Vendors Reveal 10 of Their Top CRM Tips

Jennifer Schiff

Updated · Aug 25, 2010

Enterprise Apps Today asked (NYSE: CRM), NetSuite (NYSE: N) and SugarCRM for their tips on what to look for when purchasing a customer relationship management (CRM) system, as well as advice on how to make sure employees actually use the system and get the most out of it. Here are their responses.


Top CRM Tips

1. Keep in mind who will be using the CRM system and plan (and buy) accordingly. “Try to define your rationale for installing a system up front before you begin discussion with vendors,” suggested Scott Holden, director of product marketing at “Make sure that you put the user community at the center of defining your requirements. Too often CRM experts lead the selection and companies end up buying a complex solution that has comprehensive features but may not solve the user challenge.”

That’s why Holden advised business owners to “select a CRM system that works with the daily life of your users versus requiring users to change their everyday behavior. Today’s sales, marketing and service professionals actively use tools like Microsoft Outlook and Google Apps for email and are accessing critical information on their mobile devices more often than at their desks. A solution that easily integrates into your users’ daily workflow will accelerate adoption.”

2. Make sure your CRM software integrates with other key systems. “If [your] CRM system is to be truly effective in converting prospects to revenue-generating customers and maximize renewals, [it] must integrate with other systems across [your] business,” stated Paul Turner, director of product marketing at NetSuite. “If it doesn’t, it risks jeopardizing some of the very first interactions a customer has with the organization beyond the sales team.”

3. How will the CRM system handle critical customer data? When evaluating a CRM system, make sure to evaluate how the system is going to manage customer information. To do this, Turner said decision-makers should ask the following four questions before purchasing any CRM system:


  • Will it arm your sales force with the business information they need beyond just sales information, such as past customer purchase history, current inventory levels and service issues?
  • When the support team takes a call, will the CRM system enable them to be aware that the customer is close to a critical renewal, what their past purchases have been or whether that customer is about to purchase?
  • Will your billing team have the ability to see customer service history so they can act accordingly when they have an aging account?
  • Will it provide your sales and marketing team with a universal customer database so they can segment and target customers based not only on demographic characteristics, like employee size, but also based on transactional history such as previous products purchased, revenue generated and returns?

4. Define objectives and set baselines before rolling out your CRM system. “Clearly define the objectives of the project up front to determine what information should be stored in [your] CRM system and what information does not need to be managed,” said Holden, who added: “Sometimes less is better.”

Added Martin Schneider, senior director of communications at open source CRM vendor SugarCRM: “All too often companies fail to set proper benchmarks [and] baselines. Nor do they set clear goals for their CRM initiative. To prove value, it is important to know what benefits you are seeing. So start tracking items like average time to close versus prior to CRM deploy, number of phone calls needed to resolve cases, etc. This enables the company to measure ROI, but also [allows you to] see areas for continued improvements.”

5. Don’t skimp on training. Your employees aren’t psychic — nor will the majority of them be familiar with your CRM system. So to get the most of your CRM system, get a positive return on your investment and get your employees to actually use the software, make sure you set aside time to train each and every person you plan on having use your CRM system on the system — and periodically offer (or require) refresher courses or classes when there is an update.

6. Choose which tools and features to implement with your sales force in mind. “Implement tools and dashboards that are easy to manage,” advised Holden. “When technologies are difficult to navigate, salespeople run out of patience. If using the programs is taking face time away from customers, salespeople will not use the system.”

7. Think big, but start small. “To drive adoption and CRM success, don’t boil the ocean,” stated Schneider, meaning you don’t have to — nor should you — do everything or implement every feature or tool in your new CRM system all at once. “It is important to have a well-phased approach to CRM so that users are not overwhelmed with features, and you can better track success,” he said.

8. Customize wisely. “Customization is key — but remember the ‘Five Levels of Why,'” advised Schneider. Put another way, “just because you can make a change, should you? When looking to customize [your CRM] system, go through this exercise: Ask ‘Why do we need this change?’ And actually ask ‘Why?’ to the answer. If after four or five iterations of asking ‘why?’ the change still seems necessary, it probably is. Again, customizing the system is great, but should be reserved for areas that give the CRM initiative and the company a differentiated edge.”

9. Don’t forget about incorporating social media leads. Make sure your CRM system allows you to input and track leads found on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter — and encourage your salespeople and other users to use these sites to find and follow-up on leads. For more information on how to incorporate social media into your CRM strategy, see Top 10 Tips for Using Social Media to Improve CRM.

10. Monitor progress — and setbacks. “Business processes typically don’t improve without monitoring and measuring performance day in and day out — from the operational level to the strategic, and across each department,” noted Turner. “Business processes that are failing must be quickly identified so mid-course corrections can be made in a timely manner. Role-based dashboards enable this monitoring — whether through an operational call-center dashboard or an integrated view of the entire business by the executive team.”

Jennifer Lonoff Schiff is a regular contributor to and runs a blog for and about small businesses.


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