How to Select a CRM Solution for Your Company

This article will help you select a CRM solution based on several important criteria, such as features, technical functions and usability.

If you work for an SME company and still do not have a CRM (customer relationship management) solution in place, or would like to replace the current CRM solution with a new one, this article will be helpful to you.

Initial analysis

You will need to compare at least 5-10 solutions available on the market and evaluate both their technical and business feasibility and their features. The easiest way is to create a decision matrix in Excel, where you list the CRM solutions and the factors that are important. For a list of such factors, keep on reading.

Market presence

The first idea would be to go for a solution that is well-known on the market. However, it may not be the solution that fits the needs of your company or your line of business. For example, some CRM solutions with strong market presence are not geared towards the needs of small companies. At the same time, you do not want to end up with an underdeveloped product lacking documentation and support (see below).

GDPR

Choose the solutions that comply with data protection laws of your country or the countries you operate in. If technically feasible, select self-hosted instead of cloud-hosted solutions.

Integrations

Consider the landscape of the solutions you are already using. Your CRM system is the central component of this landscape. It should have integrations with all (or most) software you use or at least an open API to create such integrations.

Data import to a CRM solution

Most solutions offer data import from CSV/XLS files, as well as contact imports from Outlook (vCards). This will suffice in most cases. Some solutions offer data import through scanning business cards or from other sources (e.g. TXT files).

Data processing

Essentially, CRM is there to store and process data on your customers, leads, suppliers, partners and employees. Thus, the features of a CRM system must include an easy way to do all the following:

  • categorize contacts (e.g. tagging)
  • add comments and attach files to contacts
  • create relationships between data sets (e.g. associate people to companies)
  • change the entered data
  • (last but not least) back up and restore any data deleted by accident.

A good user rights management system will also be helpful (the more people are using the CRM the more helpful it gets :-))

Data export from a CRM solution

This is something that is equally important to data import. In case you want to migrate your data into another system or switch to another CRM, you should be able to do it without losing any important information.

Features

Do not get stuck on having as many features as possible. This will unnecessarily increase the complexity of the system and slow down the learning curve for everyone involved.  Instead, decide what features you actually need.  Here are some examples.

Sales

If your sales people will be using the CRM, consider how it tackles visualizing the sales funnel, lead management and analyzing the sales data.

Accounting

Some CRM systems offer automated creation of quotes and invoices as well as other payment tracking.

Support

CRM can become a solution that you will use for customer communication and support. If this is important, you might want to invest in CRM offering such features.

Project management

Many CRM systems offer project management features, such as setting up meetings, creating workflows, etc.

Usability

Usability is THE crucial factor in CRM implementation. The best way to test the usability of a product is to sign up for a trial version (make sure that no hidden costs or contract obligations arise after the testing phase).

Then you can start testing the software with an initial set of fake data, similar in structure to the data you will be using. If possible, let several relevant users from your company participate in this test.  In fact, you can even do some internal usability testing. Since this is rather time-consuming, select only 2-3 systems (that rank the highest in your decision matrix).

Support and Documentation

It would be best to test out the support or the documentation on the product during your testing phase. This way you will know how problems will be tackled in reality.

At this stage you should also check how your internal resources can support the implementation and introduction of the new software.

Cost

Do not let the price be the leading factor in selecting your CRM solution. If some free CRM software matches all of your requirements – go for it. However, if choosing a free solution involves hours spent on setting it up, bug-fixing and understanding how it actually works, you may want to give it a second thought.

Generally, the two pricing factors are the number of CRM users and the number of additional features (“Starter” vs “Premium” packages). Here I would recommend to start small and add any features when you will be sure that you need them.

The infographic below sums up the relevant factors in CRM software selection.

infographic how to select a crm solution

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4 Most Important Strategic Marketing Steps

In this post, I will outline the most important steps in creating your marketing strategy. This checklist enables you to create a successful marketing plan.

In this post, I will outline the most important steps in creating your marketing strategy. If you start with this checklist, the rest of your marketing strategy will fall into place more easily.

Marketing Step 1: Who am I?

The first and foremost thing to do is to define your company. This includes the type of the company (a start up, a small local business, a medium-sized company, etc.) and the line of business you are in (banking, catering, consulting services, retail, etc.). Also, think about your branding strategy, i.e. how you want your customers to perceive you. You can use different brand-building models. One very well known model is brand identity prism. At this point, you do not have to worry about brand appearance (logos, colors, etc.). Instead, you can ask yourself the following questions:

  • What does my company (brand) do?
  • What impression do I want to make as a company (brand)?
  • What is the personality of my company (brand)?
  • What relationship does my company (brand) have to the customer?
  • What kind of people are my customers?
  • What are my company (brand) values and principles?

