CRM Systems: What Are They & How to Make the Right Choice?

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Automation of numerous processes in present-day business has become habitual. It’s hard to imagine stock and financial accounting without the use of specific advanced software. Sales representatives use mobile software on a regular basis to deal with making orders and sending them directly to the office. The majority of orders are processed automatically through the ready-made documents. However, interaction with the customers in small and medium-sized business is not automated to the full extent which leads to insufficient work of the enterprises and accounting in general.

What happens when a sales department works without proper customer relationship management? Each sales manager works on his or her own dealing with calls and emails of clients. Some of them fix these interactions on paper; some of them use Excel, and some of them have no intention to fix interactions at all.

Incoming calls from new potential customers and requests from the website are mostly not fixed at all making it hard to understand which manager deals with this or that request. As a result, the real-time accounting is only held on the level of booking, paying and sending the order. This gives no information about the productivity of the sales department, about the work with leads and requests, about contacts with regular and potential customers.

Moreover, because of this, the company can lose all unprocessed contacts in case if one of the managers is fired or sick-left. It’s highly undesirable for the effectiveness of sales management.

The best way out of this situation is automation and standardization of customer relationship. It means getting a proper CRM system.

This important steps will help you out with:

  1. Getting a standardized contacts’ database for the company (including entries of clients and counterparts).

  2. Effective work quality control of your sales management at any moment of time.

  3. Receiving statistics and analytics of work with the leads (incoming calls and online requests).

  4. Planning every step for further productivity and working out the strategy of your business development.

Overall, the process of choosing and integration of a CRM system is no harder than picking out any other type of software. I’ve already explained you how I deal with the choice and integration of software. Today I’m ready to devote the article to CRM systems, their specification and work.

What a CRM System Is?

CRM System

A CRM system implies any type of accounting that can simplify and strengthen your relationship with the customers. Even if you deal with it on paper or through Excel, it can also be called a CRM system. It’s OK if it’s productive, but you should understand that technological world of today desperately needs automation on all levels. The amount of customers is growing and their demands develop with the same speed. Any business needs automation to gain profit. That’s why when we speak about CRM systems we firstly mean special software.

Software developers often try to impose their opinion about what they call an advanced CRM system. The list of what they call “best” or “important” features fully corresponds to specifications of their personally developed software, but it doesn’t actually correspond to the needs of business’ owners. They’ve managed to realize a set of functions and try to convince potential buyers in the perfection of their product saying that a CRM system needs to be like this. Nevertheless, the choice is up to the client.

For example, one of my clients has his personal view on CRM. He needs only to keep track of contacts and stable interaction. Other functions have no importance to him, because he’s not planning to use them at all. However, developers of CRM systems will do their best to persuade you, that the wider the set of functions is, the better and more functional it becomes. In reality, the choice of a CRM fully depends on your needs and plans for your business development.

So, if you’re an owner of a small enterprise, your CRM system may include only such options as calls, emails and clients’ database. A beauty salon, for instance, will need one more option in addition to the basic ones – frequency of visits of each of the clients and their overall expenses. That’s important for productive interaction.

Our personal definition of a CRM system sounds like this:

A CRM system is any type of software that helps you to successfully control the work with your clients, regulate and plan it.

In middle-sized and small businesses, the most important issue is not to lose a client. It doesn’t actually matter on what level will the interaction be: Christmas and New Year greetings, birthday wishes or regular discounts through emails. Anything you do on a regular basis will help you control the amount of customers and their behavior thus making your relationship stable. Attract your customers’ attention and you’ll be paid back for your work. Any customer will be attracted by polite conversations, properly answered calls and requests through emails and more.

Who Needs CRM Systems?

Before you proceed with the choice of a CRM system you should make up your mind whether your business needs this system or not. Business owners (especially unexperienced ones) are often forced by software developers to buy this or that product. Do you actually need it or not?

Well, if the work of your business is based only on incoming calls and leads (requests) from new clients and if it’s important for you to widen your customers database, you’ll need a properly working CRM system. This will help you control the amount of your clients and their behavior.

