Customer Relationship Management (CRM) definitely rocks in the modern business during the last decade. Businesses of all size and verticals are looking to streamline their sales, marketing and customer service processes to learn more about their customers, increase ROI, and find new opportunities to grow.

Shift to the cloud technologies has found a spectacular implementation in the CRM software segment. SaaS delivery model looks perfect for the customer relationship management tasks and processes. As any cloud platform building, CRM SaaS product development is a complex technical task requiring professional architecture design, thorough technology selection, and a number of development skills.

In this post, we will make a brief overview of the existent SaaS customer relationship management software types and trends, look at the main functional blocks of a comprehensive CRM solution, and point out several important technical nuances of building a cloud CRM platform.

Written by:
Alexandra Zhyltsova,
Market Analyst of Apriorit

 

Market trends

Initially CRM approaches and tools were developed to serve the B2C market with its huge customer bases, where personalized relationships with an individual customer is a complicated challenge and there is always a question of efficient segmentation. Later, CRM solutions were adapted to the B2B market, with the specifics of long-term relationships and long sale cycle.

Due to the collaborative and interconnecting nature of CRM, the SaaS approach was quickly applied for this type of software. According to Gartner, CRM software market in 2017 will grow at 14.8%, which includes SaaS CRM growing at 22,6%.

Big players such as SAP, Oracle, or Microsoft developed SaaS versions of their CRM solutions, while such vendors as Salesforce or ZOHO were initially born in the cloud. New players on this market prefer to build a CRM SaaS right from the start.

While the segment of universal CRM solutions has clear market leaders, Salesforce, SAP, Oracle, and Microsoft Dynamics, there are a lot of opportunities in the SMB and vertical-specific segments.

New vendors offer limited feature sets for SMB users as compared to the broad and detailed functionality of the generic enterprise solutions while simplifying deployment and use and offering interesting subscription schemes.

Industry-targeted tools incorporate vertical-specific settings, templates, reports, and processes and provide integration with the specialized external services. To name some focused customer relationship management software examples we can mention ReThink for real estate or Radius for insurance, CRM solutions, which serve only selected business segments, tend to develop into business management platforms, incorporating other segment-specific processes, e.g. POS for restaurants and retail or technical agent management for telecommunication providers.

 

CRM solution components

Let’s consider typical functional blocks of a generic CRM software solution. Such solution works with a customer from the initial lead or even prospect stage, manages transitions from one sale stage to another, right to the converting to the active customer, then it tracks further customer interactions, including upsell, cross sell, and customer service. Throughout these stages, the solution analyzes efficiency of various interactions, monitors reactions and behavior.

Customer data storage and management. The most important function of any CRM is centralized warehousing of all customer data, including customer profile and history of interactions with the company. The important and vital features here are merging data for different sources and operations, comprehensive data representation by request, overall data analysis and statistics consolidation. The more sources of customer data input a solution supports the better.

Marketing process management. This block may include marketing activity planning, tracking, and measuring; tools to build marketing campaigns; social marketing tools, including brand presence tracking; lead generation and management with importance rating; marketing analysis and intelligence tools. The minimal functionality suppose obtaining or importing campaign-generated leads and tracking various marketing touches for a lead or a customer.

Sales process automation. When a lead comes to the sales department, it gets into the sales funnel and moves from one stage to another due to various interactions, which must be tracked and measured. This block’s must-haves are clear attribution of a customer to a sale rep or a sale group, detailed tracking of all interactions and sales funnel status as well as the purchase history. One more important feature is pipeline building and forecasting. Advanced tools may include buying behavior analysis, insights on segmentation, categorization, and importance rating, sales team member efficiency analysis, and other sales management features.

Customer service. This block streamlines the processes of interactions initiated by the customers. At this stage, a company can benefit in building customer loyalty by applying personalized approach based on customer data and interaction history and encourage collaboration. If not delegated to a third-party platform, minimal features here are inquiries tracking and management.  Advanced functionality may include a unified communication platform covering all channels of interaction between customers and a company, including call centers, email and web initiated inquires, mail and office visits, and self-service channels, with all interaction insights recorded and added to the behavior profile to improve marketing and sales efforts.    

