CRM – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
There is a tendency among those of a technical persuasion towards the habit of obfuscation by acronym.
What I mean is that some techies – and you know who you are – will always prefer to use a series of initials rather than the words themselves because it confers upon them an air of knowledge, expertise and, one might even say, mystery. But then some techies – and you know who you are – really ought to get out more.
(Which reminds me – a colleague who used to work in television recounts the tale of a cameraman who used a piece of equipment known as a “V.I.A.” From time to time, he would call for his “V.I.A.” which would puzzle those who hadn’t heard the term before. When asked what it meant, he would reply that it stood for, “Vertical Interface Adapter”. When said piece of equipment arrived, it turned out to be nothing more than a wooden box which, because the cameraman wasn’t very tall, he used to stand on. He also had something of a twinkle in his eye.)
But enough of all that nonsense. Today, we’re going to talk about CRM databases, what they are, what it stands for, who they’re for and what choices there are out there in the wild.
First off, there’s lots of ‘em. Some good. Some really not very good at all. So how do you make sure you pick the right one for your organisation and not one that’s going to become a pointless waste of time?
Well, read on, of course. Read on.
CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management and while it is at heart a database, it is a pretty fancy-pants database with a ton of built-in functionality designed to enhance and streamline interaction with your customers. It pulls together information regarding phone calls, emails, live chat, business processes, social media and so forth, and drives forward integrated sales and marketing strategies, as well as ongoing customer support, to ensure that all levels of your organisation know precisely what your customers’ needs are at any given time.
Some CRM products are more advanced than others and some offer a greater degree of customisation. What is right for you will depend to an extent on the size of your business, the size of your budget and whether or not you want a product that can grow with you as your business develops.
While some CRM products are hosted locally on a server, the drift towards the cloud is inexorable and almost certainly unstoppable. Cloud hosting has many advantages – have a look at our Cloud Hosting page for a bit more info – but there are those who still feel more comfortable knowing that their data is being stored on a box that is completely under their control and not reliant upon a third party. Fair enough, although the choices for locally hosted CRM packages are likely to become fewer and fewer as time goes by.
Let’s take a look at some examples.
Salesforce has been around for a long time now and was one of the first cloud-based CRMs to be offered as Software as a Service (SaaS). It is a hugely popular product and Salesforce is one of the most highly valued cloud computing organisations in the world. It is also the biggest selling CRM package in the world. Salesforce comes with an array of cloud-based tools that help sales, customer service and marketing teams improve efficiency and increase productivity. It offers add-on applications for mobile workers in the field as well as a bunch of other add-ons to suit the needs of pretty much any enterprise. In terms of price, Salesforce is extremely competitive – their basic package starts at £17 per month per user for up to five users.
So what’s not to like?
In truth, many people love it, especially those whose work is predominantly sales driven. However, it is not without its issues. The back end platform is bloated and in need of updating. Many say that it is not intuitive to use and the interface could do with improvement. While Salesforce is a work in progress and is continually being developed, it appears to be something of a victim of its own success. It’s so large now that development can be painfully slow. However, when it comes to choosing a CRM package, Salesforce is a genuine contender.
Microsoft Dynamics CRM is another big hitter with the enormous weight of the Microsoft ecosystem behind it. As you might expect, it integrates seamlessly with all other Microsoft offerings, as well as social media. It’s available in both on-premise and cloud formats and is not only extremely customisable but also scalable from one or two users up to mega enterprises with hundreds of employees.
In contrast to Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics CRM is frequently updated with improvements and new features which can, for some, mean that the learning process never stops. But for those who specialise in the field, the opportunities for developing and integrating other applications are plentiful, operating as it does on the .NET framework.
In terms of pricing, the sheer number of options available can make you go quite cross-eyed, but broadly speaking, it’s a more expensive option than Salesforce.
Act! Is another venerable CRM that’s been around in one form or another for nearly thirty years. Aimed at small to medium enterprises, it lacks the range of features of the two big boys already mentioned and is struggling to keep up in what is becoming an increasingly competitive market. Its interface is beginning to look dated and it’s not necessarily the most intuitive application to use. However, while it has slipped from being a true CRM to something more like a turbo-charged contact manager, it does offer cloud as well as on-premise versions and it integrates well with email applications. And it remains pretty popular – for the time being at least.
