Choosing a Customer Relationship Management System


CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems basically allow you to manage your company or organization. Typically a CRM system will let you:
– keep track of inquiries – log when and how these are turned into sales – keep track of contact details for your customers (including running mail merge campaigns).  You can also get your Customer Relationship Management system to interface with your accounts systems so that it manages to purchase and invoicing. Indeed, the problem when commissioning a Customer Relationship Management system is often knowing when to draw the line.

The Two Choices Available

If you’re looking to implement a CRM system, you have two basic choices. You can either ask a company to write one for you, or you can buy one off-the-shelf (typical suppliers are Mamut, Microsoft Dynamics, , Oracle, SAP and Maximizer). Either way has big pros and cons, so it’s vital you understand the difference between the two. This article considers the pros and cons of each approach under separate headings below.

Buying an Off-the-Shelf System

The obvious advantage of this approach is that you avoid reinventing the wheel: if someone else has already written a complete system, doesn’t it make sense to buy the bits of this that you want? Surely this will make it cheaper to buy a system, and you’ll get a more powerful system into the bargain?
The problem with any off-the-shelf system is that it will do far, far more than you want. You can either license the entire system (and then ignore the 90% of the system that you aren’t using), or you could customize the system to suit your own needs.

The problem with the second approach is knowing what to cut out, and how. When your CRM system has been in place for several years, you’ll be in a perfect position to realize which bits you need and which bits are irrelevant, but when you first commission the system it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to make sensible decisions about what to do. You’ll therefore be at the mercy of the company selling the system, whose main incentive will be to deviate as little as possible from the core product. None of this is a reason not to go for the off-the-shelf approach, but be aware that you will end up with a complex system, which requires you to input more data than you need to. Oh, and watch out for those annual licensing costs.

Building Your Own System

This approach would undoubtedly give better results – if you have an infinite budget. With no limits on the amount of money you have to spend, you could employ a large consultancy to write the perfect system for you, which mirrors your business in every detail.

In practice the above approach isn’t feasible, so you’ll need to think which bits of the system are necessary for your business. Thus for the build-it-yourself approach, you will start with nothing and add the bits you need (rather than starting with everything and getting rid of the bits you don’t need).

Whether the DIY approach works is mostly down to who specifies and builds the CRM system for you. Your supplier will need to understand your business and share your mission to keep the cost and complexity of the system down. Be wary of consultants trying to write the perfect system for you – you’ll end up with the perfect bill.

Our Recommendation

Actually, we don’t have one; or at least, not a one-size-fits-all recommendation. Every CRM system we’ve ever seen has been over-complicated, requiring company staff to input far more data than necessary (which then all too often means that the system falls into disuse). On the other hand, proprietary systems cost a lot of money, which is probably acceptable if the supplier gets it right.

Perhaps our tentative advice would be this: if it’s your own business and you’re trying to skimp and save, go for the proprietary CRM system and make sure you keep it simple; if you work for a company and have a tendency to gilt-edge things, maybe the discipline of fitting into an existing off-the-shelf CRM is what you need.