Is Customer Relationship Management Right for your Small to Mid-sized Business (CRM not just for the big boys)

Is Customer Relationship Management Right for your Small to Mid-sized Business

By Jason Baselice

Editor’s Note: The basic concepts behind customer relationship management aren’t new, and they apply to any business large or small, even though CRM is often associated with huge software implementations in large companies. What about smaller companies? This article is a good place to start if you are a small to medium sized business, and wondering whether more advanced customer service management is a step you want to take.

Customer Relationship Management has been a holy grail for Big Business for the past ten years. So what about Small to Mid-sized Business (SMB) applications? If you talk to CRM software vendors they will claim that CRM systems help SMB’s become more efficient, drive more sales (your ROI) and increase the accuracy of your forecast.

A few consultants have an alternative view: they see CRM as a process rather than a software product. A CRM process allows you to effectively manage your customer interactions (get to know your customers). This way you actually get to use the nice shiny tools that the CRM software vendors offer.

While I tend to agree with the latter, my experience with databases is as my algebra teacher used to say: GIGO! (Garbage-In Garbage-Out).

Regardless of which view you take, you’re going to need to do a lot of research and soul-searching within your organization in order to get the most from your CRM. Here is what you need to think about to get started:

What is Customer Relationship Management?

Well…the answer depends not only on who you talk to, but also on who you are.

If you are a sales rep, CRM simply means effectively using Outlook or Act or some other contact manager to track potential customers as they move through your sales cycle.

If you’re a business owner or CEO then it means tracking all of your customer’s information as they touch your organization at key points. This is how you know when they’ll need to buy your widget or have their new widget serviced or whether they’ll want to know about an upgrade to a particular line of widgets.

As the owner, CRM means you will be able to provide your employees with access to customer information at all levels of your organization from a centrally managed location. This improves service and aids in customer retention.

The big idea here is to keep vital knowledge about your customers within your organization, even if your employees change.

Is CRM Right for You?

It depends on who you are, and how you apply it.

If you’re a Big Company CEO then you’ve probably already sunk millions into a strategic alliance (bought their product) with Oracle or SAP. Then you paid their developers millions more to automate your broken business processes. This generates tons of overtime hours from overworked employees as they fix customer issues “in the back office”. Fortunately, your stock went up anyway because you talked big to Wall Street analysts about your million dollar magic database system which makes your organization appear more efficient. Operational inefficiencies are quietly choking this organization, but your golden parachute will probably open out as soon as the fan begins to blow your way.

HOWEVER, in all likelihood if you are reading this you’re probably not a Big Company CEO. Perhaps instead you run a mid-sized private company with multiple regional locations. In this case you may have several different systems that require your employees to spend their time faxing documents back and forth between departments. Despite this your customers are pretty happy because they get to speak with Sally (their favorite customer service rep) everyday and the product gets out the door.

OR you’re a small business owner that knows almost all of his customers by name because you’ve managed to enter MOST of them into your Outlook address folder. SOMEDAY you’ll be able to find the rest of those business cards from last year’s convention. Anyway, you’ve managed hire a few key employees that remember the rest of your customer’s names, what they’ve ordered and when they’ll need to re-order new stock. Because of this you can usually come close to a forecast of next month’s sales.

Now for the nitty gritty:

So, what can CRM do for a Small to Mid-sized Business?

Properly applied, CRM can:

* Make every customer count – The cost associated with finding a customer means that you need to make every customer count. While it’s important to secure new business, it’s your repeat business that means long term success.
* Help you know your customers – When you’re a small business knowing your customer means knowing what they need now and what they may need 30/60/90 days from now. This knowledge is often the key to survival.
* Generate cross-selling (making suggestions) of product enhancements or alternatives.
* Target marketing communications to your customer’s specific needs.
* Increase customer retention and repeat business. Repeat business from existing customers means reduction in overall cost of sales.

