CRM for the Small Business, Part 2: Choosing the Right CRM Tool

Part 1 of this series on getting started with CRM addresses factors to consider when deciding whether the time is right to take the plunge.

Once a small business decides to invest in a CRM solution to replace the patchwork assortment of tools it has been using to manage its information, the selection process can be daunting.

A plethora of CRM vendors offering an assortment of features have appeared on the scene in recent years, said Brent Leary, cofounder and partner of management consulting and advisory firm CRM Essentials.

Understand Requirements

The small business must first understand its own requirements. Is it a new business trying to build a customer base? Is it a small business experiencing high growth or trying to leverage its Web base? Is the company bringing on more people? Does it need to manage relationships more efficiently? The right CRM tool can meet the business requirements in those scenarios and provide a fuller picture of customers all in one package, Leary told CRM Buyer.

Other features to consider when choosing a vendor are how well the tool helps with lead tracking, sales activities and forecasting. Some tools can generate reports based on the sales process and can do it by the stages in the process, Leary explained.

“It really helps get a better handle on the sales process and forecasting,” he said.

Social Media Capability

Small businesses that rely heavily on social media such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and blogs should find a vendor solution offering easy integration, Leary recommended.

“You’re starting to see a lot of that kind of stuff,” he pointed out.

Tools that support social networking functionality can help build online relationships, he said, adding that special consideration should be given to tools that support the types of networks used by a company’s customer base. Some new CRM companies are built around this type of integration, and the information these tools provide can give small businesses an edge with customers.

“They know you’ve done the homework,” Leary remarked.

Email Marketing

Not all small businesses need sophisticated social media capability. A more traditional small business that relies on email and phone communication needs a vendor solution that can help it communicate more efficiently and that can integrate well with Outlook and other email clients, Leary said.

These types of companies can benefit from a CRM tool that helps them maximize email marketing, especially automatic email marketing, he advised.

“It becomes difficult to manage relationships in your in-box,” Leary explained.

Local Vendor With Small Business Experience

A small company should strongly consider a local CRM vendor that has experience with successful implementations for small businesses, Dan Brennan, principal of A-Frame Technology Assurance, a technology construction management firm, told CRM Buyer. Pay more attention to the vendor’s implementation methods and track record rather than the technology, he emphasized.

A company specializing in small businesses can be very in tune with the needs of small companies. They may give more personalized attention and the opportunity to build a stronger relationship, Leary noted.

“There’s something to be said for that,” he said and recommended that a small business weigh its options.

CRM vendors geared to small businesses include Infusionsoft, Gist, BatchBlue, HubSpot and Zoho, noted Leary.

Relenta is another vendor offering a CRM tool for small businesses with “some cool features and great service,” according to Ken Jones, cofounder and executive director of Maximo Nivel.

Jones selected Relenta as his company’s CRM solution in 2008, he told CRM Buyer. The tool provides a total database communication system in addition to its CRM capabilities, Jones described. Relenta also uses it for other aspects of the business, like human resources.

“There’s no doubt that it really helped our client data,” Jones said.

Make It a Priority

Choosing a vendor was difficult until he made researching it a priority, recalled Jones, who made a point of checking out a variety of tools, including some free trial software applications.

Small business owners should attach themselves directly to the CRM selection process, he recommended.

“I personally championed it,” he said, by insisting on having a manual, standards, and procedures in place.

This internal push with employees on his part helped, as his employees at first were resistant.

“Very resistant,” Jones emphasized.

However, small business owners should not wait for employee consensus, he advised.

It may require getting tough with a crew of employees to get a new tool implemented, explained Jones, since they are accustomed to the tools they’re already using.

It took three or four hours of his time every day during implementation to push it through, he said.

Low Cost, Low Hassle, Low Risk

Low cost, low hassle, and low risk CRM options are the best choices for small businesses, Brennan recommended. The requirements for small businesses should not be overly robust or require much customization.

“Keep it simple,” he stressed, pointing out that complex tools run a greater risk of failure.

Large Vendors

Small local vendors are frequently good choices for small businesses, but big vendors such as can also work because they offer options for both large and small businesses, said Leary. A company can start out with the small enterprise version of the tool and then move up to the more complex product if necessary.

“There’s a path of growth you can go on,” he pointed out, and that can be good option for fast-growing companies who may need to scale up their CRM tool quickly.

Other Factors to Consider

Small businesses should also remember to evaluate what a potential vendor offers besides the actual tool, advised Leary. Other factors to consider include online help, support, best practices, webinars, self-paced learning and training, he said. A vibrant community of users who offer help to other users can also be indispensable.

“That’s just as important as the tool,” he maintained. A small business is not just buying the tool, he said. It is also buying the vendor.

“We encourage people to find the right partner,” Brennan agreed.

Focus on the training a vendor offers and how it can help a company transform to the new way of doing business even more than the technology it offers, he said.

Terms of payment are another important factor, Leary reminded. Payment options can include monthly or yearly fees. Yearly might be less expensive, but a monthly payment plan can allow a company to pull out of a bad situation.

CRM for the Small Business, Part 3: What to Expect During Contract Negotiations

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