Analysis, reporting and business intelligence. Analytical and reporting tools vary depending on the business size, e.g. for large B2C enterprises big data technologies are needed. Delivered insights may include customer segmentation suggestions, behavior patterns, process problems detection, etc. Minimal reporting should provide a set of pipeline and status reports to overview the customer base, team work, gained revenue and pipeline forecast.

 

As it was mentioned above, universal platforms for big enterprises include a number of sophisticated tools for each functional block as well as ensure integrations with complementary business solutions. Universal solutions for SMB simplify feature sets in each block at the same time simplifying user interface. Industry-specific solutions simplify feature sets and make them more targeted, adapt the processes to the vertical business needs. Such solutions can completely replace some blocks, e.g. marketing process management, by the third-party solution integration support and at the same time provide additional vertical-specific business management tools, such as accounting or HR.

 

CRM solution creation: R&D nuances

Technology challenges and CRM software development tools heavily depend on the specific project. Nevertheless, there are several important aspects you should consider when building a CRM-like solution in the cloud.

 

Architecture. You should design a flexible and efficient solution architecture at the early stage. It may seem that you can choose a simpler architecture for the first product versions and rework it later, but you should remember that architecture changes are the most painful and expensive. It is better to decide on the architecture early on. Stable, high-performance architecture enabling scalability in terms of both user capacity and feature sets can become a solid core of your solution and a key to the further product development success.

 

Data warehousing. In the heart of each CRM-like system, there is customer data. If should be efficiently and securely stored, organized, and accessed. It makes database design and cloud organization crucial parts of SaaS CRM software development.

Many departments interact with a customer, including marketing, sales, delivery, support and service, and it is vital for building loyalty to provide personalized and integral approach. A solution should maintain comprehensive and actionable customer profiles, capable of merging details from various departments and representing them when required. At the same time, it is necessary to limit access to the sensitive details according to the security principles.

 

Security. CRM systems store customer details and financial data, which are very sensitive information. With the SaaS delivery model, this data is stored on the provider side, which creates security and compliance concerns. Right from the first version of the product, users need to be sure that their data is properly protected and they remain compliant with the regulations. When building a CRM platform, you should consider encryption for data-at-rest and data-in-motion, advanced authentication (e.g. multifactor authentication), action audit, support specialist access and account termination policies.

 

Optimization for mobile. Salespeople are extremely mobile and that is why mobile device user support is de-facto a must for any SaaS CRM platform. Some target user groups can heavily rely on mobile devices even for the core processes, e.g. small businesses can use smartphones as a part of their POS system. A set of technologies, frameworks and tools as well as feature priorities should allow you to deliver your services to the mobile users already with the early platform versions.  

 

Integration with the third-party systems. It is complicated and inefficient to implement all and any customer-related functionality inside your platform, as there are a set of popular and trusted third-party services. Smart integration with office applications, mailing, marketing automation, survey, and ticket management platforms or industry-specific services can significantly add value to your product at relatively low cost.

 

Customization. Each business is unique. The truth is that one size does not fit all, so you should provide customization options for the information representation, reporting, processes, stages and statuses. Customization is important even at the MVP stage, as more early adopters will enjoy using the product and see that it can fit their needs.

 

Conclusion

The SaaS CRM solution market grows and provides a lot of opportunities for the vendors. Catered to the business users in the context of their core business processes, these platforms should meet numerous functional requirements, be secure and efficient. A right combination of features, easy-to-use interface and efficiently streamlined processes can help companies to build an efficient CRM system, opening new opportunities to grow their business--and their CRM software vendor’s business as well.

Balanced and scalable architecture, powerful technology stack and quick feature delivery are substantial parts of the product success.  Consider outsourcing of the research and development works to a professional SaaS platform engineering team!

 

Read also: Building SaaS System for HR Management.

 

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