Small Businesses Need to Embrace CRM Software

A recent survey by Software Advice revealed that the vast majority of small-business CRM buyers are still looking for basic contact management, with 62 percent seeking a standalone application for sales force automation (SFA). That’s no surprise. SFA is typically the first step for businesses to organize their customer data and track customer interactions across the sales funnel. As such, it’s long been the first thing small businesses look for when it comes time to adopt a real CRM technology strategy. Small business however face some challenges when it comes to implementing a sales structure or process for managing leads and the sales cycle. They may lack experienced sales management and the majority of lower cost CRM solution providers cannot offer assistance here. One firm that does is Commence Corporation, manufacturers of Commence CRM. Commence has been providing sales automation solutions and sales best practices to the SMB community for more than two decades. Industry articles and product reviews traditionally only talk about a product’s features and as a result, companies like Commence that offer consultation and best practices for improving sales execution don’t get much mention.

Of U.S. buyers seeking an integrated suite, 88 percent want a combination of sales and marketing automation. So small businesses are increasingly looking to implement a full, end-to-end CRM solution. They want to better align marketing with sales and enable sales reps with access to lead nurturing data and interaction histories from across the sales pipeline. This means growing opportunities for vendors that offer a broader small-business-centric suite of sales, marketing and service applications. Very few low cost CRM solution providers offer an integrated sales, marketing and customer service solution. Two that do include Salesforce.com and Commence CRM mentioned above.

When we asked small-business CRM buyers why they were evaluating software, the most common response was that they were simply interested to learn more about how CRM software in general could help their business, or about how more robust systems might improve upon their current solution. This is consistent with Gartner’s research as well, which suggests that an increasing majority of buyers are citing “self-driven information search” as their most preferred method at every stage of the buying cycle. This highlights the need for CRM providers to ensure that they’re in a position to be found when buyers research potential options—whether through search engine optimization, content marketing, driving B2B software reviews or other inbound marketing efforts.
software-advice-buyerview-smallbusiness-crm-software-report-2014-1-638

Customer Service Software for Small to Midsize Business 2014

By Larry Caretsky
CEO Commence Corporation

Software Advice has produced a white paper titled “Customer Service Software – Small Business Buyer View 2014” that clearly articulates what businesses are looking for in order to improve the buying experience and service they provide to their customers.  I am posting this paper with their approval because I believe it is spot on with regard to what I believe is the next wave of application software for small to mid-sized businesses.

Most small to mid-sized businesses are struggling to manage customer service and customer expectations.  Using basic methods such as e-mail or an Excel spreadsheet leaves them with no consolidated record or history of customer interactions.  Some key findings include:

  • Over half of buyers (52%) were still using manual methods to manage their customer support functions.
  • 64% of all first-time buyers cited a need to better manage customer complaints as the top reason for evaluating software.
  • The top requested feature was trouble ticketing (90%), followed by reporting and analytics (36%).
top-requested-css-features

Top-Requested Customer Service and Support (CSS) Features

“Trouble ticketing gets people out of inboxes and into a system with greater visibility across the organization.”

Managing customer expectations is paramount to customer retention, and while there are several standalone Help Desk solutions on the market, customers need to make sure they do not fall into the old trap of creating silos of information within their organization.  Many understand this, and as such are seeking customer service functionality that is integrated with web-based CRM.

Several CRM solution providers have been working diligently to provide integrated customer service solutions for their customers.  My firm Commence Corporation is taking an aggressive approach to this opportunity and has already differentiated itself with a solid customer service and ticketing system that is fully integrated with the contact management, sales and marketing applications.  A new web-based customer portal that enables customers to enter tickets into the CRM system, as well as access a knowledge base for self-service support, is due out in November.  Only a few CRM solution providers can match this capability and they tend to be quite expensive and support enterprise level organizations.

The Software Advice white paper will provide you with quality information about what buyers are looking for and why. It is a great source of information for companies looking to automate the customer service side of their business.  Click below to access the free report:

CRM – Overly Simplistic or Too Complex for Most Businesses

Solution providers in the CRM software space seem to fall into two categories.  Basic low cost programs are easy to use but provide limited functionality; and feature rich solutions that are far too complex for most businesses.  The two extremes have caused a high degree of frustration among companies that have implemented CRM software programs.  Some are now looking to replace the basic solution they selected for something a bit more robust, while others are trying to reduce the high cost and complexity of the one they selected.

Make The Right Choice by sheelamohan ID-100218145

While dozens of companies continue to do battle in the space, Commence Corporation is targeting what it believes is an under-served middle market with a feature-rich CRM solution that is more affordable and easier to use than products from Microsoft and Salesforce.com.

“Small to mid-market companies often have unique business requirements,” says Larry Caretsky, CEO at Commence Corporation “that are not being met by basic CRM offerings.  The industry giants can address these needs, but people have found these solutions to be far too expensive and complex for their business.  Commence is aggressively working to fill this void.”

What differentiates Commence CRM from competitive offerings?  “That is easy,” says Caretsky. “Commence CRM provides features that are simply not available in basic CRM packages, such as: customization of views and forms, multilevel data searches, security permissions, pre-built analytical reporting, customizable lead qualification and sales process management, shared calendaring, seamless e-mail integration and more.  In addition, Commence CRM offers marketing campaign management, a customer service or help desk application and a project management module.  This level of functionality is only available from enterprise level solutions at two to three times the cost.  Commence CRM is a robust affordable solution for the middle market coupled with an experienced support staff that ensures customers realize the maximum value from our solution.”

