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CRM System Selection Best Practices Best Practices in CRM Software Selection


Real-time information access: What’s required?

Easy, real-time access to enterprise-wide information is essential to maximize the value of the CRM application as a source of business intelligence. "One size does not fit all" when it comes to extracting reporting data from the CRM system. While most Customer Relationship Management applications will offer some form of reporting capability, industry leaders offer multiple business intelligence solutions that align with user communities’ specific data access needs. These include standard reports, configurable data views in the application, ad hoc reports, OLAP, data warehousing and dashboards. Delivering this level of access requires the following:

  • A CRM application that feeds data into a common data repository, along with all other enterprise applications. This allows data to be extracted easily, in real-time, in the countless permutations that mid-market executives and other decision-makers require.
  • Streamlined integration with other business applications, as previously noted. These include legacy software, and existing and future applications in an enterprise suite.

As a corollary, having access to comprehensive information is just the first step in enabling better decision-making. To derive true actionable insight, the CRM application must have integrated OLAP and business intelligence functionality. To use these capabilities, no data export should be required, and cross-enterprise data must be easily accessed. This data can then be manipulated in a data warehouse and OLAP system to perform sophisticated "what-if" or data modeling analyses; learning that cannot be replicated with standard reports.

Choices for cost-effective deployment and low TCO

Enterprise software total cost of ownership (TCO) comprises several components, which vary between on-premise and Cloud or SaaS delivery. These are summarized in the table below:

Cost Component
On-Premise CRM Software
Cloud CRM Software
Software license Yes, by module, user count None
Annual maintenance Yes None
Servers and data center Yes None
Implementation services Yes Yes
Software upgrades Typically every 18 months Managed by vendor
Implementation of upgrades Yes None or minimal
Subscription fees None Typically per user per month

Both SaaS and on-premise deployment are viable options for mid-market companies. On-premise can be the right choice for companies that want the highest levels of control, flexibility, performance and customization over their CRM environment. In the near term, on-premise software requires more investment in the software license, equipment and implementation. Over the long term, the cost of upgrades and maintenance is a significant issue, requiring IT staff time to implement not just the CRM application upgrade, but to ensure that its connections with multiple enterprise systems remain intact.

SaaS or cloud CRM is a proven software delivery method for mid-market companies, due in part to its adoption by many large, global enterprises. Subscription-based SaaS software allows mid-market companies to get started faster, and with less up-front investment. Ongoing, the SaaS application vendor handles upgrades and maintenance, and is often responsible for ensuring that the customer’s various application integrations function properly.

User satisfaction requires a positive user experience

User adoption of CRM systems is essential. As such, an easy, positive and rewarding user experience is an important CRM selection best-practice consideration. An outstanding user experience begins with the application architecture: today’s best-performing CRM applications – in terms of both application usability and system response – are built on modern, multitenant, Web-based architectures. Customer Relationship Management applications that have been force-fit from legacy enterprise suites are hampered by the suite’s client/server technology. Because they are patently more complex, less flexible and less responsive, client/server-based applications that are migrated to the Web are vulnerable to major performance and usability problems.

As a corollary, a Web-based CRM application should be browser-based, e.g., not requiring any client software to be installed on end-users’ computers. This eliminates all dependencies on the desktop machine and allows the CRM system to be used anywhere, by any device, and accessible over a virtual private network (VPN) or the public Internet. Whether the application is being used on a desktop computer, a laptop or a tablet, a browser-based architecture delivers consistently high application performance, despite connectivity vagaries.

A best-practice checklist for global growth

Against a backdrop of economic uncertainty, mid-market companies are a strong engine for global economic growth. Across industries, mid-size companies require a CRM system that will grow to meet global business needs. This system must offer:

  • A fundamental global orientation, including multi-language and multi-currency support as well as flexible data roll-ups and sophisticated security models. Beyond this basic functionality, the CRM system should offer capabilities that allow for global data to be seamlessly accessed, analyzed and presented in reports, to provide a global, real-time view of the business.
  • The ability to add new software modules, such as Financials or enterprise resource planning (ERP) seamlessly, thus maximizing the value of the CRM investment and speeding time-to-value of the new applications.
  • The ability to add more capacity to support greater transaction volumes, new locations and/or more users, easily. Cloud CRM applications allow companies to add capacity on demand.
  • The ability to integrate with future technologies, such as Unified Communications environments based on voice over IP (VoIP).

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To derive true actionable insight, the CRM application must have integrated OLAP and business intelligence functionality.


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