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CRM today: Build your own or off the shelf

Introduction

I must admit that in 2018, I feel a bit surprised that I am still writing about the choice between a bespoke or custom developed solution and the benefits of off-the-shelf CRM software.

But for many companies with some technical software expertise, they have seen the choice as more complex than just choosing between different pedigree systems. If there is technical resource internally or often available locally, then you may consider your choice as being between:

  • Build your own CRM
  • Off-the-shelf CRM

"Build your Own" ...Before you start

This option has in recent years become less of a factor as Cloud based, subscription Customer Relationship Management systems have brought the initial up-front licence costs down significantly. This was often a key reason for reviewing this choice and the benefits of cloud have also moved the choice of implementing CRM from an Capex (capital expenditure) decision to more of an Opex (i.e. operating costs per month) financial and budgeting decision.

But for some organisations, this can still be seen as a relevant choice where they may have strong connections with external partners or more likely where there is a high degree of internal software development expertise. Other clients may feel that their needs are so unique that a custom solution has to be developed.

However, whilst this may seem initially to be a good solution and may be seen as cost effective since you own both the IP and the software, you do need to be aware of some of the pitfalls that in 20 years in CRM I have frequently come across when clients make this decision, or more relevantly After they have made it.

At first sight, a straight-forward comparison between developing your own and the cost of the off-the-shelf licences and services may be easy to calculate. But, first take some time when you compare these costs against your own developed solution to review and estimate the Total Cost and commitment.

Whilst the comparison at first glance may appear more cost effective, say over a three or four year time frame for Build your Own, if you have the relevant skill-sets. But you do still need to undertake some extra care and due diligence and look below the iceberg surface at the other, sometimes hidden costs including:-

  • Management and Project Management time. This can often be the biggest consumer of time and effort, not to mention stress.
  • Understand true cost of focusing on non-core activity. Even if you are a software development house, ideally you want your highly skilled and expensive developers working on fee able activity.
  • Linking to MS Outlook. One of the most common issues encountered when replacing internally developed or bespoke systems is there is no link to email or it has not worked or been updated, so you may be back to having islands of information.
  • Other Office 365 links. Users expect integration with MS Word, Excel as standard.
  • ERP systems integration. You may have to develop your own links and then support these, for example to your ERP or Finance software.
  • Hardware costs. Even if Cloud services are now preferred, there is still a hosting subscription cost and commitment here.
  • Marketing Integration. These applications are almost always off-the-shelf solutions, after all, who wants to recreate an email marketing tool when you have MailChimp, ConstantContact and many others already available? Unless there is integration in place, this will lead to yet another island of information outside the bespoke CRM.
  • Staff costs and morale. Working on an internal project can a take up a lot of time and effort and be wearing on the developers and the project team, since often there is no clear documentation or specification plan and whilst this can be seen as a somewhat Agile approach, the project can continue longer than anticipated.
  • Upgrades. Once the system is rolled out, everyone breathes a sigh of relief, but then a new requirement appears. A good example in the last few years is the advent of Social Media and how this is now included within most CRM systems. This development was driven by competitive activity and market requirements. Bespoke systems may struggle to keep up with new and evolving needs.
  • Planning and documentation. Again, as above, it is rare indeed for a system to be fully and thoroughly documented. Time is usually focused on a core brief and then ‘getting on with it’. Projects are often seen as smaller tactical solutions to begin with, but can then acquire a life of their own as more features/functions are asked for.
  • Competency. With over 300 systems or more now to choose from according to just one leading software review site, most organisations competency is in their main business and not in developing a CRM system. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should, and the unseen management and other costs mentioned above can all take away from the central competency of the business.

And finally let’s not forget…

  • Mobile. Every major vendor now provides a Mobile app capability. We live in an increasingly smart phone age so your system will need to have mobile capability. This is involves even more development work and testing, but without this option, you will find sales buy-in and adoption can be especially tough.

When added together these visible and hidden cost should be estimated and compared against the somewhat clearer costs of purchasing an off-the-shelf system, professionally implemented and configured.

I would argue that these actual hidden costs, often not fully allocated or estimates at the outset can end up being a lot more than first envisaged.

And after you started the project...

Whenever a prospective client says they are going down the bespoke route, in my own system, I never see this as a Lost Opportunity, just merely delayed. Within less than two years, I find that in many instances, bespoke development clients become very receptive to my calls and we will start talking again in earnest about off–the-shelf solutions with some of the more common project experiences being:-

  • Escalation of costs. ‘Mission creep’ happens and costs started to increase against the original estimate and plan.
  • Never quite fully rolled out. Again, ‘Mission creep’, more functionality, like Mobile for instance is deemed as needed for full buy-in.
  • Sales and Marketing team enthusiasm wanes. There may still have to use systems outside of the development or they start to compare against off-the-shelf systems, already available with the richer functionality they require.
  • Developers needed elsewhere. A common reason is where there is a reallocation of resource to an important client project, so the project is delayed or shelved or only partially rolled out.
  • Need to constantly develop the system. If internally developed, extra requests can continually come in, leading to User frustration and disengagement.
  • New people arrive. And review and demand a full solution with rich functionality and inter-connectivity ‘like we used previously’.
  • Poor project management and the system plan overruns.

“It never did fully meet requirements.”

  • Issues with the supplier(s) This is probably one of the biggest reasons and can be split down into:-

o Personal issues. A falling out as developer could been family or friend (especially relevant in smaller SME type projects).

o Specification issues. These were never fully met, leading to a communication break-down.

o Size of Project and Company. Smaller developers are often keen to win the business and may price attractively, but they may underestimate or not have full resources needed.

o Supplier loses interest or disappears. So many items are never completed.

o Supplier costs escalated. This relates to the two points above.

  • Lack of Automation. Processes were too task intensive, automation is frequently not built-in or requested until later, adding to this sense of ‘Mission Creep’ or cost escalation or both!

All of the above are reasons that I have come across where clients have then come back to an off-the-shelf solution after some painful experiences, you may have more examples!

Why Off-the-Shelf works...

When comparing with an off-the-shelf solution, the key difference is that here all your costs are visible, unlike the iceberg approach of build-your-own, where good estimating and project skills together with judgement are needed in forecasting costs over say a 3 or 4 year time-frame.

Like the Iceberg in the picture above, build-your-own can have many unseen and unexpected costs, not always easily estimated and sometimes as the examples I have given of ‘After’ the project started show, many of the most costly issues appear only after the project has commenced.

