CRM software is perceived by many small to mid-size businesses as the solution for automating and improving sales execution. It’s true that one of the main components and benefits of CRM is to provide more efficient management of the sales cycle, but there is more to becoming an efficient sales organization than implementing CRM software.
First, you need to have a structured sales methodology or process in place that will be followed by the sales team and used by management to manage the selling cycle. What is a sales methodology? It’s simply a structured well defined process which guides each new sales opportunity through the selling cycle. Let’s say you are selling new Voice over IP telephone systems and you get a new inquiry for your product. What are the steps that your sales representative should follow from his or her initial introduction to closure of this business? That’s your methodology or process.
Sales pipeline showing opportunities in each stage from introduction to closure
Perhaps step one is simply building rapport and trying to learn about the prospect’s business requirements, but what are step two, three and beyond? Maybe it’s a needs analysis, sending a product sample or trial for your business. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that these steps need to be well defined and part of the company culture before they can be automated. A lot of companies tend to purchase a CRM system with the expectation that the software will guide them along the way; believe me it will not. What you will end up with is the automation of a broken process and failed expectations for your CRM system.
My advice. Get your sales team together, sit down and document the steps they have taken that have resulted in the successful sale of your product or service. This is what you want to automate and use as the process that each sales representative uses for successfully managing each sales opportunity to closure.
What a crazy industry. There are literally more than 450 CRM solution providers all vying for a piece of a rapidly growing software sector called CRM. The intense competition has forced many vendors to do things I am sure they had no intention to do when they entered the market and that’s offering their software and cloud hosting service for free.
There are at least 20 vendors that offer their solution for free. Some have limits on the number of users such as three or five people for free, while others limit the functionality to the basics hoping to bait you into paying for additional functionality that you will most likely need down the road. The problem I see with this approach is that no CRM software provider can stay in existence offering their product and cloud hosting service for free. Here is why.
It is important to keep in mind that almost all of these offerings are cloud based which means the vendor is storing and managing your data 24/7 at a third party cloud hosting service or perhaps on their own in-house servers, but either way it is costing them money. You would not provide your product or service for free if it was costing you money each month and you want to stay in business, so why would you think these CRM solution providers can?
Some of these providers sell other products and services and may be using their CRM software as a loss leader. They want your contact information so that they can sell you other products and services where they can make money. This is fine with one exception. You have to ask yourself – what am I really getting for free? Will this product ever be enhanced or properly supported? Can I integrate this data with other third party solutions? Probably not. Where is my data being stored and is it secure? How can I get at my data if I need to? If the CRM vendor goes out of business (and several have) they will most likely take your data down the drain with them leaving you in a very difficult position. So here’s the question. If you are considering the use of free CRM software are you prepared for the potential to come into your office one day and find out your CRM system is no longer operational and your data is gone? Don’t do this to your business. There are too many quality companies out there with good CRM products, a safe reliable data hosting service and an affordable price.
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Going into 2014, we expect that more people than ever will use social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook as a primary way of communicating. Social media has revolutionized the way people converse on a personal level and it has profoundly changed the way businesses communicate with customers. In fact, today social media tools have become an integral part of professional CRM software solutions.
The growth has introduced a myriad of social media solution providers that offer tools for maximizing the use of social media platforms, but with social media now incorporated into mainstream CRM software products their future is uncertain.
How your business approaches social media can have a substantial impact on your marketing success. Social media is an effective vehicle for marketing and customer interaction which is why so many CRM solutions providers now incorporate this in their products. It can be used for simple product promotions, contests, or to maintain an online presence.
The bottom line is this – you can establish a real connection with customers by engaging them through social media. They want to be heard so let them. It’s a good way for them to get to know your business and for you to get to know what they like and dislike about your product or service. That’s the true value of social CRM.
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When companies think about solving software related business challenges they often think about brand name companies like Microsoft, Oracle or SAP. But in one specific industry – Customer Relationship Management software or CRM – businesses are turning their attention to smaller pure play solution providers to address their business requirements. Perhaps this is because these smaller more focused companies can provide the personalized attention businesses are looking for; or perhaps the company has earned a reputation for having a high degree of expertise in a specific area such as sales process management, marketing campaign management or customer service.
