(This post originally appeared on Forbes)
Just a few years ago, products like Microsoft Teams and Slack barely existed. But today, these applications – and competitors like G Suite and Box – are becoming required technology for many firms, large and small. They’re collaboration tools for workgroups. But isn’t that also what a good customer relationship management system does? In fact, if you own and implement a collaboration tool like these do you even need a CRM system at all?
Let’s take for example, Microsoft Teams. It’s only about three years old. But in that short period of time, the application has grown into a mature platform that rivals its older rival Slack. Teams is included with Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft is making a big push to roll it out not only to its hundreds of millions of Office users worldwide but to consumers too.
Like a CRM, Microsoft Teams is essentially a connector. It brings together under one roof email, files (including documents and spreadsheets) and a group calendar. Like Slack and others, you can create channels for group chatting, file sharing and video calling and conferencing. You can save data directly to Microsoft’s online storage service OneDrive or access SharePoint projects. It’s not only mobile but channels can be opened up to outsiders such as customers, vendors and partners to also share information. Slack and other competitors have similar functions.
But the biggest benefit to me about all these collaboration applications is their searching capabilities. Say for example you have a customer problem and multiple people in your company are chatting, emailing and sharing information about it until its resolved. A few months later you have a similar problem with another customer. Collaboration apps like Microsoft Teams and Slack allow you to search across the channels by keyword to locate these prior conversations and get answers much quicker. To me, that’s a major part of customer relationship management and a high priority among our CRM clients.
All of this makes up a powerful way to communicate and share data across a workgroup and is even more useful when that workgroup is as dispersed as many of us have been over the past few months. But can it be a replacement for a good CRM system? Believe it or not…it can. It just depends on your organization’s needs, and culture.
Many of our clients implement CRM systems and only use twenty percent of the capabilities. They focus on the contact management which generally means creating contacts with notes, scheduling follow-ups and appointments and sending emails. All of that can be accomplished in a product like Microsoft Teams.
Granted, those clients are missing out on important CRM functionality like automated workflows, marketing campaigns, service ticket generation, forecasting and opportunity management. This isn’t a fault, it’s just a fact. They realize the importance of these CRM things but they never rise to them. Some companies just don’t have the culture or the need to expand their usage of CRM to that level. They don’t have an internal team to properly administer a growing CRM database (because a growing CRM database definitely needs oversight). They may not have a marketing group that can truly leverage the information in a CRM system to build inbound and outbound processes. Their sales management may not require advanced management and deep metrics on activities, closed sales or lost quotes. They know they should. But they don’t. And they probably never will.
What these companies truly desire is a single database of all communications with their customers, prospects and vendors. They want to be able to quickly search this database for when a customer or prospect calls. They want to be able to quickly access files related to that contact. They want to see what is being emailed from the group. They need to look at each other’s’ calendars so that upcoming tasks and appointments can be viewed or activities from the past can be referenced. They sometimes may want to then integrate this data with bulk email services, accounting and yes, even a CRM system. All of this can be done in an application like Microsoft Teams or Slack. But there’s big thing that’s necessary.
That big thing is the same big thing necessary to make a CRM system successful: people. Microsoft Teams isn’t going to do all of that stuff on its own and neither will a CRM system. To setup a great Microsoft Teams or Slack system that’s delivering on its promises you will still need to have an internal administrator – or group of administrators – ensuring that the product is setup properly, users trained and processes followed. Otherwise you create a big mess. The same applies for a CRM system.
So if you’ve skipped down to the last paragraph to get an answer here it is: yes, you can use a collaboration platform like Microsoft Teams and Slack in lieu of a CRM system. But it depends on what you want to do with it and what you’re willing to give up. More importantly, it depends on everyone committing to the system and management providing the necessary resources so that it’s used to its fullest capabilities under the auspices of a trained and supported administrative team. The success of any workgroup platform – be it a collaboration app or CRM – requires that kind of culture.