So, in spite of the first sight cost benefit felt by some companies, I would argue that with today’s cloud based software subscription model, with ever increasing functionality coming from leading market players such as Microsoft's Dynamics 365 suite and SalesForce Lightning platform, you need to be brave indeed to consider a build-your-own as your solution, however, big or however much resource you may have available at this moment.

The big players are investing heavily in R & D and in acquiring companies that can augment their own offering. This level of spend is unprecedented and in just the last 2 years alone, just Microsoft and Salesforce have approaching £40 billion on acquisitions aimed at evolving their capabilities.

CRM today is a very different beast from just 5 years ago and these companies now offer so much more than just traditional offering with most of these advances coming in the last five years as the opportunities offered by cloud computing have been developed.

Leading players like Microsoft and Salesforce are keen to augment and fill in any perceived functionality gaps and are rapidly moving towards offering the complete CRM-ERP integrated suite. Both these and many other systems have strong eco-systems of powerful third party add-on apps used to fill niche gaps and which are fully supported.

When all this rich functionality is taken into account and the fact that as cloud based systems, for instance, Salesforce release three updates per year, whilst Dynamics 365 release two major updates a year, this in my view becomes a very strong proposition, unlikely to ever be matched by any internally developed offering.

So, the question I posed at the start of this post is still relevant and it is this:-

“Why would a new to CRM client, even with their own software development expertise, really try to build your own in 2018”?

My view, is that there are just too many pitfalls to catch the unwary, too many sometimes 'hidden' costs, just like the iceberg!

The key to success is for clients to focus on their own core competencies and to take advantage of the massive investment in CRM by the Big Vendors and the almost boundless opportunities now offered by the cloud business application model.

Building your own as a choice in 2018 should only be for the brave!

If you are considering off-the-shelf or developing and building your own system, as a first step before you commit, we recommend talking to us. You may find this a refreshing experience as we can take an CRM independent viewpoint of the market leaders and do not have to just offer you one vendor. We can even undertake Fit-Gap Analysis to help you make your selection choice and support your own due diligence.

27th September 2018

Selecting a new CRM system in 2018 - Is it now a two horse race?

Introduction

With the Grand National tomorrow, this started me thinking that reviewing the CRM market and my experience over last 12-24 months talking with clients, increasingly, I get the feeling that choosing a new CRM system for most mid-sized companies is now a two horse race between Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Salesforce..

Of course, there are a range of other vendors’ just behind, depending on the industry and your own particular requirements may nudge some of these forward so that for you it may become a three or four horse race.

But for the rest of the time, it’s a bit like Grand National, there are a whole host of runners or applications in the field, but realistically there are only a few that are likely to be on your short-list and have a chance of meeting your requirements. My estimate is that there are at only say around 6 or 7 mainstream Customer Relationship Management key players that can really meet the needs of the UK SME market. Whilst there has been an explosion in cloud based system in the last 5 years, there is a danger in that clients who are not fully aware of the CRM marketplace can find all sorts of nearly rans, but the key thing is are they likely to stay the course?

Market Leaders?

It is very clear these are without doubt the two market leaders and have been for a few years now, these are the Big Beasts as I referred to them in an earlier blog from 2016:-

Dynamics 365

Salesforce

First, let me explain since clearly Dynamics 365 and Salesforce are powerful CRM applications and may not be so relevant for example in a small micro-business (say 1-10 employees) you may think the focus on this post is that if you are an organisation requiring CRM and have say around 15-100 Users or at least 10 users, then in this User size space, Salesforce and Dynamics 365 will pretty much feature on your short-list to review and if they don’t then you must have a good reason.

Both applications have an incredible pedigree, are cloud based and importantly are investing heavily in their future road-maps. They are the market leaders against which other applications should be measured and Microsoft Dynamics 365 in particular with its seamless integration to Office365 is now according to Forrester Wave ahead of Salesforce in the global marketplace. This is likely to be no short term changing of place as the launch of the Dynamics 365 suite in 2016 massively increased the range of applications and footprint and this is now making itself felt. Microsoft’s investment and acquisition spree in the last few years is over $40 billion as its adds and embed functionality, for example with its LinkedIn purchase alone in 2016 costing $26 billion and out-bidding Salesforce. The results of this purchase are now being felt in the latest releases with ever closer integration as you would expect. After all, Apart from your CRM and Email/Word and Excel for most Salespeople their key tool is using LinkedIn.

So, why are they becoming the mainstay CRM in 2018?

My list below really summaries what I believe are some of the key factors in these two applications increasing dominance:

• Cloud focussed. This is probably the single most important factor in the future growth of this sector. If you are cannot offer a cloud based application, then you are in effect fast becoming a legacy application in my view.

• Commitment to CRM Marketplace with a clear business focus from the top. Satya Nadella, since 2015, CEO of Microsoft is the person credited with bringing CRM to Microsoft in the early 2000’s and along with Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce are both visionary leaders passionately committed to this sector.

• Massive investment in R and D, for example both apps now include extensive AI (artificial intelligence) capabilities embedded to improve productivity.

• Strong and visionary Road-map for future, AI is just one example from above.

• Massive infrastructure to support clients around the world. Salesforce has 28,000 employees with $8.9 billion income whilst the bigger Microsoft has over 150,000 employees and nearly $90 billion income.

• Acquisition funds to infill gaps and add innovative new features/functionality with Salesforce recently purchasing Mulesoft’s integration software for $6.5Bn.

• Strong CRM pedigree over many years (I would suggest a minimum of 10 years is a good indicator of an applications ability to sustain itself in this competitive market).

• Wide and Large International Client base (Dynamics CRM/365 has over 4 million users whilst Salesforce is similar with a similar number according to my research). These are big installed base and explain the next two points.

• Extensive reference sites for nearly every sector along with Case studies.

• Strong eco-systems (Email Marketing, Marketing Automation as a minimum.) with a wide variety of application and each have own third party linked software marketplaces, Appsource and AppExchange a testament to the size of their client base.

• Strong links to the Office 365 suite of applications, taken as read of course for Dynamics 365, as it shares a common data service.

• Ability to scale from small implementation and to add functionality as the business grows on a modular basis and this has now been taken further with Microsoft Dynamics 365 suite incorporating and re-branding key ERP applications to give Dynamics 365 Finance and Dynamics 365 Operations.

• Strong and experienced Partner Channel to deliver quality implementation. Both Microsoft and Salesforce have many thousands of partners worldwide, often specializing in vertical markets. This is key to giving clients choice and importantly a strong partner base again reinforces the two horse race analogy.

