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The Ultimate Guide To Choosing and Using Your CRM

You're ready for a CRM.

Whether you're moving to the cloud, replacing obsolete software, or just want the advantages a modern CRM can bring, you know it's time to update.

Which CRM should you choose?

Zoho? Copper? Dynamics 365? Salesforce?

You've heard the names, yet you're not sure which one is right for your company. And that's the problem – each CRM brings a different package of values to your organization. And it's not just about which software you choose, either. There are so many add-ons and variants that one company's implementation of CRM could look totally different from another.

In fact, the four CRMs just mentioned represent at least fifteen distinct variations you could select as your CRM solution.

And that's before even considering a giant like SAP. Or Oracle. Or even some of the smaller niche market products like Hubspot.

There are so many choices when it comes to selecting your CRM that it's very easy to get overwhelmed. Relax... this article was written to ease the selection process and make the selection more logical. In this article, we'll look at how to define your internal processes before you even start comparing CRMs. Then we'll look at four key factors that can make your choice easier.

And since a CRM is only as good as its implementation and user adoption, we're going to address that here, too. It doesn't matter if you purchase the most feature-rich, expensive software on the market – if implemented poorly, you will receive a smaller return on your investment. So learning how to implement your CRM software properly should always be the larger priority for consideration in your selection process.

Choosing Your CRM

CRM systems are meant to be the hub for all of your business interactions with your most important assets, your customers. Organizations and business units throughout your company will populate, access, and analyze CRM data. For that reason, your data can no longer exist in silos. Your CRM will help you communicate, share, and connect your data – but first you need to tell it how.

Defining Your Processes and Key Points

So many people start looking for a CRM because they think they need one. They don't always take the time to consider how their business works. Many businesses simply "get things done" without ever spending too much thought on how they do it. Jumping into a CRM like that is kind of like plotting a course before you know the destination... your chances of getting there efficiently are rather slim. You might arrive there in a long, roundabout way, and you'll waste a lot of time and energy in the process.

When each individual business unit operates in complete independence from others, with little interaction or knowledge of the others’ processes, it's impossible to implement an effective CRM program. Even if you think you know the destination, the implementation and solution course you’re plotting could be headed in all of the wrong directions.

Taking the time to map out your business processes plays a huge role in configuring a CRM and in choosing the right platform at the start. You need to understand all your process flows in order to assess the add-ons, customizations, and integrations you'll need for each CRM under consideration.

As an added bonus, your process mapping might identify some activities that are wasteful and can be eliminated. This often results in cost savings – and it simplifies your CRM configuration.

There are many tools out there to help build your business process maps. Lucidchart defines business process mapping as detailing "the steps that a business takes to complete a process, such as hiring an employee or ordering and shipping a product. They show the who, what, when, where and how for these steps, and help to analyze the why.”

Example CRM Sales Workflow Diagram

The CRM you select should be able to adapt to your business processes. If you don't know those processes beforehand, you might end up in the unenviable position of having to modify your processes to fit your CRM – the exact opposite of what your CRM was supposed to do (and a difficult sell if it fails to improve efficiency).

Mapping Your Lead Intake Process

One of the most important roles handled by most CRMs is the organization of all your lead intake efforts. The key question to ask here is: how are you acquiring potential new customers?

Most companies will have multiple channels for customer acquisition, so your CRM needs to handle all of them. Many CRM products focus on online processes such as lead generation and marketing automation. However, a full CRM should also reflect your in-person lead intakes, such as phone calls, trade shows, and networking along with your web generated leads.

For online lead captures, you'll want to know:

  • How are you capturing leads on your website?
  • What marketing tools are built into your site?
  • What are you using for site analytics?
  • How are you tracking and differentiating visitors?
  • Which pages are visitors looking at – and how many times?

And regarding your offline leads:

  • What methods are being used to find leads?
  • How are those leads being logged?
  • What kind of lead scoring is in place?
  • How are your leads handed off to the sales team?

A CRM should make it easier for you to enter all that data and automate any follow up prompts and processes.

Mapping Your Sales Process

Once you obtain a lead, how does your sales organization follow up? Are you providing demos, developing quotes right away, offering free consults? Think about all the steps and points of contact during those processes. Although most CRMs can track all of these interactions, will the one you choose make the work easier and more efficient for your sales team? That's the bottom line you need to answer. For example, take a look at the tools you use, email, phone systems, etc. to facilitate these contact points. All of these should be considered for your future CRM environment.

