The CRM software sector is highly competitive with dozens of automated systems to choose from. There are desktop solutions, hosted and cloud based systems that can be deployed in just a few minutes. Prices are all over the map ranging from free to more than $200 per user per month and in some cases just don’t make sense. It’s a confusing sector that has left many companies on the fence with regard to which CRM system to choose and here’s why.
The Functional Gap
CRM systems seem to come in two flavors. First, low cost solutions that offer basic functionality. There are dozens of these and they are almost like having a contact manager on the web. You can manage accounts, contacts, add notes and a sales forecast. But these products provide little in the way of additional departmental functionality, customization, analytical reporting or integration with third party programs. They are typically differentiated solely on price because they are considered commodity products. There is nothing wrong with this as long as you have your expectations in line with what you are going to get and that you realize you may quickly outgrow the functionality offered.
The next level of CRM is offered by mainstream players that service the enterprise market. Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Salesforce.com and Oracle are household names in this sector. These products are designed to address enterprise business requirements and are complex and costly. What if I need more than a basic CRM solution, but not the cost and complexity of an enterprise system? I call this the functional gap. Both Microsoft and Salesforce.com have aggressively gone after this mid-market by stripping out functionality and creating low cost editions of their product, but this has not addressed the complexity issue. It’s almost like removing equipment off of an aircraft carrier. After you remove it you still have an aircraft carrier which requires a lot of money and people to operate. I think you can see where I am going here.
There’s a real gap for middle market companies that need more than the basic functionality offered by low end products, but not the cost and complexity of enterprise level systems.
Commence CRM Fills the Gap
One of the companies that has bridged this gap is Commence Corporation. Commence is not as well-known as the mainstream players, but has actually been providing customer management software to small to mid-size enterprises for two decades and has an impressive track record and customer base. Commence picks up where basic CRM solutions leave off and in many instances offers functionality only available in enterprise level solutions.
The first area that differentiates Commence CRM is customization. While low end solutions offer little to no customizability, with Commence CRM customers can create custom dashboards, custom views, custom searches, add custom fields, generate custom reports, and even create custom business processes. Commence CRM is also a comprehensive offering. The application suite offers the standard account and contact management, activity management, lead and sales management you’ll find in other solutions, but also a project management system, a document library and help desk ticketing system you won’t find in similarly priced products. If you need a graphical snapshot of your business or links to social media sites like LinkedIn you’ll find it in Commence CRM. Commence also includes the same analytical reporting you will find in enterprise offerings and has seamless integration with all popular e-mail clients. Mobile access via tablets and handheld devices is also available. Commence CRM is very popular with Apple Mac users because it requires no plug-ins or add-on components to use. With this level of functionality at half the price of enterprise CRM solutions, Commence CRM is well positioned to address the needs of mid-size companies.
While it’s quite clear that there is a functional gap in the CRM sector for small to mid-size enterprises there is also a service gap which is highlighted below.
The Service Gap
Companies that have selected a free or low cost CRM solution are well aware that there is no service component to these offerings. In fact, in many cases there is not even a telephone number to call. This is because the products offer very basic functionality. There is no service requirement because without the ability to customize the solution or generate ad hoc reports, you can’t get into too much trouble. But there is usually is an e-mail listed if you have an inquiry.
With enterprise level offerings the service requirement can be extensive and costly. Service agreements are often mandatory with annual fees ranging from 20 to 30 percent of the annual software cost. While this is acceptable among enterprise level organizations, mid-size companies prefer a combination of self service programs complemented by paid support if necessary. Commence CRM provides just that. Online help, a knowledgebase and free training videos are available from the company’s website and live technical support can be purchased on an hourly basis when required. This meets the support requirements of the SME sector, filling the gap that exists today between low end solutions and enterprise CRM systems. For additional information about Commence CRM, visit the company’s website at www.commence.com and ask for a free trial.