Making a Decision for CRM Software?

Look for the Right CRM Company Not Just the Right Product

By Larry Caretsky

Small to mid-sized companies looking for a CRM solution for their business often go about the process with a laser focus on features, functions and price. They traditionally create a committee or team of people to lead the project, give them a budget, and tell them to go research and find the best product. The team lists all the requirements then investigates which company offers the functionality they need and at what price. This sounds like a rational approach, but the team may be missing one of most important components of the decision process and that is selecting the right company as their partner. What are the criteria for selecting the right company? Well it may not be exactly what you think.

Selecting a CRM Vendor

Typically the decision team will look to see how long the company has been in business, are they a well-established player and how well rated is their product. This makes good sense, but equally important (and often overlooked) is the experience level of the vendor’s support staff and the services they provide. Sure, it is a comfort factor to know that the company has been around for a decade, and spends a lot of money for the top three placements on Google searches. However, what I want to know is how experienced are they with ensuring that my firm gets value from their solution. What level of support do they provide before, during and after the sale?

Training and Support

If you are looking to automate your sales, marketing and customer service processes you will require a robust CRM offering, and the more robust the product the more services you will require. Commence CRM, for example is designed for small to mid-sized companies that need this level of functionality. Several other CRM solution providers offer this as well. Regardless of which software you select it is the level of services that will ensure a high return on your investment. I am not referring to service as simply answering the telephone when you call. I am talking about value added services that are provided by professionals with experience in sales, marketing, and customer service.

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Ask yourself if the solution provider can provide guidance on creating the proper sales structure for your business, automate the lead generation and qualification process, establish processes and procedures for service ticket management, integrate their CRM solution to disparate systems, and get people properly trained. This is a critical component to your decision process that as I stated earlier is too often overlooked. Here is an example of why this is so important.

Working with Third-Party Consultants

I think it is fair to say that Microsoft is well known in the CRM industry. They have been in business for decades, spend millions on marketing, and have a comprehensive product, but here is where they come up short. Microsoft Dynamics CRM is sold and supported by value added resellers, i.e. business partners. The company does not have expertise in sales, marketing and customer service disciplines’ and as such, they rely on their channel partners for this. Some of these partners are probably very good and can add value to the implementation, training, and customization of the product; but there are an equal number of them that cannot and that is a problem. I am not picking on Microsoft here. I am simply using them as an example of a company that on the surface appears to have all the right components. They are big and well known, have been in business for many years, spend millions in marketing and have a comprehensive product. However, if they cannot provide the value added services you need to be successful with the software, the rest is almost irrelevant.

Comparing CRM Vendors

CRM software from leading providers has become somewhat of a commodity. While each firm tries to outdo the other with a unique feature or two, the fact is that the core functionality offered by these companies is pretty much the same. This is why selecting the right company with solid experience and an array of value added services is so important. If you are looking for a CRM solution for your business, don’t overlook this. My recommendation would be to look for what is referred to as “pure play CRM software providers” which means this is all the company does, or look for solutions that are industry specific where the company has a high degree of experience in your industry.

About the author

is the president of Commence Corporation, a leading provider of CRM software and best business practices for improving sales, marketing and customer service. Caretsky is considered an expert in sales automation and has written numerous articles on the subject of CRM. These may be viewed on the company’s web site at www.commence.com.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sales Question and Answer #21 – Dropped the Ball

This is a Sales Question and Answer article from guest poster Dave Kahle, author and leading sales educator. Follow Dave’s latest Tweets at @davekahle.

Article By Dave Kahle

Q. If you dropped the ball with a customer, how can you redeem their trust again?

A.  By “dropped the ball”, you can be referring to two different situations.  First, it was your company who messed up.  Your company didn’t fulfill the promises you made.  Or, second, it was you.  You didn’t do what you said you would do, or you somehow personally violated the customer’s expectations for you.  Regardless, the remedy is similar.

You must make a personal, heartfelt and detailed apology, as soon as possible.  And you must do that to everyone who is impacted by the problem.  If the problem was your company, apologize on behalf of the company.  If the problem was you, personally apologize.

You do that first, because that eases the tension in the situation and acknowledges the impact on the customer.  Remember, you are building a relationship with these people, and, as in all relationships, sometimes things don’t go quite right.  An apology is a great way to clear the air.  Most people will tend to accept your apology and not hold it against you.  Everyone makes mistakes.

