Enterprise Apps

Simplifying the CRM Shopping Expedition

A 2005 study by AMR Research found 91 percent of companies increased or maintained their customer relationship management budgets for 2006. With so many companies shopping for new CRM solutions or reviewing upgrade opportunities, businesses need help finding the right solution to meet their current business needs and long-term support requirements.

While most businesses recognize the inherent value of customer relationship management systems, assessing the overwhelming number of available solutions and related options often proves frustrating enough to derail the entire initiative.

From platforms and features to pricing and service agreements, choosing the right CRM solution can be a daunting process, so it helps to have some basic guidelines for what you need to consider.

Assess Your Business Needs

Every CRM vendor will do its level best to convince you that its approach to delivering CRM is the right one for you. Take the time to understand your requirements and the potential impact of introducing a CRM solution before engaging with outside vendors.

First, determine which departments will be served by the CRM system, and consider both how those departments function and how they interact. Then define the specific requirements of each department. Analyze the relevant business processes of each group to identify key strengths and weaknesses that the CRM system will support and address.

This assessment will aid you in selecting a product that is flexible enough to accommodate and encourage strong business practices while improving or replacing weaker ones.

Establishing your own CRM vision empowers you to focus only on those solutions that meet your vision, rather than allowing vendors to create a vision that fits their solution as much as — or perhaps more than — it fits your needs.

Factor in Your Industry and Business Size

These days, there are CRM solutions designed for businesses of every size and genre. Be sure to look for a solution that fits your industry and your organization.

Keep in mind that a CRM system designed for larger enterprises may not be a good fit once it’s been “downsized” for a smaller company. While a larger system may have all the bells and whistles — making it appear to be the most attractive solution — those features are only worthwhile if they are truly needed.

Also, remember the value of any good CRM solution is in its usability and implementation. A customized solution allows you to input and collect the data important to you. Take the time to find a CRM solution tailored to the needs of your business size and industry or a general solution that is easily modified to suit your specific requirements.

Focus on Ease of Use and Personalization

Change is never easy and employees are often leery about using new technology. Your CRM solution must be user-friendly and provide targeted functionality for each distinct user community across your organization.

Make certain that users are provided with those features that will make them more effective at their jobs, and that they aren’t inundated with functionality that is irrelevant to them. Focus on solutions that include logical and streamlined workflows and allow for things like quick and efficient data entry. Pay special attention to the organization, order and style used for input fields on screens. Find a solution that can be personalized to your organization, allowing employees to easily input, update and extract the data that is most useful to them.

Anticipate Future Growth

As your company continues to grow, your CRM needs will grow and change as well. Choose a solution that is scalable in terms of users and functionality. A solution your company can grow into and that will grow with your company is a sound, long-term investment.

Select a vendor with a well-stated plan for accommodating future business growth and ever-changing technology needs. Plan for ongoing training requirements by understanding the nature of your user base.

High employee turnover rates and employee growth often mean more frequent training sessions are needed. Finding a vendor that will either provide ongoing training resources or who will train your staff to provide necessary training ensures your users, and in turn you, will get the most from your CRM solution.

Also, understand the cost implications of ongoing service and support related to future upgrades. A vendor that can easily integrate system upgrades and enhancements will save you considerable time and money in the long run.

Expect Excellent Service

While assessing your business needs, outline your resources and capabilities surrounding the implementation of a CRM solution clearly and honestly. This knowledge will prepare you for determining whether or not a potential vendor possesses the skills and resources to provide adequate support. It also provides a framework for discussion about how involved — or not — your employees will be in the actual implementation.

Bear in mind that the definition of excellent service is open to interpretation and must be shared and agreed upon by both client and vendor in order to be achieved. To establish an open and respectful partnership with your vendor, be clear about your needs and your expectations.

Also keep in mind that successful implementation of your CRM solution does not end when the application is launched. Ongoing support and service play an important role in ensuring your system continues to perform, from initial implementation through upgrades and future enhancements. Look for a vendor that offers comprehensive technical support and personalized service that extends beyond a basic help desk.

These basic guidelines should assist you in choosing the right solution for your business. As with any technology product, your needs will determine the specific areas you must focus on when purchasing a CRM solution. Evaluating CRM providers and their products from all angles, with your CRM vision in mind, will allow you to choose the best solution for your business, now and in the future.

Michael Pessetti is vice president of sales and marketing forSalesPage Technologies. SalesPage provides companies with effective CRM applications and related technical services by collaborating with each client to plan, build and implement a tailored, browser-based CRM solution. Each client’s solution starts with the SalesPage foundation, then integrates the client’s own best strategies, leveraging their existing technology investments and readily adapting as the client’s needs change and grow.

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