Customer Relationship Management

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems have come a long way and have matured as technology has developed.  The customer relationship management concept was initiated in the early 1980’s.  One of the earliest practices of the CRM idea originated as a desktop keeper of contact information called a Rolodex.  The Rolodex, is defined by Wikipedia, as “a desktop card index used to record names, addresses, and telephone numbers, in the form of a rotating spindle or a small tray to which removable cards are attached”.   To many salespeople, the Rolodex was their contact Bible.  Not only would the owner keep a customer’s contact information, but many times personal and professional information would be taped or added to the dog-eared index card.

Many years have passed since the invention and use of the Rolodex.  As personal computers grew, databases began to be established and businesses begin to turn to computers to be the keeper of pertinent information.   Today, tracking customer communications is an integral part of a business’ sales strategy.

There are now a number of options available to companies seeking a CRM system.  Software has been developed as web-based solutions, cloud-hosted solutions, mobile applications and even used social media technologies. Most of these methods are stand alone and do not interact with other products or a company’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.  However, without an integration to a company’s core ERP system, a CRM system is limited in its power and can even create inefficiencies within the organization.

The power of CRM can be tremendous.  When used correctly it can accurately track and organize all customer activity.  Most companies look to a CRM system to ultimately help increase revenue or sales margins.  Now add the use of ERP analytics, and the combination of CRM with ERP provides a number of advantages to an organization.

Increased Efficiencies

When the CRM system is integrated with ERP, sales related data can be analyzed in one place, in one data source. Actual purchase trends from ERP can be tracked and correlated with CRM marketing campaigns.

CRM with ERP creates one activity center.  Along with a customer’s sales activity, customer communication and follow up actions are logged in one central system.  The CRM solution provides a one-stop-shop for managing a customer.   Total customer information can also be accessible to anyone within the company, given the proper security clearance.  Key customer information (name, address, contacts) can be maintained in one system, yet utilized in both the CRM and the ERP system separately.

Sales teams can come together and sales overlapping is minimized.  Global visibility to customer information allows for cross over between sales departments or remote locations and eliminates double entry.

Increased Customer Service

The combination of CRM and ERP and the ability to consolidate information, helps to improve customer satisfaction.  Customer service representatives should have access to orders, processing and shipping information right along with call details and sales communications.  Being able to see the entire picture when following up with customers is key to effective customer service and happier customers.

The data in the CRM system can help with understanding the customer’s needs more effectively.  Keeping up with customer promises and making sure that schedules are kept with orders and shipping.  In addition, customer complaints can be tracked, reviewed and followed through to completion and the customer’s satisfaction.

The combination of CRM and ERP data provides a complete view of a customer.  Along with transactional and historical order information, personal information is easily accessible to the customer service or sales representative.  This approach takes the sales process to a more personable level.

Increased Revenue and Margins

With a centralized CRM and ERP system, a sales team can review customer notes, along with product and sales tendencies.  Information can be shared with other team members and sales activity can be focused to certain products or specific customer trends.  Understanding the customer’s buying patterns allows for more flexibility in upselling products or processes.


Historical information can be used to create marketing campaigns.  Again buying patterns can be analyzed and used by the marketing department to target specific audiences.  This, in turn, increases the success rate of the campaign.


Managers can review employee activity and implement processes to improve sales or increase margins.  Managers can also view activity from an organizational level and assign tasks to various employees.  By reviewing notes and time spent with customers, a manager has the tools to measure an employee’s performance and implement process improvements.


With a report writing tool, custom analytics can be studied and used to improve the sales process.  Combining CRM and ERP allows management to see the full picture and provides a great deal of flexibility.


Integration Details

There are a number of options for integrating CRM to ERP.  If the systems reside on the same hardware, the integration is seamless.  If the systems reside on different platforms, the integration can be a bit trickier, but it is viable.


Option 1 is to pull data from the ERP system and directly upload to the CRM system.  This is an automated function that is set up on a timed basis, such as end of the day, or 10AM and 3PM during the day.  When the upload occurs depends upon the amount of data and the details of the data.  Uploads can be performed using JDBC, FTP or COPYFILE commands.


Option 2 is the creation of triggers that initiate the passing of data from one system to the other.  In this scenario, the system will pass certain pieces of data or whole files when the data is recognized to have been changed.  For example, if the customer address is changed in the CRM system it will activate a trigger and will pass the changed data to the ERP system.  When triggers are utilized, the transfer of information happens immediately.  The transfer of data can happen from CRM or ERP or visa versa, it just depends on the application and the rules established with the trigger program.


Option 3 is a more complex integration which allows direct access to the associated system.  In this scenario, the ERP system serves as the control system and the CRM system is modified to provide a direct access to the ERP data.  For example, when in CRM and updating a customer’s address, the address being displayed is the actual file and fields in the ERP system.  In this scenario there is no passing of data between the two systems.


The Bottom Line

A CRM system is most valuable when integrated with the power of ERP data.  Having a full suite of information will save a company time and money.  It will also improve customer relations and build customer loyalty.


Paragon offers a CRM solution, Reveal, which will work as a standalone module.  However, it is best utilized in conjunction with an ERP system, like Metalware.

IBM Business Partner