Choosing a CRM for small business (and consultants

Choosing a CRM (customer relationship management system) for a small business can be a daunting task. Small business CRM systems can be off-the-shelf, customized, hosted or hybrid.

 Mid-market companies tend to choose hosted CRM systems so they can get best-of-breed systems at an affordable price, without the tech support headaches. But, for smaller businesses, such systems may be too expensive.

 Off-the-shelf shrinkwrapped CRM packages may be tempting. Simply install a package, set up the licenses and you’re ready to go….or so it seems. Suddenly, you and your users are faced with a new technology, no real direction and lots of different approaches to using the system. Before you know it, you may have a nightmare on your hands.

 Fearing the worst, some companies hire a technical consultant to do a custom CRM implementation. The techie takes care of all the IT details and integrates the system with existing systems and applications. This consultant may also train staff and help set up business processes. But an IT consultant may not provide a complete solution either.

 What’s really important for small businesses setting up CRMs is that they start with the end in mind. Put together a plan before you buy an application or hire a consultant. You can work with a CRM implementation consultant, if you want, but, even then, it’s helpful to have thought through the CRM process. With careful planning, you can make your CRM work – whether you do it yourself with an off-the-shelf solution, opt for a hosted solution or get a consultant to customize a package for you.

 Some questions to answer before you choose a CRM:

  • Why are you doing this? What do envision a CRM doing for you?
  • What business processes do you want your CRM to manage?
  • What contacts and relationships do you want your CRM to look after?
  • Who will provide tech support? An outsourced consultant, an in-house resource or someone else?
  • Who will use this CRM? What abilities do they have?
  • What’s your budget? Include both initial and ongoing budgets.
  • How will this CRM fit into your overall IT strategy and infrastructure?

Those are just a few questions to get you started. Choosing a CRM for small business is a multistep process. If you find it overwhelming, consider turning to a CRM consultant to help you with both the business and IT issues.

This article was originally published on Suite101 by Andrea Coutu of Become a Consultant at ConsultantJournal.com.

Heather Shirkey says:

Hi Tony…

there are many more CRM options now than there were in 2007, and what they can do has expanded greatly! Our Mobile App startup researched over 30 CRMs before moving forward (We are Optality and our initial Android mobile App product is available in Google Play or at GetBitStories.com.)

We are functioning under Lean Startup methodologies so budget and ease-of-use were definitely a concern. Other concerns that revealed themselves as our research progressed:

1) Would we really be using the sales tracking and lead generation features a CRM offers or were were the analytics generated based on how our customers used our app more important to us?
2) Did we need our solution to provide integrated email campaign management?
3) Would we need to customize the fields and analytic outputs in our solution or would one of the out-of-the-box solutions work for us?
4) Are we hoping our solution has an API so we can integrate other tools we are working with?
5) Can we choose a simpler CRM solution for the time being and migrate to a more robust version of the CRM from the same company or will it be easy for us to migrate to a new CRM if need be down the line?
6) How are we communicating with our customers now? Managing customer use of the app? Managing sales leads? How would we migrate these to a simpler, more integrated solution?
7) Who will be *in charge* of the CRM (not just who will be using it.)

As I mentioned, we research over 30. If you have additional questions regarding specific CRMs, please let me know. We are happy to help in any way we can!

Thanks,
Heather

I hope this helps. Please let me know if I can provide any other information for you.Edit

Alexey Panteleev says:

Tony,

It all depends on your requirements for your particular process but from the simplicity point of view Highrise from 37signals often wins other smb crm system. Plus it has ton of add-on’s.

We provide a cloud based sync service (for Google Apps and MS Exchange) which gives Highrise even a stronger competitive edge now. Check it out.

-Alexey

Darin Dixon says:

There are many hosted CRM’s out there. However, many are no more customizeable than the box. If you do your research you’ll find some out there where you CAN start with the end in mind and customize your software around your sales process. Some hosted CRM companies will give you a free trial and consultation to check it out.

Tony says:

I looked at salesforce.com, but found it too expensive for just my practice. It did have a lot of bells & wistles though. Do you have a bundled package or just use something like Outlook/Excel?
Tony