Small Business Struggling to Adopt CRM Software

Still entering your sales notes on paper?

CRM even at its most basic level enables a business to capture, track, manage and share vital customer information with the people and departments that need it to efficiently do their jobs. This is critical to the successful operation of every business. CRM is also extremely helpful in managing new sales opportunities and in streamlining marketing programs that generate new business. Once again this is core to growth and sustainability. So why are small businesses struggling to adopt what is as important to their business as their accounting software? Why do I refer to struggling? Well it’s because industry experts claim that less than 33 percent of small businesses use a CRM system. I believe the reason is twofold.

No Time

First, many small business owners and executives firmly believe that a CRM system will rob their staff of valuable time causing them to spend a good portion of their day entering information into the system, but this simply is not true. In many cases, management is unaware that their staff is spending hours of time entering data into an Excel spreadsheet which is hard to share and virtually impossible to maintain. CRM software has proven that having a single consolidated database of customer information, that is accessible to all authorized employees 24/7, significantly improves productivity. Business owners and executives who have deployed CRM have realized this benefit.

Limited Resources

The second challenge impacting adoption is that small businesses are often resource constrained. CRM is not an appliance that you simply plug in the wall. It requires someone dedicated to managing and maintaining the quality of the data entered, and a commitment from management that the software will be used by the staff to improve business performance.

CRM software as discussed earlier is often used to automate and streamline marketing. In today’s competitive environment small businesses more than anyone need to take advantage of digital marketing programs, generate bulk e-mail mailers, and interact with social media sites to build brand recognition and generate more new business opportunities; but once again this requires having an experienced marketing professional on board. Most small businesses do not have this individual and cannot afford to hire them, making the adoption of CRM quite difficult.

The Winning Formula for Small Business CRM

So, what’s the answer here? How can small businesses become more successful in adopting CRM solutions? I recommend the following.

Step 1: Outline what you need the CRM system to do.

Step 2: Assign someone to manage the implementation of the software.

Step 3: Identify the resources and expertise you have on staff.

Step 4: Only evaluate CRM companies that have the professional sales, marketing and customer service expertise on board to fill any gaps you may have in these areas.

The successful deployment and utilization of CRM requires much more than simply selecting what you think is the best product for your business. CRM does not run your business, people do. If you do not have the expertise on board to realize the maximum value from the product, make sure you partner with a company that can provide this for you.

5 CRM Buying Tips for Serious Shoppers

5 CRM Buying Tips for Serious Shoppers

By Larry Caretsky

If you are a small to mid-size business looking for a CRM solution I have a few tips that will help you stay focused on making a good decision.

Skip the Free Trial

Free trials are almost worthless because it takes too much time to dig into each system and fully test the functionality, how the administration works, what level of customization the product offers and how strong the reporting capabilities are.  Of course, if you are a very small business looking to simply manage contacts, keep notes and generate a sales forecast there are several free offerings that will meet your requirements and you can get immediate access.  You will find that they are all the same so just pick the one you like the best.  

What if your business requirements are a bit more robust, and you need a solution to:

+ manage the sales cycle from introduction to closure;

+ produce detailed sales reports with KPI’s such as how many calls or appointments were made;

+ generate marketing campaigns based on where new opportunities are in the selling cycle;

+ track service tickets and customer inquiries;

+ manage projects, time slips and billing;

+ integrate the CRM software with an internal system already in use.

It does not matter how many free trials you get, because it would take weeks to evaluate each one and, in most instances, you will need to engage the solution provider to clarify what the product does and doesn’t do.

Tip #1: Get the guided tour

Make sure you have a clear understanding of the functionality your company needs, then select three or four solution providers. Have them walk you through how the product would address your specific requirements.  If the vendor suggests they will only offer you a free trial, walk away because it is clear they do not want to invest the time to ensure their product will meet your needs. After the walk through, if you are still not comfortable then ask for a one to two-week trial so that you can revisit the product’s functionality and workflow.