For example, an internet shop, a wholesale company or a beauty salon won’t be effective without paying attention to leads (incoming calls and requests). In each of these enterprises, it’s highly important to proceed with all orders to make each of the clients satisfied with the service provided. This way your customers will stay loyal and faithful to you.

At the same time, if on a certain step of your business development you have no need in the increase of your clients’ activity (for example, the loyalty of your customers is based on official long-term relationships and face-to-face interactions), even the best CRM system will bring no changes to the financial expansion.

But when you actively develop your business, investing in advertising, suggesting new specific options to attract more clients, a CRM system will help you out a lot.

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Why Are CRM Systems Important?

What does a CRM system give? Any one dealing with business knows the general concept of a CRM. However, not everyone realizes to what extent it can actually be helpful. The number of clients in small businesses is not big and sales management is carried out by just a couple of specialists. At first, it looks like there’s no big deal controlling this amount of clients without a CRM system. That’s not true. In fact, integration of a CRM system reveals a ton of drawbacks and weaknesses in the work of your management. That’s a key to proficiency and growing income.

You’ll need a CRM system:

  1. To keep your potential clients interested and not to miss incoming calls and requests. We’ve got a high competitiveness between small and medium-sized businesses in our country. Companies do their best to attract clients, to stand out of the crowd of similar enterprises. You’ll have to invest quite a lot to become unique. It’s important not to spend your investments for nothing. Automatic systems add confidence to the work of sales management. You’ll have each incoming call and request fixed. No lead will be left without your attention.

  2. To control the work of your staff and standardize the work with the customers. Without a properly organized CRM system, each member of your staff works the way he got used to work. Some of them fix steps of their work on paper, some do it using electronic tables. Some don’t care about fixation and planning trusting their memory. It makes work with contacts chaotic. Because of this, your clients may get letters from your official email address as well as from the private ones of your staff. It’s the same with phone calls. The control of quality is impossible in this situation. A CRM helps to get hold of this trouble. All information will be kept in one database being accessible to all members of your staff.

  3. To accumulate statistics, which is very important for further business development. Thanks to the use of CRM systems, all business intelligence and information will be accumulated in one database in a standardized way. This way the head or the chief manager has a chance to follow and analyze statistics thus creating various reports (however, some of the highly developed CRM systems can create reports automatically). This way you’ll have conscious planning.

  4. To take ready-made decisions, that you can use as a base to create your own working system. Each CRM system is a developers’ vision of how they want to be treated as customers. It consists of numerous tools and instruments to bring work on a new level. For example, a telephony integrated CRM system allows to fix all phone calls and save new contacts analyzing the statistics of work with the leads. In small and middle-sized business, it’s usually the owner who works as the head and the chief manager. He does not have experts or personal experience in organizing work with customers. The head has no actual support in this question, that’s why his sales management works far from satisfactory. CRM system integration is a lot more than a tool – it’s an unfailing help and support. It’s the developers’ vision of how customers should be treated. In the process of creation a CRM system, developers usually base on special experts’ experience in questions of communication with customers. This will optimize your sales management. Various tools of the system give you hints on how to do it the best way possible.

Besides, the user of a CRM system will get a ton of other useful options that vary depending on the system you decide to purchase. However, the four options mentioned above are the basic ones and the most vital for the small and middle-sized business. They are the base of every standard CRM system you may find on software market.

How to Choose a CRM System?

The main thing in choosing a CRM system is to make sure it has all functions you need in the process of your work.

If you’re mostly interested in telephone calls, pick out a version with telephony integration. If most part of your leads get through your website, one of the most important criteria will be the possibility of integration of the chosen CRM system with your CMS.

For the rest, quite a lot depends on your tastes and recommendations of specialists. If a specialist dealing with integration of your CRM system suggests you certain software with all desired functions for reasonable price, it looks like there’s no lying here and you can trust him and his opinion. The first product that specialists advise is usually something trustworthy. This will be an advantage on the first step of integration.

It’s hard to learn the working principles and technical specifications of a CRM system using only videos or a trial software version. Each system has numerous peculiarities and nuances that you can learn only in the process of working with the system. However, there are key elements that you should pay attention to while making a choice.

