Your company has grown from 10 employees to 100. You have more business, more customers, and more money than ever before. So how do you keep those customers happy while still devoting enough sales and marketing resources to continuing to build your customer base?
Growth can be hard to manage, and the first area where small companies tend to feel the pinch is customer care. That's because the overlap of job functions can cause costly communication breakdowns. For example, if one of your salespeople is on the phone with a customer and doesn't realize the customer recently placed an irate call to your help desk, your salesperson is at a distinct disadvantage.
It may be time to consider deploying a customer relationship management (CRM) suite. CRM software suites are integrated tools for managing the three main customer-facing interactions: marketing, such as automated e-mail campaigns; sales, such as shared scheduling; and service and support, such as help desk ticket creation. CRM suites enable your staff to more easily collaborate and share customer information across departments.
Most small businesses use at least one of these tools, but integrating all three to provide a holistic view of the customer has traditionally been the province of big enterprise. Vendors are now making a push for the sizzling small business market, introducing products that help small companies coordinate the multiple customer touchpoints to build customer loyalty and revenues.
We looked at four CRM suites from FrontRange Solutions, Interact Commerce, Neteos Inc., and Salesforce.com. We concentrated on the comprehensiveness of product features, scalability, interoperability, and pricing.
To host or not to host
Installation models for CRM suites vary considerably. Salesforce.com and eRMNow! are Web-based, meaning that users access the application via a Web browser and data is stored on the vendors' equipment. SalesLogix products can either be installed on your hardware, or you can hire an ASP to host the application for you. FrontRange Solutions' GoldMine products can be viewed from a Web browser, but you must host the data in-house. With many of these CRM suites, you must have a relational database management system (RDBMS) strong enough to support your users (see sidebar "Jargon"). If you don't already own these and your budget is limited, you may want to consider the ASP or Web-based solutions.
What to look for
You should decide how much customization your business will need and try to project how soon your company is likely to outgrow the solution you're considering. Not all of the packages provide the same migration path or development and integration cycle.
You should also consider the technical proficiency of your staff, assess IT resources you'd need to support the CRM package you choose, and decide what kinds of software and hardware requirements are necessary to implement a CRM solution.
FrontRange GoldMine FrontOffice 2000
Since its inception nearly a decade ago, FrontRange Solutions has targeted its CRM product line to the small to midrange market. The GoldMine FrontOffice 2000 Service & Support and Sales & Marketing products require Microsoft's SQL, an RDBMS allowing for more sophisticated sales, marketing, and support capabilities. GoldMine Service & Support provides call ticket management, automated e-mail responses, and synchronization with the Sales & Marketing contact database. GoldMine Sales & Marketing features automated contact and lead management, trends-tracking and analysis, e-mail campaign management, and synchronization with the Service & Support contact database. Both modules include an alert feature that will, for instance, notify support staff of an urgent service inquiry or let a manager know when a salesperson has reached a preset quota of qualified sales leads.
The Management Intelligence module provides a dashboard-like manager's console for easily monitoring data across the applications. For example, you can analyze trends that show the success of marketing campaigns and the accuracy of sales forecasts.
FrontRange does not offer an ASP option for these products. A Web client is available, but you must host the data at your site. This reduces your options, but enables you to more easily customize the software using Front- Range's "best practices" templates, which are available free on its Web site.
FrontRange's entry level product, GoldMine 5.5 ($250), is a good alternative for companies with one to ten users. It uses dBASE, a non-relational database, and offers basics such as workgroup collaboration, contact and account management, scheduling, sales forecasting, Web data capture, and automated correspondence.
All of the GoldMine products can be accessed via the Web, Palm devices, or any configured thin client, and are compatible with a wide variety of accounting packages and office suites. The FrontOffice 2000 modules can access Palm as well as Windows CE devices. In addition, GoldSync 5.0 lets users synch up with the application remotely, rounding out an already complete CRM solution for small to medium-sized businesses.
SalesLogix is another mid-market CRM solution that can be used by small businesses. Sales features include account and contact management, opportunity tracking, revenue forecasting, scheduling, and reporting. Marketing features enable users to manage automated marketing campaigns and include data mining and reporting capabilities. Support features let users generate, track, and manage trouble tickets with escalation management.
alesLogix runs on top of a relational database, such as Microsoft SQL or Oracle 8i. All three CRM components use the same database, providing a complete view of the customer, and thus allowing users to share information across modules.
SalesLogix is account-centric, meaning that you set up records based on accounts, not personal contacts. This is useful if your users deal with multiple contacts at the same company. We were disappointed, however, that the marketing campaign manager and graphics capabilities that are packaged with the software are not available via a Web client.
In addition to the standard, in-house client-server installation, SalesLogix is available via a Web browser or ASP. Should you choose to install the software in-house, you will have more leeway in customization and configuration. SalesLogix includes pull-down menus for customizing menu labels and designating data import and export rules for the end-user views. Be prepared to have the necessary IT resources to maintain the application and database servers.
Interact also offers the popular contact manager ACT! ($199) for businesses that may not be ready for a full-blown CRM suite. With more than 70 percent of the contact management market, ACT! features shared scheduling, automated e-mail messaging, and synchronization with wireless devices. ACT! doesn't require additional database software.
Both ACT! and SalesLogix integrate with Microsoft Outlook and other popular e-mail packages. In addition, both ACT! and SalesLogix users can access account, contact, and event data, even via Web-enabled phones. ACT! offers synchronization with Palm devices, while SalesLogix offers wireless access to data on Palm devices.
SalesLogix is a powerful CRM suite, and it comes with an equally powerful price tag. If your business requires full customization and this breadth of features, SalesLogix may be for you.