Now comes the hard part.  While most people will accept your apology, they won’t necessarily forget the infraction.  It’s like catching one of your teenagers smoking dope.  He may ask for your forgiveness, and you may give it, but it is prudent for you to watch him carefully for the next few years.  You can forgive, but you are wise to not forget.

Same thing with your customers.  It’s one thing to forgive, it’s another to forget.  They won’t forget quickly or easily.  So you have to earn their trust back by your actions, not your words.  You’ve got to consistently do what you say you are going to do.  Your company must, time after time, do what you say they will do.

Regaining trust is, in most cases, a long term project.  It’s much easer to lose a customer’s trust than it is to gain it.  Your actions, consistent and reliable, backed up by your heartfelt interest in the customer, will, over time, win them back.

You’ll find this encouraging.  A number of years ago, a study was done on two different buying situations.  In the first, a company bought from a new vendor, and everything went well.  The company delivered as promised.  In the second, a company bought from a new vendor, and there was a problem with the purchase.  The sales person inquired, discovered the problem, apologized and fixed it.

The researchers went to study in which of those two situations was the customer more likely to purchase again the second time.  Interestingly, those customers in the second situation were far more likely to buy again.

If you’ve been following me for any time, you know why that is – risk!

The vendors in the second situation were now viewed as lower risk than those in the first.  In other words, the customers now knew how the company would respond to a problem.  Since they now had proof of the company’s commitment in a worst case scenario, they felt more secure in purchasing again.

For those companies in the first situation, they still did not know how the vendor would respond if there were a problem.  So, those vendors were still a higher risk than the others.

Now, I am not counseling you to intentionally cause a problem.  But, what I am saying is that a problem with a customer is not the end of the world, and, if you handle it correctly, can be a spring board to a more secure relationship in the future.

Best Value in CRM Software

Qualities of ServiceIf you are a small to mid-size business looking for CRM software you probably have one business objective in mind and that is to find:  (1) a stable and quality company,  (2) a top rated product that will meet your requirements and  (3) a firm that will provide you with world class customer service.

There are a plethora of CRM solution providers to choose from, but very few that meet all three criteria. There is one company however that has consistently risen to the top in all three areas.  That company and product is Commence.  Outlined below are some of the reasons customers say they chose Commence CRM for their business.

The Company

  • High quality company in business for 24 years
  • Successfully implemented several thousand CRM installations
  • Serving customers in 30 unique industries in 19 countries around the world
  • Consistently enhance their products year after year for over two decades, protecting  customers’ investment
Match this against other companies you may be considering

The Product

Commence CRM offers a comprehensive application suite with functionality traditionally found only in higher end more costly solutions

  • Frequently listed as a Top 10 CRM solution for small to mid-size enterprises
  • Customizable without programmer intervention
  • Modular in design, allowing you to start small and add functionality at any time
  • Affordable and less expensive than competitive alternatives offering similar functionality
 Match the product’s functionality against other products you may be considering

Customer Service

  • Commence has a staff of highly skilled professionals with experience in sales, marketing and customer support
  • An account manager is assigned to every customer
  • Trained service and support personnel answer the phone when customers call
  • Free self-service training and educational materials are available 24/7 directly from the website
  • Commence secures your data with the # 1 application service provider in the industry
Match this level of service to what other vendors may be offering

We suggest you match our company, our product and our level of service against other solution providers you may be considering and take a moment to see what our customers say about Commence CRM.  Click here for more customer testimonials.

Image “Qualities of Service” by Mike Costello on Flickr under Creative Commons license.

Maintaining Price Points in 2013 Challenging for CRM Vendors

cut priceA lot has changed in the past 24 months in the CRM sector.  Increased competition at all levels has created a commodity market where price points have fallen drastically and vendors are struggling to renew their agreements with existing customers.  Perhaps most affected by this is the once dominant Salesforce.com who was first to market with a cloud based offering for account management and sales software.  Being first to market enabled Salesforce.com to establish a high entry price for their product which many companies were happy to pay. But that was then and the market for CRM software has changed substantially in the past two years.  So much so that Salesforce has now set its sights in other areas for growth, such as unified communications and social CRM.  This has opened the door to pure play online CRM providers who are now signing up customers that two years ago would have gone to Salesforce.com.  One of these companies is Commence Corporation.  The company offers a comprehensive CRM solution at a substantially reduced cost.  With the economy hammering the small to mid-size community, these businesses are all too happy to see a high quality product like Commence CRM enter the race.