Well, the first main thing here is the decision to integrate a CRM system into your business. Next step is to deal with your preferences and desired specifications. If you have no idea what to choose, get help from experienced CRM specialists.

SaaS or Stand-Alone – Data Cloud or Your Own Server?

CRM System

There are two types of CRM systems based on two various technologies:

  • Saas (or software as a service).

This CRM type keeps your database on a provider’s web server. You get online access to the system through a browser, a client-program or a mobile application. All processes are held from the side of your provider.

  • Standalone version implies the license for installation and usage of the product.

You get a solution installed on your personal server. If you wish, you get updates and additional options from the developer of the chosen CRM system.

If you’re up to SaaS, get ready for some restrictions. You won’t have a chance to alter the system yourself, because all software tools and solutions are controlled by the provider. Generally, such CRM systems allow you to set up the access rights for your staff, integrate some additional options (like getting data from the website or a possibility to save info about the incoming calls), change the layout with the help of the construction tool, manage the reports, etc. But all of this will be kept on the servers of your CRM system developers.

It’s also important to realize that with SaaS you’ll have to provide constant and stable internet connection. It’s natural that internet is tightly linked to any type of business nowadays. Absence of connection slows down a lot of business processes. The optimal solution is getting an additional back-up internet channel.

One more key issue with SaaS solution is a necessity to pay some extra money in case if you need a database backup or any other additional services.

Advantages of SaaS:

  1. You don’t need your personal server for the software;

  2. You won’t have to deal with updates on your own – that’s the responsibility of your provider. You just use your software and that’s all.

Stand-Alone version is a solution purchased and installed on your personal server. It gives you a possibility to alter the program code on your own (within the developer’s framework, of course). This access level may be very useful in certain cases, when you make up your mind to work with non-typical solutions.

But in most cases, Stand-Alone solutions have no specific value for the small and medium business. Necessity in significant changes and alterations will be very unlikely. SaaS version is more widespread.

Telephony Integration

Any CRM system should have telephony integration. If you don’t have a chance to control incoming and outcoming calls, this will be a huge drawback. That’s why you should pay special attention to this option and the way it is realized when you choose CRM software.

You’d think that you can save data about calls manually. However, experience shows that this method doesn’t work. It will be annoying for your staff to deal with additional non-paid work. Besides, people may be forgetful while dealing with loads of work. Important calls can be simply missed and forgotten because of the human factor.

API Integration: Ready-Made Solutions

Any kind of business deals with various web services for convenient work with requests, accounting and keeping documents. When choosing a CRM system check if there are API solutions for integration with your website, 1С data exchange, IT-telephony, and other programs and services necessary for you. A built-in API integration is a great advantage.

Customer relationship is usually made up of the following components:

  1. Phone calls;
  2. Emails;
  3. SMS and email subscription newsletters;
  4. Meetings.

The first three components should be automated. They let you know more about history of your relationship with the customer and help you understand on what exact level of relationship you are now.

Planning & Tasks

While choosing a CRM system it’s also important to check if there’s a possibility of planning in the system. For effective work, you’ll have to regularly assign the tasks and control your staff’s work. That’s the key element of successful planning. Members of your staff should be able to assign tasks to each other as well and send various notifications to each other.

In addition to customer support, a CRM system should have all necessary instruments to control the process of communication between the members of your staff. Giving them unlimited possibilities to contact with each other as well as with your customers is not enough. If you’re a thoughtful head of the company, you should be able to follow your staff’s working process.

Users of the system should be able to set tasks for themselves and for each other. These tasks can be connected with customer service, accounting, and other useful issues. One more practical function is a possibility to set up the tasks manually and make them pop up automatically once in a certain period of time. Or, in case if you’ve got a new client (a new lead), the system will automatically set up a task for one of your staff members making him or her contact one of your potential customers online or by phone.

SMS Service Integration

Bulk SMS sending service is also important for all clients, for certain groups of contacts, or for single contacts (notifications about certain actions). There are no ready-made solutions for integration with bulk SMS services. It can be done within the business process or through API.