Okay. So you’ve decided that you’re sold on CRM and you want to buy a system to bring in those customers, get inside their heads and bring ‘em back for more. Now you’re going to need to know your CRM options in terms of software systems.

Pros and Cons of ASP vs. Boxed Software:

There are two models for CRM. Application Service Provider model and software based. There are a number of advantages to both the ASP and software models.

Application Service Providers
ASPs offer web-based CRM services. The ASP model is a decent option if you want to implement a solution quickly and your organization lacks the in-house talent or resources to customize an existing application or build from the ground. ASPs are good bet if you’re an internet based business or small business that needs a fast and low-cost start-up solution.

* No software updates to manage or install
* No servers to support or purchase
* No back-ups of critical customer information required
* Generally low start up cost (hardware, software and training included)

* ASP’s can go out of business, taking critical customer information with them
* High-speed internet connection required
* Internet connection outage means critical customer information is not available

Boxed or Off-the-shelf software
Several software manufacturers produce CRM solutions that work with existing packages (Lotus, Outlook). Often these companies offer stripped down or basic versions of their packages targeted to small businesses. This can be low-cost solution if you’ve already invested in standard Microsoft business applications and can deal with most of the standard modules they offer. If you’re flexible and willing trade some functionality for convenience and price then boxed software may work for you.

* Application is theoretically available on a 24/7 basis
* No high-speed internet connection required
* Business critical information is securely stored on company servers and back-ups are easily accessible
* Business is not immediately interrupted due to a change in the developers business situation

* Generally high-start-up costs (server hardware, software and training)
* On-going support required: Back-ups, updates and service packs etc.
* Data can often be stored in a proprietary format that will require conversion in to new format

Other CRM Solutions:
Custom Development
If you’ve the budget, time and patience then a gaggle of consultants, CRM solution providers and software engineers will beat down your doors to develop a custom CRM system that works flawlessly with your existing systems. I’d recommend this option only if you’re spending other people’s money, get a big bonus and then are able to leave the company before it falls apart. If you do select this path, carefully work through your specifications with your “partners” and good luck!
Managed Solutions
ASPs offer to create a customized brand-version web of their web CRM applications. These are usually on a dedicated server and often sell for a flat development fee PLUS lots of other customized options. It can be solid choice if you’ve got the budget and are willing to be flexible with some of the functionality.

Who Are The Players?

Unfortunately, in the CRM market the question is more like who isn’t a player. Using the broadest terms you can call a Rolodex a CRM system. The important thing is to define CRM for your organization.

Regardless, here’s a quick list:

Product Name: Sage CRM Solutions
Software: Sage SolutionsFeatures: Customer Care, Marketing Automation, Microsoft Outlook Integration, Offline Synchronization, Sales Automation, Wireless PDA Access, Customer Care, Marketing Automation, Microsoft Outlook Integration, Offline Synchronization, Sales Automation, Why On-Demand CRM
Microsoft Windows, Microsoft SQL; Oracle DBMS’.

Product Name: Microsoft Dynamics CRM 3.0
Company: Microsoft
Price: $5,000 to $50,000
Features: Sales, Customer Service, CRM Mobile, Marketing, Suns Legacy Partners, Hutchinson and Bloodgood, Kindermusik International
Microsoft Windows;Microsoft SQL. ASP/Web interface environment; Microsoft .NET Framework

Product Name: SAP Business One CRM
Company: SAP America, Inc.
Price: $11,250+
Features: Sales Opportunity Management, Business Partner Management, Service Management
built-in reporting, internal workflow and alerts, highly customizable, embedded CRM.

Product Name: Oncontact V
Company: Oncontact Software
Price: $1,000-$1,500/user
Features: CRM Account Management, Sales, Marketing, Customer Service, Toolkits
Microsoft C#;Microsoft .NET platform.

