Step Three in the Approach for Differentiating CRM Software

Ok you are nearing the end of the process. In Step One, you selected the category of CRM vendor best suited for your business and in Step Two you narrowed down your choices to 2-3 vendors.  Now you are looking for that one unique differentiator that pushes you in the direction of one vendor or product over the other and here it is – Value Added Services.

Step 3 – Value Added Services

Some businesses seem to think that CRM software solutions are like an appliance.  You simply plug them in the wall and they work, but this is just not the case.  CRM software does not run your business, people do. And if you are a small to mid-size firm chances are you have limited resources and may not have experience in critical areas such as sales process management or marketing campaign management and that’s alright.

Previously I wrote an article called “Don’t Fly Solo with CRM Software”.  What I was referring to is the fact that if you are serious about improving your internal business processes and effecting change, you are going to need help from the CRM solution provider. In fact, you should expect it.  These guys are in the Customer Relationship Management business, aren’t they?

Self Service for Simple Solutions

CubeThe challenge here is that not every vendor can offer value added services.  Certainly the low end small business solutions do not.  As we discussed these “out-of-the-box” systems are designed as pay as you go programs. You put your credit card over the internet and away you go. But let’s be fair here.  Due to their low cost how could these companies afford to provide any level of service?

Full Service for Complex Systems

mirrorigamiIf you have narrowed your search to one or two Enterprise level solutions you can bet that these companies can offer an array of services from full on-site implementation to customization and integration with disparate systems like accounting and ERP.  Big companies have complex requirements and understand they are not simply purchasing a piece of software here. They are looking for a partnership.

Professional Service for Diverse Solutions

Kusudama with a messageThe mid-market sector is one where you will find the most disparity.  Some CRM solution providers offer an array of value added services and some offer none.  Remember what I said earlier.  If you expect to realize the full potential of any CRM solution you will need to rely on the expertise and value added services offered by that vendor.  Don’t fly solo!

A high quality CRM solution provider will offer not only implementation support and training services, but sales process methodology, marketing campaign management to assist with brand recognition and lead generation, service ticket management and web site integration services.  These guys can help you to not only maximize the value of your CRM solution, but to also become a more successful sales and service organization.  Isn’t this the reason you are looking for CRM software?

I truly hope my Three Step Approach to Differentiating CRM Software has been of value to you and will help you to feel good about your decision.

About the Author:

Larry Caretsky is President and CEO of Commence Corporation, a leading mid-market provider of CRM software.  Caretsky is well regarded as an expert in CRM software and has written numerous articles on the subject including;  Back to Basics, CRM an Executive Perspective, 7 Points to Consider Before Making a CRM DecisionDon’t Fly Solo with CRM Software, and an e-book, Practices That Pay – Leveraging Information to Achieve Selling Results.  These articles and additional information about Commence Corporation’s CRM Software are available from the company’s web site at www.commence.com

Image “Cube” by Wyerthfali on Flickr under Creative Commons license.

Image “mirrorigami” by Elod Beregszaszi on Flickr under Creative Commons license.

Image “Kusudama with a message” by Simona on Flickr under Creative Commons license.

Foolish Thinking Causes the Failure of CRM Software

Small businesses often struggle with how they manage and execute their marketing message, lead generation programs and sales opportunity management. This is because they typically do not have the expertise on board to implement or automate the internal business processes that drive these requirements.  What’s worse is that many believe that the mere purchase of a good CRM software program will fix the problem; then later learn that it won’t.  Want to know why?  Because CRM software doesn’t run your business – people do.

Price without value

As a provider of online CRM software for small to mid-size companies most of the businesses we deal with have one thing in mind when it comes to CRM software and that’s price.  It’s the first question that is asked which is a clear indication that the cost of the software may be more important than the value the software actually provides.

Seems a bit silly doesn’t it? But it’s true and it’s the primary reason so many small to mid-size companies fail with CRM.

