We’ve written before that it doesn’t matter which CRM is ‘best’, and that’s true to an extent - but there are still pros and cons to each.
For guidance, we’ve drawn expertise from our network of marketing directors and partners to explore CRMs from the viewpoints of sales, marketing and IT - the three sectors most involved in implementing a CRM in the workplace. Our three experts will walk through the whole process of deciding what kind of CRM is suitable for your business - and then highlight what systems they chose and why.Our reviewers for the day are:
- Hilary Large - Part-time marketing director with The Marketing Centre, specialising in retail and leisure, leading teams in the North and North West.
- Graeme Freeman co-founder of Freeman Clarke, who provide part-time directors for IT just as we do for marketing
- Andrew Milbourn - CEO and founder of Kiss the Fish, who also provide similar expertise to us - but in sales, specialising in fast turnaround sales processes.
We asked them five questions to help you assess how the biggest names in CRM perform and which would be right for you. Over to the team...
What are CRMs generally used for in your respective sectors, and how do your respective sales, marketing and IT teams use your CRM?
Hilary (Marketing): With organisations turning over £1 billion plus, I often see an expansive, bespoke system that was built to do everything in the business. With small to medium-sized operations, it varies: from those at the smaller end who solely use CRM systems for email up to larger firms who are using them to host content and map marketing campaigns, as well as for lead scoring and funnel management.
Graeme (IT): Our clients tend to be medium-sized businesses and they want a CRM system that manages all the customer-facing processes in the business. That can be everything from prospecting, through the payment cycle and out to post-sale support, warranty and so on. Within Freeman Clarke itself, all the outbound content marketing and pipeline management comes through the CRM.
- You may like: The marketing director's view on CRMs
Andrew (Sales): In sales, CRMs are generally for keeping records - but they’re used very poorly in the small to medium enterprise community, where their potential for organising sales people isn’t fully understood.
In my own team we use a very basic CRM called Zoho which just creates a pipeline for each client, and each salesperson updates that every time there’s a point of contact - but it’s low impact for us because most of the people doing the work are in the client's office.
How critical is a good CRM to businesses in your sector, in terms of growth and business success?
Andrew: It’s really important. To grow, you need to understand the metrics of your business. A given number of calls converts to a number of visits, that number of visits converts to a number of sales. You don’t get the same level of granularity and insight around that pipeline from a spreadsheet as you do a CRM.
Often, sales people in small to medium businesses report along a vague pipeline, and it’ll be months before the board or CEO understands that targets and budgets won’t be met. A CRM tells the CEO, the sales director, and the sales managers exactly what’s happening - and if anything’s going wrong.
Hilary: A proper CRM system is transformative. It can introduce data segments, and give the people in them different customer journeys. All the content that customers see can be personalised, and that means response to communications is higher, and that brings up retention rates.
Graeme: If you have large volumes of data, or a complex process with multiple steps, a CRM is absolutely integral. With smaller volumes per person it’s less essential. If you only have a dozen opportunities, with long consultative sales cycles and the business cards in your pocket, you can work without one - but for anything bigger you’ll need a system.
What are the key considerations for businesses choosing their next CRM – and what mistakes do many make in this area?
Hilary: The first thing to watch for is any company who say they can do it quickly, cheaply and easily - it’s never true. Then, watch out for a CRM that works really well in retail but isn’t proven for your sector.
Beyond that, I look for businesses who want to come in, learn the wider business goals by spending time with the IT and executive teams, and then get stuck into specific metrics.
Graeme: Hilary’s right about the wider business goal. These projects inevitably get complicated. To maintain clarity you need to know why you’re doing this, and what’s going into each phase.
There are three things that can go wrong. The first is choosing a CRM that’s designed to support or drive one business function without thinking about your broader needs.
The second is choosing a CRM in head office and rolling it out to mobile or remote sales forces without thinking about people issues. Different people have different concerns and often they’re driven by targets and products, not process and compliance.
The third mistake is getting lost in technical or process complexity: if the CRM is operating across your whole business, there are so many experts involved that you can end up drowning in the detail.
