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Small Business Digest



Find, Attract and Win New Customers

In order to build and maintain strong relationships with customers, many companies are turning to customer-relationship management (CRM) software packages.  These programs allow companies to store and quickly access important sales, marketing, and other critical data about customers.

Larry Caretsky, president of Commerce Corp. (, offers seven tips for a company that is contemplating the purchase of a CRM system.

1. Select a mature solution provider.

With today's economic uncertainty, it's extremely important to select a solution provider with a trusted reputation and longstanding track record for delivering high-quality products and services in your industry.

There are no guarantees today, but a company that has been in business for a decade or more with an established customer base is clearly a safer bet then the one that's just getting started. It's also a good idea to research the vendor's customer base and ask for references that can discuss the provider's commitment to quality customer service and product enhancements.

2. Know requirements beforehand.

Don't make your selection of a CRM solution a beauty contest. Take the time to document the core requirements that the company is looking for and make sure to fully understand the workflow of internal business processes.

Smaller businesses tend to lose site of this during the evaluation process and become too focused on cosmetic appearance and price. As a result, they are often disappointed in the products inability to support the unique business requirements that were not part of the initial demonstration.

3. Where are the data?

Customer information is a company's lifeline. Without it the company is out of business. Don't be afraid to ask where data are being hosted and by whom. Most vendors utilize a third-party service to host data. Ask whom  they use and check into the company's track record for performance and reliability. Companies may also want to inquire about backup and recovery along with their procedures for obtaining data should the company discontinue the service with the CRM provider. This is one of the most important yet overlooked aspects of the decision process.

4. Scalability.

The business is going to grow. If companies didn't believe this they wouldn't be in business. Consider selecting a solution that offers a comprehensive set of applications even if the company is not planning on purchasing or utilizing them today. Switching to an alternative solution provider to attain additional functionality can be a costly and disruptive exercise in the future. In addition, companies may want to make sure the solution selected performs efficiently at two to three times the current number of end users.

Companies may discover that the basic lower-cost solutions designed for small businesses may not perform well when pushed to higher utilization levels.

5. Back-end integration.

While this may not be the top priority, CRM is the front-end to all back-end processes, and sooner or later companies are going to want to integrate customer data with an accounting or ERP system. Make sure the vendor selected offers an application-programming interface, or API, that enables back-end integration.

6. Select a partner, not a vendor.

If a company is making a decision to launch a CRM system because it's committed to becoming a more effective sales and service organization, then it needs to select a partner and not a vendor. A partner will provide the company with a proven implementation plan and best practices to ensure that it realize the maximum value from that solution. A vendor will enroll the company as a customer, then suggest it send an e-mail if it requires help. CRM is not a toy, and the business will require professional training and assistance from time to time.

Select a partner that has a solid track record for providing this level of support.

7. Stay away from free.

Nothing good comes out of free. Not good products and not good services. A world-class product from a trusted solution provider who can protect data with a reliable hosting service, provide a high level of performance, offer scalability and growth, enable back-end integration and partner with the company to ensure business objectives are met isn't cheap and doesn't come free. Selecting the right solution provider is an important decision for the business. Make these criteria part of the evaluation process. The company may discover that the difference between a top-rated trusted solution provider and a low-cost one may be just a few dollars a month.

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