According to Melinda Elmowy, Executive Vice President of Global Marketing for CargoWise ' edi, a leading provider of integrated international supply chain logistics management systems, the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and sales process for freight and logistics is considerably more complex in today's dynamic global business environment than it has been in the past. For instance, she says, the buying decision has moved from the shipping dock and traffic department to C-level influencers. The entire CRM process as it relates to freight forwarding has evolved and requires more advanced IT tools to support this new paradigm, says Elmowy.

'There are a number of IT solutions available that can be applied horizontally across a variety of industries to automate the sales process and manage it through CRM,' says Elmowy. 'Most are adequate solutions. However, for logistics providers, the optimal solution is an integrated ERP system that applies this discipline vertically. This is especially important for the freight forwarding industry, where CRM is an integral part of the supply chain solution as it relates to running the entire company ' from sales prospecting, to quotes, operations, finance and an optimized logistics process.'

Elmowy identifies 10 areas of supply chain functionality that can ensure an effective CRM process:

Identify a Single Solution for Management Visibility

In many cases there are fragmented communications solutions that may serve one business segment more than another, and require multiple data entry. Supply chain visibility can be better accomplished by a single solution that integrates information from both sales and operations. With integrated information, sales reps can enter critical data that is used to facilitate increased sales and customer service by monitoring project status and meeting customer deadlines. Operations management is then able to utilize the same, uniform information for reporting and oversight without requiring additional data entry. Offering management visibility is a by-product of the sales effort, but invaluable to ongoing operations.

Establish Effective Freight-specific Marketing Tools

Key to improving CRM and increasing sales is continually building the sales funnel through effective marketing to both existing customers and prospects. A proper freight CRM process can target marketing efforts based on attributes that only freight-specific CRM can deliver: shipment activity, lane segments, trade profiles, deliverables, etc.

Institute Data Efficiencies

Sales and marketing is the first contact with the customer/prospect. Prospects turn into quoting opportunities, shipments and revenue. If a customer record is entered into a CRM tool, then into a separate freight system, and then a financial system, there is no integrated efficiency developed beyond the original point of origin. IT solutions with an integrated CRM process enables sales, operations, and finance to work from the same records, increasing companywide operating efficiencies.

Ensure Data Quality through a Single System

Data quality is even more of an issue for companies than efficiency. Changing customer organization details, contacts, and procedures is an administrative nightmare with multiple data systems within a company. A single data system with a common point of customer input ensures the entire team ' from sales through operations to finance ' has access to the same updated information to ensure a seamless flow of quality information.

Improve the Customer Experience

The sales process begins with your company contact sitting down across the desk from a prospect customer asking for business and committing to SOPs. Communicating these SOPs to operations and adhering to them is difficult. An integrated CRM solution extends beyond sales, allowing a customer profile to be established that includes operations. A properly integrated CRM solution does not require sales to send memos, but rather enables the system to automati