CRM system: benefits, evaluation, replacement

A CRM system boosts your chances of success

A CRM system is an integral part of the overall customer relationship management. Today, cultivating customer relationships is critical to a company's success. Since there are more and more touchpoints between companies and customers–the keyword is digital transformation – the complexity of this relationship increases. It is becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of all contacts and interactions. A CRM system helps you systematically cultivate your customer relationships thus increasing your company’s success.

Systematic data analysis

A robust CRM system displays the entire interaction history of individual customers. Emails, phone calls, personal meetings, and even all address data (electronic as well as postal) have to be captured and saved. Thus, it is a central database where all data about a customer is available in a bundled and organized format. This database allows companies to do systematic data analyses to provide relevant information to the various departments. Therefore, all employees must be able to access all collected data–from administration and sales to marketing. The procedures businesses use to process customer data are becoming faster and more efficient because of the central deployment of data in a CRM system.

The seven benefits of a CRM system

  • Central depository of customer contact information
  • Access to customer data from any device and location
  • 360° customer view; overview of all interactions
  • Support with the generation of new leads
  • Identification of sales opportunities through targeted data analysis
  • Customer needs analysis for sales and marketing purposes
  • Support with customer care

Making your customers happy

With the right CRM software, you can cultivate thousands of customer relationships in a personal manner. You know their preferences and are therefore able to identify new leads as well as cross-selling and upselling opportunities. At the same time, you are aware of your customers’ obstacles. This knowledge allows you to identify emerging problems at an early stage and enhance your offers or service quality. If you act quickly, skillfully, and sometimes proactively too, your customers will be positively surprised. Moreover, happy customers are the best customers. Happy customers recommend your company and your products and services to their friends and business partners.

Which CRM system is the best one?

Unfortunately, this is not an easy question to answer. In real life, it has happened frequently that the “best” CRM solution turned out to be a mistake. Most CRM projects fail due to poor usability and therefore a low acceptance rate, because the implemented solutions do not completely integrate existing systems, or because the collaboration with the vendor is not close enough.

Finding the right CRM vendor

Finding the right fit from among the many CRM suppliers is not something one can accomplish in a few minutes. To avoid unpleasant surprises after the implementation of your new CRM system, we recommend that you complete a comprehensive evaluation process. That’s because the best CRM solution should not be evaluated based on its features alone. A critical factor is how well and how sustainably the software can display competition-relevant business processes and important information.

The CRM evaluation: Five steps toward the optimal CRM system

Be focused in your approach during the evaluation of CRM platforms. Define which requirements are of central importance to your company. Select your future CRM vendor by these criteria. Even with that, though, you do not have a guarantee that the CRM solution proves itself once it is fully implemented. Many CRM solutions fail although they have met all the functional requirements on paper. That is because, in real life, they plainly cannot meet the challenges the company faces: The software application does not map business processes naturally or smoothly, sometimes involves substantial system discontinuity, or is just not user-friendly. You can prevent this outcome with a targeted CRM evaluation! We will show you in five steps how to identify the best CRM system for your business.

Step 1: Online demos from ten vendors

Begin your CRM evaluation by creating a longlist of ten CRM suppliers. Request a 90-minute online demo from all ten of them. The online demos will tell you quickly whether a platform meets your basic requirements, or why it does not. Does the system have two rating fields? Can you link one person with several companies? Does the software have the desired functionality? The online demo will answer these questions. Have the vendors demonstrate specific features as well, and cross them off your scorecard right away.

  • Select the best five to ten vendors and write a request for proposal (RFP).

Step 2: Compile specific use cases

When evaluating CRM systems, it is best to start with specific examples, since the relevant differences between the systems lie in the areas where competition-relevant processes are handled: in the business processes. What is also important, however, is which data the system can display and in which manner it does it (for example, the most recent complaints, collection stops, the next best product, etc.). In this context, it is important that you ask the right questions and the essential questions. In the RFP, describe to the vendors your ten key activity areas and your use cases without inquiring about features.

