SaaS for CRM: Introduction and Buyer's Guide

SaaS for CRM: Introduction and Buyer's Guide
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Today's cloud-based CRM solutions have much to offer, however choosing one that fits your business needs can prove to be difficult. Here are six key questions you should ask when evaluating cloud CRM providers.

The first customer relationship management tools for PCs from the 1980s were essentially computerized Rolodexes paired with scheduling systems. Some still are.

Far and away the most successful customer contact management system of the 1990s, Act! (hereafter without the "!") still exists today, now marketed by a company called Swiftpage. The latest version of Act does pretty much what the product always has done: gather contact information from multiple sources into a single console. Essentially, Act operates a real-time database. In its main workspace window, you have categories of data on the left, a tree in the middle that breaks down the various tiers, and a record display in the right pane that reveals the contents of the chosen tier.

For a great many businesses, CRM begins and ends with this. Many sources continue to maintain that CRM is, by definition, a database of customer contact records accessible by multiple users through a common interface. But a database is not a manager in and of itself.

The fundamental problem that CRM should solve for an organization is how it should automate its customer-facing business functions. Software that claims to be CRM but does not manage the communications process with customers, is little more than a spreadsheet with guideposts.

It's much easier today for an organization to procure and provision cloud-based services than on-premise software, and businesses have certainly taken that to heart where CRM is concerned. But adapting the chosen service to its business functions is actually harder than before, especially now that the pile of archival data has grown to enormous, perhaps unmanageable, size.

Here are the essential questions that should drive your own evaluation, and ultimately your purchase decision, of a cloud-based CRM solution:

  1. What kind of CRM do you actually require?
  2. How does the cloud improve the CRM service?
  3. Is CRM adaptable to the business model you choose? 
  4. How well will CRM handle social network activity?
  5. How much visibility will CRM permit?
  6. Will CRM integrate with your existing processes and data?
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