How to...know when to upgrade your CRM tools

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CRM software is but one part of an overall customer relationship management strategy, but it plays a vital role. Without proper upkeep the technology can become a hindrance, rather than help, but that doesn't mean you necessarily need to pay top dollar for every new revision and incremental improvement the vendor offers up. Here are three considerations for making the right choice. Look for New Features That Matter A software upgrade should appeal because it does something new for your business--not because it generates more business for the software company. Look for internal process change, or a process change that could be enabled by the software. "Think about some kind of new business requirement, which could be related to something new that's happened in the business," says Carter Hinckley, director of strategic accounts for CRM integrator Infinity Info Systems. Internet security hardware provider Whale Communications recently completed an upgrade from SalesLogix 4 to SalesLogix 6, skipping the intermediate step, because the company deemed it unnecessary. "We've had CRM for the past four years...but we did not upgrade to SalesLogix 5.0, because at the time we were using the system minimally and we were using it for the needs we had," says Elaine Trainor, director of operations for Whale. "When we beefed up staff and added a global component, we needed more functionality, found a new integrator, [Infinity], and came up with a project plan." With just three days of downtime, Whale completed the upgrade. Skipping one version incurred some additional costs for consulting, "but we definitely didn't pay twice," Trainor says. Is It Already Paid For?
The license expense is not the only cost you will incur performing a CRM upgrade--IT time and change-management impact need to be factored in. But if your maintenance agreement already provides free or substantially cost-reduced upgrades, then an upgrade merits serious consideration as the monetary investment is already made. However, when an upgrade comes along, be sure to examine closely the maintenance agreement you signed and pay for. If your vendor includes bug or security fixes in a paid upgrade, and your agreement provides for cost-free corrections of such problems, ensure that you are being treated fairly and can indeed obtain those fixes promptly, without an additional payment. Where customer data and relationships are concerned, software flaws needing to be corrected can't wait. Provide Feedback The surest way to know that your needs and wants will be addressed in a CRM upgrade--and therefore be worthy of your purchase--is to engage in an ongoing dialogue with the software developer. New features and enhancements are influenced by many sources, including competitive pressures and ivory tower theories about best practices. However, the value of black-and-white feedback from a known, paying customer cannot be underestimated. Telling your vendor, "Include this improvement and you will keep my business" makes it that much more likely that the next upgrade will be something you will both be pleased about.
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