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CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management. These systems historically manage and document your existing and future customer experiences including interactions, notes and details to ultimately manage your sales function, pipeline and create better account management.
Now CRMs can also take the place of an ERP system which can automate all your business process such as break-down your sales process between stages, manage invoices, stock or even host your HR system. Different CRM systems have different capabilities and you need to think about what your short, medium and long term requirements are before selecting which system is right for you.
Picking a CRM can be a daunting task as this should form the operational back bone of your whole business. Selecting and customising a CRM is one of the most important decisions for your business and should never be taken lightly.
Having built several businesses, and scaled one from a sole trader to 150 employees I’ve used a huge variety of different systems. Some have struggled to get the buy-in from teams with convoluted menus and poor functionality; others have helped me to revolutionise our business processes. Hopefully, sharing my experience will help you not to suffer from the same pitfalls!
In my mind you should only be considering cloud based applications especially with CRM. Cloud basically means that the CRM is hosted on a remote server and you can access it via web browser or a local app. The main point is that the application is maintained, backed up and updated by a specialist business and you do not have to be responsible for it. This leaves you free to focus on your primary business goals and not worrying about maintaining it yourself, as if things go wrong it will be backed up and it should be a case of just refreshing your browser!
These are still used today, but you will be responsible for backing up your data, upgrading the software, hosting your server and keeping it all healthy. Unless you are an IT company you need to give this a miss. These are becoming very unpopular these days with the advent of cloud computing.
If you have an offline system and your computer or server develops a fault or virus you could lose all your business information.
A bespoke system is usually a system you build yourself; you can build this online/offline in Excel, Access or in raw programming code.
This may seem like a cheap way to get a CRM but unless you are planning to sell the product you are creating its not worth the time and effort. No serious business would do this as its time taken away from growing and scaling your main business.
In some cases the creation process(es) could be more complex than your whole business model.
When you can buy a "off the shelf" cloud CRM for as little as £10/£20 a month per user you are buying technology that may have cost tens of millions and years of time to perfect. It's not possible to mirror this without a similar investment.
Some companies do provide or sell bespoke systems, these are very expensive and huge corporate companies like Dell, DPD, Facebook and Toyota off loading old bloated bespoke CRM packages and moving to cloud applications that are readily available to all businesses.
Almost all cloud applications now have an open API (Application programming interface) this allows you to bespoke it or connect it to other services later or when you need to creating your perfect bespoke CRM.
Is this business a lifestyle business? If this is a small business or a hobby, your business processes are not going to expand much or change, you would not have much need for resources or custom development. Something cheap like Zoho CRM or Pipeline Deals would be right for you, as they're easy to use, well documented with do-it-yourself guides. They can be quickly customised with little technical knowledge. However, there are limits to what you’re able to change.
If you have very specific requirements, or are planning rapid growth you may be better off going with a higher-powered option from the start. Whilst most budget CRMs do offer data export, it might not be worth the burden of having to retrain staff on new systems if you’re planning on switching later on it’s just best to start on the right platform.
I’ve personally used all of these CRMs, and they’re great if you are running on a tight budget. All of them offer robust export options if you ever want to move your data elsewhere.
1) One page CRM - £8 per month
One page is a very simple and functional CRM system. Its great for ease of use and for adoption within the business. It also plugs into a-lot of other programs to expand functionality.
2) Zoho CRM - £7.50 per month
Zoho is like a mini SalesForce (the industry-leader). It is fairly complex but has a very high level of customisation and functionality. It should be considered as a limited budget alternative to SalesForce.
3) Pipeline deals - £7.50 per month
Pipeline deals is a good CRM if you are building a reseller business or you have a sales heavy small organisation as most of its functionality is based around pipeline management.
If you are a serious business that wishes to expand rapidly I would recommend something a lot more scalable than the above options. Often I’ve found it’s best to spend a little more money on choosing the best platform to help you grow and scale rapidly. Whilst initially you might not be using the full functionality of an advanced CRM, you’ll find you quickly start to grow into it.
If you take this approach you are building a system as you build your business so it can feel like a bespoke product as its essentially tailored to your processes. Any custom work you build you can add to along the way.
To customise and build reports you can do this within the CRM functionality, to start you don't need any bespoke programming knowledge. If your business begins to scale dramatically you will benefit from some dedicated expertise as you expand beyond normal adoption and start thinking about process automation (integrating all your other systems). The earlier you adopt a CRM the easier it is to implement as it will be more embedded into your culture.
Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics and Infusionsoft are all big players in the CRM market and have legions of developers and partners on hand if it all gets too much and you need to buy in external expertise.
It may not be apparent what functionality you need right at the start which is why you should opt for something that has an open API (Application Programming Interface). This will allow it to talk to other services you may use like your phone system, accounting platform, website or customer loyalty schemes.
For example if you integrate your CRM with your phone system, you can click on the case or customer and instantly get access to the call. You can also highlight different types of calls at different sales stages to review weak points in your sales process.
A second example is integrating your payment gateway so all payments are automatically posted into the customers account and reconcile in realtime so you have accurate to the moment sales figures.
A lot of popular CRMs have the most popular services already connected into them. For example the market-leader Salesforce already has tens of thousands of prebuilt applications and connectors within its app exchange. (https://appexchange.salesforce.com)
It is certainly worth having a think about what services you wish to use and wether there is existing connections available.
For example, you may want to use Xero for your accounts, a cloud phone system, MailChimp for loyalty and SagePay for your payment gateway. With Salesforce, Dynamics and Infusionsoft these connectors are already built so you can bridge between the services to automate your process, remove human and system errors.
Automation of processes should be your final 'end game' this will save you time, money, recruitment, office space and pretty much everything I can think of would be optimised by connecting your applications together.
Before you make your decision have a live demonstration of all three big players:
Salesforce : https://www.salesforce.com
Microsoft Dynamics: https://www.microsoft.com/en-gb/dynamics/default.aspx
After years of using different CRMs, I’ve settled on Salesforce as the gold-standard for my businesses, this is simply because:
This means I can expand my business and automate my processes and always readily find resources to do this, and if I find a third party product i want to use the product owner will usually have already developed a free connector to automate the communication between their application and salesforce as its the biggest market leader with the largest commercial opportunity for them.
One final word... I have based this guide on general business types, if your business operates in a niche like dry cleaning, recruitment or pharmacy etc it might be worth looking into a specific product that is tailored from your industry out of the box. It's certainly worth checking around to see if there is a big player in that market and getting a free trial with a few so you can make an informed decision.
Hopefully, if you’re looking for a CRM you’ll find this helpful! What CRM are you using? Is it helping you drive your business forward? Let me know! If you have any questions, feel free to let me know.
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