BPM and CRM Better Together

Monday Aug 24th 2015 by Drew Robb
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Integrating BPM and CRM can help companies make customer-facing processes more efficient and gain added insight about their customers.

CRM is all about managing sales and marketing interactions with customers and potential customers. Business process management (BPM) is about optimizing workflows and business processes. So what have they got to do with each other?

"Without BPM, your CRM is just an expensive Rolodex," said Alan Trefler, CEO at Pegasystems.

If that’s the case, sales people are unlikely to be appreciative of new CRM systems. In some cases, CRM systems make business processes simpler for management but burden sales teams with additional steps that slow them down. In other cases, CRM software can make it difficult to customize customer-facing processes so they fit how marketing, sales and service personnel operate in the real world. Productivity can suffer, and CRM utilization will falter.  

"Cumbersome CRM processes can lead users to neglect key steps, resulting in fewer sales and a decrease in customer loyalty," said Michael Rooney, senior vice president and general manager at bpm'online. "CRM success requires a change in business processes toward a customer-centric approach."

How BPM Improves CRM

A process-driven BPM approach to CRM software helps in several ways, Rooney said. Let’s start with automating routine operations. A system that automatically prompts users on the next step will free up time for more lucrative activities like generating quotes and meeting with prospects.

Another plus is supporting each operation with actionable data to improve the customer experience. While traditional CRM systems are good at customer data integration and management, Rooney said, it isn’t always easy to transform this data into actionable insight. By aligning BPM with CRM, organizations can put data into the context of the process to help personnel carry out the required steps.

Don Schuerman, CTO of Pegasystems, explained the relationship between CRM and BPM this way: CRM provides the latest information on the customer at hand, while BPM analytics glean insights and drive action with personalized offerings and services.  

"This personalization helps make every customer feel like they are an individual, not just a number, which ultimately leads to deeper brand loyalty and higher sales," said Schuerman.

Integration Issues

But encouraging CRM and BPM integration is one thing and accomplishing it quite another. That starts by merging customer data that is typically distributed across different sources. Schuerman thinks the hype around Big Data has gotten organizational attention centered upon the wrong area. While organizations look to Big Data to solve their problems, they don’t yet have a good handle on the "little" data sitting inside their own enterprise.

"It’s only once a company can tackle this that they can expect to extract meaningful insights from their data and drive real value from integrating CRM with BPM," said Schuerman.

There are many types of integration. There is integration of BPM and CRM systems, integration of data sources within the company and, in addition, integration of legacy systems with the central database.

"It is important to have business processes that can leverage data or be triggered with specific events from third-party systems," Rooney said. "The better your business process management system is integrated with other applications you use, the bigger the business outcome."

Before integration begins, Rooney said an organization must formalize its business processes. For some companies, this could mean standardizing activities that are being done across the company. For others with more mature processes, it might mean streamlining and automating existing processes. However it is accomplished, it has to be finely tuned to user goals and match their level of understanding. 

"If the automated process is too high level, it doesn’t guide the user through the required sequence of actions but rather serves a reminder for this or that task," Rooney said. "If the automated process is too low level, it puts the boundaries that are too tight for successful operations."

If you get it right, however, sales professionals can instantly evaluate past customer experiences to better cross sell or upsell products that are most relevant to a customer. Marketing, too, gains the ability to drive campaigns in context by better understand potential customer needs. And customer service representatives can better connect and engage in order to resolve issues.

When and How to Integrate BPM with CRM

Users should look for tools with best practices and processes already built in, Rooney suggested.

"Having processes that are pre-set in the system means they don’t have to be built from scratch," he said. "Following predefined processes also makes it easy for companies to jump start using the system and bring industry best practices to their work."

Schuerman added that you should work with a platform that has all the pieces on which to build. Integration is made easier when there’s a common platform powering the decision-making engine. Organizations can then build applications on top of that foundation for any part of their organization that touches customer experience in any way.

Forrest Burnson, a CRM specialist at Software Advice, noted that the best time for CRM and BPM integration may be when an older CRM system is going to be upgraded. The latest CRM packages often come with some kind of business process capability built in. In some cases, this can be quite sophisticated.

However, there are instances where an organization cannot or will not part with its legacy CRM software.

"There are many reasons why an organization would rather stick with their old CRM, so integrating BPM can be a solid way to enhance the existing CRM's value," said Burnson. "Integrating BPM tools into an organization's broader ERP system can also cover gaps, especially when it comes to dynamically changing business processes and rules."

Finally, those seeking to add BPM on top of CRM should be aware that with the many benefits they may experience in terms of better sales and marketing coordination, increased responsiveness and higher upsells, it does come at a price. Beyond the monetary aspect, you are adding yet another layer of software and more processes on top of those already in place.

"BPM adds another layer of complexity to an organization's IT infrastructure, but it also provides more flexibility and visibility," Burnson said.  

It takes great care to execute this in a way that masks the complexity, doesn’t require sales people to completely change ingrained processes and actually helps them achieve what they work on each and every day – sales.

Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in Florida, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).

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