So, you’re thinking about getting a cloud based CRM system. Will you get a Return on Investment?

In this article I wanted to share with you some of my thoughts around the CRM acquisition and trial process for small to medium sized business.

I have worked with literally hundreds of Australian organisations across a wide array of industries over the past years; all whom are considering cloud based CRM solutions. The one thing that they all tend to have in common is that most of the time they are making decisions based on limited information in a procurement process which is usually very short.

The problem with a process like that is that if you make the wrong decision for your organisation it can be time consuming, not to mention costly, to change systems once you’ve committed. Often there can be charges, or other exit barriers that makes switching a painful experience. Hence it makes sense to ‘measure twice and cut once’ so to speak before jumping in.

To that end I offer a couple of general reflections as a common sense approach in Cloud CRM evaluation. There are many other aspects to consider, but these are some of the key areas I find organisations should consider more.

How will this pay for itself – This may sound obvious, but is not considered enough in my view. Any Cloud based CRM system should provide a Return on Investment (ROI). It should add value in some way and typically solve one or more business problems. Try to figure out WHAT the ‘pains’ are, as well as their impact BEFORE you start looking. Most things can be quantified in some way based on time saved; money saved, or by improving efficiency. To get the most value out the Cloud CRM, focus on the biggest pains for your business and when comparing system decide which solution addresses these best.

Stay clear of ‘Shiny hubcaps’ – Shiny hubcaps are features that sounds sexy up front, but will be unused after the second week after deployment, Much like that exercise machine you just ‘had to have’. Let your business needs be the driver of choice in CRM technology, and you’ll get much more out of it. What for one business is a key business need will be a shiny hubcap to another. The key is to be very clear about the difference for your business.

Don’t use a nuke to swat a fly – It would be really nice to have perfect integration with every system you have, but is it overkill compared to the ROI? I commonly talk to organisations about integrations with various systems (accounting packages is probably the main one), but once we talk further we often learn that it actually doesn’t add real value, especially when considering the cost. Improving efficiency for a task that takes 2 minutes per week for a staff member to do manually typically doesn’t make sense. You should quantify benefits against costs and view the trade-off objectively to make that decision in my view.

How much will this cost in 5 years’ time – Subscription models are more the rule than the exception in the cloud, and often a solution that looks affordable up front by offering an entry level plan can provide hidden costs. The ‘vanilla’ plan (or standard flavour if you will) may do the job now, but what if you grow as you hope? Will you outgrow your system and need to take the ‘fandango’ plan, which is 4 times the vanilla plan? Will your new system be good enough at all at that time or will you need to change providers? Getting a reputable system with upfront clearly communicated features is key here. Also consider if there are ‘optional’ extras in your plan. You will be shocked and amazed about the level of ‘upsell’ that goes on in many Cloud CRM systems.

Commit to the Trial – Probably THE biggest problem I see in trials is that organisations start trials with good intentions only to be side tracked after the first day, sometimes less. In essence they spend 30 minutes evaluating a system, which is akin to buying a car by looking at the brochure only. I don’t know many people who would buy a car without taking it for a test drive, so why do that for a CRM system? When you are ready to start a trial, COMMIT to concluding the trial and do your level best to get to a position where you have done your due diligence at the end.

Set SMART goals for evaluation – When trialling Cloud CRM systems consider setting SMART goals:

  • Specify what your criteria for success are – The CRM must be able to…
  • Measure this in some way – How do I measure if it does this successfully?
  • Achieve this in a trial – How do I measure this during the trial?
  • Realistically do this in the trial – Assure that the out of the box features are used without heavy customisations
  • Achieve the goals in a Timely fashion – Make sure that the goal can be achieved in the time allotted in the trial and that enough resource is put to the evaluation process

The bottom line is that you will not be able to evaluate 100% of your needs, and have to take the ‘rep’s’ word for it sometimes, but you should at least give it a half decent go.

The exit barrier – Most systems have an exit barrier of some sort. By this I mean the amount of effort (time and or money wise) that will be involved in moving if you need to in the future? Knowing how to get out of a system before you get in is a good idea and common sense that is not considered all the time.

These are a couple of aspects to consider, but there are of course many more. But if you think along those lines you’ll be better off than many other people buying systems out there.

Good hunting…