In today's competitive business world, making the most of resources is a must. Without the ability to do more with less, survival is not guaranteed. When used efficiently, customer relationship management (CRM) has proven to be a valuable solution for manufacturing business leaders who have fixed their sights on resource maximization.
It is commonly believed that the success of a CRM system rests solely on the quality of its software. That is partially true -- software is important. But without an understanding of how the software will be used to reduce costs, acquire customers and maintain relationships, a company will probably not see results.
The bottom line is that it is crucial to find the CRM solution that is right for your company.
If you are the type of person who has a burning need for every bell and whistle, you might want to reassess your priorities when shopping for a CRM system. Otherwise, you will find yourself fastened to a solution that is unwieldy, unused and completely out of your price range.
Assess how many users you need your CRM package to accommodate. The more users you require, the more intricate your system needs to be. Simplicity is critical to usage, so overkill is definitely something to avoid.
It is also important to analyze how your system will impact your business and sync your package to meet its needs rather than trying to change your operation to accommodate unneeded features. For example, if you only need to forecast sales one, three and six months in advance, don't bother with a package that includes a highly advanced sales reporting system, no matter how much the flashy demo makes you drool.
For example, if a pharmaceutical manufacturing or distribution company was in the market for a system with the capacity to synchronize data correctly with company growth, its leaders would have to make sure to find the right system to accommodate its needs. When a customer service representative enters an order, a remote salesperson should be able to synchronize and review it before getting back in contact with the customer. The accounting department should be able to customize searches and quickly look up customer records before calling with a billing question. In addition, it would be useful if the system was also able to project workflow. At a company such as this, shipments might come in on an inconsistent basis, so an ideal new feature would allow for projection of the size of a shipment to arrive at the company's distribution center so the company can plan resources accordingly.
For most businesses, cost is the place where the rubber meets the road with a major investment such as CRM. The trick is to spend enough to make the investment worthwhile, but not so much that it breaks the budget. When analyzing the price of a CRM package there are two important points of concern: Software and service costs.
The cost of CRM software is based on the number of users who will use the system and the number of required add-on modules. The best way to manage the cost of your system is to accurately review who needs access to the system, as well as the features that are absolute necessities. In many cases, additional modules can be added later, if needed.
Service and implementation costs are less obvious, but just as important as the cost of the software itself. After you've purchased the software, someone must implement CRM into the life of your business. You can do this in-house, but be aware that there is still a cost associated with using internal resources for implementation. If you do not know your way around CRM yet, in-house implementation can be extremely costly. A more amenable option may be to employ the services of an outside integrator or partner. If you decide to go with this option, make sure you get price quotes for basic implementation, advanced customization and everything in between.
Ease of Use
Another important consideration when choosing a CRM solution is how difficult it will be for the end-users, or the people in your business who actually use the system on a regular basis. The goal is for the end-users to embrace the solution as a vital tool to achieve their objectives. That will not happen if the system is overly cumbersome or complex. Ask yourself if you can envision your end-users easily adapting CRM to their specific applications. Better yet? ask them. By involving the end-users in the selection process, you are investing them in the system from the beginning and dramatically increasing the odds that they will buy into the system after it has been implemented.
While the flexibility of your system might not be a deal breaker, it is still something you need to consider because the ability to customize your system will impact your ability to achieve desired results. Specifically, there are two areas in which it is important to assess your system's customization capability: Basic field changes and advanced customizations. The ability to perform basic field changes such as "home phone" to "mobile phone," or to add business types is fairly common among most CRM systems. However, to perform more advanced modifications such as the integration of customized product tables, you will need a system with a little more flexibility.
Determining the flexibility of a CRM system can be complicated because advanced customizations are sometimes possible even in relatively basic systems. The best approach is to know upfront which customizations you need and make sure your system is capable of handling them before you purchase the product.
The ability to customize might not seem crucial at first, but it can become a deciding factor in effectiveness as employees use a system. Companies with complex sales and business models need CRM solutions capable of adapting to a constantly changing environment. For example, if a manufacturing company grows in size, having a customizable CRM solution in place will allow it to adapt more easily to the new needs of the business.
Finally, you will need to decide how to deploy CRM to end-users. There is a number of ways to accomplish this, each with its own risks and benefits.
Web Vs. Windows
The two primary avenues for CRM delivery are web-based and Windows/network-based. Web-based solutions can be accessed via any standard internet connection, allowing for accessibility to users in and out of the office. With wireless internet connections popping up everywhere from coffee shops to hotels, this is a popular option for businesses on the go.This type of solution would ensure that workers out of the office have access to necessary, real-time information on prospects and contacts.
Windows/network-based solutions are more reliable and more secure, but lack the easy portability of their web-based counterparts. Remote capabilities can be added to a Windows/network-based system so that users in the field still have the CRM system on their laptops, even though they lack the real-time capability provided by an Internet connection.
Hosted Vs. On Premises
Another decision you will need to make is how to store data. From a cost perspective, paying a provider to host your data on the Web is initially attractive because it eliminates the initial hardware investment necessary to store your data internally. For a nominal monthly fee, a host provider will take care of your data storage needs for you.
If you have made a long-term commitment to CRM, you may want to consider an on-premises data storage solution. On-premises solutions are more secure and more cost-efficient when you consider the cumulative cost of monthly hosting fees. You should be aware, however, that transferring your data from a web host to an internal server can be complex, so if you plan to add on-premises storage capability at a later date, make sure you have an upfront understanding of the data migration process from your web hosting service.
By keeping these key factors in mind before investing in and installing a CRM solution, business leaders can avoid hitches in the future and ensure a see a greater deal of efficiency and profit.
Mike Santoro is the marketing manager for Technology Advisors, Inc., business solutions consulting company based in Des Plaines, Ill. Technology Advisors has provided CRM solutions since 1991 through business advisory, implementation, customization, training and support services for the top CRM technology. For more information, please visit www.techadv.com.