The recent pandemic has resulted in significant changes across both B2B and B2C commerce and has driven many businesses to consider either introducing or replacing their Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions. In some industries, such as the retail sectors, appropriate use of CRM can mean life or death for a business.

But before jumping on the Salesforce, Pipedrive, or any other bandwagon, take a minute to make sure you have a correct strategy in place. Start with these 5 questions:

What does CRM mean for you?

The answer to this question may not be as simple as it first seems, as CRM solutions all have varying degrees of functionality. All of them may be able to manage a pipeline or keep track of customer interactions, but beyond that, they are different animals. What about marketing automation, capturing customer feedback, housing document management, or the ability to manage both customers and vendors. How important is data and predictive analytics as you look into your future state?

What are your key CRM requirements?

Once you define the core structure and purpose of your CRM, next you need to define key requirements. Many CRM systems offer similar functionality, but they do all differ in the “bells and whistles” included as well as how they handle core functionality. To clarify, in the previous bullet we talked about defining what you need from a modular level, this task requires diving in the specifics of “how” your business operates.

Do you have any CRM functionality in your current technology platform?

Many ERP solutions, including common platforms such as NetSuite and Acumatica, come with some basic CRM functionality, and many also have advanced modules available. Microsoft Dynamics CRM, for example, is a separately sold solution but may be an ideal choice if you are a larger organization already utilizing a Microsoft Dynamics 365 platform as integration may be easier than bringing on a third-party solution.
At this point, you may want to validate your documented requirements against your current platform before moving to select a new CRM system. You may also need to run a high-level business case to evaluate the cost and benefits of working with an existing software platform versus having any additional functionality that may only be available through a new, stronger CRM.

What will your system architecture look like?

While most recognized CRM solutions are generally easy to integrate, you will want to make sure you have your integrations, data flow, and security mapped out. Be especially careful of introducing multiple “sources of truth” across different platforms. Part of solution architecture also includes IT organizational design and support structure. You may find that an open-source solution such as Odoo sounds perfect until you realize the internal level of support that may be required.

What is the best solution for your needs?

After these first set of questions are answered, now you can begin evaluating different solutions. You will find vast differences in cost and functionality, as well as capabilities to integrate and work within your defined solution structure. There is also a range of free platforms, such as Zoho and HubSpot that can bring great value to certain businesses but don’t get hung up on a solution simply because it’s free.

Based on what you have defined as criteria for your CRM, you might be looking for an all-inclusive system, or you may be looking down the best-of-breed path. For example, if marketing automation is a strong requirement you might need to bring in Pardot along with your Salesforce implementation, or you may find that a solution like HubSpot brings the ideal fit of both CRM and marketing automation under one platform.

Also, remember that like any form of digital transformation, a CRM transformation will require some level of organizational change management, especially if it will be impacting sales folks. Internal bias, the expectation around ease of use and not wanting to change can often derail CRM implementations, even if the ideal solution is selected.

Finally, ask for help. Because CRM touches your customers and can influence your company revenue and image, don’t take selecting and implementing a new CRM for granted.

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