Small Business Customer Relationship Management

Deciding on the Best CRM Software For Your Business

February 26, 2008

After you’ve had a couple presentations from CRM software vendors, it’s time for your selection team to convene and compare notes. Save discussions on individual software choices until this meeting; this prevents premature decisions being made without the benefit of full discussion with all view points represented.

Evaluate the CRM Software technology, not the Partner

Remember: this meeting is to evaluate the technology, not the Partner. Yes, it’s human nature to role the two together and to some extent it’s unavoidable. However, do admonish your Selection Team to focus on the technology.

On your quest to find the best balance of features and budget, there are a few critical questions to answer at this meeting:

  1. Is there a clear technology winner?
  2. Is the project still feasible? It might be that the proposals all came in way over what you had in mind for a budget.
  3. If there’s not a clear winner, do we feel at least one or two of the CRM software choices may be sufficient? (watch out for inadequate presentations done by Partners).

The Structured Proposal

It can be very tricky to get a proposal that reveals the true costs of a solution. To help you get a reasonable apple-to-apples comparison, I’ve developed a very simple technique I call “The Structured Proposal”.

(check out the CRM Survival Guide if you are interested in the Structured Proposal)

Problems With Just Getting a Quote

You’d think that a sales quote is a sales quote. But with CRM it can be anything but. If you let each presenting Partner give you a quote as they see fit instead of in the Structured Proposal format, you’ll get a wide range of quotes and have no valid basis for comparison.

If you were to take the typical quote from a Partner and then have them re-do it using the Structured Proposal format, the new quote would likely be significantly higher. This is because it is designed to force the Partner to put a fair bit of thought and specificity into it, digging up costs that usually are glossed over.

The Structured Proposal is designed to make it easy for you to reasonably compare the costs associated with each technology. (while you won’t get to a true “apples to apples” comparison, you may get to an “Ida Red apple to Empire apple” comparison.) The format of the Structured Proposal is simple and
yet designed to make it difficult for Partners to “play games” with their quotes.

The 4 Elements Of The Structured Proposal

1. Software Costs

This is really the key to what makes the Structured Proposal work. Usually, Partners will bury any custom development work into services and often just quote the programming costs, leaving out such things as rework (and you can bank on there being rework on any custom development). With the Structured Proposal, you’re instructing them to be much more precise:

  • Create a detail line for each custom development piece.
  • For each piece of custom development, they’ll have to sign-off that they’ve considered: Functional
    Spec, Detailed Design, Programming, Unit Testing, at least 2 rounds of revisions and delivery.

2. Service Costs

Each category of service should be clearly delineated. You want this to be broken down into enough detail that you get the sense that they have thought through all the various areas that will be needed.

3. Disclaimers.

This is a very effective device. By explicitly asking the Partner (in writing) if there are any areas of concern, the likelihood of you getting an accurate picture goes way up. Often, there will be areas mentioned in here that will warrant more discussion and perhaps more investigation on the Partner’s part. This can lead to some very useful and effective communications with your potential Partner. Partner’s that use this area well are taking a big step towards earning your trust and confidence.

4. Sign-off declaration:

There’s nothing like putting a corporate officer’s signature to a declaration to make sure that what they’re signing-off on is accurate! “I have read and understand the Business Requirements document and the attached quote represents within +/- 20%”


You need to look at the cost for the whole solution to account for differences in each software’s native strengths and weaknesses.

Key CRM Concepts You Need To Understand

February 7, 2008

I want to get you up to speed not so much on features, but on broader concepts that you need to keep in mind when selecting CRM technology.

Fit With IT

It’s a good idea to pick a CRM system that your IT staff are capable of supporting. That said, be careful not to dismiss very good choices because your IT staff may not be familiar with current, main stream technologies. Being that you’re a small business, your IT staff should be reasonably
up to speed on main stream small business technologies.

You need to look at how well the CRM technology fits in with the skills and competencies of your IT staff. For example, if your IT staff is familiar with MS SQL Server (common for small businesses) as a database back-end and the CRM solution is Oracle based (usually used in larger
Enterprises), this could cause some problems. Certainly, your IT staff will not have a comfort level (at first) of working in that new environment for back-ups and database maintenance issues.

