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CRM Software - Hosted or In-House?

CRM Software - Hosted or In-House?

 Any software that a business comes to depend on for its continued existence is sure to raise lots of controversy when a change to the status quo is imminent. Customer relationship management software is increasingly being seen as the key business software due its power and capabilities. CRM software is being used for everything from online sales to market research to customer support, and has become a single source business decision making application. This integration of capabilities is one reason why Microsoft is getting into the CRM arena in a big way. 


Many sales-oriented businesses have tried various CRM software solutions with varying degrees of success. This makes the decision to adopt new CRM solutions more controversial. The main end users, sales, cs rs, and the IT technicians may have preferences that conflict and there are cost considerations too. The choice then in whether to upgrade or to try a whole new type of CRM system is a difficult one, yet it managers and sales managers don't have the depth of information to help them avoid disastrous choices. 


All businesses however grow and reach transition periods where they may find their old software systems don't meet their needs. New technologies such as the wireless revolution present service challenges for software manufacturers. CRM software is an information technology asset that sometimes can't meet current business needs and must be upgraded. Sometimes, a company's IT department and sales department experience bottlenecks in performance along with software bugs and glitches, that make them wonder if a better CRM solution is available. Then they learn of the bewildering array of options now available. 


For medium and small business enterprises, there is a price and performance issue that forces managers to consider outsourcing CRM functions such as application development, hosting, training, and even to consider hosted, web-based CRM services (software as a service). On the other hand, some hosted software solutions can be hosted in-house with a little outside support and training. A completely new system may not be needed. In fact, an upgrade and installation may be all that is required. 


While an industry trend is toward adoption of web-based CRM solutions such as Salesforce, in-house solutions such as Microsoft CRM and Sage Saleslogix CRM may be more appropriate for particular companies such as medium sized enterprises who need customization and good support. Popular hosted software choices look good at first, yet after sales support and assistance may not be what was expected. 


CRM Software Reviews 


You may have visited software review and comparison sites hoping they hold the wisdom to help you make an easy decision. The basic comparisons there however, may be biased and skewed to support the particular software, vendor, or type of solution they sell. Whitepapers are popular too as they appear to demonstrate real world applications of those CRM solutions. Since the matter is complicated and tainted by a particular Web site's sales motives, it may present a picture that doesn't respond to your real business needs. 


While many medium and small business IT managers and sales managers choose to go it on their own in making decisions on CRM needs and decisions, approaching a CRM consulting firm that provides a variety of CRM solutions. Some CRM consulting firms offer design audits. These are fundamental precursor to successful CRM selection and implementation. It establishes the overall vision for your CRM solution and determines a direction to take that matches your business needs. 


During a design audit, the CRM consultants study existing systems where there appears to be an opportunity for enhancement or migration to a superior platform, existing and proposed IT infrastructure, high-level business processes, existing reports and required documentation. The audit also assists in determining whether adopting a hosted or in-house solution would work for your situation and what the strengths either would have. There may not be a perfect match that solves all demands. For instance, a hosted service such as Salesforce may free you from technical costs initially, but may not be customizable. Hosted solutions such as Saleslogix may be more expensive initially yet offer outstanding features needed for modern sales forces including sales automation and support for Blackberry, Pocket PC, and Smartphone devices. 


In making your decision on the right CRM solution, you're vulnerable to the hype, flashy sales techniques, expert reviews, and the opinions of your technical team and sales people. Getting an experienced, third party view of your circumstances and real needs can save you aggravation and time and help you find the right hosted or web-based CRM solution. 

CRM Software Selection - The Basics 

Installing a good CRM software package is the cornerstone of any customer relationship management program. Without good software, gathering and storing the multitude of details gained about a customer from each interaction would be very difficult. 


Small business CRM systems has gone ahead in leaps bounds in recent years, with several top quality packages now available to choose from. Prior to beginning the search for good CRM software technology however, there are a few basic features you should seek in a potential CRM package: 


· Basic Functions: The CRM software should manage data relating to both individuals and companies and it should also provide time management features. As most businesses use Microsoft Office, including Outlook, the CRM package should offer seamless integration with MS Office and/or fax software, as the ability to compose letters, faxes and email without leaving the CRM software is vital. 


· Recognised CRM Software Supplier: Do your research. Make sure your proposed CRM software supplier is recognised in the industry and has a solid backing with reputable customer testimonials and reliable 24/7 technical support. 


· 360 Degree Customer View: It is important to know which people work for the same company; who said, emailed or wrote what to whom, and when. These details need to be a single click away. Does the CRM package you are considering provide this 360-degree view? 


· Seamless Connectivity: These days it is becoming more and more common for a growing business and its mobile workforce to utilise networked access to a central database, to mobile phones, and to PDAs. You need to ensure your CRM software package supports all the connectivity required by your company. 


· Managing Campaigns: In order to optimize your business marketing dollars, tracking of marketing campaigns and measuring their performance is critical. You will need a CRM package which provides this function. 


· Managing Leads: If you want sales opportunities to become closed sales, tracking leads is of prime importance. Make sure you select CRM software which provides lead tracking. 


