The product team needs a CRM system?

Yesterday, two of my research interests, Agile and CRM, intersected during a briefing. The demo, which I'll describe in a moment, was a great illustration of one of my pet theories: integration will be the killer feature for software in general for the next several years. CRM in particular needs these benefits of integration.

Rally Software has a nice integration between their tools, designed to support Agile development teams, and the Salesforce CRM system. Salesforce users can record enhancement requests and product feedback that are fed automatically into the requirements component of Rally's suite of tools. Product managers then can refine this information (has anyone asked for this feature before? how does it fit into a user story? how important is it?) and add it to the backlog. The product roadmap, which now includes requests that start in the CRM system, can also have some visibility within Salesforce.

Very slick, particularly in how this example shows the value of integrating CRM with other things. As of today, CRM has a lot of untapped potential. As we discovered in the "product management tools" study earlier this year, the CRM system ranks at the bottom of requirements sources.

That just seems wrong. Salespeople, who spend their days talking to customers about their needs, should be a prime source of information for product managers. In theory, the CRM system should contain at least some information about these needs. But why not be more ambitious? CRM data should help answer many other important questions for the product group: Which features helped make sales? What missing functionality is the cause of losses to competitors? What are the most common configurations? And I'm sure you can think of 10 or 12 other questions you'd like to pose.

There's no replacement for the kind of insight you get from direct conversations with customers. At the same time, there's no substitute for the level of confidence you can only get from more aggregate data. Even if you're not using Agile methods, you'd rather hear about new market trends right away, as they make themselves felt through the customer conversations stored in the CRM system, instead of waiting for the yearly customer advisory board meeting. (Or, for that matter, hearing about them much later through the other side of CRM, the support desk.)

It'll take some further research to find out how effectively people use these sorts of bridges between CRM and the product team. In theory, at least, salespeople have more incentive to record customer requests, if they feel as though someone is listening. Product managers get more aggregate data on which to base product decisions. And CRM becomes more central to how the company operates.

Comments

re: The product team needs a CRM system?

Tom,We've created some fields and dashboards in SFDC to allow salespeople to enter needed functionality associated with opportunities into SFDC. Whenever they update these "feature requirements", we are notified in Product Management. We can look at the dashboard and associated reports to see the opportunity funnel associated with these feature requests.This data is included along with other data points when planning releases. Given the feature request is tied to the opportunity, we can also track closed deals related to the delivered functionality.It's a good system but has it's limits. While in theory there is a lot more info that can be collected about customer environments etc. the reality is that only information required by the sales team related to an opportunity is entered by them.Raising visibility of needed unimplemented features is important to the sales team, so we get that visibility, but asking the sales teams to enter common configurations will be met with a resounding silence.In the end, the CRM info is useful to PM if the data is consistently entered. But it's no panacea.Saeed

re: The product team needs a CRM system?

Also, FeaturePlan just announced integration to Salesforce. The FeaturePlan/Salesforce Connector synchronizes win/loss reports, call reports and enhancements requests between FeaturePlan and Salesforce CRM.http://www.pervasive.com/company/press/releases_show.asp?cid=721There is lots of information out there and the challenge is bringing it all into one place for analysis.

re: The product team needs a CRM system?

Thanks TomI really like this approach as you know. Some readers might miss the point that most CRM systems are not just contact managers for sales, but are the main channel for customer requests from support, help desk and services as well. By building PM apps very tightly with CRM, we finally make it easier to prioritize features based on financial impact, information notably missing from almost every backlog planning meeting. Another huge benefit is that developers can trace the root cause of a request to its source. This not only helps ensure they build the right thing, it feeds their core motivation to solve someone's problem.I don't buy objections that a solution is not a panacea. My analyst and product manager peers don't seek silver bullets, we want steady incremental improvement in how we adjust our portfolio investments and rank our project backlogs. We need better ways to collect data, synthesize priorities and update all our stakeholders on our progress. Using PM solutions that seamlessly connect our development management systems with our community and customer management systems is a big part of realizing this goal.

re: The product team needs a CRM system?

Tom, what a wonderful post. At zAgile, we heartily agree, and in fact, you have described our mission quite well. The zAgile aim is to contextually integrate the software engineering environment, amongst tools, teams, processes, and knowledge. This includes other systems such as the CRM as you point out. zAgile brings mash-ups and composite applications to a whole new level, via its semantic infrastructure and network of domain-specific ontologies. It is what your former colleague Carey Schwaber described as "ALM 2.0."I invite you and your readers to review the overview video at www.zagile.com and to subscribe to our blogs:http://sanjiva.typepad.com/http://alampitt.typepad.com/lampitt_or_leave_it/2008/10/whats-zagile-ve.html