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.
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 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/