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Evaluating CRM solutions for Small and Midsized Companies

May 23, 2008


The CRM solution you choose must enable you to meet your strategic objectives, which are to:

  • Maximize the effectiveness and productivity of all channels of interaction with customers and business partners.

  • Deliver exceptional service.

  • Increase selling time with each customer.

  • Enable better communication and information sharing between sales, service, and marketing.

  • Decrease sales cycles.

  • Achieve a higher call-to-sales ratio.

Your chosen CRM software solution must have certain characteristics to help you attain these strategic objectives. Here is a suggested checklist of characteristics that you should look for in your software solution.

Enterprise-Wide Customer Management

Customer management by department is not enough. Your solution must be able to integrate marketing, sales and support processes across all departments facing the customer. Look for a single integrated model centered on the customer, not on incident categories; user capability to access all customer information across all departments; and a reliable security infrastructure.

Your solution must extend across all channels. It must be able to integrate service representatives, sales-associates, voice response units, Web self-service, branch platform and back-office personnel, and even support ATMs and kiosks.

Web Integration for e-business Backbone

The Internet is playing an increasingly critical role in customer management and business today. Your CRM software should allow seamless Web-interaction with partners, customers, and prospects in the following ways:

  • Real-time access to customer and company data.

  • Access to company knowledge bases and capability to submit, check the status on, and update support requests via the Internet.

  • Self-service/e-commerce.

  • Literature request capability.

  • Capability to respond immediately to information enquiries.

Seamless Integration of the Front and Back Offices

Today’s organizations are large and complex. They typically incorporate many different business units, departments and service areas. Each business unit may have its own complex set of systems, applications and hardware platforms. You cannot provide a superior level of service if your customer is forced to wait while your service agents navigate this complex maze. Connectivity and seamless integration are extremely important for large firms.

Single, Consolidated User Interface

Employees that are trying to market, cross-sell, upsell or serve customers need to work at high speed. For these employees to be the most productive, they must be provided with an intuitive interface that gives them rapid, easy access to information about customers, partners, and prospects and some kind of “dashboard” feature that contains the customer’s most generic and widely relevant data, while allowing ready access to additional information.

Collaboration among Teams

A good CRM system should provide for intra- and inter-departmental collaboration. Make sure that the software permits you to share and access customer-related data and internal marketing, sales and support information; easily reassign/transfer customer opportunities; and send/post alerts and customer information throughout the company.

Process Automation Technology

The software you choose must be capable of storing customer information and improving departmental productivity and processes. Typical process automation features include lead assignment, opportunity management, two-way channel management, forecast rollup/reporting, literature fulfillment, marketing campaign execution, problem-resolution, knowledge retrieval, and support contract monitoring.

Architecture that Enables Easy Customization

Since every business is different, every CRM solution must also be different. It is therefore impossible to use a CRM solution “out of the box.” Customization will always be required, and as the solutions get bigger and more complex, the amount of customization will grow. It is imperative that your solution has the architecture and tools that enable customization since products change and competitive conditions fluctuate. Be sure that your CRM solution embodies an easy-to-use set of rules, enabling you to change all aspects of the system, from how an individual customer is managed, to how, when, and from where back-office information is gathered.

Customer Management Cycle Reduction

Your CRM software should help you shorten the sales cycle and reduce customer support response times, both of which can be costly if they are not addressed. It is also critical that it provide you with a picture of the overall health of your organization (e.g. sales forecasts, support response, tracking, etc.). You need to consider automated Web-based lead entry and literature fulfillment, automated lead allocation (to internal sales personnel and channel partners), Web-based customer service and self-service, automated reminders and event notification, immediate lead/request reassignment, sales/support knowledge tools, full customer data access, and immediate Web-based forecasting/reporting capabilities.

Effective Self-Service Options

Self-service is a “win-win” concept for both you and your customers. You win by lowering the cost of providing service; they win by gaining a new level of convenience and autonomy. Therefore, be sure to include plans for a comprehensive self-service option that includes both interactive voice response and Web self-service options. Customers should be able to have the same comprehensive view of their data that your internal staff can have. Not only should your solution provide integrated Web capabilities to provide a self-service channel to customers, but it should also incorporate automated workflow so that customers can truly perform work rather than merely log their service requests and wait for a response. Your customers should be able to execute many of the same business processes as your call center representatives.

Ability to Provide a Holistic Customer View

Your CRM solution must bring together all of a customer’s transactions into a single view so that the context of his or her activities is always visible to whomever is dealing with any aspect of that customer relationship. CRM solutions must also capture, analyze, and help you understand the behavior of that customer, and target products or offers that will be of genuine interest. This requires a strong data management philosophy and smooth workflow that allows actions to be based upon customer events. You probably already have valuable information in existing data warehouses and historical transaction databases that should be incorporated into your customer view.