Your sales cycle will also play a big role in determining the best CRM. Shorter sales cycles are all about efficiency and personal relationships, while longer ones are about managing and maintaining groups of relationships across a wide variety of stakeholders.

With smaller ticket items, you might obtain a lead, send a quote, and know within a few days if it's a win or a loss. And if you're selling high revenue products or services at a lower quantity, it might take as long as six months to two years to close that sale. During that time, your CRM will need to track a wide variety of activities and contacts. On top of that, your CRM should put the right data at your sales team's fingertips, allowing them to monitor the pulse of long-term deals and negotiations.

Generally, the longer the sales process, the more contacts you'll need to keep track of and the more applications you'll need your CRM to integrate with. That's why many of these companies will look for CRMs with larger partner networks and pre-built integration software. On the other hand, shorter sales cycles usually mean less complicated contact structures and fewer integration requirements. So those companies can take advantage of the cost savings from some of the smaller CRM networks, without as many customizations needed.

For example, consider the oil industry. These multi-billion dollar companies need to know all the processes and organizations required to extract oil from the ocean floor, transport crude oil to land-based processing facilities, refine oil into gasoline, and then deliver the final product to every gas station they own in their chain. This requires managing a huge variety of contacts along a complex string of processes and that's just one aspect of their overall business. That's why you'll generally see organizations such as this selecting a CRM network solution such as SAP because they need all the resources it can provide on top of all other operating units of their business. For them, the premium cost is outweighed by the broad versatility and reliability of SAP and its partner network.

Remember that, once implemented, the CRM itself will become a part of your sales process. Picking the wrong CRM can change the way your data flows through your business, often with adverse consequences. Make sure the CRM you choose is a positive addition to that process, and not a negative one.

Don't Forget About Billing

Billing is one of those ultra-important processes that many companies aren't thinking about when they first consider a CRM. Don't lose sight of the advantages to be found here. Streamlining your billing process can have a huge impact on your financial outlook, from cost savings to improving cash flow to reducing receivables and delinquent accounts.

In mapping out your billing process, you'll need to know how your sales and billing activities are connected. How are invoices delivered to customers, both online and offline? What payment terms and conditions do you use? What payment methods are accepted – and which ones are preferred? How do you deal with delinquent accounts?

Billing is also an important consideration because it can create one of your biggest integration headaches when implementing a CRM. Many times, the issue revolves around accounting departments preferring older, more familiar accounting platforms with minimal out-of-the-box integration points. Many small companies, for example, start off with a product like Quickbooks Desktop. Then they grow into a larger organization and they're still using a small business accounting software, which isn’t meant for the more robust needs in the mid-market enterprise. Quickbooks, though perfect for a small company, is not meant for a 400-employee organization. What often happens is that  instead of upgrading, they learn all the workarounds and adapt to its limitations.

Unfortunately, this creates another data silo that makes integrating into a CRM (or any other system, for that matter) problematic. Not impossible, of course, but you'll want to be aware of it when selecting your CRM. You'll either want the right tools to be available, or you'll need to include some customization work to migrate that data in your planning.

Account Management and Retention

How do you leverage the business you've already brought in after a sale is completed? What processes do you use to retain your client list, move them to new products, or provide new services? How do you provide support, or follow up with them after a sale?

Many account managers start out with a contact list in Excel and never leave it. They adapt it to their needs with macros and filters and complex functions. Still  the problem remains – that data is available only in that file. It’s a data silo not readily available to other systems.

A CRM can make the lives of your account managers much easier. Or, at least, allow them to spend more of their time interacting with clients and less in bookkeeping. A CRM can also help your account managers act proactively with your current client base, bringing up possible upsell or cross sell opportunities before the client sees them as a need.

Performance Metrics in the CRM

If the CRM is the hub of your business, you should be able to pull out the key performance metrics you need. What pieces of data will tell you about the overall health of your business? Can your CRM provide that data easily, in the format you want it, or will customizations be needed?

Think about the key business drivers your organization needs to be successful. These are your "business lifelines”. They could be cash flows, number of leads obtained, number of quotes delivered, or number of sales. These are just the obvious examples, although there are many factors you could call your business lifelines. The crux of it comes down to this: what results do you need in Q1 to sustain yourself through Q2?

The right CRM should be able to tell you at a glance where you stand. This can be an important piece for achieving executive support and buy-in, too.

