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How to Pick a Customer Relationship Management Tool That Fits Your Business

It’s fairly straightforward to determine if you need a customer relationship management solution such as Salesforce. Maria Thomas, director of product management at Insightly, a San Francisco-based CRM software provider, says that if you communicate daily with at least 10 to 20 customers, prospects or partners, your business could benefit from a proper CRM tool. We asked her to guide us through the selection process.

What’s the first step?

Start by documenting your technical requirements — what you need the tool to accomplish and the data you want it to track. If you don’t, you’ll likely overpay for a solution with unnecessary functionality or, worse, you might waste time and money on a CRM tool that can’t support a crucial part of your business.

What should I consider from a technology perspective?

Look for the tool’s APIs. How easily can they be used to build a customized interface that works seamlessly with your CRM data? You also want programs that integrate with Google and Microsoft. If your employees are mobile and rely on their smartphones, make sure the CRM has native mobile apps for both Android and iPhones. If employees spend a lot of their day on email, look for vendors that marry email inboxes with CRM so your staff can view all the info they need on one screen.

Then there’s security. CRM databases hold a ton of personal and proprietary information. You want one that supports role-based authorizations.

Should I look at a cloud solution or one I have to download and install locally?

That decision rests on your needs, budget, time and resources. On-premises CRM gives you more control and full security of your data, offline access and the power to endlessly customize your system. But going that route requires purchasing servers, hiring IT personnel to maintain the system and an upfront investment of time and money.

Cloud-based software-as-a-service CRM requires only a web browser to get started and an annual subscription fee per user. And therein lies the rub. That $50 or so a month isn’t bad when it’s you and a co-founder. But if you’re expecting rapid growth among your sales staff, consider buying from a company with tiered pricing for large clients.

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