I have been devoted to CRM for smaller businesses since 2000, because I feel this is an area where significant improvement to operations and profits can be made – vital for staying competitive during these challenging economic times. I initially deployed Siebel and starting in 2003 switched to the practical Microsoft Dynamics CRM when it was first introduced.
I have spoken to more than 500 small business owners and executives on CRM and how it can benefit their business, especially in light of today’s global marketplace and competition. But besides just talking about CRM, I have also helped implement CRM programs for a variety of businesses. I’m very passionate about CRM for smaller businesses and would like to share my observations with you.
My definition of small business is one with between 5 and 50 employees, of which there are 2.7 million in the U.S. according to Dun and Bradstreet. Most of the smaller business executives are aware of CRM and are in the process of evaluating alternatives or implementing one. For this article, I will focus on Microsoft Dynamics CRM for smaller businesses, what works and what doesn’t during the evaluation phase.
If you haven’t selected a CRM system yet, here are some tips:
Avoid evaluating more than three CRM vendors. Despite the fact that a CRM system hopefully lasts a long time and selecting the right system is important, it is not practical or wise to evaluate more than two or three top systems. Seriously, ask yourself if you have the time and resource to do a meaningful evaluation on a complex system that impacts all departments of your company? You are not evaluating a simple product or application, but an important foundation of business. When was the last time you did this? From my experience, the majority of smaller businesses simply don’t have the bandwidth to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of various CRM vendors. Even if they outsourced this task to a consultant, the more vendors there are to evaluate, the more questions there will be for you and your staff to answer; there will be a lot of work for everyone involved, not to mention costs.
One no-brainer that I pass on to smaller businesses is that if their company uses Microsoft Office Outlook as the primary communication, time and contact management tool, then Microsoft CRM should be the primary candidate to evaluate. It will save a lot of time! There just isn’t any other system that comes close to offering CRM that seamlessly integrates with Microsoft Office Outlook including the option of an Online version – Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online. The biggest factor for success with any CRM system is end users’ adoption and 50% of the solution is to have the CRM system in front of them at ALL times. So if the CRM is within Outlook – it is already “in their face”. This will save the users from having to learn another application and will leverage what they are already comfortable with.
Another hint: Look for a CRM vendor that offers an Online option as well as an On Premise version. It is essential for smaller businesses to minimize overhead and time; an Online system allows “instant” access to CRM functions without installation and maintenance hurdles. Plus, Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online offers an industry-leading service-level agreement that provides a 99.9 percent uptime service level agreement to all customers. But if you grow to where the Online version is limiting, it is good to have the option to switchover to an On Premise version – having this option will reduce the risk and minimize operational impact.
Another hint is to look for a CRM vendor that has a track record for servicing smaller businesses. You don’t want to be the lowest priority customer on your CRM Vendor’s Business List! Finally, pick a vendor that will be around. It is surprising how many times I have heard over the years, “My current CRM system is no longer supported,” “My CRM vendor has been acquired and we are being pressured to migrate,” “My CRM vendor has increased the pricing significantly because we are UN-profitable for them,” etc.
Avoid a "jack of all trades" service partner
A critical factor in your Microsoft CRM success is selecting the right service partner to help you implement your CRM. Unless you spend enough time with Microsoft CRM, you don’t know what you don’t know, so leverage the experts to save time. Microsoft CRM is a sophisticated CRM system with virtually unlimited capabilities but for a smaller business, it is imperative to keep it simple and “Out of the Box”, especially at the beginning. This is where the experience of a good Microsoft CRM partner makes a difference. A Microsoft CRM partner that has experience with and a focus on smaller businesses will have an extensive knowledge base of practical approaches that work – you want to leverage that!
In general, you want to select a CRM vendor that has experience in your level of business, has a long-standing track record, and for whom your business is important and has a high priority.
A small business insurance company had implemented Microsoft CRM 1.2 with the help of a medium sized Microsoft CRM service partner. However, by the time Microsoft CRM 3.0 was released, that service partner had been acquired by a large consulting company. Now, the small insurance company was not a good fit, i.e. was “too small” of an account for the large consulting company. The small insurance company found another Microsoft CRM service partner – a small local service partner to help upgrade to CRM 3.0. Unfortunately, this small local partner went out of business a year later – Ouch! (They are now well cared for by Workopia.)
Avoid buying without trying.
Most CRM systems these days offer a free trial. Microsoft CRM is no different – ask your Microsoft CRM partner to set up a trial account so you can evaluate it firsthand. My company, Workopia, offers FREE 30-Day Trial, Setup & Training for Microsoft CRM Online. With Microsoft CRM Online, you can access the trial account from anywhere as long as you have a PC with Internet access. This is by far the best option for smaller businesses – “Instant Access” trial of Microsoft CRM without any of the traditional server or network setup.
Now that you have the Microsoft CRM trial access, what do you do? There is so much information and so many possibilities that even the trial can be overwhelming. This is the time to test your Microsoft CRM service partner. Hopefully, they will offer a Microsoft CRM Trial/Evaluation guidance service so you can actually "play with Microsoft CRM" on your own but with guidance so you are not wasting your time. The main objective for you to work with a Microsoft CRM service partner is to save you time by implement Microsoft CRM correctly the first time! Avoid re-work!
I have to say that Microsoft CRM Online is really a blessing for many smaller businesses because it is so easy to appreciate if implemented properly. When users see Microsoft CRM data (Accounts, Contacts, Leads, Opportunities, Cases, etc.) within their very own Outlook, they “get it”. All their company’s customer and sales data appears within Microsoft Outlook wherever they are – on the road, at their client’s site, home office, etc. They do not have to change their computer, their network, company server, nada! And instantly their entire company staff is accessing CRM data and sharing it with each other! Wow!