Five Things to Look For in a New CRM Application

Posted on by Phil Simon

So, the customer relationship management (CRM) system that you purchased back in the 1990s has run its course. You’re thinking about going in a new direction but you don’t know where to start. What to do?

In this post, I discuss some of the considerations in potentially making the jump to a new CRM Note that I discussed this very topic with a few of the people profiled in The New Small. (OK, enough self-promotion. Get to the good stuff.)

You don’t have to be at your computer to use it.

You probably still do most of your heavy lifting while at a laptop or desktop. That’s all fine and dandy, but what happens if you need to add a customer, look something up, or run a basic report on the fly? Today more than ever, speed kills. You want to take your data and application with you. Most major and recently developed CRM apps (read: salesforce.com, Zoho, and NetSuite) all allow users to least for the basics

You can customize it—within reason.

Let’s face it: terminology matters. You might refer to a certain type of client as a prospect, not a lead. Different companies have often wildly different terms for ostensibly similar things.

I’ve written before about how not all customizations are created equal. Without getting too technical, there’s a major difference between minor tweaks changing the alias of a field in a web form and major ones—e.g., altering database tables and structures, changing the way that an application calculates revenue or some other metric, and other “back end” stuff. The cloud-based applications today allow everyday folks to make largely cosmetic changes without causing major problems for other people.

It doesn’t scale.

Your business might have a small number of customers or offices now. But what about in two years? In The New Small, I write about DODOcase, an iPad manufacturer that experienced explosive growth in a short period of time. The company exceeded $1M USD in sales with only four employees. We’re talking about thousands of customers, many of whom are not located in the US and, as such, don’t pay with US currency.

Make sure that your new CRM application supports growth. The last thing that you want to do is to have to move to yet another application while your business is expanding beyond your wildest dreams.

You can be an admin.

For the new application, no one wants to have to hire an IT specialist to administer security, add a new user, and the like. Make sure that super-users can easily grant different levels of access to different folks. No coding should be required; we’re talking about checking off forms, reports, and other elements to which people should—and should not—have access. Nor should disabling a user (such as a terminated employee) require a call to the hosting company.

You can get web-friendly reports out of it.

Reports are essential these days to view the current status of a marketing campaign, product launch, or PR-related event. Remember that people are no longer wedded to their computers. Blackberrys and iPhones may not be the best vehicle to download—much less analyze—a complicated Excel spreadsheet.

Make sure that at least reports can easily be generated—and viewed—on the web. Beyond that, make sure that you can easily export reports to different formats, including PDF, CSV, TXT, and XLS. You may need to do additional analysis on the data and no one wants to paste a PDF into Word and spend hours reformatting it.

Summary

By no means is this a comprehensive list, but this post has covered five major things to consider when thinking about switching to a new CRM. One last tip: New CRM applications don’t come with all of your old customer data preloaded. Yes, you can convert it, but understand that this may not be as easy with you think. Expensive? Perhaps. Time-consuming? Probably. Worth it? Absolutely. Garbage in, garbage out.

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Name: Phil Simon

Email: phil@thenewsmall.com

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About: Phil Simon is a sought-after speaker and the author of four management books. His fourth, the award-winning The Age of the Platform, is his most ambitious yet. A recognized technology expert, he consults companies on how to optimize their use of technology. His contributions have been featured on NBC, CNBC, Inc. MagazineBusinessWeekThe Huffington PostThe Globe and MailFast Company, the American Express Open Forum, ComputerWorld, Technorati, ZDNet, ABC News, Forbes, The New York Times, ReadWriteWeb, and many other sites.