The other day I went into Home Depot to purchase a garden hose. Ever do so? All I needed was a simple garden hose. Except it wasn’t really simple. I discovered that Home Depot really sold dozens of different kinds of garden hoses. There are fifty foot hoses and hundred foot hoses. There are vinyl hoses and rubber hoses. And the costs range from $11 to $82. There are really so many garden hoses to choose from.
There are scores of very good CRM applications in the marketplace today. Just like there are dozens of good hoses available for sale in Home Depot. Unless you are a complete time gardener you are really not going to know that’s the ideal hose to suit your requirements. And unless you’re at the CRM business you will be equally as clueless as it comes time to research CRM software.
What is a CRM application, you inquire? That’s the simple part. It is a database. Of people and companies that do business with your company. A good CRM database ensures that nothing falls through the cracks and you also don’t look like a dope.
By not falling through cracks, I suggest that the database keeps track of anything pending for a customer, supplier or partner. Calls to be made. Appointments scheduled. Forecasted sales. Possible opportunities. Outstanding quotes. Open service problems. A fantastic CRM program has calendars, activity lists and forms so that this kind of information doesn’t fall through the cracks. It’s reminders and automatic mails. It has the ability to schedule follow-ups for many others in your business. And all this information ought to be shared among your workers. Nothing gets forgotten. Nothing gets left outside.
And you also shouldn’t resemble a dope either. Because there’s nothing worse than when a salesman innocently requires a client to promote your new product yet he doesn’t understand that the exact same customer is angry with a continuing service problem. So that your CRM system ought to be able to monitor a history of phone calls, appointments, emails and other activities with each and every man who does business with your company. You should be able to run reports on these activities. You ought to have the ability to communicate by bulk letters or emails to a bunch of customers all sharing common data so you can send them an alert when there’s a security issue regarding a product they bought or a set message to everyone who has blue eyes, green hair and lives in Michigan if that’s the type of thing you like to track.
That is exactly what a good CRM program does. And if you’re looking for a CRM program for your business, allow me be your Realtor here. I’m going to recommend my favorite hosted CRM software.
The benefits of a hosted system are many: they are generally quick to get up and running, may be accessed from anywhere and need less cash up front to get started. But be careful – some of the business owners that I know are worried about the downsides: among them is that your data is hosted by somebody else outside of your company and the long-term price (which generally involves paying monthly fees per user) will be significantly higher than simply buying a system outright.
Hosted programs have increased in popularity over recent years. I urge five. Of them, my company sells Microsoft CRM and ZohoCRM. But I really like the others too – I just don’t have sufficient resources to have the ability to service them. Every one of these programs have the features mentioned previously that guarantees nothing will fall the cracks and you won’t be looking like a dope.
Salesforce.com is the most well known of the group – it’s older, well written, simple to use and exceptionally popular. I like the fact that they have their very own passionate developer platform and community and its parent company is publicly held and a thought leader in the business. Reporting is fantastic and its service and collaboration tools are among the very best in the business. But be careful – you will find small business offerings but to get the full benefits you can spend as much as $125 a month per user for the item that can be restrictive for a lot of organizations.
SugarCRM is quite like Salesforce.com but it’s priced much lower at only about $50 a month per user. There are 3 large benefits to purchasing SugarCRM. For starters, the company is trying hard to build a partner station so end users can have local support and training. By comparison, the majority of the hosted software I’ve come across are sold and serviced directly by the software maker. SugarCRM offers both a hosted and an on site product for the ones that want to pick. Therefore, if you’re not happy with the hosted environment you’re not stuck. They supply source code by using their product. This means that in case you would like to integrate your system with other programs, like your website or accounting database or whether you want to carry out complex customizations (and possess the experience to do this ) you can dig to the entrails of SugarCRM to allow it to do just what you would like it to do.
What is great? The $44 per month a user price, its own Microsoft Outlook interface, Microsoft’s large station of Certified Advisors enjoy (ahem) ourselves and its full CRM feature set makes it a mature choice for anyone searching for a Microsoft-based solution. What is bad? Microsoft has been playing catch-up with this product and attempting to place it as a much better alternative to Salesforce.com, its archrival in this area. So although the features are fine for a small company, its customizability is missing. But that’s going to change – Microsoft is releasing its own 2011 version shortly which will be customizable as its own on assumption solution and, more importantly since Salesforce.com. They’ll also back it with a massive marketing and support effort. As a (ahem) Accredited Advisor of Microsoft CRM because 2005 I will attest that the neighborhood about this merchandise has turned into a lot over the last few years. I’m a fan.
The previous two hosted software are great for smaller workgroups (less than ten people) who want to get a easy but highly effective CRM up and running quickly.
That is why my company provides this product: our customers tend to be mostly poor, especially all of the time our bills come due. Zoho has won many awards from the business and contains a full set of features to be sure nothing falls through the cracks and nobody looks like a dope. It integrates with Outlook and Google Apps. And it is part of a package of Zoho products for doing jobs, files, billing and other tasks. Zoho isn’t as customizable as some of the other programs discussed above. And its parent draws most of its management and all of its service from India which can occasionally be somewhat frustrating. But our customers using it aren’t complaining. The price is right and the software works nicely.
Highrise is a sweet, small CRM application produced by the good people at 37 Signals. Highrise is super cheap, costing just $24 a month for 6 users and up to $149 per month for unlimited users. I enjoy Highrise because it’s a very simple contact manager that works with a whole lot of other hosted applications for customer support, sales and promotion and company productivity. There’s a programming interface for additional customization, and pleasant little iPhone program too. Plus I’m a huge fan of 37 Signals’ Basecamp software for managing projects which is very similar to Highrise. The downsides? Highrise is at its heart just a contact manager and it is still in its early days in contrast to a number of the others products I spoke. It is a work in progress. However, I have faith in the business who makes it.
See? Now you understand which hosted CRM software to have a look at and now you have a good idea which is most appropriate for your company also. But here’s a few more good news for you. I am not that pimply kid from the hardware section who’d rather be home listening to Jay-Z then assisting a customer choose the right garden hose. I am the short little bald man from suburbia who’s helping you pick the appropriate hosted CRM system for your industry. And I wish I had some Purell after shaking hands with that kid at Home Depot too.