Mar 27, 2015
Choosing the right CRM can be a daunting task. You can make the job a whole lot easier by establishing what you need and what solutions are out there.
From understanding the jargon to shortlisting your options, our seven-step guide will save you time and money.
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If you have customers then you already “do” CRM. CRM in its most basic form is “customer relationship management” and simply describes the processes a service-provider follows when dealing with customers. Of course, for any company worth its salt, CRM is about far more than just “dealing with customers” – it means maintaining and growing healthy relationships that lead to happy customers, nurturing relationships – and ultimately, more sales.
Most of the time, when we talk about CRM, we mean “CRM systems” – software that facilitates CRM, helping us fulfil our business obligations (like supplying products or services), manage leads, and deal with our own suppliers.
Most companies find that it’s not enough to simply maintain a series of spreadsheet and an address book – what they need is an integrated solution, one that allows them to keep tabs on every area of business all within the same interface. At its best, this makes things simpler and more efficient – but if CRM is going to work for you, it’s essential that you start with the right system from the outset.
Before going any further, it’s worth familiarising yourself with some of the industry terminology you’re likely to encounter when shopping for a solution or doing your research. You’re probably fairly comfortable with what CRM means by now, but how about ERP, automation, the cloud, and local applications?
A Google search will help you bust the worst of the jargon, but here are a few of the most common terms for starters:
ERP: “Enterprise Resource Planning” is the process whereby a business coordinates and integrates its various departments and activities. CRM is often used to enable this
Cloud: Cloud-based CRMs are hosted by the suppliers server, meaning that data is stored at their end not yours
On-premise: On-site CRMs are hosted on your network, which means the data is closer to home.
As when making any purchase, it’s important to start from an informed point of view. There are different types of CRM system, and having an understanding of your own needs and how far the different types of system match these needs can give you a real head start when it comes to shortlisting.
Top tip: Begin by making a list of what you hope to get out of your CRM system – for example, do you just want to record communications and transactions, or are you hoping to generate sales and take advantage of new sales opportunities? You can always revise your initial thoughts if you get inspiration from your research.
There are four main types of CMS:
Allow you to record the name, company and contact details for each entry
Don’t tend to offer sales opportunity management or business forecasting
Key questions: Is your business more reactive than proactive? If so, a contact manager could be right for you.
Focus on recording sales opportunities
Usually have the structure of a contact manager, but at the company level, with each company having many contacts
Allow you to record tasks, appointments and activities, and prospective sales opportunities
Often include reporting tools, the facility to import and export, and an in-built security system
Key questions: Are you looking to generate new leads? Do you want to grow your business? Is your business dependent on generating new leads? If the answer is yes, than an opportunity manager could be for you.
Generally for businesses with out-of-office sales people
Allow staff to manage contacts and opportunities
Enable staff to communicate internally and externally via email, and to plan appointments through a calendar
Often run on laptops or handheld devices
Key questions: Do you have an out-and-about workforce? If you want to keep them connected, sales force automation could be the answer.
These large systems integrate with existing infrastructure and are generally suited to medium-large businesses
Help coordinate complex businesses with a number of customer-facing departments and sales teams
Tend to integrate CRM with ERP (see the jargon buster above!)
Key questions: Do you have a large team all needing access to a wide range of data? Do you have a number of different teams involved in the workflow? If so, an enterprise CRM may be what you need.
Open source software is software of which “source code” (the basic code which makes up a computer programme) has been made freely available to the public. Someone wishing to use the software is therefore able to download the code and develop it into a solution which is suitable for them. Open-source CRM software is that which is built around freely available source code.
Cost: Since open-source code is free, this is the cheapest solution. You may be able to subscribe for extra support from the provider for a fee
Customisable: Since you can customise open-source code, you can adapt your CRM system to your own specific needs
No ties: Unlike commercial CRM packages, you are not tied into licensing, so if it doesn’t work for you, you can drop it straight away.
Development: Because the code is generally not ready to implement as a CRM system, you will almost certainly need access to development skills. Unless you can develop the code yourself, this is likely to prove costly, although you may still save in the long run
Support: Similarly, you will lack support unless you can handle this yourself. Unlike development, support is ongoing and you are unlikely to make a saving compared with a commercial option
Complexity: If you are looking for a sophisticated system with all the integrated features, an open-source option is unlikely to be suitable, since they tend to offer the core features common to all CRM systems.
Summary: Open-source is a cheap option if you have in-house development expertise, and the capacity for ongoing support. If you’re looking for a system with complexity, you may want to consider purchasing a CRM.
You will undoubtedly have heard much talk of the “the cloud” over the last few years, but what does it mean for CRM software? As a CRM shopper, the decision you need to make is whether you want a CRM which is hosted on site on your own network, or on the supplier’s servers.
In practical terms, this means choosing between:
Additional security provision for the data stored on your CRM, but less control over your data and reduced ability to monitor it yourself
Available when you need it, regardless of where you are based. You don’t need to be in the office or logged into the network to access your CRM
Storage limits are for all intents and purposes limitless, whereas your in-house capacity may run out, requiring you to pay for additional servers to store your data
Technical support is more readily available. If something goes wrong, it’s the responsibility of the provider to fix the problem.
Sensitive data is stored in house, allowing you to keep an eye out for suspicious activity. You can provide your own security measures, such as anti-virus software
Greater control over your data often means that on-premise CRM systems are popular with businesses handling a large amount of sensitive information
Costs can be lower if you have already invested significantly in your IT infrastructure as you avoid the ongoing payments associated with cloud-based systems.
Summary: Businesses looking for an easy-to-set-up and accessible CRM solution may be inclined to choose a cloud-based option. For smaller businesses, it can be more affordable since costs are spread out, and for businesses of any size handling a lot of data, it offers a good amount of storage.
Do you simply want to buy CRM software as is, or do you want a system which is customised for your needs?
Off-the-shelf solutions are usually cheaper because the supplier does not need to invest any additional time or resources into adapting it for the customer’s needs. You simply take it off the shelf and to the checkout (metaphorically speaking…)
Off-the-shelf CRM is great if you need a solution now because all you have to do is plug it in and go. If you don’t have the time or money to invest in a custom solution, then there’s a whole host of readymade CRM systems out there, and some of them will certainly be adequate to your needs.
Custom solutions tend to be longer lasting because they are adapted to your specific needs, which balances the greater cost. Often you buy a support package to adapt the system to your future needs as and when they arise
Custom-made systems usually evolve because your software agency offers ongoing support and development to improve, update and expand your CRM as your business grows
Custom-made CRM is flexible and adaptable, connecting to other systems. Our own CRM, RealTimeCRM, is built to fit your exisiting IT infrastructure while coming complete with MS Office integrations.
Summary: For many businesses, off-the-shelf solutions are certainly the most practical option. If you’re on a budget or a tight timescale or just want to get things moving, then it’s probably an off-the-shelf solution for you. However, they’re not as sustainable or flexible, so if you want a system built to last, then go custom.
Here at Cambridge Software, we can meet your needs whether you’re looking for a powerful off-the-shelf system or a custom-built CRM. We will tailor your solution to your specific requirements, offering ongoing support and development so you can expand, improve and adapt your CRM as your business evolves.