Four Key Factors to Look for in a CRM

While there are countless features and benefits to consider across all the CRMs out there, we've distilled them all down into four main categories:

  1. Does it have an open API?
  2. Strength of its Partner Network
  3. Availability of Pre-built Integrations
  4. Initial and Lifetime Cost

As you'll soon see, all of these factors are highly interconnected. You'll also understand how the processes we've discussed in the previous section will dictate the order and importance of each of these factors.

Does it Have an Open API?

The importance of an open API is that it makes talking to your other systems – such as accounting software and marketing automation tools – a much easier task. Customizations both large and small are quicker and cheaper to develop with an open API. Without an open API, many companies continue to operate in data silos, despite implementing a CRM. That's because the systems they use on a daily basis never get fully integrated, or are integrated with inefficient workarounds that lead to inconsistent data. In some of these cases, the CRM is hobbled because users can't write or update their info and notes directly. They end up being forced to use both the new CRM and the legacy system that preceded it. This is not going to improve your efficiency – or the morale of your workforce.

Salesforce and Zoho are examples of CRMs with an open API. So if you need to connect your existing systems into it, and there's no suitable software already available, you know the customization work should be less expensive than it would be for a CRM with a closed API.

SAP, on the other hand, is a CRM built on proprietary technology. While they do now offer some API management options through their cloud-based variations, navigating the SAP ecosystem is still a daunting task. Historically, integrating with SAP has been viewed as a challenge, to say the least. It's difficult to get information in and out of SAP to and from your other systems. Companies do not choose SAP because it's easy to integrate with, however. They choose SAP when they need its many other benefits.

While an open API is one of the most important factors for a CRM, in our opinion, a strong partner network with a large library of pre-built integrations can sometimes compensate.

Assess the Strength of the Partner Network

A partner network consists of all the companies certified to extend the capabilities of the CRM through a variety of services including configuration, development, training and support.

A large partner network means more choices whenever you need third-party help. For example, if you're working with a vendor to create a new CRM tool and that vendor doesn't work out, a large partner network prevents vendor lock-in. It also means that it's more likely your particular need has already been addressed by someone in a similar situation.

Salesforce is a CRM with a huge partner network. Because of this, it's often the first title developers build CRM tools for. This makes integration pieces, resources, and tools for Salesforce more readily available.

Zoho is an example of a CRM with a small (and growing) partner network. Developers typically integrate with Zoho after they've addressed some of the larger titles because the demand for it is less. Knowing this, Zoho recently recognized the importance of a large partner network, signing over one thousand new partners last year alone. A growing partner network is a sign of a healthy product. Many organizations invest in the growth of Zoho as there becomes more opportunity for their own businesses to promote the business suite.

Availability of Pre-built Integrations

Your CRM should collect as much of your existing – and future – data as possible. That means one-time data migrations for systems being replaced, and full integrations with any systems that will remain in service. You always hope to find pre-built tools that will make your integrations quick and painless. Pre-built tools not only eliminate the time it takes to develop your own software, they also give you reliability and track records from those who have already put them to use.

Our Guide to Synchronizing Zoho CRM and Google Apps shares how you can integrate those systems using existing tools and software. This is the sort of information you'll need for each system connecting to your CRM.

It stands to reason that the CRMs with larger partner networks will usually have more pre-built integrations. Be aware that just because it has a bigger library, it doesn't always mean they have the integrations you need. So make sure you complete all that process mapping we discussed earlier up front. For each CRM under consideration, match the availability (and suitability) of the tools you'll need to integrate it. And for each one that's missing, you'll need to plan – and account for – a solution.

Initial and Lifetime Costs

When you compare the costs of different CRMs, it's not always an "apples to apples" comparison. Some charge more up front while others charge more over time (some even charge more in up front and over time!). Obviously, you'll need to consider both your initial costs and your lifetime costs when making your decision.

Initial costs include the software, the implementation, training, and all the customization work needed to get you started on day one.

Lifetime costs include all the initial costs plus annual license fees, maintenance, upgrades, and any other charges over the time threshold you decide is appropriate for your CRM.

If you're strapped for cash, you might opt for a CRM with lower initial costs and fewer required customizations. If return on investment is more important than initial cost, you'll want to focus more on balancing the lifetime cost with the expected return from each CRM.