There are a myriad of companies all trying to take a piece of the multi-billion dollar CRM software industry and many of the smaller players are rising to the top of the list for addressing specific business objectives. For more than two decades companies selling point solutions, i.e. products that do one thing very well, have been very successful and we are seeing it again in the CRM industry. Some companies are focused on social integration with LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter while others are putting their resources behind mobile computing and customer portals that enable customers to access a company’s CRM system to check the status of a service ticket.
The point here is the following. There is certainly a comfort factor when working with a brand name company, but if you are trying to address a specific business problem you may be better served to seek out a company that has a high degree of experience in addressing your requirement than a big brand name that may not.
CRM systems can be low cost basic tools for managing accounts and contacts. More complex solutions can also be used for managing sales, marketing and customer service. Regardless of the scope of functionality, there are few things you can do that are critical to ensure you realize value and a return on your investment from the system you select.
1. Assign a system administrator
The administrator should be the only person who can make changes to the structure of the system. These include system password and security permissions, adding and removing custom fields, or changing views and reports within the system. Failure to control this is often the cause of data integrity issues, inaccurate reports and potential security breaches.
2. Departmental ownership
Management at the departmental level needs to take ownership and support the utilization of the system. Employees catch on quickly and can see if utilization of the system is not a priority to management. If management does not support its use, the employees will follow their lead and the CRM software will become nothing but shelf ware.
3. Change management
Implementing a CRM solution, whether hosted or cloud based, will require change. This may be a change in policies and procedures, or changes in employee responsibilities. It is important once again for the company executives to manage and endorse whatever change is required to improve the overall performance of the company.
If you are not prepared to address the recommendations above due to limited resources or changes in your business environment I would suggest you wait until such time that you are. Managing how your team uses a CRM solution is critical to making your front office business processes more effective, and this will impact how you market, sell and provide service to your customers.
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The CRM software sector is highly competitive, but over the years several companies have risen to the top of the list based on the strength of their product and service, their stability, and continued growth in the business sector they serve. The companies listed below have been in the CRM sector for more than a decade, have a large customer base and have continued to invest in and enhance their technology and product offering. Several companies have different product offerings that serve more than one business sector.
If you are looking for a CRM solution for your business, the CRM vendors listed below offer an excellent place to start. See their prospective websites for detailed information about each product offering.
Enterprise Level CRM
- Microsoft Dynamics CRM
- Commence CRM
- Microsoft Dynamics CRM
Small Business CRM
- Commence CRM
- Zoho CRM
The online CRM software industry is changing and not for the better. More and more basic products enter the space all claiming to be easier to use and cheaper than mainstream alternatives, but when price is your only advantage it’s the customer who loses in the end. Why? Because the companies that offer these solution have only one objective in mind and that‘s to sign you up at any cost. Many of these products are free or just a few dollars a month and that’s because there is hardly a company behind these product offerings. Instead there is a person or two and an e-mail address to send your inquiries to.
CRM software is supposed to be a solution for helping you to significantly improve how you market, sell and provide service to your customers, but this requires more than signing up for a free online CRM solution over the internet. It requires marketing, sales and service expertise along with knowledge of the online CRM software itself, some training and some advice and counsel. If the company and solution you are interested in cannot provide this my advice would be to go find one that does. Having the comfort of being able to talk with a knowledgeable representative from the CRM company will make all the difference in the world and will most likely cost you just a few dollars more per month.
Image “Rabbits on phone” by Martin LaBar on Flickr under Creative Commons license.
Small to mid-size businesses can acquire a top rated online CRM solution for a fraction of the cost compared to mainstream CRM solution providers, while offering similar functionality. Commence Corporation, a leading provider of online CRM software, is helping small to mid-size businesses improve how they market, sell and provide service to their customers through the use of their CRM software and professional services. “There are three components that companies should be looking for when selecting a CRM solution” says Larry Caretsky, president of Commence Corporation.
- The CRM Software itself – Does it have the functionality we need to improve how we sell and provide service to our customers?