This list is not exhaustive, but does give you some idea of why these two Big Beasts, now dominate the mainstream CRM market. For many clients, choosing between these can be somewhat bewildering, hence one of our services is the Fit Gap analysis where using our long term experience of working with these applications, we can measure how each will meet your requirements list and the best fit. This is increasingly being taken up and as independent CRM consultants is something that many clients are choosing as a service to enable them to make this key long term investment decision.

So what about the other ‘also-rans’ or the ‘Rest of the field’

Possibly this is far too strong a statement, but in my view is there is no such thing as perfect software for all businesses and every industry sector, with Pharmaceutical CRM for example where the off-the-shelf approach is for heavily verticalised solutions, such as Veeva which are made specifically to fit the demands of that market.

Also, there are a number of other applications such as SAGE CRM which can offer something, albeit with not the same level of current investment, in comparison, I suspect millions of £s compared to hundreds of millions or even billions being poured into R and D by the big two. But these and other applications still have a part to play, so there will continue to be niche applications, for example Pipeliner CRM has a focus very much on the Sales Team enablement sector and the visualisation of data and more importantly continue to motivate development and innovation in CRM.

Conclusion

But my contention in starting this post still holds, and that over the last few years, I have started to notice that other applications when you get to the 20 Users or more requirement who need CRM for their Sales, Marketing, Customer Service departments and especially where you have full time marketing people in support, then these bigger applications with their strong eco-systems of related applications such as Marketing Automation, then alongside the caveats mentioned, it is these two Big Beasts that come to the fore and should be on your short-list.

The need for a strong eco-system, especially with Marketing Automation is one of the main weaknesses for smaller CRM systems. Simply put they don’t have the market presence in terms of client sites or user numbers to warrant the level of investment and this means other software vendors, for example in Marketing Automation, vendors such as Hubspot and Thunderbird are focussing on the Salesforce and Dynamics and investing to enable them to offer native or more simply put ‘one click integration’, again pushing these two to the fore.

This is part of the key to their success and there is now such a wide range of applications inter-connected, you can manage the whole business process from Lead to Prospect to Customer and this can include invoicing and even through to a complete integrated CRM/ERP with the Dynamics 365 suite. All this from the same stable! (my apologies if am I taking this horse racing analogy too far now!).

It is this level of investment in moving forward and providing a rich eco-system to integrate with which is what clients want to rely on going forward. Investment decisions now are on a 5-10 year time frame, CRM is no longer just a short term tactical decision for the business to fix sales’ as in the past, but now forms part of Digital Transformation project and so a long term strategic perspective is taken. Clients need confidence in the future long term roadmap and stability of the application.

How can you choose between these applications?

For many years now, we have found that whilst vendor presentation can be informative, surprisingly each vendor appears to match perfectly your requirements, and whilst budgets may be broadly similar and where there is an element of doubt, we have recommend engaging in a Scoping Workshop which is product agonistic and where your detailed requirements can be documented in a Functional System Design or Blueprint document. Whilst often there may be a preference, but in those instance where the field is still open or clients are torn between the two or more key vendors, then our experience as mentioned above as independent CRM consultants really can now come to the fore, based on 20 years of working in this marketplace, we will often recommend if it is very close or seen as a difficult choice to conduct a full Fit-gap Analysis. This in my view is a powerful way to endorse your final choice or indeed to help to cement your choice, since you are aware of the application fit to your business requirements from an out-of-the box fit percentage to customisation required. This Analysis report can help to justify what are board level decisions when moving or embracing a new CRM system. With maybe two or three applications in your final short-list, this analysis can help to show how each application will meet your needs both now and into the future. From a partner perspective, this is also of benefit since this analysis can help to justify the final choice with an independent analysis and can give clients the extra peace of mind and a detailed report to know they have taken their due diligence to the next level.

And the cost?

Typically once a detailed requirements document has been scoped and agreed, the a lot of the hard work has been done so a Fit-Gap will take as little as two or three days of work depending on the number and which CRM systems are involved and of course depending on the length and complexity of your requirements, to then build and present a Fit-Gap Analysis document. Interestingly, in some instances, we don’t provide a recommendation but merely a conclusion, since this is for you as a client to decide what the next steps are. However, let me be honest here, often there is a clear winner for your business, but we also need to take into account not just the detailed CRM and Eco-system requirements but other aspects of your business as well in terms of future requirement and your existing business infrastructure and policies.

So, if you have got down to the last two or three horses, heading for the line and are still not 100% certain, then a Fit-Gap Analysis combined with a product agnostic Scoping and Requirements Workshop can be an excellent way forward to establish the clear winner for your business.

What to do now?

If you are interested in finding out more, have a live project or are at the point where you are finding it a tough call to choose, then why not contact me and I am sure that I can give you some illustrations in all probability of similar projects and requirements to your own.

13th April 2018

Account Classification in CRM is as simple as ABC…

Introduction

A few years ago, we published a similar blog, but I thought it was now time to update this to give a up to date insight into how current CRM systems support and enhance Account classification using Dynamics 365, Microsoft’s CRM solution as an excellent example of how AI (Artificial Intelligence) or Machine Learning can help with Account classification.

Firstly, let us quickly review why do you want to classify your accounts and why we classify? To paraphrase George Orwell famous quote:

“All customers are equal, but some Customers are more equal than others”

We all know it is important to understand and segment customers this and we instinctively know that some clients can be more resource hungry than others, whilst others offer more potential or need nurturing in different ways. So, as a starting point, we need our CRM to have some sort of classification of customers. Let’s look at our way of classifying our Accounts…

Classifying your Customers

We will start with establishing our rules.

A Customer in our parlance is someone who has purchased from us and with whom we have an ideally an Active relationship, be this on a weekly, monthly or annually transaction basis we treat them as a Customer. In most CRM systems, the field is likely to be called Account Type or Account Status and have a dropdown selection for Customer, Prospect, Competitor, Supplier etc.

However, we know that Not All Customers are the same.

Whilst this simple label can be useful, it is helpful to differentiate between Customers, since understanding and profiling your customers can be critical in growth, retention and also for marketing. In effect, we are further segmenting our Customer base. It is important that sales and marketing teams are aware of the differences between Customers.

A useful profiling exercise is the simple ABCD classification we use which is both easy to understand and apply. Using or adding this as an extra field gives in my view an instant view of the perceived value of a Customer.

We use the ABCD classification to focus on potential and may call this Account Type. Here, we are rating our view of the customers underlying potential. You can compare this approach to using the Harvard Boston Consulting Matrix which is a similar concept.

In our own system, we use “ABCD” definitions as follows:-

A Customers are the best, they are your “A” Class or A Grade clients and are great customers to work with and more importantly keep. They should be profitable and you should have a good fit with their needs. In US parlance, they are “Awesome!”

