Buyer's Manual for Purchasing CRM

By Ryan Ayers
Updated: July 13, 2011

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions for businesses have become a mainstay and are an integral part of a successful business’ communications and customer interaction strategy. Because they encompass a broad spectrum of activities and functions, and often are integrated with other technologies that serve your business, the task of purchasing a new CRM solution for your business can easily seem like an overwhelming chore. In following a few basic suggestions, you should be able to gather effective information about a new CRM solution that will fit your needs and you’ll be able to walk through the process with confidence.

What You Should Know

The Basics: CRM solutions for business play an integral role in how you communicate with your customers and can be the difference between properly handling customer interactions (satisfied customers, conversions, etc.) and ineffectively dealing with them (unresolved service issues, lost prospects, etc.). CRM systems are often one piece of the puzzle and can be integrated with email, contact centers, accounting, and other systems for optimal results.

What a CRM Solution Can Provide:

  • Customer Information Collection/Retention
  • Customer History
  • Contact Center Integration
  • Report Generation (Based on any variety of criteria)
  • Contact Scheduling Capabilities

What to Look for In An Effective CRM Solution

The Basics: While a CRM solution is not a cure-all for any business problem or issue, it should cover quite a few areas of your customer interactions and enable your employees to provide more targeted service in a much more efficient manner. The built in features in any CRM system should assist in the gathering and storage of customer information at some level. This information will later be used to initiate contact with your customers and/or to better serve them during their next contact with your organization. The features that your business will benefit most from depend largely on the types of interactions that you typically have with your customers.

Note: The more heavily customized a CRM solution is, the more accurately it will mimic your company’s typical interaction with a customer and provide greater detail at each level of service. For further information on customizations, see below (vendors, cost).

Features That Increase Customer Service/Operational Capabilities:

  • Customer Data/History (With some level of customization)
  • Product/Past Purchase Details
  • Service History
  • Mail Merges
  • Contact Center Integration
  • Accounting/Billing Integration
  • Language Specific Applications

Evaluating Cost and Budget Factors

The Basics: Just as you would when purchasing any other piece of technology for your business, it is critical that you separate out the features and capabilities that are wants from those that are needs for your business. Choosing features that are integral components of your customer service strategy will help keep your overall budget within limits while providing you with a CRM solution that will deliver the features and capabilities that will serve you best.

Note: Most CRM providers provide both customizable and scalable solutions. The heavily customizable systems generally are among the more expensive, but they offer a greater degree of personalization that can allow your CRM system to seamlessly integrate into your operations and other systems. Scalable CRM solutions offer the opportunity for your business to install and begin using your new system and adjust with additional features, users, and changes as your business evolves.

Factors in Determining Total Cost:

  • What capabilities and features does your business need?
  • What features and capabilities might your business benefit from (If your CRM dictates certain changes in your processes, will your business benefit from these changes)?
  • What level of service/customization are you anticipating?
  • How many users will you realistically need?
  • Is a scalable CRM solution the most effective option for your business?

Evaluating Potential Vendors

The Basics: CRM solutions for businesses of any type are abundant in today’s marketplace. Finding the most effective CRM for your operation will likely depend in large part on the service provider that you partner with.

If you are basing your search for your CRM solution primarily on price point, then you can expect to find many service providers who provide competitive pricing, but little in the way of customizations or scalable packages. While these services fit the bill for many companies, they do not have a focus on changeability or customization, and are largely an out-of-the-box option. If your criteria for a new CRM solution has a focus on customization or scalability, you will likely be looking at service providers whose pricing is slightly higher, but who also provide a higher level of ongoing service, technical support, and training.

Notes:

  • Service oriented vendors will provide higher levels of training and support.
  • Customizations are a key component of many successful CRM systems, and come in any variety of forms. If your business’ priority for your CRM solution is high levels of customization, check with vendors to be sure that these options are available and that you have the ability to further alter them if necessary.
  • Many vendors have very different policies regarding scalability. Check with each to determine what your options for expansion and change might be as your business evolves and adapts to customer demand, operational changes, etc.

Checklist in Selecting the Right CRM Vendor:

  • Pricing
  • Features
  • Seats (Number of users)
  • Additions/Changes Availability
  • Customization Capabilities
  • After Sale Service
  • Product Demos and Training

It is perhaps more critical to CRM solutions than to any other single system or technology that you implement in your business that you have a reasonable and accurate set of expectations regarding the capabilities and performance features that you require. If properly chosen and implemented, your CRM system will help drive customer interaction, increase the efficiency and effectiveness of your customer service employees, and raise the level of service that you are able to provide to your customers. Because of this, it is important that you have a firm grasp of what is available to you and what options you have once a CRM system is chosen.
 

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