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Selecting the Right CRM System for Your Business

Investing in a CRM system is a major decision that carries long-term strategic implications for your organization. Although CRM should be treated as a business initiative, the underlying technology is a key enabler and largely determines how much effort will be required to implement the program, so it's important to select the CRM system that will best support your current and future business objectives and needs.

Understand Your Objectives

The first step in any CRM initiative should be to clearly define the objectives for the project. Why are you considering implementing or upgrading your CRM program now? What results do you hope to achieve through this initiative? Your objectives should be defined at the start of the project and measured both before and after to help determine the overall success of the initiative.

The following represent some of the common results companies look for from their CRM initiatives:


Understand Your Needs

Before evaluating individual CRM systems you should have a thorough understanding of how your sales, marketing, and service organizations work and what will be required of the CRM system to support and automate your business processes.

As an example, organizations that engage in team-based selling will look for robust collaboration capabilities across accounts and opportunities and a more advanced security model, while sales organizations that are structured around geographic areas will place more emphasis on strong territory management capabilities.

How well one particular CRM system meets your needs is entirely dependent on the unique structure of your organization should therefore be assessed in the context of a thorough needs analysis.

Baseline Capabilities

Although determining which CRM system is right for you will largely depend on your unique needs and objectives, we can provide you with guidance on some of the more critical, technology-oriented baseline capabilities that your CRM system should support.

We refer to these as baseline capabilities because they will be key to the success of your initiative and there are simply too many quality solutions available at affordable price points that offer these capabilities for you to settle for anything less.

Please note that this list is by no means comprehensive and we strongly recommend that you contact a CRM consultant to discuss your specific situation. We offer a free 45-minute consultation with one of our experienced CRM consultants to help answer any questions that you may have and provide you with guidance to help get your initiative off the ground. Please contact us to take advantage of this opportunity.

Customization

Perhaps the single most important characteristic of a CRM system is the degree and ease of customization that it offers. Even the smallest businesses or those operating in industries with straightforward sales, marketing, and customer service processes need to add new fields, entities, and workflows to align their CRM system with their business processes.

Nearly all CRM systems will provide the ability to add and remove fields, but for a CRM system to make your short-list it should also provide the ability to add custom entities, establish relationships between the entities, and support advanced workflows. Having these capabilities built into the CRM system's interface will significantly reduce the effort and cost of customizations and maintenance.

Usability

It's important to recognize that the end-users of the CRM system - salespeople, marketing managers, senior executives, etc. - will want to minimize the time investment they must make in learning the new system. If it's hard to use then they won't use it and your CRM implementation will fail, no matter how great it was otherwise.

With this in mind, you should place a significant amount of emphasis on finding a CRM system that provides an intuitive, easy-to-use interface and work environment for you users. Features to look for that enhance usability include:
  • Strong Microsoft Outlook integration
  • Mobile connectivity and support for disconnected access
  • Role-based customizations and work environment
  • Web accessibility and single sign-on
  • Quick system responsiveness and intuitive navigation
  • The ability to complete core tasks (such as tracking emails, adding contacts, or viewing reports) in one or two clicks

Integration

Integrating your CRM system with other line of business applications, such as marketing automation or ERP solutions, can help streamline your operations and deliver significant advantages over disparate systems. Think of how much more productive and effective your sales reps could be if they had visibility into a prospect's marketing campaign responses from within your CRM system or they could automatically post a new order to your ERP system based on an opportunity they just closed.

Even if you don't envision significant integration needs now, it will take on increasing importance as your organization grows and there is a greater the need for accuracy and efficiency in your business operations. Given the long-term nature of a CRM investment, you'll want to plan for these needs now.

The key aspects to look for when assessing a CRM system's ability to integrate with other applications is its architecture and the openness of its data model. CRM systems built on a Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) are much easier to integrate and maintain than those that are not, and the vendor should be willing to make the underlying data model available to support advanced customization and integration needs.

Additionally, check to see if the vendor provides any additional tools to simplify the integration process. As an example, Microsoft provides connectors from it's Dynamics CRM products to its Dynamics ERP products for free, providing significant cost savings to customers looking to integrate.

Scalability and Technology Compatibility

Scalability refers to how well the CRM system will support the number of users you anticipate having. Some CRM systems are designed to handle just a couple of users before performance drops off, others are designed to handle tens of thousands of users. Generally speaking, greater scalability comes at a price of increased sophistication and higher costs, although the Software as a Service (SaaS) deployment model has helped reduce this impact in recent years.

Technology compatibility refers to how well the underlying technologies of the CRM system match-up to your internal environment. If you’re a Microsoft .NET or an SAP shop, it's may make sense to go with a solution built on those technologies for a number of reasons (ease of integration, leveraging existing knowledge, shared servers/databases, etc.).
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