What’s the Right CRM Program for Your Company?

Have you been on the lookout for a CRM program that will help you get the most out of each interaction with your customers? The market for CRM software is big and there’s a lot of choices out there, so navigating a first-time installation can be tricky. Even worse is when a company invests in a CRM system only to have it come up short, whether due to low adoption rates, missing features, or a clunky workflow. All of the money spent on the CRM program itself, switching systems, training employees, and IT resources can end up wasted if you are not careful.

In this short series of articles, we will look at the most important considerations when getting a CRM program set up for the first time at your company. Here, we look at the environment in which the CRM system will live as well as its hosting options, and how that figures in your employees’ workflows who will be using the software. Deciding on these factors first will let you immediately disqualify some of the programs on the market and help narrow your choices before going into more detailed assessments of your options.

Environment

Where do your employees spend most of their day? Not in terms of whether they’re in the office or on the road, but when they’re using their computers for sales calls, where do they go? Are your employees already using a web-based portal for other business tasks? Does your company conduct most of its business through email? Be sure to ask the current sales team what exactly they’re doing before deciding the best technology to meet their needs.

Web-based CRM Programs

A web-based CRM solution generally helps employees who spend a lot of time using their web browsers to get their sales work done. Some reasons an organization might get better synergy out of a web-based CRM app include:

  1. Extensive use of cloud productivity tools like Google Drive or Smartsheet to coordinate with off-site personnel
  2. Work is performed with an existing web portal for another activity, such as a Silverlight-based scheduling utility
  3. Regular use of Gmail’s web client for email, rather than a computer-side app like Outlook, Zimbra, or Pegasus
  • If any of these sound like your company, or evoke images of the kinds of things your employees do often, your sales team will probably find it more natural to integrate a web-based CRM system into their daily work. Their browswer windows are already front and center in their sales efforts. A CRM doesn’t have to compete for space, and indeed shouldn’t try to (more often than not, the CRM program will lose the battle).

Add-in CRM

Add-in CRM systems bolt themselves into an existing program like Microsoft Office or Google Apps. Unlike a web-based CRM software, this type of program can often automatically perform some of its tasks in concert with the application to which it has been added. This could be a better if your employees:

  1. Use Microsoft Outlook for sales and marketing emails, rather than a web-based client
  2. Spend much of their time making PowerPoint presentations for meetings with customers
  3. Work with data in Excel as part of their non-sales duties
  4. Collaborate with distant workers using Microsoft’s newer cloud-based utilities like OneDrive
  5. Access Google services through Google Apps rather than their web-based counterparts

Prophet CRM falls into this category, and add-ins are a great way to supplement the programs your company uses every day–it also increases efficiency by centralizing all activity so that employees can focus their attention on what’s important. Whether you are considering an add-in or a web-based CRM solution, make sure the program you choose is one that feels like a natural fit for your business. The CRM program can’t lead your employees to it; the other apps that they use should guide them to a solution.

Habit

Researchers have written extensively on how habits form, and competing theories diverge on how to get a habit ingrained to the point of becoming second nature. One way to get employees to use your new CRM system is to circumvent the process entirely.

Don’t try to form the habit. A new CRM program will feel unnatural at first, and if you try to make your employees use it, they very likely won’t. If it adds more steps to the workflow they already have, they might not be able to see the benefit. This is why it’s essential to get wide-scale buy-in before you move forward with a project that will change processes in a significant way.

Focus on the habits your employees have already developed. If the first thing they do every day is open Outlook to check their email, make sure that your CRM system is right there in the Outlook window, waiting for them. If everyone has company tablets and uses Gmail, either find a web-based CRM or find one that integrates with Google Apps. If your company’s sales team operates at a grueling pace, new habits will be difficult to instill. A new CRM system should redirect a team’s momentum rather than cancel it.

Hosting

After how to use it, the next question you need to answer about your future CRM program is where it will be stored. Some companies use cloud hosting, where CRM-related files are stored off-site on a third party database. Other services help companies install the program and its relevant databases on their own servers. Each method comes with some advantages and drawbacks. In some cases the choice will be made for you already.

