1. What CRM software would you recommend for a small business and why?

Andrew Campbell, CRM Consultant and Econsultancy trainer

Before you pick a supplier you first have to be clear on the type of CRM platform that you need. This must be based on the type of customer experience you want to deliver, e.g. the customers of a discount car rental provider may want streamlined self-service features whereas an luxury fashion retailer may want a personal shopper/concierge services. 

Different CRM platforms tend to have a different centre of gravity with regard to functionality supporting:

  • Sales e.g. lead generation, inbound marketing, SEO, dynamic merchandising, offer management, triggered email, pipeline management or m-commerce. In this instance you might try Salesforce or Maximiser.
  • Marketing e.g. newsletters, social media engagement/online PR, experiential web site, content, campaign management/automation, data mining/behavioural analysis, Voice of Customer or Reporting/BI. Potential vendors here include Zoho or On Contact.
  • Service e.g. account management, community management, social self service, web self service, IM/Web Chat, integration with back office (finance/billing, logistics and supply chain). For this I’d recommend Dynamics or Contact Plus.

Ben Barrass, Data and Digital Marketing Manager at Econsultancy

You may find that existing tools within the organisation can construct enough of a customer relationship picture that additional tools are not required. 

Again this comes down to what you are trying to achieve – for example if you are B2C and looking to manage automation around specific website customer touchpoints, you’ll probably find an email vendor that will do all this for you.

They will also have decent segmentation, profiling and reporting tools attached as they all want to progress being seen as ‘just an ESP’ – many now have tie ups with CRM vendors which make integration a lot easier, so if you are tied into a specific marketing platform this may provide you the best route.

Effective CRM requires all departments to work with the customer in mind

Longer lead time, nurture style customer relationships as often seen in B2B environments tend to require more specific functionality, and there are some great low cost tools such as Zoho now available.

Most are SaaS and often have small free starter tariffs to get stuck in with, and the tools to allow growing companies connect up systems later.

Matthew Eccles, Managing Partner at Matthew Eccles Associates

I’m reluctant to make a specific recommendation because the size of the customer base and breadth of data available to power a CRM programme will be key inputs to the decision. 

In considering a CRM system small businesses should consider their needs across three key areas:

  • Data management and analytics.
  • Campaign management and deployment.
  • Customer and campaign reporting.

I would point out that there are numerous vendors providing both installed and cloud based CRM systems that can give a small business all the power they need across these areas. Costs vary but start from less than £100 per user per month for established platforms.

2. What tend to be the main barriers to more advanced eCRM within a business and how can they be overcome?

Andrew Campbell

The technology barriers to enterprise-wide adoption of advanced eCRM programmes (e.g. triggered contacts, real-time personalisation, web and email integration, social campaign management and mobile commerce) are much lower than they were. The cost and complexity of the technology set has fallen rapidly.

People and processes tend to be a bigger constraint impacting adoption and optimisation of advanced advanced eCRM.

A comprehensive change management programme that includes organisational structures, staffing, roles and responsibilities, reward systems, operational processes, business work flows, training and performance measurement is essential to create an organisational environment in which the CRM technology set can operate. 

Ben Barrass

Finding the data and linking it – getting a single customer view together can be a nightmare without proper scoping and planning, and tends to require heavier investment up front.

There’s also an issue with perception and how CRM can be used to achieve business goals. To quote a report I used in a recent Msc assignment:

In 2006 McKinsey Quarterly cited a Forrester Research report indicating that only 10% of the business and information technology executives they surveyed strongly agreed that expected business results were achieved from implementing CRM (Bard, Harrington, Kinikin, & Ragsdale, 2005). A 2003 Gartner study estimates that 70% of CRM projects result in either losses or no bottom line improvement.

Another major barrier is change management. Data can be moved (at a cost), but it can be more difficult to get people on board to buy into the change. That’s why leadership is very important.

Matthew Eccles

Unequivocally the key barrier is lack of access to data. Commonly organisations still have data in silos and there is a resistance from data owners to make it available to a CRM platform when there is no direct benefit to them due to a lack of aligned responsibilities.

This lack of aligned responsibilities also points to the other significant problem. Organisational structures negate an ability to drive a single customer marketing strategy.  

Many organisations keep digital marketing distinct from offline marketing, resulting in customers seeing a confused view of the brand.

Overcoming these barriers is simple: Put customers needs and wants at the heart of the business and marketing strategy. Something most organisations still fail to do.

3. Finally, what is the best piece of advice/most valuable lesson you’ve learned during your CRM career?

Andrew Campbell

CRM is all about value creation – for the customer and brand. You need to understand what customers value most and then figure a way of engineering this within the context of your brand strategy and organisational capabilities in a way that delivers incremental profits for the business.

Ben Barrass

From a customer perspective, doing the basics well will always need to be the first step. Getting the basics right is the most effective way of building trust and loyalty.

Matthew Eccles

The most valuable lesson I have learned is that this is hard!  CRM is complex to plan, implement and manage.  It needs rigourous process management to activate the consumer insight and creativity it relies on to engage customers effectively.

So I have three key pieces of advice:

  1. Have a clear set of tangible and measurable objectives for CRM.
  2. Break down any CRM project into manageable deliverables with clear tasks and milestones.  Have a roadmap and think like an elite athlete – get to the goal by reaching a series of targets on the journey to it.
  3. Align key stakeholders through the process and ensure that marketing users are at the heart of the requirements specification.