I’ve seen or heard this question at least a few hundred times. Ask it on any digital forum and eager account reps from vendors large and small will emerge from the woodwork. You’ll get fans singing the praises of Salesforce.com, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Sugar CRM, and a smattering of Oracle fans. Small business mavens will tout new solutions like Nimble, Highrise, Zoho CRM or Batchbook, and there are always a few die hards religiously sharing their devotion to ACT! by Sage. Some will even go into great informative detail about features and functions, price points, and kindly offer a conversation to follow up.
In the era of connectedness, there is a treasure trove of information and people to be discovered online. Q&A sites like Focus.com and Quora have plenty of folks who will jump right into the conversation. Check out Gartner’s CRM Magic Quadrant and Forrester’s Wave for expert analysis.
There’s just one problem.
Asking “Which CRM software is best?” is actually like asking “Which restaurant is best?”
If an out of town visitor asked you “which restaurant is best?”, your immediate response would likely be something like?
- For what meal of the day?
- In what price range?
- For what type of food?
- In what area?
- For what type of ambience?
- How long to do you have?
- Who will you be dining with?
Both questions are difficult (impossible) to answer meaningfully without deeper context gained through a deeper series of qualifying questions, and a real understanding of what the desired outcomes are.
There are over 200+ CRM solutions on the market today. There are at least 15 that are very strong at what they do.
Unless you’re running some sort of award competition or are an industry analyst, the real question that you’re likely asking is “Which CRM solution is best for my organization (our culture, our budget, our processes, our people, and our goals and objectives)?”
The answer to that seemingly simple question is highly dependent on the following:
- What is your bigger organizational strategy?
- What goals are you trying to achieve?
- What problems are you trying to solve?
- What opportunities are you trying to capture?
- What does your existing IT infrastructure look like?
- What does your sales process look like?
- How do you find and attract new customers?
- On which channels
- How do you handle service and support?
- What systems are you using today?
- Have you evaluated how you would do things better if you had the tools to do so?
- How do social, mobile, and emerging analytics and digital technologies fit into the picture?
- And dozens of additional questions that help to clarify what exactly you’re trying to do.
- What will the answers to these questions be 3 years from now?
If you’re a one man shop, your answers to the questions above, and the subsequent business requirements are likely pretty straightforward, and relatively easily constructed.
If you are a small business, things may be a little more complicated, but still straightforward enough.
As we begin to scale up the size of the organization, however, CRM solutions begin to support the activities of 20, 50, 100, 1,000 or even hundreds of thousands of people; with different roles, different agendas, different work styles, and most importantly different jobs to be done. Information, process, and analytics begin to span geographies, departments, roles, and take place across a myriad of intertwined systems and technologies.
The Common Cycle of Unmet Expectations
In my experience over the past 15 years, most organizations do a quick and dirty analysis, talk to a few vendors, watch a few product demonstrations, and then make a financial commitment to a technology solution that seems like the best option. After signifiant monetary investment, and hundreds or thousands of invested man-hours, the go-live date hits. Though people are encouraged to use the new technology, requests are often met with strong resistance or indifference. Few people use it (or they use the bare minimum…only a fraction of what is truly possible). The net result in way too many circumstances is a lot of wasted time and money. Old habits resurface. Some complaints are aired internally, some people leave the company, but the perception and use of CRM often settles back into an apathetic drudgery with a deep seeded resentment in a deep, dark place in the minds of the folks who actually make things happen.
Depending upon who you’ve asked over the past decade, between 18-70% of CRM implementations have failed. If you were to take a look at the graveyard of failed CRM implementations, you’d find some common threads.
- Paying insufficient attention to stakeholder needs and benefits
- Implementing technology without clear strategy or objectives
- Misaligned, incomplete, or ambiguous measures of success.
If you are an individual or small business, a “quick and dirty” analysis may be all that is needed. There are plenty of simple, easy to use applications that are free or affordable that can have you up and running with a place to store your contacts and interactions in a matter of minutes.
However, if your organization has 50 or more potential users, a deeper analysis is probably worthwhile. Going through the exercise to define your current organizational requirements will undoubtedly uncover things about your organization that may currently be unknown…locked in the corners of the minds, spreadsheets, and sticky notes of individuals dispersed across your organization.
Understanding the requirements at each level of the organization (Exec, Senior Mgmt, Mid Mgmt, and Line worker) and across functions (sales, marketing, service, support – and yes, even operations, finance, and accounting) will provide a matrix of needs, which will allow a cross functional steering committee to prioritize what is most important.
Having a clear understanding of your organization’s prioritized needs will give you a crystal clear view through a narrowly aimed filter to evaluate the things that your organization needs most. It will also help vendors to answer the questions exactly tailored for the specific needs of your teams.
But the elephant in this conversation is that we’ve only been talking about the technology piece of CRM. The conversations and analysis may also expose potential lurking pitfalls in your organizational structure, team dynamics, perceptions, and understandings. It may expose the need for better alignment to happen between sales, maketing, and customer service folks. It may help to push towards better cohesion in your messaging. It may expose redundancies in your process(es). If you want to make impactful change, you’ll soon realize that the technology is just one piece of the puzzle. After you’ve finished reading this, please feel free to download “Leveraging CRM for Midsize Company Growth” , which I wrote with a few of the world’s smartest CRM thinkers.
Ahem… what about the C in CRM?
What’s ironic is that you’ve read this far, and we haven’t even talked about what your Customers want. If we take a brief step back, we’ll quickly remind ourselves that finding, creating, and keeping customers are the only things that matter.
The survival and growth of any business is totally dependent upon understanding what customers value, the jobs they’re trying to do, and delivering a superior experience and value proposition. CRM can help accelerate and accentuate progress towards those goals. But, its surprising that often, somewhere along the journey, the end game gets muddled down by complexity, lack of focus, and individual agendas.
We can automate and optimize all we want, but if we really don’t understand or care about our customers, our efforts and investments are largely in vain. If you’ve done everything above (or are planning to), you are ahead of 85-90% of organizations out there. If you consider following questions, and implement them well, you’ll be poised for market dominance.
(1) Start with really understanding what your customers want, and more importantly, what they are trying to achieve, and how you can help them. (Don’t assume you already know)
(2) Identify how you will align your organization around more effectively listening, understanding, and delivering what your customers need to get their jobs done. (This will likely require stepping far away from the routine and deeply entrenched patterns that already exist)
(3) Create an execution strategy of how you will align sales, marketing, service, product and service design, etc. (This may be an iteration upon how you do things today)
(4) Understand the ways that your strategy and tactics may evolve over time, and the levers that you may use to do so.
So, instead of asking “Which CRM software is best?”, perhaps the real question is:
“How can we get a deeper understanding of our prospects and customers, create a well crafted vision of how to listen and respond better, and enable people throughout our entire organization to execute in the most efficient. effective, and profitable way?”
Adjust your question slightly and adjust your outcome significantly.
If you’d like to talk more about how to maximize the use of CRM technology in your organization, please drop a short note below and I’ll respond as soon as possible.
To your success,