thie.me | Jens Thieme views and discussions

thie.me | Jens Thieme views and discussions

thie.me | Jens Thieme views and discussions

Saratoga Avenue

CRM Software

Years ago and as one of my first serious online activities I became a top author at the public opinions and review website epinions.com. As I own the rights of my own reviews that I wrote via alias 401402 I republish them here in my archives.

Content
1. Introduction
2. Experience background
3. Environment
4. System requirements
5. Why successful sales operations need a CRM
6. What it is
7. How it works
8. Features
9. Our example
10. Conclusion

1. Introduction
Still remember the best deals of your life on used cars or gray market football tickets? There are quite some things in life you can’t beat, especially if you made a good deal with something you really liked. You may not remember the fellow that sold you the tickets (and he could easily have sold them for the double price) but it was a one time deal anyway. Sigh – if only all deals were that easy...

All too often we do not feel very well if someone tries to sell us anything, or worse: if we need to sell something to someone who does not want us to sell them something...

Regardless of the counter side and object to be negotiated about, one thing needs to be clear to sellers and buyers alike: a good business is only one both parties remember positively! A solid, faithful, harmonic, friendly and reliable customer relation can only be based on a positive experience and will result in the desire to repeat that positive experience. Now, in order to know about your customers, treat them the right way, have the right offer handy at the right time and place, you need some support in the modern world.

CRM software (Customer Relationship Management) can do a fantastic job in targeting customers and follow up in all matters of the promotion, sales, order and follow-up process. One thing though needs to be understood in the first place: database operating CRM software packages can only deliver satisfying results when common data across all operational units really click!
It’s very well known in the IT world as the “sh*t-in / sh*t-out principle”.

Avenue is a highly awarded CRM software package that beats competition by its flexibility in use for both ends, the users and administrators. Data integration from all sides of the enterprise can be done very intuitively and beneficial for the end users.

2. Experience background
I am currently championing the nationwide implementation and integration of our CRM package that is based on our BPSC mainframe database system, which serves at the same time as backbone of our eCommerce approach. Being the first specialty chemicals company worldwide with an individualized eCommerce effort with life data off our systems is quiet exciting. Even more since we are aiming to combine internal and external resources and live transactions into our CRM software that is available online and off-line at every sales rep’s laptop. Saratoga Avenue is our standard package for the individual business approach we take with a customer relationship software and I am responsible for managing the implementation and constant improvements of the tool.

3. Environment
Cross-mainframe networking worldwide with a dedicated Avenue server to collect, distribute and exchange data between all data systems utilizing Microsoft Server applications, BPCS corporate data mainframes and Windows NT 4.0 on the user end. Our company uses Avenue 4.1.2 at the moment.

4. System requirements
As a 32-bit application designed for Windows 95 and Windows NT, Avenue has the same minimum hardware requirements as these operating systems. Additional requirements are necessary for Avenue remote users.

Hardware
PC or laptop with the sufficient resources to run Windows 95 or Windows NT (recommended minimum: 486/50Mhz,16 MB RAM).

Remote User Requirements
Hayes compatible modem, or any asynchronous modem, with a minimum transfer rate of 2,400 baud (28,800 baud is recommended).

5. Why successful sales operations need a CRM
Imagine you got 50 customers and prospects, 1,300 products in 8 operational divided application fields at your customers industries, different seasonal and product performance requirements and even prices vary from customer to customer. Some customers are small, some bigger with many smaller operations in different regions. Other issues are different delivery and packaging requirements, sampling habits and many more specifics that you actually need to grant your customers before the competition does...

In order to not only track all transactions but be able to create reports, overviews and summarizing communication interfaces with mostly live data, combined with your own information about targets, events, prospects, deals and efforts – you need some support that does not add on to your daily struggle with all issues but helps to resolve them as well.

What you actually want is someone or something that knows all details about anything that your company (you) knows about the four P’s in marketing: Product, Place, People, Price. And you need a tool that helps you to decide how to prioritize your four-P activities. A solid and reliable, yet very flexible CRM program comes on handy on this major task and I believe my company took the right choice with Saratoga Avenue.

6. What it is
Avenue is a very flexible enterprise wide information system. Data from mainframe or other database applications can be downloaded into the package on demand and are available off-line in tailor-made screens depending on the common data base and viewing/reporting requirements of a company or other organization.