Data Import

Have a closer look at possibilities of importing data in a CRM system. In what format is the information imported? Is there a built in migration module and what systems does it work with? Should the information be formatted in some way before transferring?

You should learn how to deal with the initial data import before the first launch of your CRM system.

It’s very essential for the data import to be done fast, simple and transparent. Without an automated transfer of data, contacts and other vital information, the first launch of the system will result in failure. Of course, data import can be fully done manually, but it will take too much time and it’s quite hard for an inexperienced user. Besides, manual data import can result in duplication of records and complete mess in the end.

Licensing: Open Source or Proprietary Architecture?

CRM System

The difference between Open Source and proprietary architecture is that in the first case, you get the open code system, and in the second case, you get a closed version. It’s evident that we mean Stand-Alone software products, because each SaaS system has a closed code by default.

Proprietary (closed code) architecture is primarily sold by reputable and successful developers. In this case, you get a powerful system that can slightly be changed and configured within the limits settled by the developer. There’s nothing bad at it, because if you’re an owner of a small or middle-sized business you won’t need any specific or non-typical solutions and additions to your system.

Open Source license (open code system) is based on an already existing CMS. In this case, you get a wide range of integration possibilities and work with your website or with any other system. Nevertheless, such CRM modules have certain drawbacks in comparison to CRM systems, developed specifically for customer relationship management.

Contacts & Counterparts

When choosing a CRM system, pay special attention to directories and the way they’re structured. If you deal with individuals only, one level will be enough – a contact (a client). You won’t need deeply structured categories – any type of simple database structure will do.

It’s absolutely another thing when you deal with legal entities. In this case, each of your contacts implies an organization. That’s why such an entry in your database will contain additional entries for different staff members of this organization: accountant, logistician, storekeeper, chief manager, etc. What really matters here is a possibility to create a separate entry card for each of the contact persons (counterparts). Then all these entries should be united into one general contact (organization). It’s highly important, because this is the only way to structure the automated work with your customers.

Pricing Policy

Any businessman willing to use some software for further development starts questioning himself about the price. How much does he have to invest? While comparing the prices of various CRM systems you need to know that numbers you see on websites are only a part of all expenses. The first thing we need to learn is what makes up a price of a CRM system and how much you’ll have to invest in the integration.

The full price of the product comprises:

  1. License cost. It’s the money you pay for access to the cloud-based solution or for the one copy of the product.

  2. Data transfer into the system. You’ll definitely have to find a way to transfer contacts and other data to the system. If you have no experience in it, you’ll have to get a professional for help.

  3. Additional payments for final optimization. Even if it’s a single – box SaaS version solution, you’ll have to deal with additional settings and improvements. You’ll have to set up the access rights, reports, tasks, etc.

  4. Maintenance fee.

Moreover, quite a lot of buyers ignore an important but not obvious issue. It’s about financial loss in the transition period. When you start using a CRM system, you may come across unpredictable difficulties due to the lack of experience. It means that you may lose some of your contacts and leads.

Integration of any type of software is often followed by some initial temporary difficulties. Even if a supplier of your software product says that it’s fully ready to use after the purchase, it’s practically just the other way round. You’ll have to deal with some technical difficulties or initial imperfections of the system. Besides, you’ll meet issues connected with human component (it’s just that members of your staff are still learning to use the new system they’ve never tried before).

Furthermore, you’ll experience unplanned expenses in the process of integration of a CRM system. For instance, your staff will have to devote a part of the working time to learn how to get hold of the system. They’ll have to check whether everything is stable and convenient. Besides, the chief manager of your company will need to devote time for solving questions arousing in the process of integration. He will be responsible for control matters.

If you realize that you’ll have to experience additional expenses in the process of integration, you’ll be ready to devote your time and patience to the initial complications. You’ll be able to plan how to minimize losses and to deal with this process with minimum trouble.

License Cost

Depending on the type of a chosen CRM system, there are different possibilities to get a license. You’ll be able to:

  1. Purchase the unlimited license.
  2. Purchase a license for a certain period of time (month, year, etc.)
  3. Purchase a copy of the program for further installation on your personal server.

