In the old days, all you needed to keep track of customers was a Rolodex. But with the Internet, mobile technology, and globalization, the world of customer relations has expanded. Fortunately, customer relationship management (CRM) software and online tools make things easier.
CRM can sound both complicated and expensive. It’s actually a simple technology that lets businesses collect customer information-from client history to promising advertising and marketing leads to complaints-all in one program. It is generally based around three components: sales automation, marketing, and customer support. Salespeople can use the product to document accounts and deals; executives can track their leads and their results; and customer service departments can collate a customer’s entire history of problems, questions, and complaints.
CRM software often allows universal access across an organization, making the information available to anyone at any time. Depending on the CRM system, users might need only a PC with Internet access to take advantage of the program; software can range from complex systems hosted on a server to online programs that are as easy to use.
Here’s what’s available:
n Salesforce.com offers the same sales, marketing, and customer service tools as other CRM providers but has additional applications such as content management, a shared ideas section, and an application directory known as AppExchange: an exchange program with more than 750 applications. Salesforce.com’s group edition costs $600 for five users for one year, the professional edition is $65 per user per month, the enterprise edition is $125 per user per month, and the unlimited edition is $250 per user per month. But entrepreneurs can take advantage of the applications for as little at $10 per user per month.
Microsoft is another player in the CRM game, offering its Microsoft Dynamics CRM products in three full-suite editions: workgroup, professional, and enterprise. The revamped products will be available in the firs half of this year. For updated details and pricing, visit www.microsoft.com/dynamics.crm.
Sage Software offers a suite of CRM products, ranging from simple to complex. ACT! is designed for individuals and small businesses of up to 10 users and starts at $229 per user. SalesLogix was created for small to medium companies or divisions of larger businesses, costing upward of $995 per user. Sage CRM is installed or hosted software meant for firms that want to deploy CRM quickly, priced at $595 per on-premises user and at $69 per month per user. SageCRM.com is a low-cost, hosted deployment option.
If your budget is limited, consider free solutions such as Zoho.com or open-source solutions such as OpenBravo CRM (www.openbravo.org).
For more information on free and open-source CRM software, head to Network Uptime (www.networkuptime.com/tools/crms/index.html).