Product Name: Entellium CRM
Company: Entellium
Price: $50 per user / month

eSalesForce, eCustomerCenter, eMobile, My*Entellium ASP

Product: Neocase
Company: Neocase Software, Inc.
Price: ($1,000 per seat w/server; $100 a month on demand
Features: Parent/Child Cases, Contract and Service Level Agreement Management, Self-Service Solution, Customizable Partner Portal, Searchable Knowledge Management Tool, Dashboards and Reports

Product Name: Parature
Company: Parature Inc.
Features: eActivity, eAsset, eChat, eContact, eDownload, eForum, eKnowledge, ePortal, eProduct, eReport, eSurvey, eTicket
Product: Pivotal CRM
Company: Pivotal Corporation
Features: Pivotal Sales Suite, Pivotal Marketing Suite, Pivotal Service Suite, Pivotal Partner Management Suite, Pivotal Analytics, Pivotal Technology, Pivotal Mobile CRM, Manufacturing, Financial Services, Home Building and Real Estate, Healthcare Payers, Medical Device Manufacturing

Product: NetSuite CRM+
Company: NetSuite Inc.
Price: CRM Software From $129/user/month
Features: Real-time Dashboards, Business Intelligence, Sales Force Automation, SFA: Order Management, SFA: Upsell/Cross-Sell, SFA: Incentive Management, Customer Support & Service, Partner Relationship Management, Marketing Automation, Productivity tools, Document Management & Publishing
NetSuite CRM+ is a web-based CRM solution.

Product: Maximizer Enterprise CRM
Company: Maximizer Software Inc.
Price: $499/user +
Features: Sales Force Automation, Outlook integration, Wireless CRM, Web-Based CRM, Marketing Automation, Customer Service and Support Management, Customization, Business Intelligence, Workflow Automation, Accounting Link, Partner Relationship Management, StemCell Technologies, Inc., W&O Supply, Inc.,
Microsoft Windows, SQL, .NET, Outlook, Office, IIS

Product: ADAPTcrm
Company: ADAPT Software Applications, Inc.
Price: $1,000 to $1,500 per seat
Features: Campaign Management, Accounting Integration, Sales Management, Service Ticket Management
MS SQL 2000

Product: OfficePax
Company: eTouchware, Inc.
Price: $179.00 per seat
Features: Group Calendar, Email, Invoicing, Time Management, Project Management, Group Contact Management, File Sharing
MS Access; MS SQL

Product: e-Synergy
Company: Exact Software North America
Price: $5,000 +
Features: Web Shop, Event Manager, Sarbanes-Oxley, Software Development Kit (SDK), Customer Relationship Management, HR Management, Document / Knowledge Management

Why can’t we be friends?

Fast forward 2 years later. Your CIO has quit, the budget has been cut and your CRM implementers are sending flaming emails to each other about whose fault it is that billing’s screwed up. It’s possible that your CRM project has turned into a stanza from the Mariners Tale (origin of the term “albatross around my neck”) for a few key reasons:

*Lack of commitment. In order for most organizations to become “customer-focused” upper management must lead the cultural change. This requires first admitting you have problem, followed by a genuine attempt to view your operations from the customer’s perspective. Without this painful process your CRM will help your organization screw up more efficiently. This means losing customer relationships and revenue.

*Lack of communication can prevent buy-in. In order to make CRM work, all the relevant people in your business must know what information you need and how to use it.

*Lack of leadership could cause problems for any CRM implementation plan. Unless your management (you) is willing to lead by example and push for a customer focus on every project, CRM will not help you. If a proposed plan isn’t right for your customers, don’t do it. Send your teams back to the drawing board to come up with a solution that will work.

Eating the Elephant: Small Bites, Chew Slowly

Some organizations try to install every single module at once in order to get it over with quickly. This can be a sign of lack of commitment with in your company.

Look hard at those that are pushing for an “aggressive implementation” timeline because most likely they’re working an agenda…the failure of the implementation. Take a deep breath and remember that any business approach that brings cultural change will generate resistance.

