A Discussion on Choosing CRM for Small Businesses

David Sims : First Coffee
David Sims
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A Discussion on Choosing CRM for Small Businesses

A second cup of coffee this morning, and the music is, well, it has to be U2. Read on:

Today we'd like to thank Infusion CRM's President Clate Mask for taking the time for an interview with First Coffee:

FC: You bump into a woman at a cocktail party who says "Oh, you're the president of a CRM company. We'd like to get rolling with that, we're a high-tech services and consulting vendor operating internationally, with about 200 employees, where do we start?"

CM: Get very, very clear about why you're looking for a CRM software product in the first place -- before you start shopping. The truth is, CRM products are designed for different purposes, but ironically, they're all called CRM software.

Some products work well for customer support, others are great for the sales department, while others are a better fit for the marketing folks or the accounting group. Likewise, some products are better for employees and others are better for managers. The worst thing you can do is go into the shopping process asking vendors to tell you why you need a CRM software program. You've got to come up with the "why" on your own, before you go looking for a product.

Ask questions like Who wants the software internally? What is driving them crazy right now? What are they currently using to fill the gap? What do they expect to be able to do once the software is implemented? Who all will access the system, for what purposes and from what location? Do you need integration with other systems? Do we need installed or Web-based? Do you need a static database or are you looking for serious automation?

The list can go on and on, but the point is for you to get very clear on what you need and why you need it. So, to start, designate a data gatherer and a decision maker who can enforce the decision once you purchase and implement the system.

Then, unleash the data gatherer. Finally, go out and find the product that fits your needs -- a simple Google search will turn up plenty of options for you.

FC: What is Infusion Software's product line?

CM: Infusion CRM is a Web-based software program available on demand. The application represents a new breed of CRM software that helps small businesses grow quickly and profitably by enabling them to centralize, organize, and automate their marketing, sales, and customer management. You'll hear us using these terms a lot -- centralize, organize and automate. That's because it's at the heart of what Infusion CRM does.

Our flagship CRM product has a heavy dose of marketing automation and additional tools to manage customer service and sales force automation. Infusion CRM replaces disparate, incompatible systems currently in place and leaves you with more time to strategically grow your business instead of managing fire after fire.

FC: So it's a Web-based model? Talk about why that resonates.

CM: Within the past few years, technology and the Internet have given way to greater ability for the small business to maximize revenue through the use of web-based CRM software. Traditionally, companies set up their CRM products buying shrink-wrapped software. But now with Web-based CRM software companies access their software through an Internet browser and pay subscription fees based on the computing power and capacity they need. Infusion resides in this space.

Most companies would find great value in SaaS as solving their pains, if given the chance. Technology is a tool, but in the small business world, technology too often becomes the underlying problem. It's unwieldy, time-consuming and distracting. Rather than focusing on core business objectives, many small businesses find they've become slaves to technology. Of course, this happens in large enterprises too, but they have large IT staffs. Small businesses don't.

Most small businesses turn to SaaS for one of two reasons: Either budgets are tight and they can't afford to purchase the software outright or they don't have the IT infrastructure in place to support it. Those are perfectly legitimate reasons. But even more important is that SaaS helps a small or mid-sized organization receive the efficiencies of scale common to a large enterprise.

Another misconception about SaaS is that it's not secure. The truth is SaaS is far more secure than your typical enterprise network. It's a trust issue. People trust those within their organization but are leery of outsourcing key information.

FC: How is Infusion CRM different from other CRM products on the market?

CM: People ask, "Why can't I get a list of all the people who've purchased product X and haven't purchased product Y, and who have only been with us for six months or less?" They'll ask their IT guy, and he will say, "That'll take me a day and a half. We have to pull out this information and mix it with this, and get these orders from the file drawer, etc." All this decentralization means that follow-up doesn't happen consistently and things slip through the cracks right and left. We seek to centralize all that.

To understand how our CRM is different, it's important for you to understand why we do what we do. From a 10,000 foot view, we aim to transform the way small businesses drive and manage their growth. We intend to become the leading provider of CRM software for small businesses.

Most CRM systems are passive data warehouses that require heavy user interaction to retrieve any meaningful value. Infusion CRM enables the customer to automate substantial amounts of workflow and business processes, such as automatic sub-listing and sequential follow up to a prospect or customer, automated collections, snail mail, fax, voice to prospects automatic recurring billing, automatic execution of upsell and cross sell campaigns.

FC: What are the two or three considerations you think companies should pay particular attention to when selecting a CRM vendor?

CM: Whether hosted or licensed, look for an Application Programming Interface. This allows the CRM product to link with other systems, eliminating the need to enter information multiple times. A billing system, an e-commerce engine, order management, e-mail marketing, affiliate management and workflow automation are all nice, and when added to the traditional CRM system -- contact management, SFA, marketing automation, help desk -- you have a comprehensive product.

Look for a system that allows the company to automate all workflow and business processes, from transactions to marketing lead generation campaigns. And ask "Is it designed with me in mind, or is it for larger, mid to enterprise size?" Because many products say they are SMB-friendly when in fact they are not.

FC: Who are your users and what's your market focus?

CM: Our software is for marketers, entrepreneurs and small businesses tired of piecing together a bunch of incompatible software programs.

Millions of businesses need the software, but we are not yet prepared to deliver the software to the masses, nor can we attack the fragmented small business opportunity in one fell swoop. We have to take baby steps toward our strategic intent, gradually expanding the target market until we are prepared to service the general mass of small businesses that need our software. In general, we target those types of businesses that have from two to 100 employees, but most of our customers have between 2 and 25 employees. Not a newbie entrepreneur with an idea and a day job, generally a business which has been running for at least a few years with some level of success.

FC: What features do your customers say they appreciate the most?

CM: At the top of the list would be the ability to automate marketing campaigns. One guy said he liked the database for both tracking leads sending follow-up messages and tracking and recording all of the information that his company gets from leads. Generally they appreciate the database capabilities and automated tasks.

FC: What's the best music to listen to at work?

CM: U2, without a doubt.

FC: Thank you for your time.

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Feedback for A Discussion on Choosing CRM for Small Businesses

1 Comment

Having a good API or SDK is such a big thing and am glad Clate picked out that as something to look for. For organizations that need integration with other systems, it can make the difference between having an island of information that you can't build a bridge to and your CRM system being the central piece of a well-put-together puzzle.

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