More and more companies realise that Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platforms are here to stay. To opt out is to be left behind, but not every CRM system will be perfect for your business. Determine your company’s needs and chose the CRM to fit your business processes.

Start off by delimiting which departments will utilise the system and what the expected number of users is. A simple out-of-the-box deployment accessible only by sales, marketing and customer service is likely to be more than adequate for companies intending to use their CRM primarily as a sales tool, for example. Conversely, if it is probable that you will require extensibility to other business departments, check with potential vendors whether such options are available.

The question of extensibility leads to another crucial issue: connectivity. The power of all state-of-the-art CRM platforms lies in their ability to integrate, with one of the most commonly required connections being that between a CRM system and an email client or accounts software. But that’s not all: the greatest opportunity a CRM system can present to a company is facilitating the integration of its sales and marketing endeavours in a closed loop of information, making one indispensable to the other and both more effective than ever before. Here, the sales team receives an overview of the level of qualification reached before they contact a lead. This information can then be used to prepare for the initial sales call, while ensuring the lead is contacted in a timely manner.. The entire sales cycle can then be tracked through the CRM system, enabling marketers – and management – to measure Return On Investment (ROI) of campaigns in real time.

Gearing your CRM towards collecting information from social media is another dimension of connectivity that cannot be left out. If tools such as LinkedIn figure high in your businesses’ operations, integrating them with the CRM platform will gain you a competitive edge. With more customers staying connected at all times via social media, great volumes of data are being generated at high speed. Allow your organisation to tap into this data: additional fields and connectivity through links will help make your CRM truly social.

As your customers continue to become more and more mobile, so should your employees. Mobility is fast becoming an indispensable function in today’s corporate environment and companies need infrastructure that is capable of adapting to this. Working on the go, hot-desking or remote supervision are easy with a system that works equally well on a desktop computer, tablet or a mobile phone. Determine what accessibility features are the most important for enhancing productivity in your organisation and put them high on the list of your CRM requirements.

Last but not least is the ever-niggling question of plumping for a cloud-based solution or an on-premise deployment. The latter might be good for a company concerned with data security or ready to pay more up front to avoid greater total cost of ownership later. Yet for a start-up without a big budget, a cloud-based solution with its lower initial cost might be more tempting. Plus, it also allows for greater flexibility relating to the number of users. On the flip-side, on-premise systems are more customisable than their cloud counterparts. Finding a provider that offers the full range of options available – cloud, on-premise, rented cloud or hybrid deployments – is probably the best solution.

To sum up, there are five key issues you should be looking at when choosing a CRM system (or assessing the effectiveness of one already in place):

–       Number of users and areas of use

–       Integration with other systems

–       Social connectivity

–       Mobile access

–       Cloud or on-premise.

Following this will take some of the legwork out of the decision-making process, but taking too many shortcuts is never good. Treat this list as a starting point for asking more detailed questions relevant to your organisation. Write them down; make a table or a diagram. Take your time. Build a project team and incorporate employees from all departments. Listen to their voices. Be sure that all the effort will pay off. A well-chosen, tailored CRM platform will deliver.