Salespeople have been working on Web applications in the cloud for years. With their need to organize teams of remote employees, they were among the first to see the advantages of anywhere access, invisible software updates, automatic backups and all the other conveniences of cloud (or SaaS) software. Nevertheless, the year of the cloud is more than just old news for CRM. As other departments join sales in the cloud, they can more easily share information. And that, in turn, stands to make CRM much more effective.
Take finance, for example, and the new breed of “cloud accounting” applications based on the Web rather than on-premise desktop PCs. By hosting CRM and finance applications in the cloud, companies can monitor sales from initiation (the customer contact) to realisation (revenue). This expanded view of the company’s business allows finance and sales employees to streamline their work, make more informed business decisions, exert better control over credit and, ultimately, provide better customer service. As salespeople are well aware, invoicing errors often delay payment – and commissions – by weeks or even months. A recent survey conducted by FinancialForce.com found that:
- 47% of salespeople find invoicing delays a `definite` or `somewhat` common source of cash flow problems for their company
- 25% estimated their company has more than £3,000 a month delayed due to invoicing errors
- Nearly 17% have seen payments greater than £31,000 delayed for that reason
Many invoicing errors come from accountants rekeying sales data by hand – a common practice in companies where CRM and finance systems don’t communicate. But when the two systems connect in the cloud, the accounting software can automatically open an invoice the moment a salesperson creates a new CRM record. Rekeying is unnecessary. Just by eliminating this one error-prone step, companies can dramatically improve the accuracy of their invoicing.
Not only does this help ensure steady cash flow, it helps put customer relations on a solid footing. Good billing alone can’t make good customers, but it certainly helps. Improving the flow of information between sales and finance helps with customer relations in other ways as well. With access to a customer’s payment history, salespeople can make informed on-the-spot credit decisions without needing to wait on accounting. Cloud accounting also makes it possible to go paperless in almost all interactions with customers and suppliers. Not only do many clients prefer the paperless option, it’s easier on the environment and involves less admin time and expense.
There are also timely benefits to improving visibility across the business. With a sweeping new regulatory regime in the works, financial reporting has become more important than ever. The integrated view of the sales cycle offers the most accurate real-time view possible. And since cloud accounting software is updated behind the scenes, businesses can be sure their financial data complies with the latest government requirements – something that with on-premise accounting systems can require costly software upgrades. New collaboration technologies like Chatter are also opening the channels of communication for cloud customers.
Better collaboration will improve business processes like order to cash, which dissolve inter-departmental boundaries that hinder the running of an effective business. This will allow more frequent and effective collaboration around sales opportunities, customer accounts and service issues in order to achieve best pricing and payment structures for big deals or avoid costly payment delays and disputes. As we often hear, in times of recession, companies need to streamline their operations while somehow, at the same time, improving customer relations. Those that have already embraced cloud CRM have a head start. By integrating CRM with cloud accounting, they can emerge even farther ahead of the competition once the inevitable upturn arrives.