Contact vs. Account Centric

There are two basic paradigms for CRM systems:

  1. Contact Centric: In Contact Centric systems, the primary organization is around independent contacts.
  2. Account Centric: In Account Centric systems, there are two levels to the basic organization: a company or account layer to which multiple contacts can be related.

Reasons for Compromising on Technology

Contact Centric

In a contact centric system, the database is organized around individual contacts. So, if you have dealings with 3 different people all from the same company, you would have 3 different contact records and in each record would be the company name.

There may be ways to relate different contacts together, but these will be in the “workaround” class. A Contact centric organization makes sense if you are dealing with individuals and you do not need to do such things as look at an organization’s combined history. It is very difficult/clumsy to track company related information separately from contact information.

For example, if you want to track information about a company (e.g. sic code, # employees, annual budget, etc.) separately from contact related information (e.g. favourite hobby, home phone number, spouse’s name, etc.). there isn’t an easy way to do that:

  • Under which contact do you store the company information,
  • Which contact becomes the primary record,
  • Do you store the information under both contacts…which makes updating difficult.
  • Do you create a “contact” record to serve as the company record and somehow relate the contacts to it?

Account Centric

Account centric CRM systems have a layer above contact, the organization or account, that can tie multiple contacts together. This has the advantage of being able to track company-related information entirely separately from contact-related information. This approach is usually easier to:

  • See all opportunities for an account/company.
  • See combined history.
  • Do address updates.
  • See the organization and all its contacts in one view.
  • Report on company vs. individuals easier.

Unless you are working in an industry where you only need one contact record per account, choose an Account centric CRM system.

Research CRM Software Choices

January 28, 2008

The first step in choosing a technology is to research what’s out there—to get familiar with the lay of the CRM land. The goal of this stage is to narrow the field down to 6 technologies that appeal to you.

Most of the companies I’ve seen implement CRM have checked out no more than 3 companies and only because they are the ones that happened to be top of mind. I’m suggesting going much broader with as many as 12 companies to do the preliminary research phase with. Doing this will:

  • Give you a much better sense of what’s available
  • Make you a much more educated consumer
  • Increases the likelihood of selecting the right technology for you
  • What To Look For
  • When you’re in the Research Phase, the idea is to get a basic understanding of the variety of technologies available. You will get a good feel for what the choices are and should be able to easily identify 3 to 6 technologies you feel should be looked into more closely.

Popular CRM Packages

There are literally dozens of CRM packages available. In the next table, I’ve put together a list of 12 popular packages—by no means is this a complete list, but it does represent a good sampling of available technologies:

Alphabetical List of Some Popular CRM Software Packages

Package, Manufacturer, Website

ACT!,  Sage,
 GoldMine, FrontRange,
 Maximizer, Microsoft,
 NetSuite, NetSuite, http://
 Onyx , Onyx,
 Pivotal, Pivotal,
 Sage CRM (formerly ACCPAC CRM), Sage,
 SalesLogix, Sage,,,
 SalesNet, SalesNet,
 Siebel, Siebel,

Don’t Get Drawn In To A Sales Cycle

At the Research Stage, you don’t want to get bogged down on any one solution. This means avoiding salespeople and CRM Partners! Don’t look for or accept the direct help of the manufacturer or a Partner at this point.

If you are contacted, politely and firmly let them know: “Thank you for your call; we’re currently doing broad research. If you’d like to assist at this stage, you can send me any information on your solution that you can.”

If you’re pushed for a meeting, push back saying: “Now is not the right time to meet. We’ll be putting together a short list of companies to present at a later date.” Be sure to stick with the Insider’s Buying Process. Find out more in the CRM Survival Guide.

This approach of staying in control and making it clear that you’re following a process of your own has two purposes:

  1. Keeps you from getting bogged down.
  2. (more importantly) Sets the tone with the manufacturer that you’re serious and knowledgeable which will translate into better treatment and negotiating strength down the road.

Don’t Install A Trial Version

It’s amazing how many companies have called me up in the past and have asked me to send them a trial version of the software. Despite my best efforts to explain to them that after they install the software, they’ll look at the screen and say “Now what?”.