On-Premise Systems

On-premise CRM systems are usually best for large companies. The volume of data and need for access even when the Internet might be down both point to on-premise implementation for larger entities. An on-premise system also has some advantages in integrating with other technology, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) software.

An on-premise system also provides total control over technical concerns like downtime and security. You will need to perform the maintenance yourself, but it can happen on a schedule that is convenient to you rather than one that is convenient to the company you pay for cloud hosting. Likewise, you can have a security policy that’s as tight as it needs to be.

All other concerns being equal, an on-premise system is right for you if:

  1. You have the money to foot the bill for high initial cost.
  2. Your IT department is robust enough to handle the extra workload.
  3. You are prepared to assume the costs of maintenance.
  4. You want to integrate your CRM data with other services not offered as part of an SaaS or cloud package.
  5. You have significant security concerns.
  6. You need the data available offline.
  7. You want a highly customizable CRM service (though SaaS and cloud options have vastly improved in this area).

You may want to pass on the idea if:

  1. You don’t have the money for a high initial cost.
  2. You don’t forsee using the data you can from CRM for other applications and purposes.
  3. You have a minimal or nonexistent IT department.

Cloud Computing

Cloud and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions have become more popular in the CRM world in recent years. They offer some advantages and drawbacks.

A cloud system can grow with your company easily. If you decide you need something that is large scale, you can contact the provider who can usually handle data migration or adjustments that come with an upgrade. Most also offer a wide range of options, letting you scale your initial investment accordingly.

The costs of upgrading infrastructure are spread among more users. As a user of a cloud or SaaS CRM service, you will likely benefit from some major adjustments at a reduced cost, as the price of upgrading the cloud server is spread across all of the company’s customers.

Finally, a SaaS or cloud option has a predictable, consistent cost. You can plan around the initial setup fee and subsequent monthly rate per user. An on-premise system can have unexpected costs after a piece fails or a data breach occurs, or can be negatively affected by an unrelated software update. Budgeting for a cloud solution is simple.

On the other hand, SaaS CRM systems have downtimes set by the operator, rather than the user, and outages are out of your control. If you have concerns about when you’ll be able to use the CRM software, or if you need it available even through phone or Internet outages, an SaaS solution might be the wrong fit.

A cloud-based or SaaS CRM solution is the right choice for you if:

  1. You need a CRM program as quickly as possible, and don’t want the worry of installation or set-up.
  2. You want a solution with a consistent budgetary outlay that is easy to plan around.
  3. You see growth in your future and want a CRM system that can grow with you.
  4. Your IT Department is small or inexperienced and can’t handle an on-site solution.
  5. You use a lot of temporary or seasonal workers and desire a scalable number of users.
  6. You would like to focus your business effort on strengthening core competencies.

Reconsider an SaaS or cloud solution if:

  1. You want total control over your downtime.
  2. You want to integrate the CRM data with other programs you already use locally, such as marketing automation tools or enterprise resource planning software. (Some CRM systems will perform some or all of these functions as well.)
  3. You need control over your data security to a greater extent than the cloud service provides.

Data Privacy Concerns

Some companies have to handle data that is sensitive and need to abide by regulations that govern how this data is stored and shared (e.g., The HIPAA Privacy Rule). If you are an organization under specific privacy constraints, talk to your legal department about your CRM system options before you commit to anything. Any stipulations unique to your business environment will likely change what CRM programs are best for you.

There’s More

These are far from the only concerns you should have when selecting your first CRM or replacing one that’s not working out, but they should be among the first. Unlike other qualitative concerns, issues like hosting and environment are categorical disqualifiers. If you know what you desire on these two fronts, you can easily trim a list of 50 CRM programs down to 5 that meet your needs.

If you’re interested in diving more deeply into the nuances of how CRM choices affect the way businesses succeed, here are some starting points.

  1. Domains for Measuring CRM Efficiency–including training, data transparency, and customer satisfaction.
  2. Treating CRM As a Business Strategy–how do you treat customer relationship management as an operations strategy rather than a bandage?
  3. Communications Tech in Business–what technology can you use to communicate internally and externally? How might this impact your CRM choices?