Choosing a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) technology has often been a daunting task for companies in all industries. Whether in financial services, telecommunications, retail, high tech or any other area, companies know that in order to be successful, they need to better service their customer and partners. How to do this can appear to be a monumental task particularly for Small to Medium-sized businesses. However, the approach for a multi-billon dollar empire or a small startup company just coming into the CRM game should be the same.
Anyone evaluating a CRM technology must consider the same 10 points to make it successful. In determining an approach on the first â€“ Company Goals and Strategy â€“ the others may no longer apply, but if questions remain, considering these 10 points will remove any doubts:
1. Company Goals and Strategy
2. Web-based, Client side/ Hosted or on premise
3. Budget and Total Cost of Ownership
4. Scalability and Room to Grow
5. Rapid Deployment
6. Customized for your Business Needs
7. Works with Existing Systems
8. Vendor Reputation, Product Reliability
9. User Interface Meets User Needs â€“ Usability
Company Goals and Strategy â€“ First and foremost
In choosing a CRM solution that meets the individual needs of a company, there are multiple factors to be considered. CRM solutions are not all created equal, and the challenges facing a small to medium business (SMB) in meeting their customerâ€™s demands are sure to be very different than those a multi-billion dollar enterprise encounters. A telecommunications company with offices in hundreds of cities will likely not have the same requirements a small retailer from the mid-west has. However, many people fail to consider the business objective as the first thought that should go into choosing a CRM technology.
As the most important factor to take into consideration when evaluating a CRM solution, business objectives are sometimes overlooked as the technologyâ€™s capabilities become a primary focus. The challenge is not in defining your company’s IT strategy but in clearly defining the business objectives and then mapping the IT strategy to these goals.
Are the companyâ€™s growth objectives clearly defined? What is the companyâ€™s primary objective? To increase revenue, then how? Does access to real-time analytics impact decisions that could drive the business? Do customers interact mainly with customer service reps via phone or email? Is self service an important feature that needs to be manged via the Internet? Is there a corporate goal to integrate your applications across the organization to use information from varied programs to drive revenue opportunites? Is the ability to integrate with mobile phones to provide salespeople with the necessary tool they need when they’re on the road critical to your business needs?
The decision to choose a CRM solution needs to be a business decision first and foremost. Once the business goals are defined other aspects â€“ primarliy the capabilities of the technology â€“ can be considered, if there is more than one solution that might fit the business objectives.
Web-based, Client side/ Hosted or on premise
In-house or hosted solutions each offer advantages. Hosted CRM solutions are typically thought of as easy to implement, secure and accessible. However, if your employees will not have regular internet access, online CRM software may not be feasible.
If you are looking for a solution that easily integrates with your back-office and third-party applications as part of a strategy to integrate your applications across the organization, you might consider an in-house solution.
A large business that already has an on-premise CRM solution may decide that a hosted solution is the perfect way to rapidly extend their CRM capabilities to a remote division. Or, a small but fast-growing organization may choose a hosted CRM solution that allows it to gain quick access to market-leading CRM features and functionality without having to invest up front in hardware or software.
If you have an internal IT department that can suppport the solution, an on-premise solution allows for customized features and other advantages. The benefits each of these alternatives brings to the company should map to your business goals and strategy.
Budget and TCO
If the business goals have been defined appropraitely, another consideration is in attributing a budget to the solution. The lowest initial cost should not be the only factor in a decision as the upfront costs only make up a portion of the overall investment. Only an estimated 30 percent of a CRM solution’s costs can be attributed to the initial software purchase; the remaining 70 percent goes to:
Unless these costs are accounted for in advance, the company opting for a ‘bargain’ application is very likely to be shocked with a higher than anticipated total cost of ownership. The result is often a failed deployment. Budget and TCO often play a large part of the decision making process.
Scalability and Room to Grow without Repeated Upgrades
Pending your growth strategy, planning for future growth with a scalable product can be critical. SMBâ€™s in particular do not want to spend time developing and deploying software; they want to use it. Choosing a vendor that will make the enhancement process painless can help while selecting a system with a consistent and readily upgradeable architecture, should also factor into your decision. A well-defined, well-documented and proven roadmap to accommodate growth is a minimum requirement. Vendors that stand by their products never abandon their legacy customers, and depending on your objectives, the ability to add more employees may impact a decision.
The average deployment of an in-house CRM solution is between three to six months, whereas the average deployment of a hosted CRM solution is a few weeks (in some cases users can start using the service in real-time as soon as they sign up). The speed of deployment of a hosted CRM solution often speaks to the midmarket company, which is concerned with keeping costs down, while making the best technological investments for its business needs, but the solution they get will most likely not be â€œrobustâ€. Deployment may halt the companyâ€™s direction for time and for a smaller business this could be critical. Determining if the length of deployment will impact the business can determine of a solution is right for you.
Customized for your Business Needs
Varied industries have solutions that are customized for the specific vertical initially, and then some are able to be easily adapted further for minimal cost. If there is a specific need that is critical to the overall company objectives, a tailored solution might be the answer.
Works with Existing Systems
Rather than pulling out existing systems or requiring employees to adopt multiple new technologies at one time and threatening the success of the CRM implementation, choosing a system that work with your existing infrastructure can be critical. Choosing a CRM tool that pulls data from legacy programs or allows back office information to be used in better servicing the customer are something else to consider in your choice.
Vendor Reputation, Product Reliability
Choosing a reputable vendor with a reliable product is a factor for consideration as well. Consolidation in the market has been active in the past few years and promises to continue as does the struggle some smaller less stable companies have as they continue to fold. Choosing a vendor that will continue to be viable years from now and provide continued service can impact your decision as well.
User Interface Meets User Needs
Find out if your employees can learn the software, use it efficiently, and whether or not it adds to productivity. If the CRM solution is too complicated or is deployed without proper training, users tend to not use the solution because they don’t know how to use it. Don’t be afraid to evaluate multiple vendors and CRM solutions until you find the best fit. Any CRM software vendor who really wants your business will offer a free trial or evaluation. This lets you integrate the software, test its features and determine if a solution will be used.
If the decision is not apparent at this stage, the extra features and functionalities can help a final choice. Generation of usable graphs and charts from the analytics the program provides might be a few steps easier with one product or the steps to click through a function make be quicker with one vendor. However, itâ€™s likely that additional functionality decisions may not be necessary after a companyâ€™s business objectives are clearly defined and an appropriate solution mapped to fit.
Many of the initial choices that typically comprise a CRM solution can be resolved in the first step. With the vast array of software products available, it cannot be doubted that shopping around will help you make the best decision. But, before beginning to evaluate which solution is right to meet your goals, examining within the company walls is critical. Without a clearly defined business objective, the top selling CRM solution can not guarantee success. The CRM solution must fit with the companyâ€™s near term and long term goals. In order for the solution to be effective, employees must use it. In order for employees to use it, it must increase productivity. In order to increase productivity, it must map to what it is that drives the company.
By making a decision on the first of these 10 points, the solution will likely be apparent. However, in evaluating the best solution, consider all the topics as factors that can impact your decision. Ask the right questions and evaluate the answers. The satisfaction of your customers and the health of your business depends upon it.