· Data Transfer: Unless you are starting a business from scratch, you will probably need to import information from previous software. Make sure you will be able to import directly, instead of spending hours processing the data through an intermediate stage or even worse, manually. You will also need the ability to export data in order to exchange information with businesses who might use another CRM software package. 


· External Support: To get the most from any CRM package, you will find tips from fellow users, industry-specific templates, plug-ins to be vital. Make sure the package you are considering is well-known and supported. 


CRM gurus Dr Martha Rogers and Don Peppers say that practising good CRM means you need to develop a one-to-one learning relationship with each customer, over four stages: 


· Identification 


· Differentiation 


· Interaction 


· Interaction 


It's about treating different customers differently. It requires a shift in thinking, perseverance, discipline, and very good CRM software. 


It will take you many interactions with a customer to improve identification of their details. You will need many customers before you can place them in different segments and cater to their needs by segment. It may take even longer before you know enough to customise individual offerings. 

Technology Adds ROI to CRM 

For sales reps and sales leaders alike, technology, like Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems, will become increasingly important as we move toward the future. Many organizations have already invested in CRM systems and much has been written about how these systems have not delivered on their promised results. Fortunately, the CRM industry is evolving with new innovations that will help drive better returns on sales force automation investments. 


The Purpose of CRM 


The idea behind CRM implementation is to improve the productivity of the sales organization by leveraging better information. Salespeople can enter the latest plans and actions related to a contact, opportunity or account, and this information can be shared with sales management and other parties involved in the selling process. Because the data is updated in real-time, teams have the most current information. The result is that the right hand knows what the left is doing--and the action plan for that customer becomes a coordinated effort. 


In other words, CRM can make the selling process more efficient and collaborative, allowing everyone involved in the sales process to benefit from individual reps' knowledge as soon as it's inputted into the system. With the information gathered together, the output data is more robust for planning purposes. "Collaborative selling proponents claim it helps companies realize higher close rates, shorten the sales cycle and gain higher-value deals," writes Lisa Picarille in "Market Watch: Collaborative Selling" (, Dec. 1, 2003). 


The Disconnect 


It sounds good--but in the past, the introduction of technology into a sales rep's tried-and-true methodology often met with resistance. The reason? Frequently, implementation of CRM systems didn't result in anything concretely positive for salespeople. 


In the past, "CRM was a repository for data, and it still is, to a certain extent," says Chris Hens, COO of the San Mateo, Cal.-based White Springs. The salesperson put data into the system, and that data might be valuable to the organization as a whole, but the salesperson never really got to see the benefits. "That's the way of the past." 


"What gets customers excited [about the future of CRM] is the way that a CRM platform or its attendant applications can deliver something back to the salesperson," Hens says. "A computer is supposed to help you, but it can't do that if it doesn't have enough--or correct--information. The goal is creating enough information that the computer can give salespeople suggestions." 


Recognizing that greater user adoption is needed for sales leaders to reap the benefits of increased data, both in terms of quantity and quality, technology innovators have worked toward building a better mousetrap: applications that attach to companies' CRM systems that actually help salespeople do their jobs better and faster. 


To Drive User Adoption, Deliver Value 


White Springs is among those innovators working to improve the individual sales rep's experience with CRM. White Springs helps Miller Heiman integrate its core sales processes with their client's various CRM systems. 


For instance, Miller Heiman's Sales Access ManagerSM (SAM) allows salespeople to use Strategic Selling® Blue Sheets and Conceptual Selling® Green Sheets that are hooked into the CRM platform--so salespeople can use the sales process electronically. Information they enter onto sales strategy sheets is automatically input into the CRM database. Salespeople like it because CRM now supports the sales process they've bought into and use. 


Applications that work in conjunction with CRM--in addition to sales methodology integration software--include software that provides information on territories, information on key players, decision makers, or competitors, or the right sales collateral for a given selling situation. 


To deliver value to the sales force and increase adoption, Hens says, you have to know and include what they need--and each salesperson, each day, needs something different. "In essence, what we're doing is creating a platform where sales 'best practices' or methodologies are connected directly into the CRM platform and can be engaged in the context of the everyday sales cycle. This, in turn, makes CRM more useful than just as a home for data," Hens says. 


With the advent of these kinds of applications, which can hook into CRM systems to provide immediate value to salespeople, the future is wide open. As Hens says, "the way of the future is that people who have expertise in delivering the components that salespeople or sales managers need, right when they need it, will propel the movement forward." 


The Implications For Sales Leaders 


"Sales leaders focus on two questions: What's the problem? How do I fix it?" Hens remarks. 


If user adoption is poor, there might not be enough data housed in the CRM system to answer those questions, or the data might not be accurate. User adoption can be driven by presenting an interface that helps the salesperson, but sales leadership also plays a significant role: For CRM to be truly effective, and live up to that dream of ultimate functionality, adoption has to be driven by management, Hens says. "It needs to be made part of the business process. If each salesperson is doing his own thing, you'll never reap the benefits." 


With increased use of the CRM system by salespeople, more--and more reliable--data will be input into the system, and a more accurate analysis of problems and their solutions will be possible. Sales leaders will be able to take the next step toward innovation: analytics to determine what is and isn't working in the sales process. 


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