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Evaluating CRM Software? 10 Questions to Help You Shortlist the Right CRM Solutions

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When you’re investigating possible CRM software solutions for your business, there’s quite a variety to choose from. These range from freeware and open-source contact management applications, right through to commercial mid-market and enterprise level CRM systems. So where do you start?

Creating a shortlist of potential CRM solutions will make the selection process more manageable.  To help create a shortlist, looking at how independent research positions the various products in the market and within your niche or vertical will narrow down your options. Then, finding the answers to a few basic questions will help get your shortlist right down.

Here are 10 questions to ask CRM software vendors, business partners, consultants or resellers to help you create a shortlist of possible solutions that will meet your business requirements:

1)      Can your CRM product be adapted to meet the needs of my specific vertical or industry?

The most effective CRM solutions can be adapted to your business processes and procedures, no matter how complex these processes are. For example, the ‘xRM’ capabilities of Microsoft Dynamics CRM go way beyond traditional CRM and have been applied to highly complex processes in a wide variety of organizations. Ask to see CRM case studies  or examples of how the product has been configured or customized to your specific industry or vertical. This will provide you with the assurance that the product is a flexible solution that will work successfully for your business.

2)      Can you show me the long-term roadmap for your CRM product?

Most of the main CRM software vendors have roadmaps for their products. CRM is a long-term investment so you need to be sure the solution you choose will not only be around in the foreseeable future, but will also be developed along the lines of your future business needs.

3)      Is your CRM software available as a cloud-based solution, or on-premise, or both? If so, is it possible to move from one to another?

There is a whole variety of reasons your business may be most suited to a cloud-based CRM solution, or an on-premise solution, and  choosing between on-premise and online CRM solutions is a topic in its own right! Most CRM implementations still tend to be on-premise, but the number of cloud-based implementations is catching up.  So, a CRM solution that offers both types of deployment, and the ability to move from one to another, could be a good choice.

4)      How is your CRM product supported and what does this support include?

Most commercial CRM products have a variety of support options available, for example direct from the vendor, by their business partners, or by both. You need to be assured that the type and levels of support provided, when it’s available, response times, upgrades and so on, match the way you work and your business needs.

5)      Could you provide me with a free trial?

There’s no better way to get a good understanding of a CRM product, its features, ease of use and functions, than to try it yourself. If you sign up for a trial, ask if a business partner will be involved right from the start. For example, with a free trial of Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online your business partner will be able to give you an overview of the product early on in your trial, and will be someone to call on with questions or queries as you progress. This way you get a lot more out of the trial.

6)    How many concurrent users can your CRM system comfortably take?

Most CRM systems will specify a maximum number of concurrent users for the system to be able to run and respond effectively. This does vary between products so if you’re a larger organization with say over 100 or so users it’s important to check this. The benchmark product for this is Microsoft Dynamics CRM, which has been tested to demonstrate that “a single Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 instance can achieve sub-second response times with 150,000 concurrent users executing a heavy workload against a large, complex database”.

7)      Will your CRM solution work with my existing software?

Most businesses specify integration with Outlook when looking at CRM, and some integrate better than others. For example, Microsoft Dynamics CRM can actually work from within Outlook, and is made by the same company, so it probably delivers the best CRM email integration you can get! If you use Office, then seamless integration will also make life a lot easier for your users and save you time and money. Integration to your accounting or ERP software, such as Microsoft Dynamics NAV, can deliver major process improvements throughout your organization.

8)      How easy is your CRM software to use?

CRM software that is easy to use, easy to navigate, easy to understand and has a familiar look and feel will reduce training costs, increase the speed of implementation, minimize support calls, prevent user frustration and disruption to their day to day work, and increase user adoption.

9)      How large is your CRM software user base and business partner network?

A significant user base gives you assurance that the CRM product you’re shortlisting is reliable, tried, and tested. Microsoft Dynamics CRM for example has well over a million people using it worldwide, so it’s safe to assume it must be a pretty good product! Similarly, it’s important to choose the right business partner for your CRM project, and a large network of business partners means you can be assured you’ll be looked after, even if you relocate or decide to change from one business partner to another.

10)   How much does your CRM solution cost?

Of course you need to budget for your CRM project and get an idea of costs early on. Don’t get distracted by ‘open source’: it doesn’t mean ‘free’ (and there’s also a lot of truth in the saying ‘you get what you pay for’). Costs are important so make sure you shortlist solutions that are going to meet the needs of your business and deliver a rapid return on your investment, at a reasonable price. To find out how much a CRM system costs you will need to include licenses (or typically the price per user per month in the case of cloud CRM solutions), and a range of additional services such as implementation, training, and support.

What next?

Once you’ve got the answers to these questions for a selection of products, you should be able to draw up a manageable sized final shortlist of potential CRM software solutions, and probably business partners as well. The next stage will usually include more specific discussions  around your business processes, aims and objectives from your CRM solution, more detailed questions about features and functionality, signing up for trials, and viewing product demonstrations.  

It will also be useful to talk to an independent CRM specialist. These won’t be tied down to any particular product or provider, they’ll be able to talk through the options with you and help you find a CRM solution best suited to your business strategy, objectives, and requirements.

By Concentrix Ltd – UK Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Specialists

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