- The Hosting Service – Where is our data, is it safe, properly backed up and how can I get it if I need to?
- Customer Service – Can I get someone to answer the phone if we need assistance, or is support only via e-mail?
Most low cost CRM solutions simply do not provide the scope of CRM functionality, high quality hosting service or the resources necessary to provide world class customer service. Commence gets very good marks across the board. The company has been providing customer management software for more than two decades, has completed thousands of system implementations, and has an experienced staff of support personnel with expertise in sales, marketing and customer service. Add these components together and you have a top rated CRM solution, a best in class hosting service and superb customer service, all at a fraction of the cost of competitive CRM solutions.
How to Get the Most Value from your CRM System
Somehow, someway the world has gotten this perception that customer management software programs (more commonly referred to as CRM software) are quick fix toolkits for managing sales, leads and customer service. They’re not. CRM solutions automate internal processes. If you do not have structured processes for lead generation, management of the sales cycle or procedures for ensuring customer satisfaction, no CRM system in the world is going to fix this problem on its own.
Companies like Microsoft and Salesforce.com spend millions of marketing dollars trying to convince small to mid-size businesses that their CRM software will cure just about everything from generating new leads and producing more sales to providing world class customer service. What they do not tell you is that in order to get the most value from CRM software you need to invest in creating structured policies and procedures that can be automated and managed by people, not their datacenter.
Invest in your CRM Success
Small businesses continue to suffer from failed implementations and broken promises because they make the same mistake when selecting CRM software. They tend to focus like a laser beam on finding the product with the most features for the least amount of money. Instead, try to determine what you will need to invest to ensure you realize value from the system. When I talk about investment I am not referring to money; I am referring to resources or people. For example, many small to mid-size companies do not have experienced sales managers. As a result, they may have no documented sales process or no reporting structure for evaluating where each new business opportunity is in the sales cycle.
Best Small Business CRM
Small businesses need sales process management expertise to complement their CRM system. CRM vendors don’t typically provide this service, with the exception of one vendor that services the small to mid-size business community. The company, Commence Corporation, has been providing CRM software applications to the SMB community for more than two decades. And while not as popular a name as Microsoft or Salesforce.com, Commence customers continue to realize exceptional value from this CRM solution. This is due primarily to the value added services Commence offers these businesses. Commence is staffed with a group of seasoned professionals with expertise in lead generation, sales process management, marketing campaign management, social networking (Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter) and customer service. Commence CRM fills the gap by providing a top rated CRM solution and small business expertise that ensures companies will improve how they market, sell and service their customers. This has become a “winning combination” for small to mid-size businesses and is the reason Commence enjoys one of the highest utilization rates of their product in the industry.
The point here is this: CRM software is not an appliance that you buy, plug-in the wall and it just works. You need to invest in your people or outside expertise if you want to become a more efficient sales and service organization. While mainstream players like Microsoft and Salesforce.com do not provide these value added services to the SMB sector, Commence Corporation does. It’s the reason so many customers have chosen Commence as their small business CRM partner.
Images owned by Chris Potter on Flickr under Creative Commons license.
If you are wondering if there is any Salesforce.com competition available, you will be thrilled to learn that there is. Salesforce is a well-known product, and maybe it serves its purpose for large corporations, but it is just not practical for smaller businesses. If you are a small business owner, you need a product that works for you. You don’t want to be forced to tweak things here and there for your needs, no matter how recommended the product is. This is where Commence comes in.
We are the Most Preferred Salesforce Competitor
If you ask around for Salesforce.com competition, there is a good chance that someone will refer you to Commence CRM. This is because Commence offers all the great features of Salesforce, plus a few extra. The biggest difference is that it is designed for the small business, so it is user-friendly and easy to navigate. This is important since you are likely doing the work that five people would do in a larger corporation.
Plus, Commence is extremely customizable, so it allows you to easily tailor it to your specific needs. We understand that every business is different, which is why we make sure that our software will work for you. Why should you adapt to CRM solutions designed and made for large corporations? You have better things to do with your time, don’t you?