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Mark Lee has had it with Google Sheets. For the past several years, the public relations consultant has been keeping track of customer data using online spreadsheets, but he’s finally ready to make the jump to a more robust customer relationship management (CRM) program. 

The basic tools he has been employing are more prone to error, and it’s too time consuming to manually record every customer interaction, he says. Ironically, his firm, New York City-based EightFive PR, works mostly with technology companies, yet he’s still using old software. “We’re considered a tech agency, yet I feel like a lot of the processes we use are outdated,” he says. 

So Lee has been on the hunt for the right program for his four-employee operation. He wants something simple, something that can meet his company’s needs and can seamlessly integrate with Google Suite. While he’s narrowed down his choices, he hasn’t bought just yet. “I’ll get something within 30 days,” he says. “I’m excited about the amount of time I’ll save and the efficiencies it will bring to the team.”

Many entrepreneurs are like Lee, starting out with Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets and then realizing that they need something hardier as their business grows. However, with so many CRM programs out there, it can be hard to know which one to choose. There are many things business owners should think about when looking for a CRM, but here are five main points to consider. 

Focus on Your Customer’s Journey

Business owners tend to look for CRM because they need to solve some pain point, like losing information or employees inputting bad data. But buying a program that solves one issue isn’t the best way to shop for a system, says Lars Helgeson, author of CRM for Dummies. Instead, companies must map their customer’s journey and then buy a program that supports that path from start to finish. “Make sure you understand that journey and the data model around it, so you can understand what you need to store,” he says. “Then start looking at CRMs.” 

It Should Speak With Other Programs

In many cases, companies are already using software that collects the kind of data they’d want to incorporate into a CRM. For instance, email deployment program MailChimp can tell who opens newsletters; Trello, a popular project-management program, can connect tasks with customer profiles. Understand that some CRMs specialize in Microsoft products, while others specialize in Google. Business owners must find a CRM that can speak to all the programs a company uses, says Helgeson. 

Keep It Simple

For Lee, simplicity is paramount. A CRM program is supposed to make life easier--if he’s spending too much time trying to figure out how to use the software, he says, what’s the point? Matthew Mobley, chief technology officer at Columbia, Maryland-based Merkle, a marketing solutions company, agrees that an easy workflow is key. “I see companies spending hours inputting information when they should be engaging with clients,” he says. Being able to test a CRM out for free is a must, he adds.

Learn Something New

While CRMs can help keep sales and customer data organized, many also provide insights into things like client-buying patterns and what kind of communications a customer prefers. This information can help companies sell more and treat customers better. With that in mind, buy a CRM that gives you insights and data that you don’t already have. “Look at the data that goes in there,” says Mobley. “Is it providing me a different view than what I had before? Can I get better things?” 

Pay a Flat Rate

One of the benefits of CRM is that companies can pay per user, but there’s a downside to that, too, says Helgeson. He’s seen numerous companies cut corners by giving the same login to multiple users. That’s a problem, because then several people are inputting data into the same account. “You lose all accountability,” he says. “Look for a CRM that offers a flat fee.”

Lee is looking at all of this, but says integration and simplicity are most important to him and his staff. He’s doing a last little bit of research before he buys, but it won’t be long before he says sayonara to his spreadsheet software. “I’m excited,” he says. “We’re going to be able to work more collaboratively going forward.”


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Published on: Aug 14, 2018