In short: If you need to provide selected information to a certain population of the company, you can create specific screens that receive data from any database via network or modem. Your sales force, for example, can thus view customer, order and other information off-line while traveling. Updates can be made regularly (e.g. daily).

7. How it works
First of all an enterprise needs to make absolutely sure that the data base for a system like this is properly designed, developed and maintained. Whatever information is provided in Avenue, the data quality is of utmost importance to the acceptance and success of a system like this.

Once your common data is in place and runs reliably it is only a question of definition for your requirements how to utilize Avenue for the organization. Let’s say you want to provide information about your sales activities via Avenue. Avenue provides interfaces and easy to handle programming features to build so called sites for any major activity or objective. Within these sites data fields can show retrieved data and/or take input to transport onto the host database application. Data input needs to be defined very carefully as you might know because any database entry needs to follow designed formats, again: sh*t-in/sh*t-out principle!

The sales force can then use the program for viewing and entering crucial data regarding the sales process in total plus important corporate information and additional data that might be of interest to them.

Administrative work (as with any multi-user approach with data integration and exchange) needs to be policed and defined very carefully with sufficient capacity to coach the system and drive improvements. The ease of use on all ends (especially on the administrator side) makes it fun and very valuable to constantly improve the screens and data exchange properties with Avenue. You can easily start “low key” and increase functionality along the way. Since all screens are designed using the same common sense, working with the finalized program (regardless of content) is not only fun but also very helpful indeed.

8. Features
Toolbars and menus can be freely configured from administrators and users alike without interfering with the database and content of the sites. Search functions are available as well for single and combined search. Contact, Notes and schedule are compatible with multiple software packages that are widely used in corporations. Web access is available and in fact there are many companies with B2B live web content (e.g. industry specific libraries) that plan interfaces for Saratoga Avenue to provide live content to the user stations of the program. One example for our company is Chemidex.com, an online library for technical information about certain chemicals (pigments, additives, resins and the likes). If you post your documents with them they report back into Avenue which of your customers has read the documents, ordered samples and all visit data like period of time, hit frequency etc.

Avenue is capable of freely programmable (very easy, even for non-professional users) queries and reporting functions. All data is provided in trees to select for reporting functions, printing and data exchange is a snap when using the queries. Alarms and reminders can be set and for group working dummy sites can be created to host information about prospects and common activities.

Saratoga offers pre-programmed sets of the application for sales, marketing or other units or can be utilized to do the site creation and data integration for you. Different add-ons can be integrated as well or even programmed especially for your operational needs. See a couple of screen and service examples at: http://www.saratogasystems.com/crm/product_2/index.html.

9. Our example
We have created a software package for our sales force with the following sites and detailed screen information within these sites – in ():
- Customer Main sites, either bill-to, parent sites or ship-to operations (sales totals, sales break downs, trends, competition sales, contact information, various other customer information like machinery, end articles etc., pricing, open orders, samples, to do and project screens and other activity screens)
- Prospect sites (same as above without live data for potential customers with planning and targeting tools integrated)
- Product sites (all product related common data like package types, availability, shelf life, order history, price development etc.)

What our users like best about the system is the readily available information about any sales activity with history and archiving. E-mailing out of the customer screens leads to a much more focused account management and exchange of ideas and process development. Our customers like the fact that all our sales reps are extremely good informed even if they have to look up some information but can provide an answer on all details within the minute.

10. Conclusion
Reporting and queries are used on various levels and of the organization for any level of hierarchical report on any type of data. Sales team leaders use different formats as global management but they all use the same database. All information is stored/archived forever and cross-system communication is possible on a global basis. Customer call preparation is basically paper-less as are all meetings and conferences about sales activities. Additionally to the time saving and advantages for customer hand-overs those are already enough fine arguments for the switch over to the future of modern account management.

If you want to make a professional impression with your customers and need to give your sales folks a tool on hand that provides all crucial sales activity data (current and archived) in a very easy to handle and fast working tool, Avenue is the software to check out. You don’t have to worry about acceptance with your employees, after our first presentation of our Avenue based sales reps software we were blown away by their enthusiasm and ongoing support to constantly improve the system to date.