Knowledge Management Tools

To keep up with the variety of resources available to customers on your site, make sure your CRM system is equipped with a Web-based knowledge management tool that enables you to effectively share and reuse information.

Integrated Marketing Automation

Effective CRM software should offer a complete marketing automation capability, including tools that address the following: integrated campaign management, customer and prospect analysis, feedback to and from sales, product/enhancement feedback from customers via technical support, and integrated analysis of marketing costs and sales revenue.

Architecture that Supports Growth

Over time, your business will grow. Customers, staff, interactions and requests will increase each year. Mergers and acquisitions will bring new customers, systems, networks and data repositories. Determine if your software architecture will support this growth. Make sure that it can accommodate thousands of simultaneous users, sharing information and work queues across multiple contact centers. Convince yourself that its connectivity options are flexible and easy to extend to rapidly assimilate merged companies.

It is important not to limit your solution to your immediate business objectives. This may result in some short-term benefits, but eventually it can interfere with your ultimate success. Start with a well-planned customer service strategy that is comprehensive and takes into account your short-term as well as long-term requirements.

Evaluating CRM Suites

CRM technology has its genesis in basic contact management software that can work on individual PCs. The sales force automation (SFA) software market has continued to evolve from this humble origin and now can include something as basic as outfitting your sales force with a single-user contact manager on a laptop to an enterprise-wide solution. The basic functionalities provided by SFA software include contact management, account management, opportunity management, and forecasting capabilities. SFA solutions also offer automated processes, such as mail merge.

Enterprise-level CRM solutions offer everything that the lower-tier SFA market offers, but they also include capabilities that provide customer information to every department in the organization that touches a customer (known as touch points). These comprehensive solutions link every aspect of your company, from front-office applications to back-end systems, such as financial, enterprise resource planning (ERP), and inventory systems.

By integrating these systems in a CRM solution, you gain a central repository of information, with links from sales to manufacturing, to better serve your customers. Sales people can enter account information into shared databases, known as configuration engines and marketing encyclopedias, which provide easy access to information about customers, products, and competitors. This lets your sales staff stay well informed and to transact sales more effectively. And you do not lose information when you lose an employee.

Automated processes free sales people from administrative tasks, enabling them to spend more time with your customers, thus boosting sales.

With the marketing automation component of CRM, the marketing team can track advertising campaigns to become better decision-makers for future campaigns. They can also manage marketing budget and ad placement, target campaigns, and manage response.

Sales managers can set up best-practices sales processes within their organizations, while CRM solution guides new employees through sales cycles, ensuring that the best-practices methodologies are followed throughout the organization.

Order-entry systems with integration to configuration engines and back-office applications generate and process accurate quotes automatically, thereby reducing errors and duplication.

Customer service is the one area that has changed most radically since the advent of the Internet. At one time, customer service automation consisted of setting up a call center with access to a customer database. The Web brought with it new contact mechanisms in the form of e-mail and interactive chat. Now, organizations are building totally integrated contact centers, where trained agents answer e-mails, phone calls, and chat requests using a fully integrated customer database connected to the supply chain, financial systems, and ERP subsystems.

Data collection and analysis is the most significant newly emerging component of CRM. Again, the Internet is the primary driver behind this development. When one ponders the enormous volume and specificity of the data that is generated by Web sites, it is understandable why this category has become so important. The data collected by your Web site must be sorted, organized, and analyzed for trends, demographics, cross-selling opportunities, and so forth and fed into marketing, sales, and customer service applications to better sell, serve, and retain customers. This requires much more specialized tools than in the past.

CRM software comes in a range of sizes, shapes, and functionalities. The functions span a very broad continuum from marketing automation on one end to field service on the other. And these end-to-end functionalities are so dissimilar that no software package on the market handles every function with uniformly high proficiency.

That is why it is so important to determine beforehand what business functions you must automate and what your technical requirements are. This helps you identify the focal point of your CRM efforts. Software systems also have focal points. When your focal point coincides with your chosen software’s, you have the right choice.

And even the best packages will still require extensive customization and/or integration to provide a complete CRM feature set.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 26, 2008 5:54 am

    In todays corporate senario its getting extreamly essential for the companies to keep up with the changing technology due to its increasing complex structure.

  2. September 8, 2014 8:48 pm

    Hello.This post was extremely remarkable, especially because I waas looking for thoughts on this subject last Sunday.


  1. Database Management » Blog Archive » Evaluating CRM solutions for Small and Midsized Companies

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