B Customers have “Big potential “and you will want to develop these into becoming your next generation ‘A’ class Customers.

C Customers are those who for whatever business reasons you just ‘Cover” or indeed “Can’t deal with’. This relationship may be dormant or the client is really in just a semi dormant state but in all likelihood, this relationship is not going anywhere, but simply up sucking time and resource. These Customers can hang around and take up inordinate amounts of time so you need to Move them up or Move them out. However, all companies have these types of customer, so it may just be you need to recognise them and not invest undue amounts of your time or resource here.

D Customers are either “Dead” or “Divorced” from you and it is important to identify these as you need to recognise this fact. You may want to have one last try to re-engage, or just accept your relationship is finished or on a downwards spiral, so you are in the midst, like it or not of a Divorce! It’s over, so deal with it and move on! Following on this analogy, you may still want to re-connect at a later stage, since things may change.

Putting this into practice with Dynamics CRM

With Dynamics 365, Microsoft suite of CRM applications launched in 2016, part of the fundamental enhanced functionality was the introduction of Machine Learning or AI to enable you to gain deeper insights into your Accounts and customer records and importantly your relationship.

One of the biggest issues with CRM over the years is whilst it is easy to create and schedule tasks, this still doesn’t mean these tasks are completed or more importantly the sheer volume of tasks can overwhelm your Users, So for instance, we used to have a regular ‘Account Management‘ call scheduled in, but when push came to shove, these were ignored or were rescheduled, but this could mean a User’s task diary continues to clog up over time.

Microsoft were well aware of this issue and the need to gain much deeper understanding and to help the Users become more proactive and not let things slip by. So, this can be achieved in Dynamics 365 in a number of ways. So, to take one example, let’s look at:-

Relationship Insights

These pop-up action cards are a simple and easily configurable way to help to manage these relationships and reminders, examples include:-

  • Action Cards such as No Activity with a contact over x weeks, no Activity with an Account over x months, Missed or Upcoming Opportunity Close by dates.
  • Email engagement cards include the system reading within the email references to referrals, issues, competitors mentioned for example

Actions vary by card, but these are displayed daily in your ‘What’s New’ page as well as on the Account or Contact record so you can see these each day at a glance and instantly open the record.

More details on Relationship Insights are here

All this is included as standard with the cloud Dynamics 365 and these cards can prove to be every effective in ensuring clients are not forgotten and promoting actions based on activities.

Continuing our theme of deeper client or Account understanding, another really use tool is:-

Customer Insights

This offer an enhanced and deeper understanding and  this module  needs to be deployed which just needs configuring or adding, but includes such useful proactive insights such as:-

• Account Retention Predictions to show accounts likely to change

• Account 360 degree view to show more information and key KPI's

More details here

Within a blog, space precludes delving in too deeply to some of the other aspects and indeed today, we have focussed only in Dynamics 365, but similar functionality is now appearing in other applications such as Salesforce with its Einstein AI and Pipeliner CRM with its own Insights features. Choosing the application to best fit your business and your requirements is outside the limit of this blog, but covered in other blogs.

Added to this are a host of other bolt-on tools for gaining additional knowledge on your Accounts and Contacts such as links to LinkedIn Sales Navigator and for Dynamics 365 the free Versium tool which can provide more background information, albeit this is more limited in the UK than for US based customers together with additional tools from Microsoft Dynamics 365 App store

Conclusion and What to do next

By having a better understanding of your customer profiles simply by introducing an easily understood ABCD classification this can help to identify those clients needing more support and who your team should be cultivating and keeping. Together with the latest functionality and AI from leading vendors such as Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Salesforce this classification and the insights given make for a more powerful combination with to enhance both your sales and marketing effectiveness

We all know the 80/20 rule and this classification reinforces this concept, but for your sales and marketing team, it shows instantly in one simple field who to focus on and why with the A for Awesome customer and B for Big potential it is clear. For SME’s moving from the start-up ‘finding customers’ phase to continued growth phase this is a useful exercise in understanding which customers you want to keep and which you need to spend time on developing or dropping.

If you want to know more how we can help streamline and improve your system, then one example of how we can help is our “CRM Optimisation Audit” and this classification is just one example of where we review your existing systems, people and processes.

Interested in finding out more? Go to the CRM Optimisation Audit where you can download our 2018 checklist, a useful starting point in reviewing your own CRM system.

27th February 2018

Preparing your CRM for 2018

Introduction

What CRM Work should you being doing now and over Christmas?

With Santa now entering his busy period and the last four working weeks, well 3 hectic weeks with a slow week between Xmas and New Year, What should we be doing now to prepare for 2018.

This is a great time to take stock and do any database preparation work...

Key Tips

So, my number one tip this year is:-

Start to Prepare for GDPR. This new regulations impacts from next May, so you only have a few months to get ready and decide what to do and when. There are a host of useful articles around, in particular a useful free whitepaper can be found here.

-GDPR will dominate the headlines in the New Year and for those of us in CRM, we are already having an upsurge in clients asking question and considering moving to the more modern and flexible cloud based CRM systems such as Dynamics 365.

-Don’t underestimate the time it will take to absorb GDPR information and at the very least you should assign a quiet day to read information and formulate an action plan. Such as contacting experts to review your system. A good starting point is this free White Paper download from one of our partners

GDPR aside, what else should you be doing? Here are my top tips for making the most of the next four weeks:-

Ensure you have Backups of all your files. Now is the time to check this with your IT, especially if you have any planned maintenance work and indeed have an on-premise CRM installation. For cloud CRM users, this should not be a concern.

Don’t do any major data imports or data deletions. Whilst this appears to be a good time to ‘tidy up’ the system, now is not the time to do major changes to the database. Key people are often pre-occupied or off on holiday and others many not give you the time you need as their minds may be understandably sometimes not fully focused in the last week.

Don’t go changing or improving workflows or automation. Our experience shows that your Users want to come back to the system pretty much as they left it. They won’t thank you for improvements made as they will have their own ideas on what they want to focus on in that first week back in 2018.

So, that’s really a few Don’ts’

…And the Do’s?

Do some investigative work on your database.  But please no changes. For example, identify all those key contacts with no email address or incorrect emails or where your Christmas Newsletter had a bounce. Start to look at and possibly flag these records for when the Users come back.

Consider running some duplicate testing. This will be welcome as long as you don’t actually merge anything, it is always the wrong parent-child that is merged! Again, consider flagging these records ready for User investigation and approval in those first days back.

