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CRM ERP integration streamlines manufacturers' customer data

Manufacturers can coordinate and improve the flow of customer data by integrating customer relationship management (CRM) with ERP. CRM ERP integration gives insight into customer orders, contracts and buying behavior.

Customer relationship management (CRM) ERP integration brings efficiencies to manufacturing organizations by consolidating order processing and fulfillment and customer service and support into a single, coordinated information system, rather than disparate segments. 

One of the major benefits of CRM ERP integration is more focused sales and marketing strategies based on in-depth analyses of customer behavior, interests and context, said Holger Kisker, a senior analyst at Forrester Research.

Information flows both ways: The ERP system keeps a master database of customer information, orders and contracts, which sales, marketing and support people access and update via the CRM system. Pricing is calculated in the CRM system and fed back to the ERP system. ERP also acts as a conduit, passing orders, delivery schedules and the like to the supply chain management (SCM) system and to the factory floor for fulfillment.

Integrating the two systems can be a major undertaking, particularly for large enterprises. Experts warn that because CRM systems (and often, ERP systems) exist as disparate, often customized applications on top of isolated information silos, the first major hurdle will be getting everyone to agree on a common set of processes and data requirements.

Small and mid-market manufacturing firms can avoid most of the pain by purchasing an "all in one" ERP system with embedded CRM. However, large enterprises will need the greater functionality and richer set of features offered by standalone third-party CRM packages that integrate with ERP.

"In ERP, sales management is very simple, just order taking and fulfillment," Kisker said, adding that in a full-blown CRM ERP integrated solution, you can analyze sales performance and strategy, get a clear overview of all orders, do client segmentation, and set up different sales strategies and different pricing for different segments.

Furthermore, third-party CRM applications typically support all sales channels, including the Internet, and can automatically upload data from salespeople's laptops when they come back to the office.

Used effectively, CRM enables companies to understand and segment their customer base in much more detail, to hone marketing and sales strategies, including pricing, down to the individual consumer, said Kisker. However, "it only pays off if you integrate CRM with the ERP system because in the end, it all needs to go into the books and ERP handles that side."

About the author: Elisabeth Horwitt is a freelance journalist who has covered business IT trends, issues and technologies for over twenty-five years. She is based in Waban, MA.

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