GoldMine is another offering aimed at smaller organisations and, like Act!, is more of a Contact Manager than a fully-fledged CRM. It’s on-premise only so if you’re wedded to the principle of the cloud, you’ll have to look elsewhere. It too has been around for a long time and may now be suffering as a result of new kids on the block who are taking advantage of all the whistles, bells and functionality that the cloud has to offer. But it’s still popular, integrates well with other applications and the learning curve is not as steep as with some other products. Not the cheapest on offer though so you may well want to do some price comparisons.
Zoho CRM is completely cloud based and represents just one of a suite of business applications from Zoho. Its most attractive feature – at first glance anyway – is that it’s FREE for up to ten users. And while the free version is cut-down, it still offers an impressive list of features. If you’re looking at something a little more feature-rich or for more users, then it will cost you in the region of $15 to $35 per user per month – which compares well with the competition.
But is it any good?
Well, it’s certainly not the prettiest interface out there but it does offer plenty of sales, email marketing, reporting, and customer service power. Its greatest strength comes from its integration with both native and third party apps, although not all of those are free, meaning one can see one’s monthly spend increasing at an alarming rate if not careful. It integrates very well with Google Apps if that’s your organisation’s choice for email and calendar and while it’s not the most intuitive CRM, it does offer a good deal of configuration options and packs in a surprising number of features. Its mobile apps aren’t brilliant though, so if you have a lot of workers out in the field, you might want to look elsewhere.
Nimble, Nutshell and Insightly are all more recent cloud-based offerings that leverage the power of social media. Modern communication, be it personal or business, tends to be spread across multiple platforms these days and all three are excellent at keeping track of your various strings of conversation, consolidating it all into something meaningful and manageable. All three are solidly aimed at small organisations and sole proprietors, so probably not the choice if you’ve got 250 staff. But in terms of price and functionality, it’s hard say definitively that one is better than the other. At the end of the day, it comes down to personal preference, so it’s good that they all offer free trial versions.
SugarCRM is an interesting beast inasmuch as up until 2014 it was open source. Since then…not quite so interesting. Like all CRMs, it has a loyal fan base but it’s not the cheapest and you’re required to commit to a minimum of ten users per month which has to be paid annually upfront rather than monthly. It does offer a demo version for you to play with before you commit to that spend, but it’s limited to seven days, so you better get a move on.
SugarCRM is certainly as feature-packed as the competition, offering sales automation and forecasting, marketing lead management, support automation and call centre automation among other things. But it ain’t easy to use or set up and the reality is that your organisation is probably going to need someone who knows their way around it who can dedicate themselves to its administration and management. SugarCRM doesn’t have native integration with many popular external apps so you’ll need to use Zapier to hook into them so again, you need someone who knows their way around under the bonnet.
All in all then, probably not the right fit for small to medium enterprises but worth looking at by large organisations with a dedicated IT department. And it’s worth noting that SugarCRM’s customer service and support is reckoned to be first class.
Apptivo CRM is something of a rising star in the firmament. Priced very competitively at just $10.00 per user per month for their premium plan, Apptivo CRM is highly configurable, feature rich, user friendly and integrates well with a whole array of apps. Apptivo doesn’t offer just CRM; it offers an extensive array of its own apps, all of which you can choose to plug in to the CRM package to make it work exactly the way you want it to. It’s cloud only, although that shouldn’t put anyone off given quite how much of a one-stop solution it can be. There’s a compatible mobile app for both Android and iPhone for workers on the move which is just as configurable as the desktop version.
Customer service is available 24/7 via online chat which is reckoned to be helpful and responsive.
All-in-all Apptivo is giving the major players a run for their money and, because it is so easily and comprehensively modifiable, it’s a serious contender for any organisation, large or small.
One final important note about all of these CRM packages, from the smallest and most user-friendly to the biggest and most complex, is that you have to put in the legwork with them all in order to get the best out of them.
You have to input all of the right information in all of the right places in order to get all of the right data out and to make best use of all of the available automation. So it’s a good idea to establish some strict work practices across your organisation such as:
- Assign an administrator
- Don’t cut corners on training
- Don’t try to do too much at one time
- Encourage staff to buy in to the processes and the ultimate advantages
- Insist on managers running the reports they should be using
- Enforce rules for entering data to ensure you capture all the information you will need to run campaigns, manage sales opportunities and service cases
- Commit to long-term, consistent and repetitive marketing and communication campaigns using the information stored by your CRM system to keep your potential customers informed and your customers loyal
Used properly, a CRM package is a powerful tool for driving sales, integrating marketing information, automating the processing of data, building and enhancing customer relations and ultimately, growing your business and its value.