The unlimited license is usually purchased once and it works on a regular basis. It’s convenient, but you’ll have to invest quite a lot in this purchase.

If you purchase a license for a certain limited period of time, you won’t have to pay that much, but you’ll have to deal with regular additional payments to get further access to your CRM system.

When comparing the costs for different types of licenses you need to consider marketing hooks. The sellers of CRM systems often attract the buyers with the minimal price, however, they never comment on additional conditions or payments you’ll have to make to get full access to the system. You might pay a lot more for the system than you’ve originally intended to.

Cost of Final Set Up & Launch of the System

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Work with the settings, final touches and launch of the software should also be considered as a part of the price you pay for a CRM system.

You’ll need to:

  1. Install the software (after the purchase of the program you’ll have to face a lot of work with the server set up and more; in case if you use a SaaS solution, you’ll have to deal with the installation on mobile devices).

  2. Configure the users’ groups and set up the access rights for the staff members.

  3. Integrate the CRM system into other services and programs (configure data exchange with the website, 1c databases, telephony, etc.).

  4. Transfer the data from the other systems and programs.

It’s quite common among the users of CRM systems to ignore the expenses on data transfer. That’s a critical mistake. Data transfer is one of the most significant expenses when you start using a system. You’ll have to take the data out of your existing system and transfer it to the new one without losses. You’ll have to standardize the entries, check everything for mistakes and duplications. Only then you’ll be able to transfer all this to a newly installed CRM system.

Remember that further improvements are inevitable. Even if you get a single-box software solution. Besides, if you have no experience, you’ll need to find a specialist to get rid of further complications.

What improvements do I need for a SaaS solution?

For one thing, if you decide to use a SaaS solution, you’re not getting access to the programmer’s code. Looks like there’s nothing that you can handle in matters of improvement, right? Well, not quite. On the other side, SaaS platforms give wide possibilities to configure various forms and reports, business processes, rights of the users, customization of the working system and more. Nevertheless, this work should also be trusted to a professional.

Then, you’ll also need an integration of the CRM system with your website, programs, telephony, etc. Leave it for the specialist as well and add it to your expenses.

Standalone solutions need additional investments: purchase and rent of the server, initial set-up, getting extra software. It’s important to understand that with a Standalone version you only get a copy of the program. No matter what you have to add in the process of working with it, you’ll have to pay for it as well.

Maintenance

Any system may have drawbacks and you’ll also have to deal with it. Especially if you’re an owner of a Standalone solution. Maintenance – is a specialist’s work aimed to fix the drawbacks. And this is also should be paid for.

When you choose a SaaS solution, you may probably do without any maintenance at all, or it will cost you small charge. But you shouldn’t be afraid – a properly set up and tuned software will be stable and won’t need any maintenance in case if you don’t try to experiment with it on your own.

Why SaaS systems don’t need constant maintenance:

  1. Systems like these are generally well established. They’re constantly monitored by experienced professionals and workability of these systems is unquestionable.

  2. Functionality of such systems is very restricted. From the one hand, it may sound like a massive drawback, but from the other hand, it’s a huge advantage, because you won’t have chances to experiment with them. They are created for a certain range of tasks.

  3. The interface of such systems is intuitive and accessible for a wide range of users, even for unexperienced ones. You won’t have to seek for a specialist to learn how it works, especially, for the basic tools.

We want to remind you that small and medium sized business usually work better with SaaS CRM solutions. They economize time for the integration and maintenance. Besides, they won’t take much time to get used to – your staff members will be pleased.

Bottom Line

We didn’t intend to make this article a step-by-step detailed description of CRM systems and the way they work. We just wanted to make some of the troublesome questions clear. We meant to give a brief description, to say how and to whom it may be helpful and to facilitate the process of choosing the right one. We also described the basic functionality of CRM systems and use of these functions in small and middle-sized business. We hope we’ve managed to make these questions clear.

There’s a ton of information about peculiarities of various CRM systems. It’s not the first and the last time we get back to this question. Here and now, we’ve just tried to get you acquainted to the basic features and knowledge about CRM working principles.