Let me be more direct with you than I was able to be with former prospects of mine: “Trial software that you have not been trained on, that has not been configured for your Business Requirements is useless. It’s a waste of time and I advise you to steer clear!”

Advantages of Business Requirements For Your CRM Project

January 26, 2008

I harp on the need to have business requirements a lot, but it’s worth harping on. Why? Because whether you’re a medium size company doing a full-blown CRM or a small business doing a Sales Force Automation project, having a good set of Business Requirements is the single best predictor to success.

Let’s look at some of the advantages that make having CRM Business Requirements a predictor to success…

Business Requirements Save You Money

 The clarity that comes from working on your business requirements will:

  • Help ensure that you know what to focus on when implementing CRM,
  • Helps you choose the right CRM or Sales Force Automation software,
  • Does a lot of footwork that your CRM Partner would otherwise want to charge you for (i.e. Saves you money!)

Business Requirements Naturally Lead You To Choose

You’re much more likely to look at several competing products if you have a good set of CRM Business Requirements. Once a company has a clear set of Business Requirements, it becomes very natural to “shop it around” and see which CRM or SFA software can satisfy the requirements best. Without Business Requirements many small businesses only look at one or two solutions and buy the one that their instinct tells them is the better (what a mistake!).

Instead of Following Some Salesperson’s Sales Process, You’ll Be In Control

Sellers of CRM and SFA want to be in on the ground floor of your buying process, gently (or not so gently) steering you to the “logical conculsion” that their solution is the best choice. It’s a far easier argument for the seller when they can act as the trusted advisor
and help the customer figure out what the solution should look like.

Your written Business Requirements document will be (should be!) the first major interface potential CRM Partners will have with your business. It sets the tone for the rest of the project and your relationship with your chosen CRM Partner. Your business requirements document will send a signal that you’re in control of the project and will make it less likely to have quot;sales games” played against

Starting off on the right foot will not just save you significant amounts of money, it will also dramatically increase your chance of success.

You’ll Get Much More Value From The Sales Cycle By Having Business Requirements

Sellers prefer to “work with” customers to put together a solution–work that they can often charge for. Companies with clear Business Requirements for CRM can get prospective CRM Partners to do a lot of foot work at no charge to “prove” their solution will satisfy the CRM Business Requirements.

The Process of Putting Together Business Requirements Means That Users Get Involved

The process of developing Business Requirements gets users involved and that will help the overall change process and user adoption rate for CRM.

Better Budgets With Business Requirements

Better estimate the scope. By investing the time to catalogue your Business Requirements, you will have a very accurate sense of what the CRM system needs to be able to do. This will help you estimate the scope and budget for your project.

Pick The Best CRM Software

Use the CRM Business Requirements to choose the best CRM software for your small business. The Business Requirements becomes the single most critical piece in selecting the right technology for your small business. It becomes the measuring stick by which all technologies are measured.

For more ideas on starting your Small Business CRM or Sales Force Automation project on the right foot, download a copy of our FREE “CRM Street Smarts for the Busy Executive”.

For a complete brain dump of what to do and what not to do when implementing CRM for your small business, be sure to check out the CRM Survival Guide.

ACT! vs GoldMine: What You Need To Know To Choose The Best One

October 30, 2007

CRM Software Comparison which is best?For some reason, one of the most asked questions of me is “which is better: ACT! or GoldMine?”

Sometimes, they ask about Maximizer or SalesLogix, but ACT! and GoldMine are currently the two main ones I get asked about for software comparisons.

I remember when I was a Consultant, selling CRM software, I used to wait for the head-to-head product comparisons from the CRM manufacturer. Why? Because it’s what my prospects kept asking for! And I wasn’t alone…this kind of product matrix or comparison chart was probably the most asked for marketing document from the Reseller community.

But they weren’t head-to-head comparisons at all. It wasn’t competitive intelligence. After a while I came to understand that these charts were thinly veiled marketing hype posing as “competitive intelligence” and were very biased and, in my opinion, deviously skewed. (A careful reading will reveal that the features or functions have been worded in such a way as to give one CRM package a better rating or score). Read more

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