Customer relationship management is a vital component of an end-to-end business strategy, one that can handle the sales process from the first inquiry from a new prospect to an established customer relationship with continuing product and service requirements. When you are ready to reap the business benefits of a good CRM system, you will have to decide whether to go with one that is packaged and installed on your own hardware or one that is hosted online.
Packaged CRM Programs
Packaged CRM applications allow you to install the software and maintain it on your own hardware. A packaged CRM application may offer more flexibility for customization, including report design. Packaged software may also be easier to integrate with other packages you rely upon, such as e-mail applications. Some packaged CRM applications also allow you to set up Web access, which is useful if you have a mobile sales force.
Example: Microsoft Outlook with Business Contact Manager
Microsoft Outlook with Business Contact Manager is an entry-level CRM solution aimed at small businesses. If you do not now use a CRM application and currently use Outlook, adding BCM to it could be a good, low-cost way of dipping a toe into CRM to see if the water is fine for your business.
Included in some Microsoft Office 2007 suites, Outlook with BCM is a single-user contact manager with some sales opportunity capabilities, particularly when it’s integrated with Microsoft Office Accounting 2007 (formerly called Microsoft Office Small Business Accounting). As you might expect, this combination is also designed to work well with other Microsoft Office applications, such as Word and Excel.
Outlook with BCM isn’t the most capable CRM system out there, so you probably won’t consider switching to it if you now use a high-end CRM system such as Siebel. However, if you do implement Outlook with BCM and eventually outgrow it, you can upgrade to Microsoft Dynamics CRM and import your data into the more capable application.
Web-Based CRM Services
If you don’t want the hassles of updating packaged software and performing regular backups of your CRM data, hosted CRM online services could be just what you need. A hosted service lets you access a CRM service over the Internet, using a Web browser to enter transactions. Reports are prepared on your local printer. The CRM applications software, along with your company’s CRM data, resides on a remote server.
The company providing the software as a service will update the CRM software at its end. The process will appear seamless to you. Usually, you’ll just notice a few more options after each update. Similarly, your CRM records will be automatically backed up on a regular basis.
Web services require you to have more faith in the vendor, compared to packaged applications running on your in-house computer hardware. You depend upon the vendor to not only develop the application and keep it up-to-date, but also to maintain a server that delivers a high degree of availability and safeguards your vital company data. You also must have a reliable broadband Internet connection. Broadband is cheap and easy to get in most major population centers, but rural users may balk at hosted online CRM services, given the higher cost and sometimes the lower reliability of their Internet service.
A Web-based CRM service may be more difficult for you to integrate with other packaged business applications. If integration is important to you, be sure to investigate prebuilt integration links and other options before you commit to the service.
Example: Salesforce CRM
Salesforce CRM is a comprehensive suite of online CRM services used by small, midsize, and large businesses. The application is one of the most successful examples of software as a service. The company’s CRM services are now used by more than half a million subscribers.
Salesforce is available in several editions, depending upon your requirements. The Group Edition for small businesses advertises your business online with Google AdWords. Potential customers click your ads and you capture leads on your Web site. Because it is Web-based you can log in from anywhere, view or update your sales data, and collaborate with remote coworkers.
Salesforce has an active development community that has created many useful extensions to the core applications, such as a link to Intuit’s QuickBooks small business accounting. There are more than 400 third-party add-on applications listed on the Salesforce AppExchange site. And advanced editions of Salesforce permit customization so you may link it with other applications you use.