Don’t Make the Evaluation Process a Beauty Contest

Everyone wants a CRM solution that is cosmetically appealing and easy to use. Vendors know this, so they often fill their home page with images that attract the novice buyer or evaluator. But this is not a beauty contest.  I have heard people say they like the cosmetic appeal of a specific product over the others, but what I did not hear them say is that the product best meets the functionality requirements of our business. If the product does not meet the business requirements it does not matter how pretty it is to look at.

Tip #2: Put functionality over ‘look and feel’

Stay focused on how effectively the CRM system can meet your specific requirements. If the product you select is also cosmetically appealing that’s a plus.

Where is my Data?

The security and protection of your company’s data should be a major component in the decision process.  Despite this, I have not had a single prospect ever ask me where my firm stores their data, or how can they access it in case of an emergency. “It’s in the cloud” seems to be a good enough response, but it’s not.  Where your data is stored and managed can be a significant differentiator between vendors and should be an important part of your decision criteria.

Tip #3: Make data security a top priority for vendor selection

Ask the solution provider where your data is being stored and managed, how often is it backed up and what process is in place that will enable you to access your data in case of an emergency.

Support Services

The implementation and utilization of CRM software requires planning and can be resource intensive.  Despite what some people think, CRM is not like an appliance that you plug-in the wall and “Voila!” it magically works.  The CRM system does nothing unless there are dedicated people behind it.  Most smaller businesses are resource constrained and do not have highly experienced sales, marketing and customer service professionals on board to manage the implementation, customization, proper training and utilization of the system; so, it is vitally important that you select a solution provider that can provide this level of service to your business.  Many of the CRM solution providers that service the small business community are small businesses themselves and like you, they do not have these resources either.

Tip #4: Get the support you need to succeed

Make sure you select a CRM solution provider that doesn’t just sell you their product and reply to questions via e-mail. Make sure they are part of the complete installation process (including training, customization, and data migration) and can provide the professional expertise you need to ensure that your company will realize the maximum value from their product.

Price

Price always plays an important role in the decision process, but it should not be the sole driver for selecting a CRM solution. Unfortunately for many small businesses it is, and this has led to false expectations and a very high failure rate for the implementation and use of CRM software.  So, let me help set your expectations.

You are not going to get a vendor to do a demonstration for a free product or one that is just a few dollars per user per month.

You are not going to find a low-cost solution provider that uses a top tier data hosting facility for your data.

Customer service will be limited to e-mail only and the solution provider will not have experienced resources to assist you before, during and after the installation.

If you do not require this then there is no need for concern, but if you do then you need to appreciate that you are going to get exactly what you pay for.

Tip #5: Shop for the features you need at a price you can afford

There is nothing wrong with evaluating solutions based on your budget if you have realistic expectations and the good news is that there are CRM systems for every budget.  Keep in mind that low-end solutions don’t offer much functionality or customizability so if you require this, look for mid-market solutions that do.  There are several good ones that are affordably priced.

About the author:

Larry Caretsky is an executive at Commence Corporation, a leading provider of CRM software for small to mid-size businesses. He has written numerous articles on CRM and is considered an expert in the sector. His articles can be viewed at http://www.commence.com/blog/

Salesforce Functionality at a Small Business Price

Which one is right for you? Fast performance, lean and agile, top security, dependable...

Companies looking for a CRM solution for their business immediately think of Salesforce.com. Then they learn what everyone else has – it’s too expensive and too hard to use and they are right, but perhaps for the wrong reason.  Salesforce is a good product and a good company, but that does not mean their solution is right for every business.  No company can be all things to all people and Salesforce is no exception.  The company’s product addresses complex issues for enterprise level corporations and as such, incorporates a level of complexity that is simply not necessary for many small to mid-size businesses. That does not mean the product is too expensive or too hard to use. It just means that it is not the right solution for you.

The good news is there are a myriad of CRM solutions available, from basic out-of-the-box systems to ones designed for specific vertical industries like legal, banking or real estate.  While few CRM solutions can match the scope of functionality and scalability of Salesforce, there are some very good products targeted at the middle market that offer comprehensive functionality, customizability and affordability that many companies are looking for.  One of these products is Commence CRM, manufactured by Commence Corporation. Commence has been in the CRM sector for two decades and has a very good track record for the quality of their products and the customer service the company provides.

