Choosing a CRM Solution: Think Business Strategy First, Software Second

The decision to move from a plain contact management program like Outlook to a more robust CRM solution is about more than just choosing a new application. It’s about solving an issue in your business. Are you losing customers? Not getting enough referrals from your current customers? Before you rush out and sign up for the hottest new software, take some time to think through your needs.
According to CRM expert Brent Leary, the biggest mistake small business owners make when choosing a CRM solution is not doing the work up front. “They think buying the software means they’re done, but CRM is not just software – it’s a business strategy.”
We asked Brent for some tips on how to choose the right CRM solution.
Identify the issues.
What are the challenges you and your employees are facing? Every company’s list will be different, but some common/universal issues include:

  • Are you losing customers?

  • Is your customer information centralized (or in a bunch of different applications, spreadsheets, and files)?
  • Can anyone who interacts with a customer access their history?
  • Are there any outstanding issues with this customer?
  • How much business have you gotten from them?
  • What products do they like?
  • What marketing have you done to them?
  • Is your sales force doing the right kind of sales activities?

The answers to these questions can also help you determine what kind of reporting or dashboard you need the CRM solution to produce.


Educate yourself.
There are so many choices that just doing the research can be an overwhelming task. Beginning with a few software comparison sites can give you an idea of the options available, and features you might not have thought of. Some good websites to get you started are Vendorguru.com, DestinationCRM.com, and InsideCRM.com. An independent local expert is also a good option, and can be especially helpful when you get to the implementation phase.

Get customer feedback.

Because CRM is not just an application, but a solution to a business issue, you might want to make sure your customers will be happy if you’re changing the way you interact with them. While you are trying to solve what’s NOT working, be careful not to ditch what IS working. Often the best suggestions come from customers – after all, they are the ones using your products and dealing with your employees on a regular basis. Asking your customers for their buy-in also shows your commitment to serving them well.
Get social, but have a purpose.
Social media is great for interacting with customers and prospects, but it’s important not to lose track of the nuts and bolts of the sales process. “Social CRM” – integrating blogs, podcasts, video, community features, Twitter, etc. are great ways to build content, because prospects are out there looking for help. You have the opportunity to show up with that help or information they need.
However, it’s key to make sure that once you start the conversation, you have a way to get those prospects into the CRM system so they enter your sales funnel. Capture their attention with content, but make sure you engage them enough to at least get their contact information. Then you can do more, like adding other qualifying questions to your contact form that help your team prioritize the prospect and identify where they are in the sales process (e.g., hot leads vs. mailing list)

Choose vendors – not just software -carefully.

Once you’ve narrowed down your choices of CRM solutions, take some time to talk to the vendors. Pay attention to how responsive they are during your research and selection process. Ask them about best practices – “how should MY company best use your software?” Remember that you aren’t just buying the software, you’re buying the service and support that this vendor will provide as well. If anything makes you uncomfortable, don’t buy it.
Some solutions (and their sales pitches) are so slick and exciting that it’s easy to get caught up and think that “this one thing” can solve all of your problems. The key to remember is that software is like any other technology – it’s just a tool. CRM software can help you implement your strategy, but you still need to create that strategy.

Laura Leites, Assistant Editor, Smallbiztechnology.com

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Ramon Ray, Editor & Technology Evangelist, Smallbiztechnology.com . Editor and Founder, Smart Hustle Magazine Full bio at http://www.ramonray.com . Check him out on Google Plus, Twitter or Facebook

2 thoughts on “Choosing a CRM Solution: Think Business Strategy First, Software Second

  1. Mark Mader

    Agree with many of the points in this post.
    Another key question to ask before purchasing or subscribing to a solution is, “Will my team use the CRM solution?”. Seems overly obvious – but do NOT take this for granted.
    It matters little how powerful the features are if participants don’t enter the requisite information.
    Try before you buy. Most online providers will let you trial a service before committing. (Smartsheet doesn’t even require you to enter credit card details to register for a free trial)
    Here is a post highlighting how Smartsheet can be utilized to track a common CRM function – pipeline management:
    http://www.smartsheet.com/blog/mark-mader/why-our-customers-choose-smartsheet-over-google-docs
    To receive a free pipeline tracker template when registering for the trial, use this page:
    http://www.smartsheet.com/sales-pipeline-template

  2. Ava Venson

    In making a business move, strategies always come first before the implementation. The whole company must plan first, and make tactics as regads what would they be needing in terms of managing their consumers and, also, their contact information. But, before choosing a software, it’s also important to have a testing! It will be costlier if you would already buy a software, but in the end, it will not just work. I hope my points are right.  😉

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