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  • Writer's pictureSara Hartary

Part 1 - How To Pick The Best CRM Solution For Your Business (Part 1 of 3)

Updated: Feb 18, 2020

Avoid Stress. Don’t Guess.

Choosing the right customer interaction software for your company can be nerve-wracking. Will it meet your needs? What is the true cost both to implement? What about cost over time? Should you choose a big-name product or one more specialized for your industry? How hard will it be for your users to learn the new system? Knowing the answers to these questions ahead of time can save your business the lost time and money of selecting the wrong software. Luckily, facing this decision doesn’t have to be stressful. In this 3-part blog, I’ll share the secrets to tackling this process with confidence.

In this post, Part 1 – How To Pick The Best CRM Solution For Your Business, we’re going to look at two steps you can take to position your organization for success when selecting customer interaction software. Ultimately, the best thing you can do is to know clearly what you need. Seems intuitive but many businesses struggle with the question: “Did we consider everything important?” Let’s look at how to answer that question with a yes.

First, a quick exercise that lets you get a handle on the scope end-to-end is to create a high-level process map like the picture below. It gives everyone on your team a common lingo for the steps that the software will need to address. It also lets you identify your stakeholders – the people (or systems, inputs/outputs) that have requirements to consider in the different steps.

A process map like this can flow into right into the second step which is your requirements gathering. Every box above is like a big bucket of actions that your stakeholders take to get through the process. This is how your stakeholders will be able to describe “what” they do as part of their actions.

Whenever possible, encourage stakeholders to describe requirements as “what” needs to happen and not “how” it needs to happen. It’s a subtle difference but distilling actions and their purpose down to just “what” needs to happen frees you from being tied to the way you do these actions today and removes that limit from your software options. Being flexible on the “how” opens up more choices. A project manager or business analyst can help stakeholders rephrase requirements into “what” as needed. Having stakeholders at different levels of seniority or job function participate at this step in the process pays dividends down the road when it’s time to do final testing and training (see Part 3 – Help Your Users Love Their New System).

Once you’ve written these requirements and everyone is on the same page about what’s needed in the solution, you can use that handy list to evaluate software and to communicate with vendors. Given that most small and medium-sized business select commercially available cloud-based solutions, the best way to start narrowing down the hundreds of options is to look at each choice in terms of how well the software matches your needs with features that are ready to go out of the box.

Boiling it down to the bare bones, each of your requirements is going to be met by fitting into one of three categories: Out-of-the-box, Configuration, or Customization. Out-of-the-box means that the software already does that thing the way you describe the need. Configuration and customizations are different.

For our purposes, configurations are features of the software that you can use with some adjustments to settings that either you do yourself or the software company sets up during implementation. Configurations might cost a little extra in professional services fees during implementation and training, but the expectation is that configurations are supported during a software upgrade – in other words, the way it works should flow into the next version of the software. On the other hand, customizations are features or functions the vendor builds specifically for you that might not be supported during an upgrade. You’ll incur cost for those items when you first set up the software and then potentially again during an upgrade to make sure they’re compatible with the next version of software.

When it comes to configurations versus customizations, it’s not that one is good and the other bad. The goal here is to get the best solution for your business needs, and sometimes the answer is to customize here and there. Knowing this when you make your software choice is helpful for immediate cost budgeting and future planning. Click here to download a free template to help with this step of categorizing your requirements.

Realistically there are hundreds of customer interaction solutions out there from generic CRM software to highly specialized, industry-specific, niche solutions for customer interactions. It’s daunting. But there are websites (e.g. softwareadvice, capterra, technologyadvice, and many more) that provide reviews and comparisons and include filters for company size, industry, solution price, etc. The goal is to select the best software for your business, not necessarily what’s most popular, expensive, or feature-heavy. With your list of requirements and a template for tracking how these are met by different software features, you’re well-equipped to evaluate the options.

In the second part of this blog, Part 2 – Implementing Software Doesn’t Have To Be Painful, we look at how to build synergy with your chosen vendor and keep your momentum going to power through the project with positive energy. The work you’ve done putting your requirements into a shareable format that vendors, technologists, and users can all understand is the first step on the path to success and you’ll use it over and over again in this process.

Here's a sneak peek into how you’ll keep using that requirements list with out-of-the-box/config/custom that you produced during your initial research. First, it can be shared out to the sales point of contact at any software company whose solution you’re considering. By default, these sales people are prepared to show you a generic demo of their software and to make sure you think it’s great. But you can ask them to take your list and respond to each requirement with how their software matches up. Frequently government requests for proposals require this type of response from vendors. There’s no reason you can’t use it too! The vendors that want your business will respond. They’ll take the requirements you list and incorporate those into a customized demo of their software for you.

Once you’ve identified your final list of candidate software options, you and your selected vendor(s) can use that requirements list and the out-of-the-box/config/custom designations to build realistic estimates for the project that include costs and timeline. Achieving that shared expectation is a major win for your business. With this approach you can feel confident that the solution you’re selecting will meet your needs, that the vendor understands what success looks like for your business, and what the effort will be to get there.

Your business will gain an added benefit by going through this process. You’ll get a clear picture of what your team is trying to do at each point in your business operations. There’s a good chance that you’ll see areas where you can gain efficiencies either inside processes or where there are hand-offs between people and systems. It’s an opportunity to fine tune or even overhaul the way you operate in different areas.

If you enjoyed this blog post, please read on to Part 2 – Implementing Software Doesn’t Have To Be Painful.

Hartary Consulting strives to build great client partnerships by providing practical business operations advice to small and medium-sized companies.

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