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!”

Due Diligence When Buying CRM

January 10, 2008

The way most small businesses buy a CRM software system is done the way those selling the software want which is exactly opposite to the way they should buy a CRM system.

You’ve probably already noticed. There are dozens and dozens (and dozens) of CRM software manufacturers. Some even make several CRM software packages that compete against one another! It’s big business. In fact, it’s multi-billion dollar a year big business and growing!

The competition is fierce and most of these companies are being run with the mantra of “maximizing shareholder value” and not so much thinking about you. It is an intensely sales driven, “better meet my quota or else” business.

So, despite all appearance, when you’re sitting down with someone selling CRM software, you can bet their inner attention is on their commission cheque and meeting quota. They are trained on how to lead you through their “consultative” sales cycle.

You, however, need to resist the temptation to “work with” a CRM consultant (i.e. salesperson) that you happen to “click” with. You need to go through a “due diligence” buying process which shouldn’t include a salesperson until you hit the right step.

So let’s face it. Sellers of CRM are out to sell CRM because that’s their job. While there are some unscrupulous sellers out there, most are trying to make a good buck and look after their family.

Regardless of which kind of seller you deal with, telling you the candid truth about whether or not their solution is the right fit for you isn’t in their job description. The truth may be that you should pick a competitor’s CRM software instead, but they’d never tell you that.

[TAGS]CRM,Customer Relationship Management,Buying Process,SFA,Sales Force Automation,Project Management,Small Business[/TAGS]

Is Economics Killing Off Small Business CRM?

November 12, 2007

I’ve been noticing a disturbing trend in CRM that could have a major impact on small business…the move to eliminate single license versions of products.

Case in point: FrontRange has officially dropped their GoldMine standard product. The option available to new users is to buy their GoldMine Corporate product which comes with a 5 license minimum.

And FrontRange isn’t alone.

Another popular CRM package with deep Open Source roots is SugarCRM. You can get their OpenSource offering free, but if you want the added features of their Pro system you need to buy a minimum of 5 licenses.

SugarCRM’s argument is that the OpenSource version is suited for the very small businesses and don’t need the added capabilities like:

– Sales Forecasting
– Campaign Management
– MS Outlook Integration
– Reporting

I disagree. Today’s savvy entrepreneurs are looking for sophisticated, easy to use software to run their businesses and CRM is no exception. I think for SugarCRM (and others) to claim that businesses with fewer than 5 employees don’t need access to these tools is patronizing spin to hide the true motives.

The question that I think begs asking and that reveals the truth of the matter is “Why don’t they just sell single licenses”? You can argue that it’s just as easy to sell a single license as it is to sell 5 licenses…and you’d be WRONG!!

The truth, as I see it, is that smaller companies with less than 5 employees (and I count myself amongst them) are:

  • much more cost conscious (CHEAP),
  • don’t have the same server and technology infrastructure,
  • are less sophisticated and don’t have the IT resources to deal with the technology.

There’s an old expression “It takes just as much work to sell a small deal as it does a big deal, so sell the big deals.” I think the reason CRM manufacturers  are moving towards the 5 license deals is that as software prices come down, it’s too time consuming (expensive) to sell to the smaller companies that don’t have the resources and sophistication of businesses with at least 5 employees.

More than ever, it’s important to do your due diligence when selecting which software solution is right for you. If you are looking at a software that is still licensed for the “under 5″ company, be sure to ask them about their plans to continue supporting that market space. If you see a company starting to offer versions for larger companies, then double your efforts to get a straight answer about their committment to the “under 5″ space.

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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