How to choose a small business CRM software solution

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is a proven business technique for retaining customers while adding new ones. CRM software solutions help the process along by maintaining a cross-referenced database of information about each customer. Depending on the type of business, this data can be used in multiple ways to improve customer service.

Choosing a small business CRM software solution

Once requiring mainframe computing power and an entire IT department to service it, CRM software is now available for even the smallest of enterprises. Using online CRM software services or inexpensive CRM programs that run on a desktop computer, small businesses can put the power of customer relationship management to work for them.

CRM solutions for small to medium sized businesses abound. A web search will turn up thousands of pages on various products available. So which one to choose?

Read Up On Available Small Business CRM Software Solutions

Start by reading up. Business sites and magazines offer tips and pointers on the best CRM solutions. Visit vendor websites and look for customer reviews or testimonials, and follow up on some of those testimonials before choosing one vendor over another.

Create a List of CRM Features Required

Successful implementation of a CRM strategy first requires an understanding of what the strategy hopes to achieve. An analysis of the business will turn up a list of the important features a CRM software solution must have, from which a short-list of providers can be made.

Among the providers who can fulfill the special needs of the business, it is now necessary to find the vendor who will provide the service and protection the business needs. Consider the following points before selected your CRM software.

Does this package have the ability to grow along with the business? Can functions, such as sales analysis tools or customer self-ordering, be added as the business expands?
Will the business retain ownership over all data entered into the CRM software and can that data be exported to another system, if necessary?
What are the conditions of the Service Level Agreement (SLA)? An SLA should very clearly define what commitments are being made by the software provider and identify how the user will be compensated if these obligations are not met.
What ongoing or recurrent costs are associated with this package? Ask about costs that may not be in the sales literature.
How secure is this package against malware or hackers? CRM solution providers should be able to show independent audits that prove data security claims.
Is sufficient staff training provided? Any CRM solution not adopted by staff will be failure. The contracted supplier must be able to provide adequate training and support.
What is the realistic timeframe to have the system fully functional? Be aware that a web-based CRM service will be implemented much quicker than a purchased software package.
Can a demo version be taken for a test drive before buying? Most solution providers will offer a demonstration version of their software for testing. Be wary of any provider who doesn’t allow pre-sale testing. When testing the software, make common errors and serious mistakes in the data to see how the system handles malfunctions.
With all this information in hand, a small business owner can be reasonably confident that the software solution selected will do the job required. Ultimately, successful small business CRM software should effectively capture customer data, analyze it and present the results in a meaningful way.

Essential Software for Small Business

Selecting the most appropriate software applications from the diverse options available to small and home-based businesses can be overwhelming, especially if freelancers have previously worked in a large or corporate environment where these decisions are often made by IT professionals.

The first step is to identify the requirements. Essential software for small business includes, accounting software, document management, computer security and protection software, marketing applications such as contact management databases or CRM solutions and communication software.

Communication Applications

Customer expectations mean that email is an essential tool for business and freelancers. Customers and suppliers may also demand the ability to communicate by phone, text message and FAX. Software exists to help meet all these requirements.

There are a number of decisions to be made regarding email. One of the most important is whether to use only web-based email or use a software package such as Microsoft Outlook to manage email. The choice of email name also matters as this relates to the company image and brand.

There are also web-based FAX services so an actual FAX machine is not necessary. Documents can be uploaded or emailed to the FAX service and sent. Similar facilities exist to send text messages to mobile and cell phones.

Document Creation and Management

Every business will need office software to create and manage documents such as letters and brochures. Word processing software usually includes featues to manage templates, helping ensure consistency. Some freelancers will also require specialist software applications. For example graphic designers and photographers will probably need image manipulation software such as Adobe Photoshop and web designers will probably need html editors.

Most small businesses will need a word processor application and many will also need spreadsheet software. Microsoft Office is a well-known application and free software such as Open Office also provides similar functionality.

Accounting Software

Accounting software is not essential, as records can be kept on paper in ledger books, but software applications can aid efficiency and save money on accountancy and book-keeping bills.

Accounting applications can include functionality to produce invoices, reconcile bank accounts, run payroll and produce reports. Options include keeping records in simple spreadsheets maintained by software such as Microsoft Excel or purchasing accounting packages such as Sage.

Marketing and Contact Management Software

There are many software applications to support marketing activities. For example, keeping basic contact records (name, company, address, phone numbers and email) is often included in email packages such as Microsoft Outlook and there are many contact databases available.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) applications are also available, from free software such as SugarCRM to paid for such as ACT from Sage.

Computer Security and Protection

Software to protect computer security is essential and often overlooked by smaller business and freelancers. Although many people are aware that anti-virus software is needed, keeping it up-to-date is critical and software which includes options to automatically update both the software and the definitions is a sensible choice.

Taking time to define exact requirements and then selecting appropriate software based on user needs can help every small, home-based business and freelancer to make an informed choice