Selecting a product
Your choice of product will depend on your needs and type of business. The following factors will play a role:
- The size of your business
- The need to access information remotely
- The complexity of your business processes.
- Your budget
Evaluate a shortlist of products against the following criteria:
The product should be process or strategy driven, not data driven.
Make sure that you are not replacing a series of spreadsheets with a database equivalent of a spreadsheet. Sure, it is more efficient, but what you should aim for is a product that is flexible enough to mimic your business processes. Only when this is possible, do you truly get the benefits and efficiencies needed to grow a business.
Integration and Analytics should be strong
Good reporting is the life-blood of a marketing department. What porportion of your customers are cross-sold to another product? What is the incidence of repeat business? What is the lifetime value of your customer in a specific profile? Analytics can be very important in big businesses, but equally you may want to see how many support incidents are open for more than 3 days, or how you perform against Service Level Agreements.
Workflow capability should be easily implemented
Think of workflow as the engine that drives your business processes. Are you relying on humans and manual steps to send reminders, schedule follow-up actions or flag important issues to account managers? Is the quality of your written communication up to individuals, or are there standardised templates with accurate and well-worded messages? Typically, products like ACT and GoldMine have at best "automated processes". This is not the same as a well designed workflow framework found in products like Microsoft Dynamics CRM.
Accessibility and Scalability
If your representatives need to travel (even occasionally), how much better will your business be represented if all the details can be accessed via a browser? Furthermore, if the remote worker is able to update details "as it happens", the next person who deals with the customer (who may be your most important customer) will be fully briefed.
Software delivered in a browser is mature, with many installation options – ranging from an on-premises installation to hosted solutions. It is scalable, flexible and reliable, and leaves very little scope for considering a traditional program with bolted-on links to display in a browser.
This is probably the most important aspect of product selection, so read carefully.
Using ACT and GoldMine as an example, you would expect to be able to add some data fields and change the labels of fields. The snag comes when your business model does not fit into the standard Contact / Activity / History / Opportunity table structure that is typical with these products. For more advanced data and process modelling, you need to be able to create entirely NEW data entities and define relationships between these data entites.
Let me explain by using the recruitment business as an example. There are three primary data entities that need to be considered: Clients, Jobs (positions) and Candidates. With a product like GoldMine it is possible to use Opportunities to hold the jobs; Contacts can be used to hold the details of clients and candidates. The trouble comes when a candidate becomes a client or vice versa, which can be potentially dangerous when you send messages to a candidate at their work address by mistake. It also comes with a very steep learning curve, because you are forced to learn terms that are foreign to your business. For example, candidates submitted for certain Jobs will be displayed on the "Influencer" tab of an opportunity, etc., etc. For a new employee, this dramatically increases the time before they can become productive.
Some of our clients in recruitment use GoldMine. It works to a point, but it is NOT scalable, and you WILL drop balls. Also expect to increase your headcount to manage all the processes like scheduling multiple follow-up actions until a candidate is placed.
While this example is probably only pertinent to a small proportion of readers, just about any business will have a unique method of communicating with its customers; typically, this is your competitive edge. And having a system that can accurately reflect this is very, very important. Code-less customisation makes this possible. It is made very easy in products like Microsoft Dynamics CRM, arguably easier than even the basic configuration in GoldMine or ACT.