For example: Tuscolo is a small local chain of Italian restaurants that serves real Italian food in a friendly and familiar atmosphere. It incorporates tradition and creates authentic Italian experience through its interior, service and food presentation. It caters for families, couples and groups of friends and colleagues who want to enjoy good food in a relaxed setting.

Marketing Step 2: What is my offering?

Decide, what products and/or services you are going to offer. Do not think in terms of what you can possibly offer. This will produce difficulty in creating a well-defined product portfolio and diminish any marketing efforts.

So, how do you define your offering? On the one hand, there should be a market for it (do some market research or ask your current customers and business partners). On the other hand, this should be something you can do or produce really well (see Step 4). Additionally, think about what is feasible to offer at the current company state. Then, you will also need to define the key features and properties of your products or services.

Marketing Step 3: Who are my customers?

The next important element of your marketing strategy is customers. To make things easier for you, you can use the following plan. Firstly, think in terms of generic target group definition – such B2B or B2C customers and the geographical area you want to serve.

Add parameters such as the size of company and the line of business (for B2B) or age and gender (for B2C). Secondly, specify this by segmenting within your target group. E.g. large vs medium-sized companies, retail vs wholesale, etc. Third, dive deeper into the definition of each segment and develop customer personas. In case of B2B, that would be profiles of individual decision makers. Try to understand their motivation, their needs and wants, how they communicate and what they expect from a product or a service.

Marketing Step 4: What is my USP?

USP or Unique Selling Proposition is the cornerstone of every marketing strategy. It is what sets you apart from competition. Basically, it is the reason Why for your customers. You can develop a generic USP for the company or think in terms of USP’s for separate products or USP’s for different customer segments.

For example, you own a bookstore specializing in nonfiction literature located close to a university. The first customer segment is students. The USP for them is low prices/discount schemes and fast in-store delivery for the books they require for their courses. Another customer segment are university researchers and professors. The USP for them is different: a large range of specialized books in several languages available upon request and courier delivery services. You may have more segments and USP’s:  people living in the vicinity of your shop (you have a good coffee bar), hobby researchers (your employees take time to provide advice on a variety of subjects and make literature recommendations), etc.

Generally, you should not jump into doing anything or start spending marketing budget before you have made these four steps and created a solid foundation for your marketing strategy.

strategic marketing steps

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Why I became a Fan of Uncreative Marketing

In this post, I will talk about several cases when an uncreative approach to marketing is your way to go. For example, when crafting or executing a marketing strategy, you need to avoid creative chaos and work in a structured way. Also, nowadays marketing is based on data, so the analytical approach to marketing is often more important than creativity.

Marketers are creative people. This sounds like a general truth, right? However, my experience shows that sometimes the creative part of marketing (or an excess of it) can do more harm than good.

In this post I will talk about several cases when an UNcreative approach to marketing is your way to go.

Designing a marketing strategy

Unless you only want to invest into guerrilla marketing, designing a marketing strategy is a much less creative process that you expect. As I outlined in my previous posts, you need to be very structured and do a lot research to craft actionable marketing steps. Marketing strategy includes competition analysis, market research, working out your USP and product positioning. Let’s be honest, even guerrilla marketing is noways based on research, e.g. of human perception and behavior.

Executing the strategy

This is where creativity can really become disturbing. Imagine that you have just spent several weeks or months on creating your marketing strategy. You are now starting to implement it. At the same time, you are surrounded by a swarm of “creative ideas” on what else can be done or tried. For example, you could implement some new email marketing software or cooperate with a famous blogger or redesign your website with a better color scheme… Those ideas may come from your boss, your colleagues, or even yourself. Are they good ideas? Sure. Are they helpful? Definitely not.

One of my professors used to say that a strategy is basically selecting in which direction to go. However, if you decide to go to the left, this mostly implies that you cannot go to the right.

Having all those creative ideas while you have already started moving in the selected direction results in contradicting marketing messages. It also prevents you from executing the originally selected strategy. And, ultimately, from making any progress at all.

Working with data

Very often somebody “creative” is not really keen on crunching numbers or digging into the database on a daily basis. Well, the bad news is that analyzing and processing data is one of the cornerstone marketing activities. How do you know how your last campaign performed? How would you select a banner design? Which customer segment should you focus on? The answer to all these questions is data – from an analytics tool, A/B tests or a CRM database.

Creativity is fine – as long as it is based on data insights.

Everyday marketing

uncreative marketing grey wall
Marketing is often as boring as this grey wall…

Marketing a product is a long-term process that requires a lot of endurance. This means that the majority of your time as a marketer will be spent on rather tedious tasks. For example, preparing reports. Or re-writing the same marketing copy over and over. Or editing product specifications on the company website. Nothing super fancy or creative, as you see. If your creative spirit prevents you from concentrating on those kinds of tasks and doing them well, this can become problematic.

The role and the functions of a marketing manager have undergone significant changes in the past years. This most likely means that your marketing should become less creative but more data-driven and consistent. 

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