Small businesses looking to implement cloud or web based CRM software have a tendency to focus their attention on low cost or freemium solutions, but the decision to implement one of these programs does not always work out for the best. The reason they select these programs is clear and on the surface makes perfect sense. They simply do not fully understand what the CRM software can provide, how they will properly implement it, and more importantly will it be utilized by the staff. There are so many free or low cost programs that you can use on a month to month basis it makes sense to just try one on for size and see if it’s a good fit.
However, the problem that many discover is that the program they selected is much more limited than they were aware of. The limitations are not only on the volume of information that can be stored such as accounts and contacts, or e-mails that can be sent, but more importantly the products just do not have the functionality the company requires. This now means changing to a more robust CRM offering, migrating all the data and re-training the staff. This effort can be costly and disruptive to the business.
Perhaps a better approach would have been to spend some time with the internal staff to get a better idea of what functionality they believe they will require today and into the future, then focus their attention on the companies that could address the future requirements as well as the current ones. Why do I say this? Because the CRM software sector is highly competitive with literally hundreds of products to choose from. It’s a buyer’s market and the difference in cost between a solution provider that can address future requirements and the low cost ones that cannot is only a few dollars more per month.
When it comes to selecting the right CRM software, many small to mid-size businesses make the process much harder than it needs to be and often focus on the wrong things. Here is what typically happens.
Someone gets the authorization to find a good CRM solution for the business. A small team gets together and surveys every department in the company to identify what their needs are. They then make a list of the requirements and survey the companies that can meet all of the objectives at the lowest cost. After weeks of effort, they narrow the field to two or three companies and present them to management. Management then informs them that the solutions they selected offer more functionality than the business requires and are much too expensive. So the team somewhat disappointed goes back to work and re-visits many of the companies they discarded for not having enough features. Sound familiar? If it does you are not alone, but there is a way to solve this so that you do not waste valuable time and your company’s money on a wild goose chase.
The answer is to ensure that you get management’s buy-in before starting the selection process. No executive I have ever met has gathered his staff and directed them to go out and get a CRM solution. CEO’s traditionally focus on solving problems one at a time. They may suggest finding a solution to “improve sales execution” or one that will “improve marketing and brand recognition.” If this is true then the selection committee should be looking specifically at how the available products address one of both of these requirements.
Don’t waste time seeking a product that offers the most features at the lowest cost. It’s OK to have a checklist, but it’s best to narrow it down to the features you require for sales automation or marketing campaign management. This will ensure that you are addressing the specific requirements of the business and the management team.
In today’s highly competitive business environment, it is critical that customers have a good experience when interacting with your company. Whether it’s purchasing a product or asking for support the customer experience has become everything. Why? Mainly because users have immediate access to social media sites and are not afraid to post their complaints if their experience was not what they had expected. While this can often be an unfair process, responding to unhappy customers should not be overlooked.
I recently found myself defending a competitive CRM software company where a user complained that the company’s service was poor and would not recommend them. I was curious to learn more and found out that the user did not have a service contract with the vendor, but was still complaining about poor service.
So what should you do in these instances? Well first, it’s important to respond to any complaint and in a professional manner. If you do not, it may look like you are trying to skirt the issue rather than tackle it head on.
Another way CRM software providers are trying to address this is by providing better self-service options for customers. Commence Corporation for example will be introducing a new customer service portal as part of their CRM offering. The portal will provide access to product information, frequently asked questions, tips and techniques and the ability to enter a service ticket or inquiry right into the CRM system.
The objective is to provide a high level of service to customers, and perhaps to others browsing your site as well. This way people feel good about their experience with your company.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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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