• Review which custom fields are filled in. For example, is the “number of employees” field always completed. Is it needed still or are there other fields more important that perhaps should be moved around the screen? Remember, screen design is a key ingredient in User adoption. Again, be wary until Users come back

Look at your existing Reports and also your key Metrics. Which Reports are used and do these need updating? What are the key metrics from the year, how do they compare to last year. Are these being accurately measured?

Review your Active and Lapsed customers. Again, don’t make any actual changes, but create a List or Group for your Users to review when they return. You should have clear written guidelines on what a “Lapsed Customer” is based on your industry.

That first week back after New Year can appear to be slow as customers and suppliers pick up where they left off and many sales people are reluctant to make calls on the first day, so this is a good time to possibly ‘ask’ if they can review work like this that you have done over the holidays.

Week One- CRM Review Meeting

So, book in now a CRM Review meeting in that first week. This will give you a chance to provide information as stated above for feedback and also, if you have done your homework, a key topic on the Agenda will be GDPR and this topic needs to be introduced since there will need to be changes which will impact working practices and the CRM system design in the New Year.

Let's hope that this list of some key  Do's and Dont's gives you a short list of ideas on how to maximise your time over the next few weeks and especially in the quiet period between Boxing day and New Year.   If there is one message for this blog, it is to use this time  to help to prepare your CRM system and look at what you need to do to make it GDPR compliant ready for the challenges of 2018.

Finally, Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas….

.

6th December 2017

Evolving CRM.  What is Digital Transformation?

Introduction

The World of CRM is changing and nowadays a CRM project will be just one core component in a Digital Transformation project. Whilst this concept is gaining more and more air time and notice, this blog really attempts to identify what Digital transformation really is and what you need to consider for your business. So the four questions we want to answer are:-

• What is Digital Transformation?

• How do you go about it?

• Do you need it and why is it so topical?

• What does it look like?

In this article, I want to focus on the first two aspects…

What is Digital Transformation?

The term Digital Transformation is now gaining a lot of traction and increasingly being added to Tenders. But this really key term has come about over the last few years and from a CRM perspective means CRM and the concept of CRM remains at the heart of these projects. Put simply, without a robust and well aligned CRM system, digital transformation will either not happen or be effective. It will be like a car running on just three tyres!

How do we define it?

A good and simple definition, from Wikipedia, as good a source here as any , and a definition which is easy to relate to:-:-

“Digital transformation is the change associated with the application of digital technology in all aspect of human society…

The transformation stage means that digital usages inherently enable new types of innovation and creativity in a particular domain, rather than simply enhance and support traditional methods.”

This last sentence appeals since it uses technology and recognises that in today’s increasingly online digital world, technology acts as a disrupter.

In essence, we see that from a business B2B perspective, this enables us to gain an end to end understanding of the whole Lead to Prospect to Customer and Customer to Advocate process and how this impacts your business in today’s digital world. From an application perspective, it is the merging of the various software vertical sectors for Marketing Automation software blended into and aligned with your Customer Relationship Management other systems such as Web sites, email marketing etc so your clients have a complete throughput of digital data from their first digital engagement as a suspect to prospect to customer.

Previously, CRM was central, but we added bolt-ons were created for tactical marketing usage such as Email marketing, Social Media integrations and now this whole process can be defined and created almost as seamless process, depending on the applications chosen.

We can see this as an outer and inner ring, with the CRM being at the centre, since at some point all contacts will be drawn to the CRM centre after qualification criteria have been defined.

Do we need it?

Digital Transformation has shown repeated success and most Footsie100 and Fortune 100 clients now have digital transformation in place or have initiated and implemented them over the last 5 years.

This concept is now rolling into the SME market where the applications themselves have evolved tremendously in the last 5 years to offer true value and with the cloud, seamless integration between and within applications.

How do you go about it? The First Step

Digital Transformation project will often go through a number of stages, buy the first stage is Awareness of the need for some sort of digital transformation strategy and plan.

So, in my view the first step is to understand and audit your existing business processes and how your clients engage with you from the initial introduction to after they become a customer.

You will probably find that many new clients over the last five years have first engaged you through some sort of on-line activity, now in 2017 this can take many forms

• Website Visit (either known visitor or tracked)

• Social Media including LinkedIn approaches

However, you may still engage through more traditional methods including trade shows and referrals, but they key concept here is that for most new clients and indeed many existing clients, they will have engaged with you in many ways through some sort of digital journey.

You need to understand or try to understand this journey and then review the ‘gaps’ in your process. Typically, for many, this could be that there is no clean line into their CRM system.

Once in CRM, then most contacts can then be tracked and followed, up but this outer rim of engagement can often involve different system which may or may not be talking to each other.

A typical engagement may be to use Hubspot, for Marketing Automation and integration with your website, an application we have used extensively since this has native (i.e. in-built link) integration with ‘best of breed’ CRM applications such as Dynamics 365 and Salesforce.

In fact, your whole website can be hosted on website or just sections such as landing pages. This integration will often act as your first point for the Client journey with information, at some point then passing through into your CRM system, possibly based on key criteria, which will talk about in a later blog.

Where to Start?

So, as a first step, prior to looking at a whole project, we recommend you audit your existing systems I use and you may be surprised, so feel free to request our Beginning your Digital Transformation project Checklist.

A future blog will then consider what happens next and explore the stages you need to go through to develop and plan your Digital Marketing Strategy?

31st August 2017

Do you need a CRM MOT?

Is now the time to perform a MOT on your CRM system?

Now this week Summer finally arrived, this is a good time to consider if your system is up to speed and performs well and if your Users are getting the most out of the software.

At this time of year, the system tends to be used on a daily basis for updating of day to day activities, opportunities, cases, so in our experience, this is a great time to conduct a MOT or better know perhaps as an Health-check or Audit.

For many B2B Companies, September can be the start of an intensive sale and marketing campaign focussed on achieving year end targets, be that sales for in closing Opportunities or Marketing for maximising lead generation and ensuring Sales have a steady supply of Marketing Qualified Leads.

So, why undertake a CRM MOT now?

From the mid-year onwards, you will now have a host of good data you can review, for example on:-

• Leads and Opportunities

• Campaigns

• Accounts and Contacts

• Cases and SLA Compliance

• Reports and Dashboards

• Data Quality

  • User Interactions and training

You can review this information and over the next 2 months develop or refine your plans and make sure you system is ready, so for example you can:-

• Make any needed changes during these quieter months (complete with updating your training materials such as Playbooks).

• Look to ensure that your overall system and processes are optimised or tweaked as needed.

