Nimble SCRM Man JugglingThere are a bewildering array of applications in the Customer Relationship Management CRM and Contact Management System category.

Recent discussions with a prospect highlighted to me that the CRM selection processes that small businesses, solo entrepreneurs and autonomous sales people are faced with is very similar to the selection process that much larger companies go through. And I say that based on 25 years experience selling application solutions to medium and large organisations.

I hope the following comments and advice will save time in the CRM selection process, and help you to reach a better decision and CRM choice for your business.

There is just so much to choose from…

There is now so much choice in the CRM apps category that there is a danger of being like a ‘kid in a candy shop’. And I say that from personal experience, having been down this route for myself!

A generation ago in the 1980s when CRM started (contact management in those early days) the choice for small and mid-sized businesses was mainly between Goldmine, ACT or Maximiser. Relatively straight forward. Also, you’d probably buy through a local organisation who’d help with installation and provide ongoing support.

What’s changed in the CRM arena?

Now, in the Internet enabled Sales 2.0 world there are two big changes.

1. User requirements for Sales Support Systems.

OK, sales is sales, relationship building is relationship building. But the devil is in the detail. So, I suggest, define your sales process, and prioritise what you ‘must have’ and what’s ‘nice to have’. Also list other related applications that are essential or peripheral. For example, are you using windows or mac, what phones, your email system (Outlook, Gmail etc), email newsletter software (ie. Mailchimp), social media networks you use, like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and so on.

2. Marketing & Sales Application choices.

Hosted, Cloud, SaaS has increase innovation in two ways:

  •  into more specialised niches as developers can reach a national or global market more easily
  • and also the rate of development and launch. New function is introduced every day, not a release change once or twice a year as previously. New apps in the broad CRM category are being launched daily too it seems.

Draw up a short-list of Contact Management System applications

The Internet makes it very easy to do your research online to find a long-list of possible applications. From that you can refine down to a short-list. I’d recommend doing this based on which Contact Management Systems suit your sales processes. For example:

  • If your business is ecommerce, to the retail or consumer (B2C), with a high volume of lower value transactions, then choose and short-list a Customer Relationship Management that specialises in that. Look for integration with your stock control and financials back-end. Look for the strengths in mass-marketing in the software capability.
  • If you sell to other businesses and have a low volume of high value deals then short-list Sales Contact Management Systems that support contact by email, telephone and face-to face activities, plus social media if that’s likely to be important to you. Check that it can support  the structures for multiple decision-makers within a company. Check how it handles sales forecasts for your products and services. Consider the new business and the account management sides, and team based selling too.

Find out where the vendor specialises. Look at their website, see who else is on their customer list, and any case studies. Check which other apps they interface with for signs of specialisation, by sector or market.

Generic ‘all things to all people’ CRMs can be a recipe for grief for people running smaller businesses. They may lack functionality that you want. They may have lots of capability you don’t want. They may take a lot of complex configuration, for example to tailor the screen displays to show the fields you want. Major companies can configure and customise CRM systems, and build additional modules. People running small business should be aware of the implementation and usage issues of choosing a poor fit CRM solution.

Check the company, not just the software

And finally, do your due diligence on the development company.

  • Check the likely direction, resources and ambition of the short-listed CRM system company.
  • What are the backgrounds and passions of the founders? Check their CVs on LinkedIn!
  • Which major apps do they interface with, that are relevant to you.
  • How well funded are they?
  • How good is their support?
  • Do they have a good developer and reseller network, because these partners will fuel the development and roll-out, so you get more choice and options in the future, to extend your core contact management system or CRM over time.

With the rate of change of software, new features, functions and enhancements will be brought out by the progressive suppliers, or by their partners.

But, if the supplier does not have the ambition, resources or alignment with your direction, you may well find the software does not keep pace with your needs, or with other technology and apps, or with the market.

Two essential Sales Contact Management System selection criteria

Will you ‘enjoy’ using the Contact management System?

Acid test 1 – you and other users, particularly those in contact with customers, need to ‘enjoy’ using the Relationship Management system.

  • If you do then you’re much more likely to get benefit.
  • If you don’t, you will use it reluctantly or not at all, and you will use other apps instead, or revert to manual systems.

Avoid repeating the mistakes of large companies. There are many examples of failed Customer Relationship Management system implementations, where sales people did not use the system, and benefits were not achieved.

Will the Sales Support System help you sell better?

Acid test 2 – the CRM needs to deliver benefits and increase your productivity, increase your selling time, and focus your sales time.

Will the sales relationship system help you to identify who you should be spending your selling time with? If it does, it has the potential to help you increase your sales significantly.

What is the value of choosing the right CRM or Sales Contact Management system?

There’s often a fine line between winning a sale or deal, or not. The winner gets 100% of the spoils. The loser gets 0%

What if you could double your sales, with the right sales support system?

  • Being able to give 100% to the key deals, and key decision-makers has a positive impact on conversion rates. If you could increase conversion from 4 wins out of 10 bids, to 6 wins out of 10 bids that has a big benefit, increasing sales by 50%.
  • Being able to give 100% to a greater number of winnable deals is the next level. If you could manage 15 bids rather than 10 in any time period, even at a 40% win rate you’re ahead. If you can also achieve a 60% conversion you’ve effectively doubled your sales – from 4/10 to 9/15.

When you look at it like that, it makes selection, implementation and training to use a new CRM system much more valuable.

What is the best CRM system?

Best is a very difficult question when it comes to sales and marketing software and applications.

  • Questions on discussion forums that ask ‘What’s the best CRM system?’ make me smile.
  • Magazine and website reviews that provide ratings that identify ‘The best CRM’, or ‘Best in Class/Category’ are useful, if kept in context.
  • I hear people say they’ve talked to their mate, friend, associate or other person who says ‘We’re using XYZ CRM, it’s the best’, or ‘My relative works for ABC CRM company, she says it’s the best’. Interesting, but would you bet your sales and business success on a casual anecdotal comment?

No CRM system is perfect

Being realistic, no CRM system is perfect. There will be some bugs. It will do some functions but not others. It will interface to some systems but not others.

Likewise, no CRM will be an exact fit for your business.You’ll want a really good fit for what’s essential, and be prepared to do things better, if that’s what the software supports.

At the end of the day, if you’ve worked out what you must have, where you’re prepared to compromise, identified a suitable long-list and narrowed it to a short-list, identified where you’re prepared to change your process to fit the software, and assessed the strength of the suppliers, you’ve done the best job you can.

Make your choice and commit to it

Having made your choice, commit to it, for a couple of years at least. Take time to learn the system and adapt your business where applicable.

Commit to use your new Contact Management or CRM system to its full to support your primary marketing and sales tasks and objectives.

It probably won’t be easy to change your behaviour, but if you’ve done your best in the selection, then commit to make it work for you.


Full disclosure – Wurlwind is a Nimble CRM Solution Partner based in Bristol, UK.