Use case examples

  • The sales representative has to prepare for a customer visit as quickly as possible. He/she needs all relevant customer information, has to be able to work on it offline, and then feed it into the system later.
  • Leads and customer data come from different sources: They might have been manually recorded or were automatically generated by the system, by marketing, or by customer service. This data has to be apparent and analyzable in the system–for the person responsible, the lead generator, and management.
  • The customer service representative takes a call from a customer. To assist the customer quickly and expertly, the agent has to have access to all data related to this customer such as data from the ERP system, up-to-date information from the team leader, the customer’s open bills, and past claims. It is also important that the agent can route the customer’s request or concern to other departments or external partners, such as credit reporting agencies.
  • The central marketing department wants to launch a new-product campaign. To execute this campaign, they want to define target groups and want the customer's account manager to review them as well. 

Vendor and software on trial

Ask the suppliers to describe in about three pages how they plan to implement each use case and have them provide screenshots so you can get the look and feel. Including such use cases helps you evaluate if the vendor's product can support you in solving your particular challenges–and how their software accomplishes it. Also, you find out a lot along the way, so to speak, about the detailed functionality of the product the vendor is offering. Last but not least–but enormously important: You learn if the vendor understands your circumstances and can recommend sustainable solutions–and if and to what degree the vendor genuinely advocates for you and your solution.

  • Select the three best suppliers and arrange for demos on your premises. 

Step 3: CRM software demo on your premises

At this point in the evaluation process, you are down to a shortlist of the three best vendors. Ask these three vendors to give a demo at your location. During the on-site demo, have them show you your specific use cases in their software solution. Give the vendors some time to prepare, because the solution ought to be roughly configured for your areas of activity already and should demonstrate how your systems might be integrated. The demos will give you a good idea of what it would be like if the software were in use at your company.

  • Select the one or two best suppliers for a proof of concept (PoC).

Step 4: Test the solution path and prototype

Implement a proof of concept (PoC) with the CRM systems of the one or two best vendors, but keep the cost low. Do not settle for a succinct “We can do that.” Have the supplier show you in the product how they plan to solve your challenges. The vendor should be implementing real use cases in the CRM software. Develop a technical proof of concept involving your systems by having the vendor link the software prototype to your interfaces. Then, test those with your users.

Get essential individuals involved

The PoC findings are extremely valuable in the CRM evaluation. Is the vendor close to you, the customer? Is there something special about the vendor? Is the chemistry right? When integrating CRM software with your system landscape, success is dependent on purposeful communication with the CRM vendor. Get to know the software developers, project managers, technical experts, and business analysts well before you award the contract. Make it mandatory for all essential personnel to be involved in the PoC–including the individuals engaged with the project implementation–because you will be working with them for some time. For the project to be successful, it is critical that the team gets along well.

  • Develop a clear understanding of the CRM system and the individuals involved.

Step 5: Select a CRM system

Finally, the CRM evaluation concludes once you decide to acquire a particular CRM system. Select a partner who is a good match for you, who responds to your needs, and who defines smart specifications together with you. Do not forget, however, to focus on the product’s functionality. You are better off giving up personalized needs and staying close to the product instead. Have your vendor's employees work at your site. The vendor’s and your project staff should be one team. With shorter communication paths, ambiguities can be eliminated more quickly, your users’ and IT group’s requirements are implemented better, and interim steps and milestones can be reviewed continuously. This results in better control, better software, and a successful outcome. Experience shows that the success of a system implementation depends to a large degree on the people and the nature of the collaboration.

  • Select the CRM vendor with the right chemistry – and become content with their offer.

Demand fixed prices

Cost should not be the primary factor. If the vendors are comparable, however, price becomes the basis for your decision. Demand a fixed price–even if they do not want to commit to it. Do not let the vendors get away with excuses about a lack of information. They know your requirements, processes, and use cases very well from the evaluation. Based on those, they should be offering you their very best solution–with all the interfaces, adaptations, and costs they recommend to you for their system, and with their best and firm price.

