Industry Executive Tips for Selecting the Right CRM Solution

By Larry Caretsky
CEO, Commence Corporation

The selection of any software program (including CRM) can be a grueling and frustrating exercise and for good reason. Most businesses do not have people on board who are professional software evaluators, and there are no hard and fast rules that you can follow to ensure you make the right selection. Of course, those that are uncomfortable with the selection process can always engage the services of a consulting firm, but in most cases especially for smaller companies, I am not sure this is necessary. The key is to make sure you do not fall into a few common traps that so many smaller businesses do. I have a few recommendations that I think will ensure you don’t.
Trap #1. Not knowing what business challenge(s) you are trying to solve and what results you hope to achieve.

This is a big one and stems from management failure to get engaged before the evaluation and selection process even begins. There is not a CEO or business owner in the world that has ever asked his staff to go out and get a one of those CRM systems for the business. Executives are much more focused on solving one or two business problems. Maybe it’s finding a solution to capture, manage and share customer data, maybe it’s a need to better manage the sales process or to help build brand recognition via automated marketing campaigns. Regardless of what it is, it’s always well defined.

Executives also look for a return on their investment or an expected outcome as a result of implementing the software. Perhaps they want to become a more efficient sales and marketing organization or provide better customer service. They will also have a plan for measuring success. If management has not outlined their specific business requirements provided a budget that supports a solution that will meet these requirements and identified what they expect as a measure for success then you have a flawed process. Let’s take a look at what happens when there is no management involvement or direction.

As the lead person, you do not want to ruffle any feathers so you survey each department and make a list of all of their requirements, categorized by must haves, and would like to have. The list gets longer and longer with each interview and when you are done, you now need an enterprise level solution to address all the requirements. So you send your list to a handful of vendors with one objective; let’s see who can meet all of these requirements at the lowest cost. You then narrow the decision to one or two vendors and present them to management only to learn that the company does not need that level of functionality and the solutions you have recommended are too expensive.

Wow, you did not expect this. Now you have to spend more time going back to the vendors you disqualified because they did not meet all of the original requirements. What makes matters worse is that you still do not have clearly defined business objectives, which means you have increased the chances for making a bad decision.
Trap #2. All CRM solutions are alike so let’s simply do a Google search and begin talking with those that appear on page one.

The fact is that all CRM solutions are not alike and just because one company appears on page one of a search does not necessarily mean that one is best for your business. In fact, hopefully you are aware that the reason those companies appear in the top positions of the search engine is because they have paid to be there. Don’t make your CRM selection a popularity contest. Focus on your business requirements and find the companies and products that meet those specific requirements.
Trap #3. Not asking the right questions of the CRM software provider.

OK management has clearly defined the functional requirements for the business and given you a budget to work with. That’s great, you have avoided trap number 1. You know that the companies listed on page one of the search engines are paid placements and may not be the best solutions for your business so you have also avoided trap number two. You are now ready to dig in and start evaluating the features and functions of the few CRM systems you have selected. That’s all fine and you should start the process, but beware of trap number three – not asking some pretty important questions to the CRM software provider. I have outlined a few of them below.

3 Key Questions to Ask:

1. Who is the cloud service provider storing my data?

Well it’s in the cloud so don’t worry, but you should worry because not all cloud service providers are the same. Ask where your data is being stored and who is the service provider? Is the data properly backed up and how can you get it in an emergency? More than one CRM company has closed their doors along with their customers’ data and you don’t want to put yourself in this position.

A quality CRM software provider will use a best in class cloud hosting service to store and manage your data such as Amazon cloud or Rackspace. Others use what is referred to as second tier or third tier providers, probably to reduce their cost. Find out who they use and make sure you are comfortable with the cloud service provider.

2. Product updates and enhancements?

How often does the software provider provide product updates or enhancements and are they included in the monthly/annual fee. This is a big differentiation between CRM firms that are protecting your investment in their software and those that are simply collecting a month or annual fee. If they are not providing updates then it means there is no investment being made in their product and that’s bad.

3. Support services?

Quality CRM software firms have a support staff that will ensure that you realize the maximum value from their solution. They have training guides, videos, documented best practices for the use of their software, and product specialists that you can talk to when needed. This is also a significant differentiator among companies in this industry. Stay away from companies that do not have a telephone number on their web site. What they are telling you is that there is either no one there to speak with you, or they simply have no interest in speaking with you. Either way, this is not the type of organization you should be partnering with.

I hope that this guide will help to improve your CRM selection process and ensure that you make the very best decision for your company. The Commence CRM blog at has a number of good articles and valuable sales tips for getting the most from your CRM software.

Photo Credit: Collage Business Plan Stock Photo by KROMKRATHOG/

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