Managing accounts in the ‘cloud’
Does your sales forecast call for clouds? Cloud computing – in which hosted services are delivered over the Internet – is gaining traction in many industries as companies look for cost-effective ways to manage IT infrastructures and applications such as customer relationship management (CRM). For media companies looking for cost-effective ways to upgrade their aging tech systems, the cloud may hold at least part of the answer.
Cloud computing evolves from hosted or on-demand computing, in which companies license software that is “hosted” by the vendor. Cloud-based services – pioneered and first commercialized by Amazon.com – can manage everything from servers and storage (known as Infrastructure as a Service, or IaaS) to applications and business processes (Software as a Service) to development tools (Platform as a Service). TechTarget offers a good explanation of cloud computing on its SearchCloudComputing site.
“The cloud model is changing the landscape for how business applications should be run, managed and priced,” says Renny Monaghan, vice president of industry solutions with Salesforce.com, a leading CRM solutions provider.
Research forecasts back up Monaghan’s landscape-changing statement. Gartner predicts that worldwide cloud services revenue will jump from $56 billion in 2009 to $150 billion in 2013. The forecast encompasses cloud-based infrastructure, application and business process services.
For media companies, cloud-based CRM makes sense on many levels for sales and marketing teams. The licensing model requires no capital investment in new hardware or software; pricing is typically on a monthly, per-user basis. (Although service providers tout the simplicity of on-demand pricing, there are additional factors such as bandwidth needs, service levels, and time commitment that can drive up the price.)
Cloud-based CRM services provide a centralized view of customer account information that can be accessed from any Web browser. This represents a big step up from trying to piece together a common view of accounts from various Excel, ACT and Outlook records.
A single view of accounts and campaigns is becoming increasingly important as digital and mobile channels assume a bigger piece of the marketing mix and agency and brand relationships become more complex.
“The media industry is in a massive state of flux,” says Monaghan. “What used to be a known quantity for 18 months now lasts about three or four months. Advertisers change agencies more frequently. Social media is changing the game. Media companies are trying to be more responsive and adaptive to this marketplace.”
In addition to its full suite of CRM products, Salesforce.com offers CRM for Ad Sales, a product targeted at media companies. SmartMoney, the Wall Street Journal and NBC Universal are among the media customers using Salesforce CRM solutions for managing customer accounts, including RFPs and ad campaigns.
The Salesforce CRM software includes basic customer contact fields but can be customized for specific workflows or to integrate with existing billing and other systems. Software wizards walk users through importing data from Outlook or other contact management systems.
Because data is stored on servers in the cloud, any changes are quickly available to everyone on the system. Reporting is also done in real-time so sales managers can closely track campaign performance.
Monaghan maintains that companies, even smaller publishers, can be up and running on Salesforce CRM in a couple of days. Customization will take longer, of course, as sales teams adapt the software to meet their needs. Salesforce.com offers a free trial to test-drive the software. You can also view a 15-minute demo of Salesforce CRM for Ad Sales (warning: you’ll get a call from a sales rep even before you’re finished viewing).
Salesforce.com is one of many CRM vendors offering Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions. Other providers – not all of which offer specific solutions for media companies – include:
Cloud computing comes with a handful of expected caveats. Lingering issues about security (how well service providers can protect sensitive data), reliability (where the data is stored and how accessible it is) and data portability remain sticking points for many companies considering cloud-based services. As with any emerging technology, there are occasional horror stories as well.
But the potential benefits of the cloud appear to outweigh the drawbacks, and the risks are low compared to how companies are used to buying and implementing software. For budget-constrained media companies, the cloud may portend a sunnier future.