CRM 101: How to pick the CRM that fits your business

Sometimes we get questions from customers who are considering migrating their office over to a business telephony system and a CRM solution.  They like the idea of one-stop for information capture, maintaining detailed contact records and contact activity history, appointment scheduling, and integrated telephony.  But choosing a CRM from the dozens of options now on the market proves to be a source of confusion.

If you’re new to CRMs, how do you know which one is right for you?  I find there are really two basic questions to get started:

  1. What I am using this for?
  2. How much do I want to spend?

First, why do you want a CRM?

Traditional CRMs are designed for the sales environment.  They use sales terminology, they are set up to drive contacts through the opportunity pipeline, and they do a great job of tracking actual and potential dollar values of each record.  Salesforce.com, Microsoft Dynamic CRM and Tigerpaw are all sales oriented CRMs that are very popular, user friendly and full of great features.

Not everyone is using their CRM in a sales environment.  Some businesses are more interested in different information. For example, how many walk in clients does the office receive each day?  What are the most common topics that people email in about?  Can you have your sales team, your support team and your development team working out of the same platform?

Think about the primary information you want your CRM to capture and go from there to see if there are specific solutions. Salesforce.com is one of the most popular, most robust and feature-laden sales and marketing oriented CRMs.  But there are others on the market that cater to different niches.  For example, Vanilla Soft focuses specifically on helping agents boost sales calls.  MaxHire is a great option for recruiting firms looking to track their opportunities.  Blackbaud markets itself as a CRM for fundraisers and non-profits.  Chances are, there is a tailored solution out there for your need.

Second, what is the cost?

The pre-packaged, tailored solution might be out there but be too pricey for you.  CRMs vary widely in cost and some of them will seem quite expensive to small businesses.  Subscription costs are usually per user, per year, although monthly subscriptions exist too.

Most CRMs have a free trial option, if not an entirely free basic version.  Always take advantage of free trials and check out free versions.   If you need more features than your basic version offers, check with the support team and see if they’ll let you pay by feature rather than forcing you to switch to a whole new version.

Zoho CRM offers paid add-ons to their free version so that users don’t have to upgrade to more expensive professional versions.   If you’re a non-profit, ask about non-profit pricing.

In addition, if you’re even a little bit tech-savy, you can do a lot with the open source CRMs like SugarCRMOpenCRX and V-Tiger.  If that thought terrifies you – hire an intern to do some customization!

If you’re still struggling, we’re happy to answer questions about the CRM options on the market, although we can’t promise to know them all.  Good luck with your CRM search!

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