How to Select a CRM System

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It is widely understood that CRM systems can serve as vital tools for companies of all sizes and industries. The ability to capture, track, and share relevant customer data can bolster revenue, enhance productivity, cut costs, and, if used correctly, improve a customer's relationship with—and perception of—a company. But for all its advantages, CRM implementation and maintenance also call for hefty financial commitments. And while many firms will elect to put a system in place eventually, they shouldn't jump the gun on the issue by acting too quickly.

To uncover some strategies for selecting the right CRM system, CRM spoke to several industry experts, some of whom presented on related issues at our past CRM Evolution conferences. We asked them to weigh in on the issue with some advice for those selecting their first—or just a new—CRM solution.

Ensure CRM Readiness

1. Conduct honest internal evaluations.

It might be tempting for one company to mimic the behaviors of another with the hopes that it will produce a similar success story, but that's not necessarily the best idea. "Each company needs to figure out which questions will lead to future business," Lior Arussy, president of Strativity Group, points out. "There is no such thing as best CRM practices, or a one-size-fits-all CRM. Each company has [its] own unique relationships."

For this reason, it's important that each company start internally. "One of the first things that an organization needs to do is establish an internal process and a structure or committee for evaluating [its] internal capabilities," Danny Estrada, CRM practice director at Net@Work, says.

A company that does not adequately prepare for its initial transition into CRM use is in for complications down the line. If the right amount of time isn't set aside at the outset to figure out what areas need the most attention and correction, the result can be regret and frustration at not having taken the time to determine which needs are most pressing. Eric Pozil, president of CRM Northwest, a software selection consulting firm, refers to this as "CRM readiness." Being especially careful in these opening stages is vital, he says, because in many cases, companies will invest in a CRM system thinking they're signing up for one thing and discover, only when it's too late, that they require something else.

One of the common tools used to accurately assess the reality of the organization's objectives and current position is a scorecard, which Pozil and other consultants consider indispensable. "When I did a lot of work with companies figuring out which CRM [solution] to get, we'd focus on what was and wasn't working," Jim Berkowitz, technology consultant at CRM Mastery, says. "I'd use a survey where I would get all the customer-facing [members of the company] to provide feedback on each process area, like lead generation, awareness and marketing, or sales management [and other processes]. The value is trying to uncover what isn't working very well from a process standpoint and then specifically using your CRM system to facilitate that process. It gives [you] direction." While this advice is important to 

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