When asked, “What is the biggest challenge facing Commence Corporation in the CRM sector?” Caretsky indicated, “Simply rising above the noise of the industry giants.  It is hard to out-market Microsoft and Salesforce.com.  Both have good products, but they cannot be all things to all people.  No company can service the small, mid-sized and enterprise market with the same solution.  Perhaps this is why there is such a high degree of dissatisfaction in the industry.  Commence is 100 percent focused on businesses that require more than a basic CRM solution, but not the cost and complexity of the industry giants.  We are delivering value and making a name for ourselves,” says Caretsky.

thumbs-up-represents-all-right-and-agreement-by-stuart-miles-100271281

Read what customers are saying on the Commence CRM website or on review sites like getapp.com and serchen.com.

Image “Make The Right Choice” by sheelamohan/freedigitalphotos.net

Image “Thumbs Up Represents All Right And Agreement” by Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net

CRM Buying Secrets of the Experienced Consumer

The Experienced Consumer

Companies that have become successful with CRM software have a uniquely different approach to the evaluation and selection process. I call these the experienced consumer. The experienced consumer has most likely purchased software before and knows that mistakes can be costly.

Creates a Requirements Document

Before seeking a solution they will engage their internal staff and document their specific requirements, so that everyone has a clear picture of what business challenges they are trying to address. The requirements are often the result of a deep understanding of their internal infrastructure.

To create a requirements document, ask your team the following questions…

  1. Where are we today with regard to business process automation?
  2. Where do we want and need to be?
  3. How are we going to get there? What steps are required?
  4. What resources or assistance will we need?

Requests Information from select Vendors

The next thing they do is send the requirements document to a pre-selected list of vendors as a request for information or RFI. These are not detailed requirements that you often see in a request for proposal or RFP. Many requirements have nothing to do with features and functions. This is simply a request for information that focuses on learning more about the vendor and their value proposition or what they provide to their customers.

Listed below are some common questions the experienced consumer may ask.

  1. How long has the company been in business?
  2. How many installations have you done in our industry?
  3. Is this a comprehensive solution that can support growth (people and transactions)?
  4. Describe your hosting service? Where is our data stored and managed?
  5. What level of support services do you offer (i.e. training, customization, system integration)?
  6. Who does the training and customization? Your company or a third party?
  7. Who are your top two competitors?
  8. How often do you release product updates or enhancements?
  9. What happens if I choose to terminate the service? How do I get my data back?

This initial document enables the experienced buyer to control the evaluation process and it cleverly allows the vendor to remove themselves from further evaluation based on their response to the request for information. Once again there is no discussion or evaluation of features, functions or price at this time. The experienced consumer knows that if the vendor cannot satisfy their initial business objectives listed above the functionality they offer is irrelevant. This is a complete reversal of how the checklist consumers and commodity buyers approach the evaluation process. The checklist consumer may not ask these questions while the commodity consumer believes they already have all the answers.

Plans for Training and Services

The experienced consumer also knows that they can’t fix everything, and that there is no perfect solution designed specifically for their business. While they will certainly pay attention to the industry leaders during the evaluation and selection process, they are more concerned in fostering a rewarding business relationship with a company that closely matches the unique functional requirements of their industry and the value added support services they may require.
10046862 Business People Shaking Hands by Ambro

The experienced consumer is keenly aware that they will have to make a resource commitment with regard to the implementation, utilization and internal support of any solution they select. They understand that the CRM software won’t run their business – their people will. They recognize that they may need assistance from the solution provider in certain areas such as marketing campaign management or the creation of a structured sales methodology. These support services and best practices may be critical to their success and not every vendor, regardless of size or leadership position, may offer them.

Experienced consumers are not looking for anything free and while they will pay attention to the overall cost of the solution, saving a few dollars is not the top priority for these businesses.

Looks at ‘nuts and bolts’ not ‘bells and whistles’

The next step in the process is for the experienced consumer to engage the vendors and learn about the product’s features and functions that address their specific business or service oriented requirements. With their request for information met, they are doing this with the knowledge that they have already narrowed down their decision to the vendors that have a strong track record for delivering exceptional value to similar businesses. This approach is more about finding the right vendor or business partner first, then digging into their product’s features and functions.

Some will then deploy a checklist approach, particularly if they have narrowed their process to two vendors. What they are looking for here is not a feature and function comparison, but instead if one vendor or product is more mature or experienced in a specific area than the other. Here’s an example. Let’s say you are in the construction industry. You have narrowed your decision to two great vendors with excellent products but one of the firms has more experience in your industry than the other. In fact, this particular company has integrated their product to one of the more popular accounting or ERP systems in the construction industry. This is not critical to you at this time, but it may be in the future and this may be just enough value add to select them.

What I have learned from my interaction in several hundred CRM sales processes is that companies that have adapted to this approach have a higher degree of success with the implementation and utilization of CRM than those that do not. While there are no specific analytics to confirm this, my firm Commence Corporation has experienced this within our own customer base. I plan to write about this in a future article. I hope this one provided some value to those considering a CRM solution for their business.

About the Author:

Larry Caretsky is the President of Commence Corporation, a leading provider of online CRM software for small to mid-sized enterprises. Caretsky is the author of numerous white papers on the subject of CRM and is considered an expert in the industry. His articles and the free eBook Smart Practices that Pay: Leveraging Information to Achieve Selling Results are available for download from the company’s website at www.commence.com.