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Getting started with CRM in a small business

Our company is on the verge of a "contact explosion". We currently have 40 sales contacts to manage. If we increase that by 500%, as I am forecasting, I will need a CRM tool on the front end so I don't spend hours transferring data on the back end.

Where should a small company begin to research CRM software geared exclusively for the small business (1 sales person and 4 account managers)? Ideally I want a forum that excludes larger sized company solutions -- all that information is just overloading me with choices that are irrelevant to my needs.

Here are some criteria I am considering when I make my decision:

  • Most customers will fit into 3-5 categories
  • Option to customize customers' services specific to my industry
  • Purchase instead of renting: I prefer to find a software solution our IT department can customize, install and manage.

Any suggestions?

Before I can definitively answer this question I'd want to know what type of research you're on doing. Are you trying to build a short-list of CRM software solutions to evaluate? Are you looking to see what's available in your price range? Are you looking to research the functions and features available from various products?

If your answer to any of these questions is yes, then before commencing with this research process, make sure that you're not "putting the cart before the horse." As Michael Gentle noted in his CRM Project Management Handbook, "one of the biggest myths about CRM is that any company can embrace it and expect results."

Many enterprises have viewed CRM as just technology; it's not. It's about getting, keeping and growing profitable customers. So, if you don't want CRM to stand for "Costly Rotten Mistake," in your organization, you've got to put together a formal that outlines what you're going to do (people, business process and technology-wise) and how these things will improve your enterprise's ability to get, keep and grow profitable customers. Technology alone is not the answer; but it will be an important enabler to assist you in achieving your goals.

I believe strongly that small and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs) will not be successful with CRM if they skip critical CRM steps. In fact, skipping the CRM process often leads to making poor software selection decisions and to costly and disruptive software implementation projects.

So, before researching CRM software alternatives make sure you complete the following:

  • Develop a CRM strategy for your enterprise
  • Figure out specifically what business problems you want to address
  • Define several formal, measurable objectives for your CRM initiative
  • Uncover technology issues that you're organization faces, like integrating of your CRM solution with your accounting system and customer data capture, accuracy and maintenance
  • Gain a solid understanding of how what you're will affect:
    • Your people,
    • Your current business processes (if indeed you have formal, structured, repeatable processes in your marketing, sales and customer service areas)
    • And, most importantly, the satisfaction and loyalty of your customers.
  • Put someone with a lot of knowledge and experience with CRM in charge of your project (and consider hiring a consultant to provide guidance to your CRM project team)

A good place to start is by assessing your enterprise's current organizational, customer management, business process, and technology situation (as it relates to CRM) so that you can uncover and begin to address risk areas that could hamper your success with a CRM software initiative. In total there are about seventy specific risk factors that you should evaluate. If you're interested in a taking a FREE "CRM Maturity & Risk Evaluation" (that will cover all of these issues), email me or give me a call at 303-816-9095.

Finally, here are some good places for general research about CRM software for small companies:

Each of these sites will contain useful information about some of the most popular CRM software solutions for SMEs: (Microsoft CRM, Salesforce.com, ACCPAC CRM, SalesLogix, Salesnet, NetSuite, Pivotal, Onyx and OnContact).

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