Small businesses cannot attract or maintain experienced sales or marketing personnel and that’s ok, but no CRM software program on its own is going to address this problem.  What will address it is a CRM software provider that can provide an array of sales and marketing services as part of their overall CRM solution.  You will not however find this with the typical low cost out of the box solutions that you purchase over the internet.

CRM solution providers like Commence Corporation, have done an excellent job of differentiating themselves by providing a software solution that is complemented by an array of services that fill the gaps the customer cannot.  These services include marketing campaign management, lead generation services, and automating the sales process.   The results are measurable and include targeted marketing campaigns, better quality lead generation and a significant improvement in the management and reporting of the sales process.  This is what a quality CRM solution provider will offer.

If you are firmly set on improving how you market, sell and provide services to your customers you need to be willing to invest your time and money to engage this level of expertise. If you are not, and price is the driving factor for engaging in CRM, re-think your decision. You will be glad you did.

Image ‘#price without #value’ by Francesca Romana Correale on Flickr under Creative Commons license.

Sales Best Practice #26 – Seek opportunities to be coached and mentored

A best practice for sales people by guest poster Dave Kahle, author and leading sales educator.

Coaching

There is, in the world of professional salespeople, a significant group of salespeople who cringe at the prospect of someone working with them, and who shun every such opportunity.  These salespeople are more comfortable in anonymity.  They want to exist under the radar screen of those who could help them improve.  I believe that they understand, somewhere deep within their psyche, that they are far from the best at their jobs, and they realize that someone working with them will quickly see their deficiencies.  To hang onto their job, they avoid exposure at all costs.

Fortunately, that’s not the mind set of the sales masters.  They believe just the opposite – that there is always something to learn from someone else, and that people who can coach and mentor them are to be sought after and nurtured.

That’s why this is a best practice – a consistent effort of the best salespeople.  They seek opportunities to be coached and mentored.

Coaching, in all professions and walks of life, is a growing phenomenon.  It’s easy enough to understand.  As the demand for productivity grows and the pressures to do more, be more, and accomplish more mount, thoughtful and serious people understand that someone else can often see things in their performance that they can not see themselves.   That’s why Tiger Woods has a swing coach, for example.

It is why even those who are at the top of their profession need an outside observer to detect their flaws and unintentional lapses from time to time.  The greatest athletics would not attain the height of their achievement without their coaches.  So true of the world class performers in any endeavor. Actors, musicians, athletes, CEOs, and yes, even salespeople, can attain higher levels of achievement and performance by availing themselves of a coach.

There is not one field of human endeavor where the practitioner can’t be helped by a coach.

The best salespeople understand that, and continually seek out opportunities to be coached and mentored.  It’s one of the characteristics of the best.

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If you are serious about improving your productivity, you need to learn how to do that.  Consider The Sales Resource Center ® where we have best practice assessments, and 455 learning units, all delivered 24/7 on-line, and designed to help you sell better, manage better and lead better.

Copyright MMXII by Dave Kahle
All Rights Reserved

Image “Coaching” by Sarah.E.Binder on Flickr under Creative Commons license.

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

Cold Aisle
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.

System Architecture

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.

Hosting Service

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.

Image “Cold Aisle” by Phil Windley on Flickr under Creative Commons license.

A Three Step Approach for Differentiating CRM Software

Selecting a CRM software solution for your business does not have to be a grueling exercise or require months of analysis.  Believe me, it’s not as hard as you think if you know how and where to focus your time.  This three step approach will help you to determine what type or category of CRM solution you should be looking for in just minutes – I promise.  This paper is a three part series starting with an introduction and discussion of the first step in the three step approach.

google top crm vendors

First, and I know this may sound strange, forget about consultant reviews or Google searches you may have done for the top CRM or best CRM systems.  Vendors pay for these reviews, for Google listings and for their position on these search pages. So when you see a particular company listed in the first few positions on the page this simply means they paid more than the other vendors.  Some people are comfortable with this and will simply select two to three of the top vendors listed and make a decision for one of them.  If you feel that this is a good way to select the best solution for your business that’s fine, but stop here.  My three step approach won’t help you.