• Looking at any specific additional training requirements for your Users.

• Looking at where you can clean data or reduce deduplications

• Review System performance and integrations.

All in all, then, this Summer is an ideal time to focus on how your CRM system can be optimised and made ready to meet your year-end targets.

What should a CRM Audit include?

Here are some suggestions from our experience, grouped by function and assuming you have a full CRM system (i.e. Sales, Marketing and Customer Service functionality), rather than just a legacy Contact Management system where not all the items below will be relevant. Within a blog, we can give you some indicators, but a typical Audit may range from ½ a day to a full or even more days depending on the depth and documentation outcome you require. As a starter, here are just some of the items we look to cover:-

• Marketing: Lead generation, Sources Review, Campaign effectiveness, Lead to Opportunities conversions metrics, number of Marketing and Sales Qualified Leads (and differences).

• Sales : Open Opportunities, Opportunity conversions, Opportunities velocity, Legacy open Opportunities (there are always some!). Won and Lost reasons review, Marketing feedback loop effectiveness.

• Customer Service: Number of Cases open, Average per month rates, types of Case, Trends, Closing and Response times, SLA compliance, Knowledgebase articles, top 10 Case problems review.

• Portal or Self Service usage: If you have a portal, how effective or engaging is it, who is using it, who is not using it? Can we develop this more? Is it saving us time or money or can it in new areas (e.g. adding Self Service knowledgebase articles or reviewing these, new ideas).

• Reporting: The audit gives us a chance to reflect on how useful the current reports are and if these should be made into dashboards or do we need to create any new or amend existing reports. Are they being used? Should they be automated?

• Technical Review: Performance issues particularly, speed, storage sizes, email integration issues, other integration or data feed audits.

• User Review: Who is using system and who is not? What is the average frequency, (look at actual log-on, log-off times). What is the nature of usage e.g. mobile or desktop usage. Are there any outstanding User engagement issues or requests. Any mobile usage and trends are important to review since nowadays this can be a key indicator of Sales Team usage and how easy the tool is to use via your mobile device. This can be a key questions in any User Feedback survey.

• Data quality. Here we are looking at duplicates, quality of data, especially amongst new records created this last six months.

A CRM system more than any other software relies heavily on your Users enthusiasm, sense of ownership and their willing adoption. This half year or Summer review is we think the perfect time to conduct a User Feedback Survey or questionnaire. Since this time of year gives you an opportunity to gain direct feedback from your Users. Let them know you are reviewing the system and you welcome their input and suggestions. This can throw up some enlightened ideas and helps to reinforce your User Adoption and ownership success. Importantly, you may be able to initiate quick wins and response prior to the September blitz.

From this Audit and User Survey, you can also review and better understand the need for any refresher training either due to ‘gaps’ in knowledge, understanding or because you are amending the system.

If you have time, it may also be useful to look at training needs and competency by Role/User.

As you can read, whilst this is not an exhaustive list and we cover a lot more items in a full one day review, you can see potentially there is a lot to consider. Our ebook on this subject adds to this list.

Who should do it?

Again, our experience shows that overall having external consultants such as ourselves can give you additional insight, shared best practices and offer a wider experience and that an internal audit may not pick up all this up as well.

What result should I expect?

A good question. And of course it does depend.

But when we do a CRM MOT/Audit we put together a detailed report on performance and feedback, hence the usefulness of the User survey or questionnaire and depending on audit time booked, then more information on how the system can both be improved and what changes should be made can be included

We are also as mentioned can offer additional insight and recommendations on your overall CRM Eco-system as well and how this can be better balanced and improved. 

So, all in all July and August are the ideal times to slot in a day’s health-check audit as well as the fact that CRM consultancies themselves are usually in this period pretty flexible and able to fit this in between projects.

This gives you then the balance of August and maybe the first week or so in September to either make changes, arrange refresher training on a process or just to ensure your plans fully align with your refreshed system capabilities.

Taking the opportunity now to organise your CRM Audit or MOT in can help you reap dividends quickly and can help to ensure that focus and feedback are on how it is going to deliver over the final four months of the year. Useful insights into the system performance should mean you are able to make minor adjustments to improve overall performance levels.

Finally, if you are interested in the ebook on this subject, please contact us here to request your CRM Audit ebook

25th June 2017

The CRM and Technology Gap

Mind the Gap!

It is always worth reminding ourselves that when we introduce CRM, it is very easy to customise and configure the system to suit your own processes, but of course, as numerous companies have found, this can lead to a number of issues...

Typically these include:-

• Costly and or just time consuming customisations as opposed to configuration. By customisation we mean coding, for example small pieces of javascript.

• Upgrading problems. We come across many companies who have so customised their system that when a new version comes out with significant database schema or other differences, the upgrade itself can be a timely process and often needs rigorous and lengthy testing and then coding amendments first.

• Users can get lost and also not always fully understand their process when applied to CRM.

So, when introducing your system, you need to be aware first and foremost of both your existing processes, so, some of the questions we ask are:-

• Are they right?

• Are they documented and more importantly clearly understood?

• Are they actually needed?

• Can we change or modify them to fit the system better?

For example, we had one customer who insisted that their renewal contract for their clients, had to be based on joining dates, clear enough, but that this had to be based against whether it was before or after 21st? of the month . So it moved to 1st or 30th of the month each side of the line for invoicing!

Why? Because that was what was always done. Rather than just base it on the date and then invoice.

Solving this issue in the CRM system chosen by them (we had come into rescue the project), involved around 1-2 days of extra work. Taking the configured or out-of-the-box solution would have saved them £1500….and for what? To their clients this difference meant nothing, they just assumed an annual renewal date as per car or home insurance. To them it was just an annual renewal date!

There was no benefit to anyone, apart from we had 2 extra days consultancy! But, this meant 2 less days from their budget and from our perspective, 2 less days where we could have added some value. There was no value in this process.

Delving through the archives, this illustration is a great example of why you need before or during your scoping of any CRM project to take the opportunity to re-look at your processes and take time to consider if they can be modified or changed to better suit the CRM system and most importantly save you cost and time and effort in customising the system this process.  This is what we call mapping the Technology Gap

Conclusion

So, in any CRM Project, you need to understand if there is a ‘gap’ between your existing process and how this can be applied to your new CRM system.

Ask yourselves the key questions as we have stated above to identify if there is a  ‘gap’ between the actual process and how this can be applied within the CRM system.

Does it need costly and time consuming customisation or can the process either be amended or improved to better fit the software, saving you time and money in the long run. Can it be improved?