Define service costs

Is the company still going to service my release in five years? The vendor should also advise you regarding the appropriate service and release models. Lock in your future upgrade costs. Since a CRM solution is not a stand-alone application, a new release affects various peripheral systems and interfaces. Therefore, you want to make sure you have the guaranteed release costs defined in the contract. This will allow you to depend on a budget and the right service level in the long term.

The customer is king and remains king

While vendors like to treat their customers like royalty during the acquisition process, this often changes abruptly once the contract is signed. It should not be this way. The customer is king and remains king–particularly once the project starts. Do the project manager’s words match what the salesperson says? Does the vendor’s CEO reach out to you? Do they involve you in the roadmap? You are a significant customer, and you have the right to be regarded as such. Your needs and wants ought to be of the utmost importance to the vendor and should, where it makes sense, be part of the roadmap of the further product development as well. All this ensures that you don’t have to think about getting a new CRM system any time soon.

Reasons for switching to new CRM software

If you follow the five steps outlined in the CRM evaluation section, you will not have to think about a new CRM platform any time soon. However, if your answer to even one of the following questions is “yes,” it is time to consider a new CRM system.

  • Are you dissatisfied with your CRM solution?
  • Is it true that your vendor is not there for you readily and regularly?
  • Is it true that your CRM software does not cover all functional requirements of your business?
  • Do you have individual and stand-alone solutions that you would like to replace and standardize?

You are not alone when it comes to the intention to switch vendors: Twenty-two percent of German companies would not select the same CRM solution again, as reported in a Whitepaper by RWTH Aachen regarding the use of CRM solutions. Frequently stated reasons are inflexible systems, lack of performance, and poor ergonomics. We are now going to share with you the most common reasons why companies acquire a new CRM system–and how CRM by BSI deals with these issues.

Inflexible and missing features

Existing CRM systems often do not incorporate all the needed applications, such as quote generation and lead management. Sometimes, the systems are not even “true” CRM systems, but rather address management systems, simple customer information systems, individual modules from ERP solutions, core banking applications, or event management solutions. They are inflexible, often do not display the entire customer communication history across all sales channels, or cannot offer all processes at their interface to the customer. A comprehensive CRM solution, on the contrary, can provide genuine added value. A prerequisite is that it includes all customer touchpoints, including sales, marketing, and customer service communication.

360° customer view

BSI CRM is a software suite for sales, marketing, customer service, and even for your store. All employees work with the same system, but only with the functionality that is relevant to their work. Features can be turned on or off as needed. Every employee has a 360° customer view that includes all contracts, marketing campaigns, visits, etc. Always in real time.

Not user-friendly

Along with a comprehensive CRM system, you receive a wealth of functionality–but this, too, is not always a benefit. An excess of functionality tends to make the software too cumbersome and confusing to the end user. “If you don't need it, omit it,” is not good advice. The following is better advice: “Make it invisible to me.”

Personalized settings

The way we solved this issue in BSI CRM is by making the software solely configurable with discrete permission-based access for each user group. As a result, everyone gets exactly the features, data, and information they need. No more and no less.

Poor performance

CRM software often has performance issues due to the large amounts of data in the system. Analyses and queries take too long–and this reduces the user's efficiency. These issues frequently do not surface until after the software goes live since test and demo installations are not typically tested with such large amounts of data. Often, the issue is related to the hardware or the network, while the software is not at fault.

All KPIs instantly

We have designed the BSI CRM system for large amounts of data and several million data records. Since complex indicators are typically computed overnight, users can retrieve all KPIs with a single click – instantly.