There is an interesting correlation between the CRM sector and the automobile industry in the following way.  They both have a targeted audience (or profile of the company or person they want to sell to).  Ferrari for example, has a targeted audience and so do General Motors and Kia. The CRM sector is no different and just like the automobile industry the products and value added services they offer have been designed and priced for a specific audience.

Of course every vendor will claim to have a solution for you regardless of your size or requirements. But if you analyze the myriad of CRM solutions that are available today they almost always fall into one of three categories:

1)      Small business solutions

2)      Mid-market products

3)      Enterprise solutions

Step 1  – The 3 Classifications of CRM Solutions

The first step in this process is to know thy-self.  Take a moment to fully understand your business and what you are really trying to achieve then document it.  You’ll see why in a few minutes.  This does not have to look like the yellow pages or incorporate every detail.

I suggest listing the top three challenges you are looking to address.  Perhaps it’s simply data consolidation so that you have a sharable customer data base. Maybe you want to incorporate a structured methodology or process for managing leads and the sales cycle. Maybe it’s much more.  It does not matter — just get it down on paper so that you can match your objectives to one of the three categories above.

Let’s take a brief look at each one of the three categories.

Small Business CRM

CRM solutions that cater to the small business community offer basic functionality and are often referred to as out-of-the-box solutions”.  The term “out of the box” simply means what you see is what you get.  There is a core set of functionality, but little more and there is nothing wrong with this.  These are self-service commodity products that are inexpensive and perfect for the start-up company or small business that simply wants to manage contacts, add activities and notes, tag e-mails and perhaps view a sales pipeline.

Small business CRM offerings may be purchased over the internet.  You put your credit card in and you are ready to go.  Don’t expect too much in the way of customization however.  You may be able to add a few custom fields, but you are not going to get security or role permissions, full search capabilities, ad hoc reporting or analytics at this level. And you can’t simply call and talk with a representative about your specific business requirements.  Customer service is traditionally only available via e-mail.

Mid-Market CRM

For companies that need more than account management and a sales forecast there are several good mid-market products offering functionality that rivals many of the more costly enterprise solutions. Unlike the out-of-the-box solutions described above, these solutions allow for a high level of customizability and an array of value added services that help you realize the maximum value from the solution.  Mid-market CRM solutions traditionally offer a suite of applications including robust sales and lead management, marketing campaign management, customer support, a document library, quoting, project management, analytical reporting and the ability to integrate data with other third party solutions.

These products are traditionally offered in different versions so you can start small and add functionality as needed. They are designed for companies that are serious about improving how they market, sell and provide services to their customers.  You will need to take ownership of them and assign an in-house system administrator to work in conjunction with the solution provider.  These are not programs that you buy over the internet and they traditionally require an annual agreement for utilization.

Enterprise CRM

Enterprise CRM systems are obviously designed for large corporations, and large companies traditionally have comprehensive and complex requirements.  Many are multi-national which means they require multi-language and multi-currency support, scalability to several thousand users, comprehensive security and role permissions and a system architecture built for high performance and high transaction levels.  Integration with third party solutions such as accounting and EFP systems is a must have, and so are value added services for global implementation support, system development services, system integration, disaster recovery and more.  This is a whole different level of product and support services than outlined above.  So if you are a large or multi-national corporation, your selection of product category is easy.  You need an Enterprise CRM system.

Now that you have a good understanding of the three classifications of CRM software take a moment to review the requirements you wrote down and compare them to the three categories above.  At this point you will have narrowed down your search to a “category” of CRM providers, but we have more work to do.

In Step 2 of the report we are going to take a look at something most people pay little attention to – the quality of the cloud hosted service provided by the CRM vendor and how their platform can ensure high reliability and system performance.

Image “Mama Bear, Pappa Bear, and Baby Bear” by HiddenJester on Flickr under Creative Commons license.