Shortlist Advice for Selecting Midsize CRM Suites
Look for vendors that have derived at least 25 percent of revenues from midsize clients.
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Like businesses of all sizes, CRM projects for midsize businesses (MSBs) should be based on the organizations' CRM visions and strategies. CRM visions and strategies at any level usually require some amount of technology support. Where midsize firms differ is in the types and amounts of CRM-related technology they need. Even among MSBs there can be significant requirement differences based on industry, geography, and target markets, not to mention unique go-to-market strategies. There are, however, some common requirements most midsize enterprises have, and the class of midsize CRM applications to support these firms has evolved to focus on addressing those requirements. Knowing what to look for should help jump-start your efforts to create a shortlist of vendors and solutions for further consideration. Start with vendors offering a full suite of CRM application functions that are seamlessly, architecturally integrated. Minimum suite functionality should include sales, customer service, and marketing automation. It should be possible to either acquire the application suite at once, or as preintegrated modules acquired over time. Look for CRM applications containing the appropriate depth of functionality for your organization's current and reasonably foreseeable future needs. Don't buy a lot more functionality than you expect to grow into. There is a price to pay in terms of complexity, inflexibility, and maintenance when midsize enterprises choose applications designed for very large enterprises, which are more feature-rich than appropriate for smaller firms. Seek suites with support for seamlessly integrated analytics. This functionality should support all the other CRM application functions: sales, customer service, and marketing. It should be easy to learn and use, but also provide robust multidimensional analytic capabilities. The same applies to the design of the sales-and-service front ends, as ease-of-use plays a significant role in user adoption. Appropriate midsize CRM suites are highly configurable, but are also ultimately customizable to enable mapping the application to the organization's customer-facing business processes. The ability to tailor an application with low-cost configuration (both when initially deployed, and later as business requirements and processes change) is highly desirable and preferable to tailoring by custom programming. However, where custom programming is required look for an application that supports industry standard tools. Equally important, customizations should not be affected by application upgrades--that is, they should not need to be substantially rewritten every time the software vendor upgrades the application. Midsize enterprises need applications whose scale matches their business. Only consider applications able to support the size of your workforce and the scope of your business now and for the foreseeable future. Remember to consider the requirements of adding key suppliers and other business partners over time. One potential exception is that many midsize enterprises need to think about multichannel support for self-service that ties in with the internal sales and customer service functions. Don't look at the technology alone. Look for application vendors that are financially and organizationally stable, as well as strong leadership, competitive and differentiated products in targeted markets, spending appropriate to sustain their financial positions, and profitability today or a clear path to profitability. Finally, watch for vendors that have demonstrated an understanding of and a commitment to midsize enterprise requirements. A rule of thumb is to look for vendors that have derived at least 25 percent of revenues from midsize clients over the past three years. Joe Outlaw is president of Outlaw Research, a CRM and call center industry analysis firm. He is a frequent conference speaker, and previously followed CRM and call centers for Gartner. Contact him at www.valleyviewventures.com
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