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Marketing has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. Historically, marketing was a one-directional approach where companies promoted their brand, products and services to a consumer.  It was about creating awareness, driving consideration and ultimately, converting leads into sales.  Today, the best marketers engage their prospects and customers in a two-conversation.  This conversation evolves across the customer journey, and the company recognizes and values the needs of the customer by personalizing the experience based on their relationship at that point in time.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platforms have assisted in this evolution by providing up-to-date customer information to the person or process behind the interactions with the customer. CRMs, like marketing as a whole, have changed greatly over the past few years. Arguably the biggest name in CRM, Salesforce, doesn’t even use the word CRM anymore. Instead, they focus relentlessly on the Customer and the unique Platforms (called Clouds) they offer to enhance, measure and optimize the customer relationship across the user journey.

So, in this world of change, how should your organization figure out how to select a CRM platform? Here are 5 questions to ask when choosing a CRM:

How much value does your company place on Customer Experience?

Almost any modern business leader understands the importance of the customer, but there is a massive gap between understanding at a conceptual level and actual incorporation within the brand ethos. Are you closer to the historical model of sending messages to prospects and hoping they convert? Or are you fully embracing the entire customer journey, focusing on retention and enabling and rewarding advocacy? Do you have a Customer group, or is customer-centricity a focus of every department across your business? If you’re a leader in the space, you’ll need a more sophisticated CRM to meet your needs.  If you’re a bit behind the curve, you can likely choose from a broad set of options but will want to really invest in the type of planning discussed in question 5 below.

Where are you at with regard to Digital Transformation?

While most are happy to see 2020 in the rear-view mirror, it was undeniably the year of Digital Transformation.  PayPal CEO Dan Shulman said that the pandemic accelerated the move from physical to digital commerce from three to five years to three to five months. Has your company fully embraced this transformation? Has your focus shifted from traditional to digital communications, resulting in a rapidly expanding marketing technology stack? If so, you’ll need to have a very clear view of your current architecture (digital platforms and integrations) and what functions your CRM will need to fulfill.

What is driving your search for a new CRM?

Is this part of an important company initiative and/or backed by executive sponsorship? If so, having a big-name solution goes a long way to establishing credibility. Remember, “nobody ever got fired for hiring IBM” (unless they said that they bought a CRM from IBM, in which case they were likely fired immediately, as IBM uses Salesforce). Salesforce’s Sales Cloud is the world’s most popular B2C CRM, while Microsoft Dynamics 365 is the industry leader for B2B solutions. What if the need for a new CRM solution is a bottoms-up or first-time initiative? This is likely to put more of an onus on affordability, which might mean a lesser known, more user-friendly platform such as Freshworks, Creatio, or Zendesk.  And it means that enterprise buy-in isn’t necessary.  The department sourcing and implementing the CRM will be piloting the effort and enlisting support from other groups as necessary.

What problem does this new CRM solve for you?

CRMs and more importantly, CRM implementations, can range from sales-focused to marketing-specific to enterprise solutions.  Often, a single organization will have multiple CRMs. In higher education, many universities use as many as three CRMs: one for the lead generation (RFI) process, a second for the application process (often Slate), and a third to manage student information (SIS). Some schools and academic departments might use the same CRM for leads and applications, while others leverage unique CRMs for each. If the CRM is a company-wide implementation for a large organization, then an enterprise solution designed to be accessed by many individuals will be necessary. This will likely result in a very expensive, multi-year, multi-phase rollout in which every aspect of the company integrates with the CRM, maximizing the adoption of features to harness the full power of the platform. As mentioned above, Salesforce offers Clouds that each handle a specific area of business and integrate with one another to create a cohesive customer relationship framework.  Sales Cloud is typically used to manage acquisition of customers and accounts; Marketing Cloud addresses a company’s marketing automation, email, digital advertising, social and campaign integration activities; Service Cloud meets the unique needs of Customer Service; and Commerce Cloud enables online retailing while tying back into Sales Cloud. In summary, the important question here is what type of problem are you solving? You might be able to solve it with an industry-specific CRM (very common in Healthcare, Higher Education or Financial Services) or with a platform specific to the department requiring the functionality (Sales, Marketing, Service).

What is your plan for selecting and implementing a new CRM?

A CRM, like any piece of technology, is only a part of any solution.  And by itself, it could cause more problems than it solves. Being successful in selecting and implementing a CRM requires a clear and concise plan to answer the questions that project will raise:

  • How is project success defined?
  • What is the budget for the platform and implementation?
  • What is the internal cost (dedicated resources, cross-departmental support)?
  • What team will govern the selection and implementation of our new CRM?
  • Who will implement and configure the CRM?
  • How will this partner be selected? Who will use the CRM?
  • How long will this project take?
  • What happens if this is delayed or when issues arise?
  • How will status be communicated?

Project ownership, management, and consensus building are critical to success. Having a clear and defined plan from the outset is the difference between simply buying a platform and successfully acquiring, implementing, and activating a solution. Selecting the right CRM means understanding your project goals, taking clear measure of where your organization stands with regard to the customer, participating in Digital Transformation, knowing what is driving this project, articulating the problem you are solving, and having a clear path to success.  This stuff is hard to do on your own, and Primacy would be happy to help you think through the selection and implementation of a CRM platform that fits your business needs.