Today businesses of all sizes and across all industries are looking for ways to improve their internal business processes and get an edge over their competition.  Many have turned their attention to CRM software programs that are designed to automate the front end business processes that impact sales execution and customer service.  Selecting a CRM solution shouldn’t be all that hard and there are literally dozens of products to choose from, but that’s one of the problems.

CRM is a very broad term that encompasses everything from basic contact management programs to enterprise level systems that include accounting and ERP functionality.  As a result, anything that has to do with automating an internal business process falls under the label of CRM. Industry reports indicate that there are more than 400 CRM solutions to choose from today at price points that range from free to more than $200 per user per month.  To make matters more difficult, there are several options to consider with regard to how you will implement your CRM system.  Some systems can be installed on premise while others are only available as a hosted service or deployed under today’s popular cloud computing environment.  As you would expect, each one of these deployment options has advantages and disadvantages making your decision about selecting the right company, the right product and the right deployment model a daunting exercise.   It’s no wonder so many people are on the fence about their decision.  So what can you do to alleviate some of this pain and indecision?

What to do:

The first step is to get properly prepared.  Take the time to ask yourself why you are looking for a CRM solution and there should not be more than 2-3 reasons.   Outline where you are today, where you want to be and what it’s going to take to get there, but think basic and simple. Here is an example.   No one goes to a hardware store to buy a drill.  They buy a drill because they need a hole.  Now that’s thinking simple and addressing a specific requirement.   Most companies have three objectives for evaluating CRM software.  First, they want to capture, track, manage and share vital customer information with the people and departments that need it to efficiently do their jobs. Second is to automate and improve their internal sales processes so that they can better manage the sales pipeline and get an accurate sales forecast for a change.  Lastly, they want to improve their customers buying experience before, during and after the sale.   This is more than enough to think about and what you should focus your energy on. You can’t fix everything or predict the future so there is no need to worry about selecting a solution that has a hundred bells and whistles that you will most likely never use.

Next, think about the deployment of the solution. Do you want to manage and maintain it yourself on premise or would you prefer to place that burden on the back of the solution provider.  If you have an IT staff on board an on-premise solution may make sense and if you don’t then a hosted or cloud based offering may be best.  Lastly, don’t be afraid to thoroughly check out a company. How long have they been in business, what are customer’s saying about them, do they have a support staff that will answer the telephone when you call.  Sounds pretty basic doesn’t it, but you will be surprised how many CRM companies won’t pass this simple test.   CRM is an investment and you will need the support from the company you select to ensure you realize the maximum value from their solution and a return on your investment.

What to avoid:

Most companies have never purchased a CRM system before and are a bit nervous about making the right decision. One of the most common mistakes is to rely on the internet for your answer.  Here is what I mean.  Do a search for the best CRM system or the top rated CRM and here is what you will get.

You will see Microsoft,, Oracle and perhaps a few other companies that have paid dearly to capture the top listing on the page.  You might also think you hit pay dirt when you see the top 10, top 20 or top 40 CRM vendors.  These reports also simply list those CRM vendor’s that paid a fee to be in the report.   I am not suggesting that these reports have no value.  In fact they do and will help you to learn about the different offerings, the deployment options, their price points and how to learn more. I am simply pointing out that you should not make a decision for a CRM solution solely based on what you see or read in these reports.  Do your homework and if you are aware of a solution that is not listed in one of these reports do not rule them out until you have evaluated them as well.  You will make the right decision for your business if you are properly prepared.