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Choosing the right Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Software, where to start…

Jan 19th 2012

A good CRM package can be the hub of a business and help drive sales, build relationships and save time and money. But with so many to choose from, where do you start? Get it right, and it will drive your business, get it wrong and it will cost you dearly. We look at the basics...

In terms of CRM software, we’re not particular experts in any and to that end, I wouldn’t be comfortable recommending any, however we often get asked where to look first.

Here are a few pointers based on the software we’ve used and worked with over the last 12 years.

Being a guitarist, I liken choosing a CRM to being like buying a guitar.

You’d have heard of all different makes and models, and somewhere in the back of your mind you might dream that buying a Fender Stratocaster will suddenly make you play like Eric Clapton, but in all honesty there’s no substitute for walking in to the guitar shop and just trying out as many as you can. A Strat worked for Clapton, but that’s not to say it will be a good fit for you.

I know talking from personal experience I bought my dream bass guitar last year, paid a handsome sum of money much to the envy of my colleagues because it was the instrument my idol played for years. A marvellous instrument that it was, but it just wasn’t me. Much that it did the job superbly, it was the wrong sound and fit for what I do and no way as well suited as basses I’ve got that cost 10% of the money I paid. The moral of the story is; had I have sat and tried it out first, I’d have realised straight away it wasn’t going to work.

Likening that analogy to CRM systems, we bought Sage Act some years ago, based on my previous experience and its reputation.

It was an utter disaster, and didn’t work at all well for the infrastructure we had at the time. Had I have tried it, I would have realised, but in earnest I didn’t and we suffered as a business for it.

With CRM software they’re all much the same, they’ll all do what you want and plenty more besides.

They all have:

  • Be Web based (this is the ideal arrangement for so many small businesses)
  • Different pricing models, often per user/per month
  • Company record database
  • Contact details based on Contacts for a Company
  • A way of grouping Contacts
  • Status that you can assign to Contacts, so you can track your relationship
  • Flexible Reporting
  • Most have a task list and scheduling
  • Most have Workflows
  • Most have Document Storage and Management
  • All have Contact Notes and History
  • Some will integrate directly with your email service
  • Many have an email marketing module built in
  • Most will connect with external email marketing packages such as iContact and MailChimp
  • Some with have a Web-to-Lead style feature that will connect to your website
  • Some level of data import and export

These are the core features and the ones that I think are must-haves for most businesses.

My advice would be to try them all out and see what you’re most comfortable with.

  • Salesforce for example is one of the market leaders, but many find it unwieldy and over-complicated to use.
  • Zoho is another good system I’ve heard good things about.
  • SugarCRM is open source (so free) it used to be buggy, but I believe has come a long way.
  • Microsoft CRM is a true Microsoft Product fitting the 80/20 rule. It does 80% of what you want out of the box, but if you want that last 20% that’s really useful, it will take 80% of the time and cost. Most people I know who use Microsoft CRM hate it or love it but have had to spend the cost of a new car on it customising it.
  • Sage CRM is Sage’s mid-tier cloud based offering. No experience of it, however I have worked on getting website data in to it via a Web-to-lead interface which has had to be developed especially via a third party specialist. I can’t imagine for a second it was a low cost exercise for what so many others do straight out of the box.

One thing is for sure; if you invest time and choose something you’re comfortable with, it will be a long and happy relationship and the software will undoubtedly grow your business.

Choose software you’re not comfortable with but you chose because it’s got a well known name, and you won’t use it and it will end up being a bottomless pit of time and money that will hinder your business.

If software isn’t simple and intuitive to you, it won’t be simple and intuitive to staff and out-workers you may have. If this is the case, it will end up being a chain around your neck, your staff will resist using it and you’ll end up acting as first line technical support which will take you away from what you really should be doing.

Finally, if you have a Smartphone, investigate synchronisation with your iPhone/iPad/Android/Blackberry. There may be an App for your CRM as there so often is when many other products.

Final questions are; data ownership. Who owns it and can you export it?
If this service is terminated for whatever reason, where do you stand?

Links in to your accounting system may also be a consideration at some stage.
Many provide links to Kashflow, QuickBooks or Sage. Don’t get too hung up on this though as more often than not who you’re billing isn’t always your primary contact that you’d have in your CRM. Bear in mind that most CRM packages are sales and marketing focused, whereas your accountancy software isn’t.

Need more help? Give us a call on 01727 739812.