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CRM Software Selection Best Practices Best Practices in CRM Software Selection

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I. The Risks & Rewards of Choosing CRM Software in an Uncertain Business Environment

With its promise of faster sales conversions, higher revenues, superior support and improved retention, customer relationship management (CRM) software is perhaps the business application from which companies expect the most. But sometimes excitement about this application’s transformative potential overshadows its technical and business realities, causing steep expectations to be unmet. As a result, many mid-market and enterprise companies are unsure how to choose a CRM system; others are today in the process of choosing a new CRM system, due to disappointment with their current application.

Mid-market companies are forging ahead with CRM

Why are mid-market companies switching or adopting CRM applications now, in today’s uncertain economic environment? There are numerous reasons, including:

  • Maintaining legacy software usually costs more money and resources than it’s worth. A decade after the CRM implementation bonanza that occurred during the high tech boom, many companies have reached a breaking point with upgrades in what’s now legacy software.
  • Other, first-time implementors recognize the advantages that CRM systems can bring to customer-facing processes, thus catalyzing conversions, revenues and improved customer satisfaction. These companies are forging ahead with plans to implement CRM solutions.
  • New options in software deployment – traditional on-premise deployment, as well as subscription-based software as a service (SaaS) or cloud CRM – have dramatically altered the purchase, delivery and support options for mid-size companies. SaaS CRM and other technology improvements offer faster deployment, better integration with other enterprise systems, and affordable access to powerful enterprise-class CRM capabilities. Cloud CRM has also evolved to include more powerful native functionality such as workflow, integrated business intelligence and decision support.

Fostering growth in an uncertain environment

For most mid-market IT organizations, it’s a challenge to deliver high-performance CRM systems that are well adopted, and provide real-time, company-wide information flow. Achieving real-time data flow requires extensive integration of CRM software with ERP systems and other business applications.

However, these enterprise-class CRM requirements must be delivered within tight budgets for IT staff, software acquisition, implementation and ongoing support. As a result, IT organizations at mid-size companies face a potent mix of complex challenges in choosing the right CRM system. More than ever, they need a CRM solution that can be deployed quickly, have rapid time-to-value, and continue to meet their changing needs. The critical elements of success entail:

  • Rapid deployment, including integration with other applications
  • The ability to customize a packaged application quickly
  • The ability to easily adapt the CRM application to existing and new business processes
  • The flexibility to evolve to meet changing user needs and business conditions.

II. The Key to Sustained Value: CRM Systems Must Evolve To Meet Changing Needs

The flexibility to evolve is perhaps the most important strategic imperative that should guide the CRM selection process. The marketplace is crowded with many CRM choices, including systems that ultimately will be unable to adapt to changing needs.

While most mid-size organizations have a clear idea of their initial requirements of a CRM system, they can often be unpleasantly surprised soon after its implementation. Weeks or months after the system goes live, they may discover that the CRM application cannot perform a necessary, logical task, which forces difficult choices, ranging from customizing the system to selecting and implementing an additional "bolt-on" application. Bolt-on applications often significantly complicate the use, management and maintenance of what can quickly become a patchwork CRM environment.

Practical pitfalls: Spotlight on ERP

For example, a mid-size company deploying a new CRM system wants to work up a quote from within CRM – an essential task in the sales person’s role. Eventually, the quote will be pushed to the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, as an order for processing, when the lead converts to a sale. While it is possible to employ an elaborate opportunity form to mimic an order form, the form’s reduced functions (to make it fit in the opportunity format) often doom its continued use.

Unfortunately, months later, when the company wants to be able to convert the quote to an order and push it to the ERP system, they cannot, because the quote was malformed and cannot be pushed to ERP without data being added and validated. The company is then forced to create a work-around, with a bolt-on application, to compensate for the CRM application’s missing functionality.

These kinds of costly surprises, and many others, can be avoided by utilizing a best-practice approach to selecting a customer relationship management system.

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The flexibility to evolve is perhaps the most important strategic imperative that should guide the CRM selection process.


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