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How to choose a CRM system

The report, based on data from a survey of 500 CRM users in the US, found that 24 per cent of respondents thought functionality was the most important factor influencing their CRM purchase decision, followed by ease of use (20 per cent), price (14 per cent) and vendor reputation (9 per cent).

It is essential for businesses today to form and maintain close relationships with customers, so a good knowledge of your customers, their preferences, likes and dislikes, spending patterns, location, and so on, is essential for segmenting, monitoring, analysing and, ultimately, improving the success of your marketing and sales campaigns. In this respect, a CRM system can be a powerful tool in your marketing armoury. But with so many CRM options on the market, how do you choose the right one for your business?

The primary purpose of a CRM system is to optimise your customer interactions at all points. Tasks for enabling that include managing contacts, appointment scheduling, monitoring marketing and email campaigns, tracking customer loyalty, integrating social media campaigns, and a whole host of other customer-related functions.

So the first point on the checklist should be to identify what exactly you need the CRM system for. For example, do you need a centralized customer database … with mobile access? Do you want it to schedule sales calls, simple contact management, to manage email campaigns, track customer loyalty, monitor social media campaigns, does it need to integrate with other existing applications, and so on? Does it integrate with Outlook or Excel, or Quickbooks, or other tools that are vital to your operations?

Once you have a detailed picture of your exact CRM requirements, it is important to ensure that the package you choose is a match for your business. Is it in line with the breadth, goals and growth plans of your organisation? For example, if the business is growing fast, don’t choose a CRM package that you will quickly outgrow.

As outlined in the survey above, another consideration is ease of use – all users must be able to access the software comfortably, otherwise it will be underutilised and could result in costly training requirements.

Functionality is another key consideration. The survey notes that calendar management is the most used CRM feature by respondents (52 per cent), followed by email marketing (50 per cent) and quote/proposal management (46 per cent). A quarter of respondents wanted more social media monitoring functionality, such as pulling in contact information from social media profiles, mobile apps, and so on.

Other functions might include customer loyalty tracking or ecommerce integration. But by outlining your requirements at the beginning of the process, it should become a lot clearer to identify which CRM platforms offer the functionality that you require.

Another consideration is mobility. Employees using smartphones and mobile devices to access corporate data is now the norm for most businesses. Does the CRM system allow employees to access and update data from remote locations?

One final option to consider is the choice between a cloud-based CRM package and a more sophisticated on-premise solution. A smaller organization, for example, might benefit more from a cloud-based solution, which confers a number of benefits.

First, it eliminates the need for costly up-front investment. Instead, from as little as a few pounds per month, a single user can gain access to entry-level, online CRM apps. However, cloud-based solutions can be as sophisticated as you require, and offer flexibility as the number of users can be scaled up or down according to demand. An added benefit is that a cloud-based app can be accessed from anywhere, from any device, which in turn offers productivity and mobility gains.

An on-premise CRM system, on the other hand, will require considerable up-front investment, and will require on-going IT support, and one-off fees such as software licences. However, it might be more suited to an organisation in which tight integration is required with existing enterprise-grade applications.

There are many options and packages out there, so just ensure that, before you begin the search, you outline the precise demands on your CRM system in terms of functionality, and that the package is matched to your own business size and goals. By outlining what you are looking for upfront, the decision-making process should become a lot clearer and simpler.