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When you buy CRM software, it's a business decision

Many companies falter in buying CRM software because they don't consider the decision in the context of their business needs and existing technology, advises an expert.

As you begin to research and buy customer relationship management software, consider that your company's particular...

attributes and situation are as crucial here as they are in other business decisions. You need to think about your organization's existing technology portfolio, staff and skill sets, as well as your business objectives, before you begin.

That's because purchasing new technology requires you to consider your existing environment. Whether you buy CRM software for Microsoft Dynamics, Salesforce, Oracle or SAP CRM, you need to consider your budget, current application portfolio, staff, skills and other such internal factors before you can choose a technology that meshes with your environment.

At my company, we had to pivot once we realized our CRM software wasn't meeting some of our needs and wasn't aligning with our existing infrastructure. Our company used Microsoft Dynamics CRM for three years before we decided it wasn't a good choice for our business model. During that time, we learned how customizable Microsoft Dynamics can be -- but given the lack of support necessary to implement and maintain it, we couldn't increase our adoption rates among sales reps and other staff members to get the insight we needed. That would have required us to hire people who were capable of constructing, coding and implementing our changes.

As our sales support team, which doubles as our CRM administration team, consisted of one person, we were left to choose between outsourcing the work to third-party companies for thousands of dollars and hiring someone with .NET and user experience skills as well as a sales or CRM administration background. Customizing Microsoft Dynamics involves a certain amount of complexity.

To buy or not to buy CRM software

So a successful CRM software purchase is built on more than just features. It requires a balance of training, stability, customization and functionality to be truly successful, and all of this greatly depends on the skill set and size of your administration team.

Requiring someone to have 'CRM Experience' is vague, but defining a certification gives us a universal standard to go by.

We began the search for a new CRM before we renewed our contract with Dynamics for another year. Among the top contenders were Zoho Corp., Siebel Systems and Salesforce:

Zoho CRM has been around since November 2005 and has continued to expand its offerings to include applications that tailor the CRM experience specifically to you. The company offers a plethora of extensions at very reasonable prices for small and medium-sized businesses. Zoho Social, Zoho Expense and Zoho Survey are just a few of the applications you use within the platform to handle specific tasks. Although my team members liked the customization ability of the software, we didn't put much weight behind it, given our experience with Microsoft Dynamics.

Siebel by Oracle has been around since the 1990s. In the early 2000s, Siebel was a CRM leader with 45% of market share, and Oracle specializes in on-premises solutions. We liked the name recognition and proven stability, but we couldn't afford reallocating resources from our IT department to an on-premises solution. IT is a typical bottleneck due to my organization's focus on technical growth for the last few years. This is why my team wanted a solution that was cloud-based.

Salesforce is the major competitor for cloud-based CRM systems. Given its track record in the cloud, we decided to migrate to Salesforce for a couple of reasons: The first was the platform's ability to be administered with minimal resources on our end. Salesforce prides itself on being user-friendly, and even has step-by-step videos to help familiarize new users to the dashboard. This offloads a large portion of the training element for us and makes the application much less intimidating to our sales team, which helps to increase adoption rates.

We also liked the idea that if we needed to expand our support team, we could easily find competent individuals due to their intense certification program. Requiring someone to have "CRM Experience" is vague, but defining a Salesforce "Application Builders" or "Administrator" certification gives us a universal standard to go by.

During negotiation, we reviewed statistics that showed adoption rates above 80% for other users coming from similar CRMs. Because this was our biggest catalyst for our decision to buy new CRM software, it was music to our ears. The ability to collaborate with people internally and externally using Chatter was a big benefit. Given that it's similar to other social media, it is very accessible to some of our more technophobic employees and aids in the proposal and approval process that we have in Marketing.

To top everything off, Salesforce offers impressive customization through something called App Exchange. If you've ever visited the Google Chrome Web Store, you'll see a stark similarity. Developers can build their apps using the Salesforce platform and provide unique services to Salesforce customers. This allows Salesforce to focus its attention on what it does best and allow the ever-evolving feature race to be crowdsourced under its supervision.

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