Commence CRM is recognized as a top 10 solution for small to mid-size businesses. What differentiates Commence CRM from competitive products is a combination of unique product features coupled with an array of professional services.  “Smaller businesses want to compete with the same tools and business applications as the big guys” says Larry Caretsky, president of Commence Corporation. “With Commence they can, but there is one thing big companies have that the smaller ones do not, and that’s experienced resources.  Smaller organizations often have limited resources in the marketing department and may not have seasoned sales managers or customer service personnel.  Commence has an experienced team of marketing, sales and service professionals who provide advice and counsel to our customers. This ensures that they realize the maximum value from our CRM software and get a measurable return on their investment.  Few companies serving the SMB sector can offer this” says Caretsky “and it has resulted in improved business performance for our customers.”

Commence CRM is utilized by small to mid-size firms across numerous industries and is functionally competitive with both Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Salesforce.com. Companies that have selected Commence CRM have indicated that the product’s user interface, cost of ownership and quality customer service were driving factors in their decision.

To learn more about Commence, contact the sales department at www.commence.com and ask for your free trial.

Image by Russell Davies on Flickr under Creative Commons license.

What CRM Vendors Don’t Want You to Know

If you’re a small to mid-size business looking for a Customer Relationship Management solution you are most likely focusing your attention on evaluating and comparing each product’s features, functions and price. And while that may indeed be the key criteria for your decision there are several things that CRM vendors don’t want you to know that could impact your final selection.

Comparing CRM Vendors

Test Drive Unlimited 2CRM software traditionally consists of a suite of applications for managing customer interaction. Basic low cost CRM solutions offer contact management and sales forecasts, where more comprehensive programs add applications for marketing campaign management, project management and customer service.

So what makes one CRM provider better than the competition?  The answer often lies under the hood.

Today traditional methodologies for building, running and managing software applications have changed dramatically with the introduction of cloud computing.  New CRM applications need to be built for speed and scalability, handle large transaction volumes and be able to operate on multiple devices.   They need to scale upwards to handle growth and provide the infrastructure for global deployment and accessibility.

Building applications that address these requirements is not only costly, but requires a high degree of engineering expertise that is rarely available in small or start-up software companies.   So what does this all mean to you as a consumer?  It means that you may be selecting a CRM solution that may not scalable or will perform well when running reports or doing queries of the database. You may experience a higher level of downtime and you may see very little if any product updates or enhancements to the product. The reason for this is quite simple.

Cloud based CRM

There are actually three types of CRM software products available today.

1. Companies that have transitioned their traditional client server software to the web

These companies have mastered the art of intermingling terminology. They often refer to their solutions as web or cloud based when in fact they are not cloud based at all.   They may have put a web based front end on their traditional applications and host them at their datacenter but these systems were not engineered for deployment under a cloud based infrastructure which could be a cause for concern in the future.  The best way to determine this is to ask the vendor if their solution is hosted under a client/server architecture or is it a true cloud based architecture.

2. Companies that offer cloud based CRM applications but have not designed their architecture for scalability and performance

As stated earlier building, managing and maintaining cloud based CRM applications requires a unique set of engineering skills that very small companies do not traditionally have or can afford. As such, they take the necessary short cuts to get the product out the door and worry about performance and scalability if they are successful and need to. Sort of the “operate under a shoe string and hope we grow” model.  This is typical of very low cost programs that offer limited functionality by design and often limit the volume of data you can store in the system. If you see limitations on the number of accounts or records, the number of e-mails you can send or the reports you can run, this is a big red flag that this system is not designed for scalability of performance.

3. Companies that have built their solution to operate in a cloud based infrastructure and who have the experience and engineering skills to ensure that these products can address the challenging business requirements that lie ahead

These firms have had to navigate through the uncharted waters of the new era in cloud computing and have grown a bit of scar tissue while doing it, but it’s these companies that customers should be paying attention to.

For large enterprise organizations, Salesforce.com, Oracle and SAP should be strongly considered.  If you are wondering why Microsoft is not listed it’s because they only recently introduced a true cloud based offering and the jury is still out regarding its ability to match the other solution providers.

For small to mid-size companies Commence CRM and SugarCRM are quality firms that have been in business for more than a decade, and have a good track record for scalability, performance and good customer service.   There may be others not listed here, but the five that are have been and will most likely continue to be the leaders in the CRM sector.

Image “Test Drive Unlimited 2” by Dekuwa on Flickr under Creative Commons license.