Breaking down your CRM project into bite-size pieces with small pilot projects and simple, measurable and realistic milestones will often keep the feeling of success surrounding your project going and draw-in all the necessary departments. Small focused groups allow you the flexibility to make on-the-fly adjustments without increasing the political noise level.

More Is More

When it comes to data, always get more than you need and peel it back. It’s easier to reduce the amount of data you need than to attempt to create new.

Thorough analysis of the data you’ve collected is necessary to insure that what you’ve collected is truly mission critical.

Grab Your Sox and Drop Your…

Understand the rules around Sorbanes-Oxley. If you have more than a few employees then yes, you’ll need to setup a project leader or team to insure that your system is “SOX Compliant” and leave it at that. There are a number of great resources to assist you in understanding the legislation on the internet…go look ‘em up on Google.

Solution Providers: Marry in Haste, Repent at Leisure

For any organization CRM is a large investment so choose your “partners” with the same care you’d choose your spouse.

Considering that the divorce rate is at 50% it’s obvious that people often make expensive mistakes when choosing a partner. In this case, the wrong partner could cost you your business. Before you impulsively join in a “strategic partnership” with a solution provider you may first want to ask them a few key questions:

The Company

* How long has the supplier been established?
* Who are their partners?
* Who are their suppliers (Office equipment, software, development etc.)
* What are their Mission, Vision and Core Values? Look at those statements carefully. Often those are not ideals that have been achieved but where they want to go.

The Product

* Be sure to understand the licensing, purchase and on-going development costs. Seems obvious but it’s worth saying. What are the specific costs associated with the product; i.e. a one-off purchase price, an annual renewable license, a charge per user etc?

Drive Before You Buy
*Does the supplier offer any form of evaluation software so that you can try before you buy?

*Do they have an analysis or assessment process prior to installation?
*Will they do a pilot implementation for a specific area?

*Is the system scalable to grow with my business?
*Is the system written in open-source code? Is the code written to industry standards? Is there a developer community?
*What operating systems does it support?
*What are the bandwidth requirements?
*What are the client-side requirements? Hardware? Software?
*Are there special service packs, patches or other OS or applications updates that need to be installed prior to implementation?
*Ask for a security statement. What security risks or potential risks are associated with this product?

*Will they assign an implementation project manager (NOT a sales rep) to co-lead the implementation?
*How much is charged for technical support? Is it on a per call basis? Monthly? Is it 24/7 coverage?
*Does the supplier provide consultancy and, if so, at what rates?

*Can the supplier recommend any third-party developers that make use of their core CRM products?

*Is there an active independent user group where experience and ideas can be freely exchanged?

*Can the supplier provide references for businesses in your industry sector using their software?

*Does it offer training in the CRM solution and, if so, at what typical cost?

The Final Analysis

OKAY. What have we learned so far?

*CRM has broad applications, benefits and drawbacks. There’s no easy CRM push-button solution.
*CRM is a process that requires cultural change aided through the use of technology tools.
*CRM software will not instill customer centered focus within your organization.

*Customer centric behavior is driven by leadership example, communication and ultimately organizational buy-in.
*Beware the need for speed! Implement your system using small achievable milestones to build on success and use that success to draw in participation from other departments
*Choose your supplier carefully and ask LOTS of questions.
*Get more data!

*Good Luck…you’ll need it.

Jason Baselice, Managing Associate for * associates ( You can contact Jason at:

This article maybe freely distributed without modification and provided that the copyright notice and author information remain intact

Copyright 2006 * associates All Rights Reserved. * associates is service mark of * associates.

Is Customer Relationship Management Right for your Small to Mid-sized Business?
By Jason Baselice © 2006 * associates

Jason Baselice, Managing Associate for * associates ( You can contact Jason at:

This article maybe freely distributed without modification and provided that the copyright notice and author information remain intact

Copyright 2006 * associates All Rights Reserved. * associates is service mark of * associates.

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