Neteos eRMNow! 2.0
Neteos' eRMNow! platform can be installed on your company's hardware or used exclusively on the Web. The upside of this product is that it was built entirely from the ground up as a Web-based product, while other client-server applications are only now adding Web capabilities. The downside is that Neteos Inc., was founded just two years ago and is still kicking the tires of version 2.0 of its offering.
If you choose Neteos' subscription model, you don't have to install hardware and software. There is, however, an initial setup, customization, and configuration fee of $10,000, which covers data input as well as initial setup, including establishing the workflow between departments, defining user and group roles, and assigning permission levels. Administrator training for three people is included. This can be an expensive investment for companies that are cutting costs, but because this pricing model eliminates monthly fees, it may actually save some businesses money.
Beyond initial setup, you can use eRMNow!'s Internet-based Customization Tool Kit to configure the system, including specialized terminology and menu and field layouts. In addition, the application features 70 report templates with fields of data you can select to generate reports that track metrics like sales forecasts, sales pipelines, and marketing campaign effectiveness.
We found the application to be highly robust for larger, more demanding companies. eRMNow!'s Sales Tool includes account creation, prospect management, lead distribution, and sales forecasting. eRMNow! Marketing features campaign management, lead management, data capture, and integration with other Web sites. eRMNow! Support includes a knowledge base library, e-mail support management, trouble ticket escalation, and service level agreement (SLA) management. All of these tools are linked to a common database, which Neteos can host or you can host on your premises. In addition, eRMNow!'s Active-Web technology lets you provide links to other Web sites or partner portals to capture sales, support, and marketing data, and import that data into eRMNow!'s database.
Users can access eRMNow! via Palm and wireless access protocol (WAP) devices, and support for Windows CE/Pocket PC devices will be available later this year. Neteos is also working to provide customer support via live chat sessions, which may be available as early as this summer. We can see signs of greatness in this product, but some users may be hesitant to use this relatively new service.
Previously known for its strength in sales force automation, Salesforce.com released additional support and marketing components in March to round out its CRM offering. Founded in early 1999, the company plans to integrate with additional back-office products and services, such as a leading accounting package, later this year.
Salesforce.com is entirely Web-based and hosts the application at its data center facilities. We enjoyed the application's well-integrated tab file design, with tabs labeled Leads, Contacts, Cases, etc. For example, the Cases tab enables support staff to track and resolve customer inquiries, responding by phone, fax, or e-mail. Users can coordinate contacts, schedule appointments, track sales prospects and forecasts, generate and manage customer inquiries, and export data to Microsoft Excel to create customized reports. A Setup Wizard enables you to make some changes to the look and feel of the application. If you require other, more significant customization capabilities, you can hire Salesforce.com to assist you with initial setup for a fee, usually around $20,000.
With the hosted approach, you don't have to install the hardware and software, you don't pay the high initial or maintenance costs when licensing or buying the software, and you can get up and running quickly. On the other hand, you have less leeway in configuration and customization, and you're out of commission if the host's services go down for any reason. Salesforce.com offers highly redundant and secure processing services and service level agreements (SLAs) to mitigate your downside risk.
Of the four solutions, Salesforce.com's marketing component is the weakest. For example, threshold alerts are not yet available. However, the company does offer online lead capture, routing, and management, as well as marketing analysis, and it plans to provide alerts and e-mail campaign management later this year. (Outbound e-mail campaigns with file attachments for up to 100 recipients will be available by the time you read this.) Salesforce.com currently supports Palm, wireless access protocol (WAP) devices, Windows CE, and the Handspring Visor.
Salesforce.com isn't the most robust of the solutions we looked at, but it offers CRM basics for smaller businesses. If your business is still growing and it requires primarily sales and support capabilities, this may be the right solution for you.
Questions to Ask
What are the minimum requirements I need to run the product?
Check to make sure you have the right hardware, software, Internet bandwidth, and IT staff to support whichever product interests you. For example, if you need a solution with enough database power to support a staff of 50 and you want to install the software in-house, make sure you have the necessary tools and IT staff to do so.
What other applications are compatible with the product
You may already have purchased office suites, contact managers, or accounting tools that you'd like to continue using. You should check with the vendor to make sure your favorite third party application is supported.
How can I tailor the application to my business?
All of the CRM products we evaluated offer some degree of customization. You should understand how a vendor plans to charge to tailor the product to your business, and how you will manage customization on an ongoing basis beyond initial setup.
How long before I see a return on my investment?
Find out from the vendor how long it will take to install the application and get you up and running. This includes customizing the product and integrating existing hardware and software, such as mobile devices and third party applications. Most vendors can estimate when you can expect your total cost to be offset by a more streamlined, effective, and potentially profitable customer care solution.
APPLICATION SERVICE PROVIDER (ASP): Any vendor or ISP that hosts an application for a fee. This generally includes the application software as well as the database servers. ASPs often provide access to the application via the Internet using highly secured and reliable server facilities.
DATA WAREHOUSING AND DATA MINING: Manipulation of data within a relational database. Data warehousing centralizes and segments data in categories that can be searched and organized in virtually unlimited ways. Data mining is the process of analyzing data and summarizing it into useful segments that can be used to increase revenues, cut costs, or both.
DBASE AND RELATIONAL DATABASES (RDBMSS): dBASE is a widely deployed non-relational database program. It's not as sophisticated as Microsoft's SQL and IBM's DB2 relational database management systems (RDBMSs), which can store and cross-reference multiple tables of data of differing file formats.
80/20 RULE: Refers to the tendency for 80 percent of a company's profits to be derived from the top, most desirable 20 percent of its customers. The remaining customers are often more costly to the company than they are profitable. By leveraging CRM tools, the theory holds that companies can better serve their most profitable customers.