Step Two in the Approach for Differentiating CRM Software
You have concluded Step One of the process and have narrowed down the category of CRM solution you are most interested in. But you are not ready to select a specific vendor or product yet and still have some evaluating to do. Most people will spend the majority of their time testing and evaluating a product’s features and functions and perhaps ask for a free trial or test drive of several products. This is certainly an important component of the decision process but it’s not the only one and here’s why. Regardless of which category of CRM solution you have chosen (small business, mid-market or enterprise) you’re not going to find a single vendor whose product is so superior or unique to the others that selecting them is a no-brainer. In fact, you’re going to find more similarities than differences which is why selecting a product based on features and functions alone is such a difficult task, and why Step Two of this process is so important.
Step 2 – System Architecture and Hosting Service
If you agree with the above and have found that the features and functions of CRM systems within a specific category all appear similar, then you will have to make your decision based on other criteria. The good news is that you should be doing this anyway because what I am going to discuss is equally important in making the right decision for your company.
Most people pay little attention to the system architecture or the hosting service provided by the CRM vendor. This is simply because they do not understand the impact this can have on their business. The system architecture is of critical importance for companies that expect to realize growth in the number of users and the volume of data they capture, store and share with people within their organization. We can say with confidence that Enterprise CRM solutions handle this quite well, where “out-of-the-box” systems simply do not. Of course I am not talking about businesses of 10 people or less, but instead about mid-size and larger firms where this has and will make a difference.
There are two components to system architecture. First, the platform itself is traditionally Java or in the case of Microsoft CRM their proprietary .NET architecture. Both are excellent proven platforms for scalability and performance. So if the vendor you are interested in is not based on one of these two platforms this may be a reason for concern. But there is more to performance than a scalable platform. There is the software itself and its ability to take advantage of the platform. You may have heard some of the horror stories from customers who were trying to do queries or searches that took 20 minutes to run; or those who were trying to generate quarterly or annual reports and when they failed to print, the vendor suggested that they run the report overnight. Ouch! This is a sign of an immature system that was not designed for maximum performance.
If you’re a small business you need not worry about this, but if you are expecting to grow and add people and functionality to the system, you will want to make sure the CRM system you select has a proven track record for addressing growth in the number of users, number of transactions and database size. Don’t be afraid to ask the vendor what the architecture of their system is and how well the system responds to large data queries and reports.
Another equally important component of your decision process should be the hosting service itself. If you are considering a cloud based solution, remember that the vendor is storing, hosting and managing your data and that this is typically done by a third party provider. Find out where is your data is, who is managing it, what type of backup and recovery procedures the vendor has. Also ask how you can get access to your data if there is a disaster or if you wish to terminate the service. Hey – for all you know your data may be in Timbuktu.
Congratulations, in Step One, you selected the category of CRM vendor best suited for your business and now in Step Two you narrowed down your choices to 2-3 vendors. Don’t miss Step 3 which is equally important to your decision and will help you to differentiate your top choices even further.