As an example, Zoho's cost structure – along with its open API – makes it one of our favorite CRMs to implement. Although it doesn't have as many pre-built pieces as Salesforce, its cost including the additional customization work is still highly competitive. What makes Zoho most attractive is its very low recurring costs. This allows most companies to achieve positive ROIs much quicker with Zoho.

Implementing Your CRM

As we stated earlier, how you implement your CRM is just as important to its effectiveness as the features you choose. Even the best CRMs are useless (or unused) when implemented poorly.

For this reason, Cloudbakers offers our five-step methodology for implementing a CRM.

The Value of a CRM Partner1. Discovery and Analysis

This is the planning phase. Here we identify and map out all the business processes we discussed above. The CRM implementation team needs to get into your business processes until they know it as well as you do. Then they'll match your processes with the right features and products. Which processes are enabled by the CRM's core functionality? What pre-built integrations should be used? And where do you need customizations to be developed?

2. Configuration and Development

Now that we know what you need, here is where we start putting it all together. Here the CRM is configured for all the data and functionality soon to be utilized by your teams. Here the pre-built integrations are connected. And here the development of additional integrations and any customized functionality begins.

All this work should be done concurrently, since the CRM won't function properly until all of the required pieces are in place. It's one thing to conduct a limited test launch with a small group of users. However, the point of your CRM is to be the hub of your business – and you can't test the effectiveness of that without loading all the relevant data and systems it needs.

3. Data Migration

Once the CRM is configured to hold your data, it's time to migrate it into the CRM. How that data is migrated will depend on the type of data and the tools available. Data will be pulled from accounting, sales, and marketing... from spreadsheets, databases, and even Outlook. Wherever there is viable data relative to your customers and prospects, you'll want to migrate it into the CRM so that it's valuable right from day one.

It's possible that each system and source of data will require its own data migration plan. Some data you encounter will require no more than a simple upload, while other data will need specialized software to import it. On top of all this, you'll need to eliminate redundancies and determine how to fill any new fields where the data is changing... or where no data yet exists.

4. Change Management and Training

Although listed fourth, change management should really start the moment you've committed to a CRM (if not before). Change management is all about showing the value of the CRM so that your workforce will be excited about using it. It's about training your workforce so that they're prepared and ready to use it on day one. And it's about reducing the natural resistance all new systems face as much as possible.

At Cloudbakers, our change management program delivers proven results through communication and training. We find the problems employees have with keeping track of their data and show them how the CRM will solve them. Most importantly, we focus on the value to them – not just the value to the company.

For example, salespeople need to know that a CRM is either going to save them time or, to be frank, make them money. If they can clearly see how the CRM will do that, they'll be excited to use it. If not, they'll see it as a waste of time and avoid it.

Another goal of change management is to avoid a drop-off in productivity during the launch. If the entire staff knows they're logging on to Zoho on Monday, they should feel comfortable accessing it and fulfilling their roles in it today.

Finally, change management is an ongoing process that continues well after launch. How will you manage user adoption to get as many people as possible proficient in the system? How will you identify and support employees who have difficulty with the new system? And how will you train and encourage them to expand beyond the basics to truly take advantage of the CRM? After all, the more power users you enable, the more it will drive your ROI. So developing those users should be an important part of your change management.

5. Ongoing Support

Your initial configuration and launch might be a one-time cost. Consider also, how do you want your CRM to grow and evolve over time? As employees use the CRM, and as they discover new capabilities and more efficient ways to complete their tasks, some of your business processes might change.

An ongoing support staff can evaluate those changes, re-configure the CRM when needed, and recommend new ways to use it. They can also investigate and suggest new tools that could help streamline your business further.

Ongoing support can also help build good work habits, such as we shared in 5 Gifs to Self-Improve Your Efficiency in Zoho CRM. It goes hand-in-hand with change management, encouraging continuous expansion and pushing the boundaries of what your CRM is capable of.

Are You Ready to Choose Your CRM?

So now that we've discussed all the major factors involved in selecting a CRM, where in the process are you?

Do you need to map some or all of your business processes? Are you ready to start evaluating your CRM options? Or do you know which CRM you need, but you're worried about a smooth implementation?

Wherever you are, Cloudbakers stands ready to help. Whether it's with the challenging work of mapping out processes, selecting the right CRM along with all the tools you'll need, or taking advantage of our full five-step implementation plan, Cloudbakers will bring the solution that's right for you. Contact us to get started on your own transformation with a CRM when your ready to start your journey.

Originally published on March 22, 2018

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