Please Note: The assessments below are very general and intended to be merely a starting point. Individual software programs and/or vendors may differ. My purpose is to help you narrow the scope of a search to products that meet your basic criteria. If your needs seem to cross categories, we recommend that you discuss your requirements with a qualified consultant.
I. Personal Information Managers (PIMs)
Personal Information Managers (PIMs) are centered around you, the user. Microsoft Outlook is a classic example of a PIM. Emails are all in your Inbox. You have a list of personal contacts, your personal calendar, and your task list. The information is not shared with other people in your company, and it would be difficult to put together a summary of all of your involvement with a particular account.
If you have a computer, you probably have Outlook, so cost may be considered $0
Single User Functionality Only
Information is not readily sharable
Doesn’t track information by contact or account
Not customized to your functions or business
Functions are very basic
Who should use a PIM?
PIM’s are a solution for the new “road warrior” who is just getting started and can’t afford anything more. However, the next step up, a program like ACT! by Sage, can do so much to help grow his business, that purchasing at least a contact manager should be a goal for anyone serious about selling.
That said, the functions within Microsoft Outlook, Word, and Excel are essential foundations of every tool we will discuss, and a seamless integration with Microsoft Office is key to user adoption.
II. Contact Management/Sales Force Automation
This category includes software packages such as ACT! by Sage, Goldmine, and Maximizer. Unlike personal information managers, these products are specifically designed to manage the sales process and may be focused on either the customer contact or the account. They interface directly with Microsoft Outlook, Word, and Excel. What differentiates them from MS Office by itself is that they provide central storage of all information about the prospect or customer. Looking at a contact record, you can see all related activities, emails, letters, calls, and notes. And the information can be shared with other members of the sales team and management. Data can be grouped and mass actions (scheduling, sending emails or letters) can be taken for the entire group. Most of these products can be configured to meet basic business-specific information requirements, but these products are designed to be usable right out of the box. Millions of users depend on them to manage their sales efforts.
Contact Manager/SFA Pro’s
Low cost – An individual can generally get started for as little as $200
Can be used by an individual or a workgroup
In very small groups, a server may not be necessary
Contact or Account Centric
Easy User Interface
Familiar – Millions of users
Many available addon products available to extend these products due to their popularity
Generally best for fewer than 35 users and 20,000 records
Focus is on either contact or account. It is not possible for the primary focus to be on some other aspect of the business, such as contracts or opportunities.
Customization is possible but within limits of the program
Functions and structure, while extensive, are fairly rigidly defined
Addons are necessary when functionality is not built-in. There is a hazard when using addons that the main product and addon will be “out of sync” when the main upgrades.
Who should use a Contact Manager or Sales Force Automation Tool?
The products in this category are widely used by individuals, small companies, and sales workgroups within large organizations. They work best in a classic sales environment in which you want to share information about customers and “keep it simple”. Management wants to get information about the sales team’s activities, but the software is primarily the sales rep’s tool.
III. Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
The category called CRM or Customer Relationship Management includes such products as Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Sage CRM SalesLogix. Unlike a Contact Manager or Sales Force Automation tool, a true CRM package encompasses at least:
In addition, these products generally have the ability to
- Manage and automate the processes involved in marketing, sales, and customer service through the use of custom workflows
- Be extensively customized to the specifications of the business and functions for which they are used
- Gracefully handle large numbers of users and records
- Add custom data entities or tables to the base structure
- Secure data more tightly than is possible with a PIM or SFA program
Extensive functionality "Out of the Box"
May be used by large numbers of users with large numbers of records
With some programs, the same ability to link data, schedules, emails, etc. is available with any type of record.
Cost of entry is higher than a PIM or SFA
For “On Premise” products, a server is required
Not intended for the single user
User interface tends not to be as simple as that of a PIM or SFA because functionality and customizability are so much greater
Rules of usage must be established so everyone enters data in the same way
Who should use a CRM program?
A true CRM is the right solution for the company which
- Considers it important to coordinate the efforts and communications of marketing, sales, and service teams
- Wants to extensively customize the software to its unique business or functional requirements
- Has users in multiple locations – even multiple countries with multiple languages and currencies
- Wants to significantly automate and manage business processes
- Is looking for a maximum return on investment, and is willing and able to invest to receive the return
Competing in today’s challenging marketplace means taking advantage of all of the tools available to you. One way of taking better care of the customer and reducing cost of customer acquisition and retention is to make computers do more of the time-consuming, tedious work so you and your team can spend more time in front of the customer. There are many software packages on the market that are designed specifically to assist you in that process. This information is provided to give you an overview of the options available and some of the decision factors that will determine which approach is appropriate for your business. To maximize the benefit of any of the options described in this paper, we recommend enlisting the assistance of a knowledgeable consultant.
For more decision-making help, check out my blog on CRM Platforms: On Premise, Hosted, or Cloud