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How to Choose CRM - Considerations for Small Businesses


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Customer Relations Management (CRM) technology, is no longer a privilege reserved for the multi-national company or the I. T literate sectors; no matter what size your company may be, there is a CRM system suitable for you. Many small companies have shied away from CRM due to misconceptions on costs, relevance and simply failing to embrace new technologies. Perhaps the biggest barrier to small businesses utilising CRM is the lack of understanding and education that they have when it comes to this area. By the time you have read this article, we will have hopefully gone some way to alleviating this problem.

We believe that just about anyone who works for a living can benefit from understanding the basics around CRM as it is highly likely that you are going to be using one in the course of your career (whether you are aware of it or not). If you are part of a small business or even wish to start you own business one day, then I would strongly encourage that you read on, as a good CRM can help you outsource many costs that would otherwise stifle a new and small business.

So what is Customer Relations Management Technology?

CRM is the process that a business goes through to organize and order all their interactions with their customers and prospects; marketing campaigns, correspondence, financial exchanges, document storage etc. Most businesses use a combination of computers, the internet and paper files to facilitate the CRM processes; CRM technology allows this to be done in one central place using software. The main advantage of such software is that it is a central depository for all the companies business needs. The company only has to look for information in one system, not searching different areas, or having multiple applications and systems open at the same time. The more integrated the system is within an organization, the more streamlined its work flow processes will be.

Whether to buy the system or rent it?

Not all providers give you the choice, some however, will. Entry level, basic CRM can be bought ‘off the shelf’ in one transaction and installed in-house in your back office. The other option is to take advantage of the increasingly available pay-as you go solutions, which is leased to you over the internet and you pay for each user on a monthly tariff. This is also often called ‘hosted’ or ‘on demand’ CRM. There is ‘open-source’ software which is leased over the internet free of charge, but you generally have to pay for aftercare support for the upkeep of the system and fairly inflexible.

Hosted CRM has the distinct advantage of being more flexible in where you can access it (PDA's Blackberrys, laptops, ). As it can be accessed securely from any internet enabled pc it is suitable for businesses whose employees work remotely, on multi sites or from home. Buying the software outright can be beneficial for small businesses with I. T expertise who can manipulate the system well for their own uses, however for most others, it will become costly to adapt as they will need to bring in outside technical help to do so. Renting software over the internet can also bring other advantages to the small business, such as the option to outsource secure data back-ups, so in the event of a system crash, essential customer information is copied and retrievable. If your CRM provider also offers other more traditional I. T support work, it may be worthwhile working with one organization that can look after all your systems and I. T infrastructure (web hosting, disaster recovery, network support). With internet ‘hosted’ or ‘on-demand’ CRM you have more flexibility to pick and chose which parts you want, and are relevant to your individual business needs.

Bespoke or not to Bespoke

Bespoke systems are usually the most expensive option, but if done well, can work alongside your existing business processes effectively and provide a long term solution to your business needs. Due to the ‘ground-up’ building of the CRM it can take a long time to develop, implement and test, so small business need to consider how quickly they need to see return on investment, as this may be longer with bespoke CRM as opposed to something you can start using straight away. An alternative to bespoke is a sector specific CRM, which has been designed with similar business types in mind and usually relevant only for that specific sector use. These can be beneficial as they can offer some level of customization to your business as standard, however you may find better alternatives from generic solutions with flexible use options.

Up-grades, Add-ons and Hidden Costs

The majority of CRM providers are consistently upgrading and reviewing their systems to provide better functionality and to offer their customers more variety. These upgrade costs are usually passed onto the consumer who pay for the updated versions of their software (usually on a yearly basis), or they can come in the form of additional modules. This is where a new feature is added on to your existing CRM for a fee. Some internet providers include all upgrade costs in your user license fee, and give you full functionality from day one. If you need to transfer customer information such as histories, notes, and previous correspondence from your old system to the new system then there may also be costs involved, depending on how easy it is to extract, and the amount of data needed to be transferred.

In addition to purchasing the software, there is likely to be costs associated with training your employees to use the application. These service fees are not insignificant and any business considering implementing should account for these in their budget. Customization charges are also a potential source of hidden costs, as a generic CRM may need to be reconfigured in some way to meet your business demands. A good feature to look out for on any CRM is the ability to customize the CRM at the user end (without paying for consultants to do it for you). These often take the form of UDF's or ‘user definable fields', which can be pre-determined at the time of installation or changed at any point afterward to allow flexibility on which data the solution captures.

Consider your End Users

At the heart of a successful CRM implementation lies the people that use it day in and day out. Work culture change can be a lengthy and painful process for any company, especially if it has been doing business in the same way for a long time. Staff must see the benefit to both themselves, and the wider company if customer relations management technology is to provide a fruitful return on investment. For this reason, it is wise to involve your end users in discussions at the short list and final selection stages, whilst asking them what they need in order to work more effectively. This involvement with the end users is a common stumbling block to many CRM initiatives, and reason many are deemed unsuccessful.

Where possible, if you can keep some familiarity within a system change over, then this is likely to smooth the transition from old system to new CRM. It is generally best to take things slowly and not to try and make a dramatic swap, but make sure everyone masters the basics before bringing in the more advanced functions. Some CRM providers have caught onto the wide use of Microsoft Outlook and designed their systems to work in conjunction with it, as many workers are familiar with its uses and benefits. By providing a similar looking interface and allowing people to still use an application that is familiar to them; this aids the transition over to the new solution and increases the user uptake rate of the system. If you use an independent accountancy system then see if your chosen CRM can integrate with it to keep all data together. Some providers have partners with accountancy software so they are built to work together seamlessly, however be careful not to fall into the trap of buying the CRM on that basis alone and neglecting what is really important overall.


We have tried to keep this guide short but informative, and it is by no means an exhaustive list of considerations. CRM needs to be thought about carefully and logically and decision makers would be wise to fully educate themselves on all the associated issues that new technology brings. Small businesses can benefit enormously from CRM if it meets the present and future needs of the business. Looking ahead to what the company needs in one or five years time, as well as the present, is also crucial to selecting the right solution for the long term. Small businesses need to consider not just the software itself, but the associated costs, internal changes and the return on investment of such a project. If all these are thoroughly considered then CRM can be a blessing to small business.

Vicky Bennett (the author) works as a consultant in the business development team of 3Sixty Systems Ltd, a UK based international CRM provider. 3Sixty Systems have designed and developed a flexible system suitable for smaller businesses called ‘3slive’ CRM.

'3Slive CRM’ is an internet accessible system with everything a growing business needs in the areas of:

1. Sales
2. Marketing
3. Project Management
4. Customer correspondence and history
5. Document Manager
6. Business intelligence
7. HR

For details on ‘3slive CRM’ business benefits visit and sign up to our newsletter.

For details on 3sixty Systems Ltd and other products and services visit


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