Stand-alone solutions and a lack of interfaces

The dissatisfaction with existing CRM systems often has to do with the fact that there are no interfaces to the critical systems, or because data is synchronized only once a day. Functional departments such as marketing, customer service, and sales, as well as customers, partners, and dealers have their own systems that are not integrated with the CRM environment. Often, they maintain various data sets for the same individuals and orders separately in stand-alone solutions. Open bills, purchased products, signed contracts, recent marketing campaigns, or recorded complaints are either not up-to-date or cannot be retrieved at all. Important information is missing, selling more products or services is a challenge, and customer service suffers.

All areas are interfaced

This is not the case with BSI CRM: Our software suite is an all-in-one solution that incorporates every single customer touchpoint, even those at your stores. All departments (sales, marketing, and customer service), and all areas of your business work with the same data. Also, all data is available in real time. Features, too, can be the same for all areas: standardized templates, for example, or the customer communication process. Although BSI CRM combines many areas, there are CRM-detached systems that have to be connected via interfaces. BSI has 20 years of experience and extensive expertise in this area. It is not without reason that “BSI” is the acronym for Business Systems Integration. Due to its service-oriented architecture, it is very easy to connect interfaces to BSI CRM. All services (such as viewing or writing addresses) can be extracted and transferred to other systems.

Obsolete technology

Old CRM solutions are often obsolete as well and do not support current technologies such as HTML5, Java, JavaScript, SQL, or SOA. Many times, only a few developers or only one specialized software developer can do the software maintenance. Updates are either not possible or not financially viable.

Service-oriented architecture

BSI CRM has a service-oriented architecture and has been developed with the open source framework Eclipse Scout based on Java. Our design approach ensures future viability for your business. While the core of BSI CRM is read-only, customer-specific build-outs are developed as plug-ins, which ensures that the software application core maintains release capability. Also, you, the customer, can even get training in Eclipse Scout and program plug-ins completely independent of BSI.

CRM software is a personalized solution

Standardized software and tools benefit from continuous product development, training materials, and documentation, and often provide a better return on investment (ROI). In general, customer-specific adaptations should be configuration-based whenever possible. If, however, a customer's request can only be implemented through programming, it is important to ensure that the programming changes are as close to the standard version as possible and are only implemented if necessary. With this approach, you can sidestep the lock-in effect as well as costly release changes.

The secret is in the mix

It is important to us at BSI to offer customers the right solution and to respond to personalized needs. Therefore, we test for every process if and to what degree we could meet these requirements with our standard BSI product. With this approach, we can develop the right mix of standard product and customization for every customer.

Lack of security

Data protection and data security are extremely important when it comes to software with large amounts of data. Only authorized individuals have access to data.

Manage permissions individually

BSI CRM manages permissions by user, user group, organizational unit, or role to ensure that users can only view data they have permission to view. These permissions can be set by the customer’s administrator and can be changed as needed. Even a hard data separation, as in separate “data buckets,” is possible, for example for the data relating to different sales units or individually operating agencies. Such database boundaries ensure that each operating unit can only access the data sets they generate and maintain.

A CRM system is worth your while!

To a large degree, it depends on the company’s needs, which CRM system turns out to be the right one. There is no doubt that a targeted CRM software system brings a company benefits in all areas–and they are not to be underestimated. When evaluating a CRM solution, never skimp on the extra effort. Once the software is implemented, rushed decisions often turn out to be bad decisions as well. It is better to invest sufficient time in a comprehensive evaluation because a CRM system should meet your specific needs and benefit your company for years to come. If that is no longer the case, it is time for you to think about making a change. Because as the customer, you are king, which means that the CRM vendor ought to respond to your individual needs.

I want to switch! What’s next?

We would be happy to listen to you. If you are looking for a new CRM solution that supports your business comprehensively across marketing, sales, and service, BSI CRM is the right solution for you. Our flexible tool adapts to your needs so you can benefit from fast and targeted CRM activities. Begin the evaluation process and discover that BSI CRM is the ideal CRM system for your business. Or, feel free to contact us directly. We look forward to your call!