Andrew: Some businesses overpay because they go straight for something like Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics - which can cost a lot to set up, and deliver more than they actually need,or can understand, or have the time for.
The first question needs to be “what do I need from a CRM?” Mostly it’s activity management: all CRMs will give you that and create the bare bones of a pipeline.
The next question should be “what am I asking my CRMs to talk to - what other software does it need to integrate with?” The beauty of Salesforce or Dynamics is that they integrate marvellously with most things - but if you’re using Exchequer (a payroll solution) for your accounts, you need to know that it doesn’t talk to Salesforce. If you don’t, you’ll end up wasting time and effort migrating data between these systems.
And the last question is “what will I do with this data?” A basic CRM gives you data from a sales perspective - but a good one will integrate with your back office systems and check whatever else you need to check and report that to your team.
What CRMs do you each use, and how did you make that decision?
Hilary: I’ve used Salesforce a lot, and I think it’s OK - but it was developed for sales-led organisations, not customer-led organisations. Great for retail, but for leisure it doesn’t do what I need.
There’s an email service provider I’m working with at the moment, called Dotmailer, which offers a form of CRM. It’s email with some broader components that make it a mini-CRM. It will produce an email and do that very efficiently, but it can’t follow the customer on their journey, or put them in a segment based on their responsiveness to email. Again, it works for what it is, but it doesn’t let me do the after-marketing I’m looking for.
Graeme: There are plenty of free or almost free CRMs for smaller companies - Zoho, EasyCRM, OnePageCRM or Really Simple Systems. Those are amazingly easy to set up and they tend to do fine for businesses in their early stages. The problem is that they tend to run aground when the business needs more features down the line.
The “usual suspects” include Hubspot and SugarCRM which will serve a broader range of business objectives into the longer term. Most ERP systems also have an associated CRM module and, although they may be complicated products, there are sometimes advantages to using an integrated suite rather than separate products.
Make the decision based on your business objectives and growth plan - not the short-term price.
Zoho and Capsule are very basic - I’d recommend them to people who don’t have CRMs and need to make sure their pipeline is in place. If you just want to record sales and results and measure them against times and budgets, those systems both work well and are relatively low cost - but don’t expect them to integrate with much else.
I personally used Zoho when I was starting out, to explore organisation of leads. I knew it was very low cost, or free in the first instance, so it was a simple choice for a one-man business. It was very easy, as people joined the business, to increase the licence and pay a fee and carry on using it - but I’ve reached the point now where I’ll probably move to Microsoft Dynamics just because I’ve reached that point in my business’ growth.
Once a business has chosen their CRM, how they can they ensure they get the most value from it?
Hilary: By building support hours into their contract at the beginning, at the very front end. Get an account manager on-site for those first few moths, someone who can take on all that critical questioning. You’ve paid for the system, so put in the additional time and money to make sure it works.
Those hours need to be coupled with training - make sure your support isn’t just a technician, but is also training your people in how to use the system. If they end up stuck using their own workarounds because they don’t know how to use what you’ve paid for - again, you’ve wasted your money.
Andrew: Google will tell you everything you need to know about something like Zoho or Capsule. For the more expensive licensed CRMs that are more complex programmes, there are independent experts you can draw on. Tell them what you’re trying to achieve and they’ll reprogramme your system to do that and give you the data you need. For £500 or £600 a day you can get great value for money - and save the ten days of your time you’d be wasting on getting it to work by yourself. For a £1 million business that’s an easy call.
Graeme: It’s important to get everyone on board. If the Head of Sales says “I’ve got my business cards and my Rolodex and I’m not doing this computer stuff”, that sends a message to the rest of the staff that it’s fine not to use it - and you waste your time and money trying to bring the system in.
Any leader who thinks “this is just a mechanical thing and all I need is to put this technology in and everything will be solved” is misunderstanding the project. That’s why you need someone like the Marketing Centre to bring in the cultural change that’ll make it work.
Picture credit (CC) Wikimedia Commons