CRM is rapidly becoming standard practice in medium-sized enterprises in South Africa. There is an increasing appreciation of its importance, with more companies taking advantage of its corresponding benefits.

“With the broader expansion of CRM within South African companies, we are starting to see its evolution into the next level of CRM,” says Keith Fenner, strategic sales director, Softline Accpac.
Ensure the basics first: web and SOA based
Before considering an upgrade, however, South African companies should ensure they have the basic requirements in place to enable their CRM system to perform more complex CRM.
In view of the increasing South African appetite for bandwidth and mobility – hopefully to be met by 2010 – Fenner believes that a company first needs to ensure its CRM solution is web-based and wireless, and then build from the ground up. The use of a 100% web-based CRM solution reduces the cost of ownership by reflecting changes and fine-tuning immediately – simply by refreshing the browser.
As a second requirement, Fenner believes CRM should be structured along service orientated architecture (SOA) standards. He explains, “The availability of CRM solutions with built-in, technology-aware integration tool kits are few and far between. Besides, it is often unsuitable to integrate to a technology stack which then in turn integrates with other systems within the organisation.” Fenner thus recommends that enterprises consider open architecture with built-in integration platforms when deploying CRM today.
Ready-to-use CRM for better business intelligence
Once they have met these basic system requirements, companies can then move to the next level of new generation CRM. Softline ACCPAC is currently dealing with increased queries from businesses wanting to use CRM tools to develop business intelligence relating to sales force automation and self-service.
While sales teams should spend most of their time with their clients, they should still make use of key prospects and competitive data to ensure successful closure of deals. Consequently sales teams are increasingly embarking on competitive intelligence using their existing CRM platform.
Fenner says that by utilising data feeds and publicly accessible information, it is possible to add huge value to a sales team by integrating typical sales force automation with this data. By extrapolating information from indicators in the external environment, companies are able to forecast future trends in their sector.
Managers can thus get a better understanding of their company’s position as compared to that of their competitors. Once a competitor or new sales prospect is identified, the CRM solution immediately begins doing the groundwork and populating the CRM datasets with relevant data to assist with the sales cycle.  This may include competitive pricing and information regarding market share, as well as prospect analysis. It gives the company’s sales force a holistic view of the market spanning across both internal data and external information.
“If integrated correctly the competitive data can be stored in the CRM datasets and retrieved as a salesperson encounters or creates a competitive situation,” explains Fenner. The relevant data may also be used to populate the dashboards.
CRM-based business intelligence also spans right through to online self-service. Online self-service grants customers either informational (e.g. FAQ's) or transactional (for example: account management, order placement) capabilities. Informational self-service has become a must-have for any medium to large business.
Today’s Internet savvy customers expect to be given the opportunity to find most of the information they need on the Internet. In addition, in sectors such as banking or mobile telephony, transactional capabilities have also become standard.
Self-service is another potential source of valuable information.  Fenner explains that self-service or e-marketing tools such as Sage Communicator enable companies to track a recipient’s online behaviour and update their contact records accordingly. “Each moment of contact with customers can be used to develop better market intelligence. If CRM’s primary objective is customer satisfaction, it is soon to be surpassed by business intelligence,” Fenner adds.