Commence CRM offers a robust suite of applications that rival Salesforce at a fraction of the cost. The product includes account and contact management, lead and sales management, marketing, a help desk with customer ticketing, analytical reporting, e-mail integration, mobile, an internet service portal and an integrated project management application.  Commence also offers a higher level of customizability than competitive products and offers an array of value added services for sales optimization and marketing.  The product is best suited for businesses with 10 to 100 users that need the functionality Commence CRM can provide, but not the cost and complexity of Salesforce.  Pricing ranges from $29 to $65 per user per month.

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Selecting CRM Software

5 Mistakes to Avoid when selecting CRM Software

Here are some quick tips that will help you to avoid the common mistakes so many small to mid-size businesses make when selecting CRM software.

1. Poor Preparation

You’re a small to mid-size business that has decided that you need a CRM system to automate and better manage your business.   You may be struggling with an Excel spreadsheet, a dated contact manager or perhaps nothing at all and you have decided that it’s time to get one of those CRM systems that everyone’s talking about, but are you prepared to make the right decision?  Most business do not take the time to fully document what they need the CRM system to do, what commitment is required for its implementation and getting the staff trained and how will they measure success and a return on their investment. This lack of preparation has created an extremely high failure rate according to industry analysts.  Poor preparation is mistake number one.

2. No Management Commitment

As the CEO or owner of the company you may have decided that you don’t have time to personally engage in the selection process so you assign a staff member or two to begin the process, but unless you have fully communicated what the core business objectives are, what your expectations are for the system, what your budget is and what criteria you want to use to evaluate vendor’s you have just sent your staff on a wild goose chase. They will simply Google Best CRM Systems or Top-Rated CRM’s and get a laundry list of dozens of companies that paid to be part of the Google listings then ask for free trials of all the products.  As owner or CEO, it is your job is to drive the process by outlining the specific business requirements and the criteria that should be followed for the selection process. If you do not have the time for this, then it needs to be spearheaded by a member of the management team with the authority to assist and guide the staff. No Management commitment is mistake number two.

3. Don’t Turn Your CRM Decision into A Beauty Contest

Most people have little to no experience selecting software, and due to poor preparation and lack of management commitment the people engaged in the evaluation process often do not have a clear understanding of the functionality required to address the company’s specific business requirements. As a result, they focus on other aspects of a product that they are comfortable with such as its cosmetic look and feel, its price and how easy it is to use.  The decision process gets turned upside down and instead of selecting a solution that will address the company’s requirements, price and cosmetic appeal become the core decision criteria. Turning your selection process into a beauty contest is mistake number three.

4. Where Is My Data

The protection of your confidential data should be of paramount concern to you and should be one of the key selection criteria for the solution provider you select. I have been engaged in well over 200 sales processes with small to mid-size businesses and I cannot remember a single company ask me where their data is stored, what our backup and recovery procedures are, and how can they get to it in case of an emergency.   They all ask if it is in the cloud and a simple yes makes them comfortable. But not all cloud hosting services are alike and if a solution is free or very low cost, this should be a red flag that you may not be getting the protection you think you are.  Not knowing where your data is stored, or the quality of the data hosting service is mistake number four.

5. Who Do We Call for Help and Professional Assistance?

CRM is not an appliance that you plug in the wall and it starts working.  Your business will need to take advantage of the value-added services the solution provider can provide. This can include training, customization, system integration, and advice and counsel on how you can realize the maximum value from the product.  You may want assistance with creating marketing programs, establishing your sales process or generating custom reports.  Many solution providers servicing the small to mid-size business community don’t have these resources available to you.  Some do not even have a phone number on their website. Customer service is via e-mail only and it’s clear why.  How can any company provide a quality product and service for free or just a few dollars a month?  They can’t which is why there are no resources available.  What’s a bit perplexing at least to me is how can you be in the Customer Relationship Management business and tell your customer that service is only available by e-mail?  Selecting a solution provider that does not offer phone support services is mistake number 5.