How can you differentiate your business from your competitors? That’s easy – provide great service. Sounds like an old cliché and it is, but it’s true. The only difference is that in today’s competitive market we are talking about a different level of service than most companies offer to their customers.
It’s no longer good enough to answer the telephone and provide customer assistance during normal business hours. Customers expect 24/7 service not necessarily from human beings but via your web site. What is exciting is that new tools from CRM vendors can help achieve this.
The tools known as CRM customer portals now allow your customers to get the information they need 24/7 directly from your web site. The portal enables you to provide your customers with access to a knowledge base of articles, tips and techniques, product specifications, installation instructions, frequently asked questions and a troubleshooting guide as examples. Customers can even enter a service request, check the status of an order, or update their customer profile all through the portal. These types of tools have been in use by large organizations, but are now becoming available and affordable to smaller organizations as well. A number of CRM software providers will be introducing new portal products in the months ahead so stay tuned for more news.
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If you’re a business that has not engaged in the implementation and use of CRM software, now is a perfect time to take advantage of what has been transpiring in this industry over the past 18 months. Due to increased competition prices have plummeted and the software programs have become better and easier to use than ever before. For companies that are looking to start small with capturing and managing accounts, contacts and sales, you can find a pretty good product for just a few dollars per user per month. Of course if you are looking for something more comprehensive the cost will be higher.
Some of the things to consider (other than a product’s functionality) are the cloud hosting services provided by the CRM vendor.
- Are they using world class services like Amazon or Rackspace, or will your data be stored in a foreign country where you have no access to it?
- Does the vendor provide updates, enhancements and bug fixes each year, or is what you see all you will get for years to come?
- Does the vendor offer other software products, solutions or services that you may require as you grow?
- How long have they been around?
- How many customers like you utilize their solution?
- Is CRM their core business or do they manufacture airplanes too?
These questions are important because regardless of which solution you select, you do not want to have to change to another product a year or two down the road.
Is your CRM growing with your business needs?
I think we have seen the bottom with regard to price reduction in the CRM software sector. Now is a great time to take advantage of low pricing and to begin using these tools to improve sales execution and customer service.
Here is a question for you? Can you name one CRM software company that can enable an end user to enter data that they wish to keep private into their CRM system, and ensure that it is not visible to others and not synchronized with the server? If you’re having trouble it’s because there is only one company that can do this. It’s not Salesforce.com and it’s not Microsoft Dynamics CRM, it’s Commence CRM from Commence Corporation.
That’s right, Commence has been providing customer management software solutions for more than two decades and offers unique functionality that even the giants still do not offer. How about a fully disconnected client? Take your CRM database on an airplane, in your automobile or on the beach and work just like you would if you were in the office. There is much more to get excited about with Commence CRM. Come see for yourself.
In January 2014 Maximizer, the maker of Maximizer CRM, had announced that it is discontinuing its Entrepreneur Edition. Maximizer had been a popular low cost desktop contact management solution for individuals and small businesses, but had lost ground to competitive solutions that offer more robust functionality and anytime anywhere access. Because the Entrepreneur Edition will no longer be enhanced or supported, Maximizer customers have been put in a difficult position. Customers are being asked to migrate to the company’s Maximizer CRM Live solution, a web based offering, but if you are opposed to having your data outside your office walls you have no path going forward. In addition, the annual cost of Maximizer CRM Live can be significantly higher than what customers are currently paying for their use of the Entrepreneur Edition.
If you are a user of Maximizer and have not yet made a decision regarding your future path there are options for you. One to take a look at is Commence CRM from Commence Corporation. Commence offers both desktop and cloud based CRM software with features and functions that match up well with Maximizer. In addition, the company offers data migration tools that allow account and contact management information to be quickly and easily imported into the Commence CRM system. For more information see www.commence.com.
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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