There are a myriad of CRM products to choose from, but there are not a lot of companies that can deliver the services required to ensure your success.
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.
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.
The success of your business is highly dependent on your ability to create and implement a mix of marketing programs that target the right customers, effectively communicate your message, and convert new prospects into customers. If you are not doing this, or if you are still using old school marketing programs, you are most likely struggling. Your competitors are probably using a digital marketing strategy and it’s time that you take the steps to compete on a level playing field.
Before embarking on your digital marketing campaign take the time to understand three core criteria about your business.
- What customers do you serve better than anyone else and what are the competing alternatives?
- How will you communicate this to the market? What is the proper vehicle to attract the right prospects?
- How will you measure the effectiveness of your marketing programs?
Digital marketing is all about taking advantage of the tools and services that will enable you to quickly, efficiently, and cost-effectively put your company, your product or your service in front of as many potential buyers as possible. This includes:
- search engine optimization on sites like Google, Yahoo and Bing
- creating quality content for distribution on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and others
- creating a blog with educational material
- enhancing your web site with a call to action and a giveaway for those who provide their information, such as a free white paper or product trial.
What is important is to understand that you need a marketing mix that incorporates much of the above to be successful. If you are not comfortable doing this on your own, there are a lot of resources available to help. To learn more visit commence.com/marketing-enablement
CRM solutions come in three sizes. There are several products designed for large enterprises, a few for mid-size companies and a myriad of basic low-cost or freemium offerings for small businesses. Despite the marketing rhetoric from Salesforce.com that they are the best solution for all sectors, the reality is they simply are not. It’s a great product chock full of a features and functions that, while suitable for large organizations, are simply overkill for most small to mid-size businesses. Many small to mid-size firms that have selected Salesforce have found it to be cumbersome, hard to use and simply too costly for the functionality they require. This seems to be a fair assessment. It does not mean that Salesforce is a bad product, but perhaps not the best one for every size business.
Salesforce is known as the number one provider in the space and as such, everyone wants to take a shot at them. I would like to defend Salesforce in perhaps an unusual way. You see it seems like each month there is a new article written about the best alternatives to Salesforce.com, but most of them hold little merit. Here’s why. The latest one I reviewed was titled Best Cheap Alternatives to Salesforce.com. This article listed a dozen or more products, some free and others that offer a basic low-cost out of the box solution for managing contacts, a sales forecast and a bit more. These are not cheap CRM alternatives to Salesforce.com, they are simply cheap CRM solutions. Not one of these offers a fraction of the functionality that Salesforce.com does. After reading this article you get the feeling that you can get the features of Salesforce.com at a fraction of the cost – but you can’t, and anyone with a brain knows this. So, what’s the point of this article? To me it illustrates how much the author does not know about Salesforce.com or CRM for that matter.
There are a few solution providers that offer a robust set of features that are similar to Salesforce and at a lower cost, but strangely enough not one of these was listed in this particular article. I am not referring to unknown start-ups here. How about Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Commence CRM or Sugar CRM? These are companies that compete with Salesforce.com every day, offer a comprehensive suite of functionality, are lower cost and have been providing services to mid-size companies for a decade or more. These are the best less expensive alternatives to Salesforce.com. To learn more about any of the above firms visit their specific web sites.