As the importance of customer relationship management (CRM) has grown, so have approaches to implementation. CRM is a multi-billion dollar industry that grew from basic contact management (DOS-based ACT!, 25 years ago) to complex systems that provide a 360 degree view of the customer (SAP and Oracle), to evolutionary social CRM platforms like Nimble. There are numerous deployment options, from on-premises, to SaaS and cloud-based solutions, to custom solutions.
SaaS (software-as-a-service) democratizes technology for small to medium business (SMB) by providing simple – or sophisticated- multi-tiered solutions that can scale without the resource demands of on-premise solutions.
SaaS CRM providers offer web-based solutions that eliminate complex and costly software infrastructure, ongoing maintenance, and support expertise. Many vendors offer modules or 3rd party integration that enable companies to add functions and features to their core product as business needs evolve. Some vendors include off-line options for when you’re off the grid (although requirement for off-line access has diminished thanks to smartphones, tablets, and ubiquitous wireless access).
There are huge benefits to this “just-enough-for-now” approach to CRM.
- Simple, stripped-down editions are available at no or extremely low cost
- Businesses align costs with current business and user requirements
- As requirements evolve, the software – and associated investment – can evolve with them, without the cost and disruption of changing platforms.
Cloud-based CRM solutions offer hosted implementation and pricing models (typically charges are metered, based on capacity) that allow almost any company to quickly gain the benefits of CRM. In this model, you typically own the software but you install it “in the cloud”. This model is not limited to CRM software, but can be used for any other business applications.
Think Rackspace or Amazon EC2: “Amazon EC2 changes the economics of computing by allowing you to pay only for capacity that you actually use.”
On Premise CRM
CRM software is sold in a packaged or compiled and downloadable form that’s installed like many other software products. CRM solutions come in a variety of price points and just as many variations of features. Those with higher price points may offer integration and customization capabilities, while those with lower price points are more similar to contact management software and suitable for SMB with few integration needs.
Customized CRM solutions are solutions modified to meet the specific needs of a single business and are may be integrated with the business’s existing software systems. The provider will typically send consultants to tweak and implement the system. Customized systems can take a large investment of time to implement, and are generally quite costly in both the short and long-term, as customizations might not be supported when the core software is upgraded.
This is not to be confused with customization options built in to most applications which enable users to add fields, change the look and feel, or integrate 3rd-party applications created based on the software’s API.
Unless customizing the application provides significant business value it’s rarely advisable to undertake programmatic customization on CRM software. Software customization is notoriously costly and almost always poorly documented, holding you hostage to the company or individual who performed the work.
In-house development of a CRM system is always an option for organizations that have technical staff and needs that can’t be met by other options. A proprietary CRM is a completely custom software solution created by internal development staff or consulting resources specifically to meet organizational requirements. It’s also customized software, which, as we mention above, is rarely a good idea.
The in-house development approach to CRM is usually undertaken because management believes – or has been convinced – that a bespoke system will deliver exactly what an organization requires. In practice, the propriety system is generally an exercise in recreating the wheel; it’s fair to say that CRM solutions are not in the core competency of general developers. Any software ultimately requires compromises – even the software developed internally. CRM is designed for specific functions that home-grown software can rarely replicate, so make your compromises around existing CRM solutions that come closest to supporting your needs. Just ask anyone who tried a DIY approach!
Your CRM implementation is an investment, so make the time to plan. Keep in mind that Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day, Neither Was CRM
Of course, there’s always the option of doing nothing:
Your CRM Shortlist
When selecting a CRM solution, consider the pros and cons of all of the implementation options and select what aligns with the needs of your organizational goals. Base your shortlist on the key business processes that must be supported. Then and only then can you determine if the right capabilities exist in the software and deployment methods you are considering.
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