When CRM Works
In the first part of this three-part series, we took a look at AAA Mortgage, a marketing-driven, transaction-based residential mortgage brokerage based in Atlanta.

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, whose front and back office applications are driven by Microsoft software, turned to Microsoft CRM as a way to tie its sales and marketing promotions with customer data, working in a way that would also accelerate the company's loan closing process.

AAA Mortgage's challenge was how to develop a point-of-sale tool that's customer centric. The data has to be accurate every step of the way — customer data, lender data, loan terms, credit checks, financing rates and refinancing terms all have to melded into a perfectly orchestrated business process to produce each residential loan product.

AAA Mortgage needed some outside assistance to make its CRM vision a working reality. AAA Mortgage turned to I.B.I.S., an award-winning Microsoft-certified business solutions provider located in Norcorss, Ga. The two companies had worked together before on other IT projects, but never one quite as ambitious as this CRM venture.

In the second part of this series, we looked at why I.B.I.S. and AAA Mortgage made a good match — I.B.I.S. focuses on partnering with firms that comprehend and embrace new technologies — small businesses like AAA Mortgage.

Together, the two firms worked to leverage Microsoft CRM to its fullest potential. Hal Todd, AAA Mortgage marketing manager, talked about why he considers the CRM deployment a complete success.

"We wanted a sleek, complete Web-based application that could hit our marketing database to get the customer information we need, and bring it back into our processing system so we could have an intelligent conversation with customers," Todd said. "We built a quoting engine to help find the right product for the customer, then tapped into lenders information in real-time via automated underwriting. The result is that we shortened our time-to-close from weeks to days. And we do most of the initial work over the phone in less than an hour."

Why CRM Works
Todd said AAA Mortgage likes Microsoft CRM 1.0 because it is one of the most stable pieces of software he has seen Microsoft produce.

"We don't get shutdowns with Microsoft CRM. The calls keep coming and the customers keep getting processed and the money keeps flowing," Todd said. "But information systems don't do anything on their own. You can have the best CRM system in the world, but if the data isn't right, you're S-O-L. We can't conduct business without data, a successful CRM deployment starts with your customer data."

CRM is becoming the preferred method for small businesses seeking to get a handle on their customers. The problem of data quality in CRM applications won't go away. Small businesses considering a CRM deployment have to take a long, hard look at their customer data and how this information is used throughout their business processes.

For CRM to work, a small business must have accurate customer and product information. Many of the front-end office systems that small businesses use to deal directly with customers do not have accurate information. A CRM deployment doesn't work when customer data is disjointed and a small business is left to fill in the blanks in some critical data fields. Don't be one of these businesses.

AAA Mortgage is working on expanding its residential loan services to six more states before the year is through. Much of the credit for the company's aggressive expansion plan is given to its unique loan origination process built on Microsoft CRM, with help from a trusted application integrator. This success can be replicated by almost any small business that gets its data together.

If you are just beginning to take a look at what CRM can do for your small business, start with your customer information and get your data set. Next, find a trusted partner that can make your vision a working reality. Deploy the CRM system. And then stand back and watch the data flow as your business grows.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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