This is the essence of what we can the “Technology Gap” and this is why when we are looking at Scoping Workshops, understanding  or when you are looking at how to optimise your CRM system, you need to consider the three pillars of CRM planning:-

• Technology

• Processes

• People.

This blog focuses on the need to review and if required adjust your processes.

We see this as an opportunity to gain feedback, ask questions and not just accept the status quo. With Business Process Reviews, you can find that, often you will be able to simplify a process or certainly reduce its complexity.

Bearing all this in mind, it is why a key starting point before the CRM Scoping workshop can be a Business Process workshop held either internally or with our help and it is why companies such as ourselves who are looking at the complete Lead to Customer process and involve not just CRM, but Marketing Automation will offer this as a key part of the service.

22nd May 2017

Data Nightmares in CRM!

As we come to the end of another CRM project, in this instance by far our biggest challenge has been the data migration and importing. This project has had more issues than usual, but the difference here was that I was very closely involved with the whole data migration project and so have re-learnt some invaluable lessons!

What are the lessons learnt from these last few weeks, when I was back in the data migration trenches so to speak!!! Here are some invaluable lessons, worth repeating!

Agree ALL data sources in advance

Never accept or confirm your quotation until you have all the data available and have seen this. Anything that is added after an agreed list of Sources should be costed separately, this protects both you and the client. As an example in this project, we have 3 separate core sources, but in each source, were myriad individual spreadsheets

Lesson learnt: Data migration costing is Always “subject to sight of data”, now we are adding the caveats (up to 2k records in one source and “ALL data Must be seen in advance.” Data sent after the cut-off date will be treated as NEW and costed accordingly!

Insist on common format

Again, whilst in this instance a common format template was issued, individuals then decided to re-label columns and add new columns to their own data, so almost creating their own individual data format!. So we had to check and ensure every excel column matched before import, despite a common template being issued to prevent this!

Lesson learnt here is Client need to be aware of time this can take and again this is chargeable.

Press for unique ID if possible.

If not create one as invariably you may be asked to add more data at some point and this can be time well spent.

Lesson Learnt: This can save a lot of time in re-work, there shouldn’t be any of course, but in the real world….

Ensure Client reviews and looks at their own data first.

Much time was spent in trying to put data into some sort of shape. So, for instance, in telephone field there were email addresses, in postcode there were Towns and in towns Zip codes. This was due in part to various source exports.

Lesson learnt. This is for the client, since they will better understand issues and avoid paying for re-work which they could have done before submitting.

Ensure a good import utility tool

The lesson here is to cost this in initially, invariably data once starting to be looked at gets more complex especially in a new system where data sources are often excel with multiple contacts. Most CRM system struggle with this, especially as it is often the case there are no matching ID or unique fields created, so deduplication is needed.

Lesson learnt. Include this as an allowance always since at some point, you may need as you see the data arrive and requirements grow from simple to the ‘is it possible or can you just add this?”

Within the ebook download request, we include more Lessons together with an additional list of Data Import ‘Gotchas’ that should be reviewed as well.

A final lesson is:-

Allow for adequate Client Testing time

The client importantly must have their project team or designated testers available for a ‘first pass’ testing for EACH data source and these do need to be signed off. Yes, this sound very bureaucratic, but time and again, clients give data imports only a cursory look, glad to see their data moving across from the old system, but then don’t look at the detail. For the consultant importing, this is just ‘data’ and they don’t always see the minute differences or nuances that can be in there in placing information in slightly differently. Invariably it is a new look and format for the new CRM system, so time must be paid and checklists created!

Lesson Learnt: UAT team need to have a conference call and test and review data closely.

Conclusion

When speaking with clients, the term ‘best endeavours’ is really the most apt, since we are so reliant on the quality of data and more importantly data consistency. But, here Is the good result, as discussed with this client, they now have a single centralised database in their Customer Relationship Management software. This now means that the new system data is consistent, accurate and de-duplicated data, thus preventing the myriad ‘silos’ of information building up again.

Yes, Data Migration is time consuming and can be expensive and this is do due to the complexity of source data and mapping data across to new system. IT project suffer from this, and it is one reason why the Big Banks and Government have so many big failures and delays, since Data Migration can be a nightmare and you can lose sleep, so take these lessons to heart!

More lessons and some important data gotcha’s are contained in the downloadable ebook Data Nightmare Lessons in CRM.

27th March 2017

Using the Carrot and Stick in CRM

We have all heard of the carrot and stick analogy and this is often applied to Sales teams.

Customer Relationship Management software projects, in addition to good system design and choice, in particular are very dependent for their success on the following factors:-

  • Sales Team culture

• Existing sales and marketing processes

• Ability to take ownership of their data

• Enthusiasm and commitment to CRM

A lot of time is spent on these topics, in education, design and in cleansing data and of course in training.

However, the history of CRM is littered with projects that have not been successful, and whilst you can argue what this actually constitutes, nonetheless, in my view, uniquely, CRM adoption does depend to a large degree on the attitude and commitment to the system by the Sales Team, more so than in comparison with other more regimented software applications such as ERP.

In any sales team there will be a mix of some who readily adopt and update the system on a regular basis and embrace the benefits and usefulness of the software in helping to manage their day to day activities and reporting, whilst for others, they may well be, shall we say, less than enthusiastic.…hence the consideration of the use of the Carrot and the Stick.

So how can we use this approach when introducing a new system or indeed in revitalising a project?

Let’s split the two elements down with Carrot Factors being now relabelled as Motivators and Stick Factors being the Non-Compliance Motivators or in plain language, Penalties!

Motivating or Carrot factors

Save time. Yes, an extra 5 minutes adding information when it is still fresh can save time and embarrassment in future. I always say whenever a price is mentioned, record this in your notes since every customer and prospect always remembers a price that is quoted. This also saves times for others, so 5 minutes now can save either you or others an hour further down the line!

Less conversations with the Boss! The Manager can see information now easily so this should lead in theory at least, to fewer internal ‘update’ meetings and those that happen should be more focussed.

Less time producing Management reports or even, now don’t have too! If the system is kept up to data and data is inputted correctly (there are aspects here of good system design) then Reports just need to be generated on the basis of a click.

More and better Qualified Leads. Marketing rely on good quality data and their campaigns will be better focused and targeted with an up-to-date relevant source system.

Better Opportunity Conversion ratios. So, it follows that if the data from marketing is better, less time is wasted on chasing ‘tyre kickers’ and the engagement with prospects should be improved, which can lead to shorter lead times and better conversions.

Less chasing from Marketing. If contact data is correct, marketing can rely on the quality of data, making better engagement campaigns and less chasing, for example ‘Titles’ not being completed is a pet hate of mine over the years.

Fewer internal meetings or corridor meetings, and those that are needed, can with information from CRM, dive straight into the point and be shorter.

Finally, with any good design and implementation, there should be less paperwork for the Salesman…..always a big motivator since both Management Reports and Marketing Reports should be able to be taken directly from the system and confidence in a well-maintained and up-to-date system will in turn give Management confidence. A poorly maintained system conversely could lead to more of the above since data gaps will become self-evident. E.g. No Closing date, No update on an Opportunity Stage for weeks, No Titles, Missed Closing Dates or just no notes or activity on the Opportunity!

….which nicely leads us onto, shall we say Non-Compliance Motivators or in reality the Stick!

Compliance Motivators or the Stick factors

Here we need to consider ideas like:-

• Terms and Conditions. My view is that this works best with new appointees since the use of a system should be a key part of any new contract, in the same way as there is a duty of care to look after the new car, laptop and mobile, so using the CRM system is actually a key Role/Duty for any Sales Rep and they need to update the system on a daily basis.

Performance Bonuses. A common example of this are those tied to Sales Opportunity, for example, if it has not been created before the sale, none or more likely, a reduced commission applies! After all, the visibility of a Sales Pipeline in CRM is frequently a key reason for its introduction as well as accuracy.

Account or Ownership Disputes. One of the great things about CRM is that it tracks and date stamps the creation time and who created a record. So you can use this in disputes in terms of who created, gets ownership. Those that register the account first are the winners in any dispute, as the system proves this!

Expenses Payments. These can be cross-checked or indeed based on completed Appointments and some systems do this or there are integrations around. Possibly a bit onerous and often a sensitive subject!

But, my favourite mantra in any problem or conflict is that “If it’s not in CRM, then it didn’t happen!”

Before you apply both…

Firstly, you will need to consider and ensure that the sales teams views and input has been taken into account during the decision making process and there has been active engagement in any Scoping and System Design Workshop meetings. If the teams or chosen key members are actively involved, ideally with changes made and agreed to with the team, for example ensuring there are not too many fields on day one, this will help with adoption and usage without the need for too many or too onerous non-compliance motivators.

Secondly, my view is that the benefits of CRM should be sold in first to the team and that these are Big Self Evident Carrots and that the balancing Stick should be small. In fact, the bigger the Stick, then this is symptomatic of possibly more deep rooted problems and it may be time to revisit the design and choice of system being used, so you do need to recognise sometimes, the software itself may be the problem or this highlights other problems with the sales team.

Conclusion

When planning a CRM implementation, as in many software and IT projects, the psychology of the Users needs to be understood and taken into account, but consider beforehand the culture of your team and ensure you are aware of what the main motivators or carrots need to be and whether you need a big or small stick. Make it clear to all about not only the importance of the system, but why non-compliance has to be penalised, even if you reduce these penalties to a minimum, invariably there are lines of conflict between salespeople or teams and this is one of the great things about CRM, you can say “if it’s not there, it didn’t happen” and date stamping enables you to wield out those that are trying to ‘pull the other one’.

Now your own thoughts and feedback?

Whilst writing this blog, it became apparent that there are lots of possible ways to help motivate and penalise and I’ve tried to highlight just a few ideas in each category, so this does not claim to be a complete list of all factors. It would be interesting to hear readers own views and ideas of what Carrot and Sticks you have used and what results you have achieved. Indeed, what is your most successful Carrot factor!

20th February 2017

Changing your CRM in 2017

If you’ve had your CRM for a few years now, then you may now be looking to change in 2017.

According to Gartner, over 80% of new CRM systems will be cloud based by 2020 and we are pretty certain that in the UK, this figure is at least 60% now if not more and has increased substantially since around 2012 as we came out of recession and companies started investing in software again...

There are a few key reasons for this and borne by our experiences, we think that two of the main reasons are:-

Hardware investment. The focus has been since 2010 on reducing hardware expenditure and in reducing IT staff overhead. Clients are trying to reduce their hardware infrastructure and capital investment (capex) costs well as their day to day operational costs, including in-house IT staff by looking to outsource more. Over the years, the cost and need for hardware, even with virtual servers still means investment and someone needing to maintain and upgrade these servers.

Office365. With the massive take up of Office 365, cloud based applications are now mainstream for many clients and in daily use on their smartphones, hence this has been another driving factor in encouraging more cloud based application adoption. Of course, this is also driven by Microsoft Dynamics CRM focus over the last few years to make cloud based CRM the first choice amongst start-ups and SME's.

However, whilst it is not all sunny skies, since you are now locked into either an annual or monthly recurring payment, but at least your investment will always be up-to-date and it is not your problem when upgrades are released. Strangely, upgrades seem to be more stable when released by cloud providers on their own hardware!

So, if you are looking to change this year, then what should you be looking for in choosing your next CRM system?

Here are five key factors that influence us when we are reviewing new CRM applications for clients:-

Pedigree. Our view is that having a robust and well known and respected application is a key element in reducing your risk.

Evolving CRM. Sounds obvious, but some systems and especially older legacy on- premise applications appear not to be so keen to develop and continue to develop their applications and again, this doesn’t appear with cloud based systems who are always keen  for others to integrate with them, giving you the ability to create your own CRM eco-system.

Cloud based. This means in our view, you effectively just sign up and start using the system. There is no need to do anything else or indeed worry too much when starting your trial as long as you have previously done some due diligence on your chosen application.

• Support network. Here, we think this is a key factor, so you need to ensure that the vendor has in place UK support, be this in terms of partners or the vendors own staff. Invariably, you may want some customisation, specialist training or indeed just someone to call to ask a question.

Customer base. Ideally, you may want to talk to other clients or just know they have a reasonable size customer base in the UK and this is led to some extent by their strategy but also the point above. Having no UK or partner base should probably be seen as an ‘amber’ light warning sign that the base is not big enough yet to sustain dedicated resellers or UK based staff.

With over 300 applications available in the CRM market, you don’t want to take a chance with some of the smaller applications that may not last.

Our final recommendation is that you find an independent CRM consultant such as ourselves who are able to suggest, recommend and endorse the best solutions and create a short-list of the most viable solutions for your business. Given our extensive experience, having a wide network of industry contacts gained over 20 years in the industry means we can give our clients the best advice we can.

A great starting point is to request our CRM Checklist. In CRM, the key is in choosing the right fit application to match your business requirement and your team. Not doing this can end up costing you money, wasted time and stress!

11th January 2017