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CRM solutions : An overview

The CRM solution has been a recurrent issue for all B2B companies these past years: everyone talks about it, everyone is starting to use it (if they weren’t already doing so), everyone is renewing it, but many would prefer to just not hear about it!

CRM is most often considered as a constraint, as one more tool, as even more administrative work…. Why should I record all my calls with my clients in this tool when I was already hitting my goals without doing so before?

It’s worth pointing out that, before being a constraint, CRM is above all a set of techniques and tools aiming to improve your relationship with your clients and leads. The goal is to try to build a long-lasting relationship that is focused on loyalty and lets you offer products and services that are of interest to your clients.

So, a CRM solution should not be considered as a tool for the company’s teams, but rather as a tool that guarantees your clients the best service.

In this article, we are going to try to outline the different types of CRM solutions that may be useful in a B2B environment. Unfortunately, we will not be able to tackle all of the solutions available, so the list will not be exhaustive.

What are the basic features of a CRM platform?

Client and/or lead profiles form the base of any CRM solution. Roughly speaking, your CRM is like a set of binders (one per client or lead) in which you can file your meeting notes, enter the different points of contact you have with this client, note the products that the client has already bought, the products that may be of interest to them, etc.

In general, you have access to a directory of the companies that are clients of your company and to all of the employees of these companies with whom you have a relationship. In this way, if you have to leave the file with one of your colleagues, he will be able to understand the status of your relationship with this client.

Your solution can then incorporate complementary modules so as to enrich and facilitate the exploitation of these client profiles. This can include the integration of your product catalogue, the monitoring of a sales pipeline, integration with your messaging tool (in this way, all the e-mails exchanged with a client will be centralised in the CRM), integration with your ERP (to stay informed of the state of production…), integration with your marketing tools (to be aware of all the offers a client is aware of following your marketing actions), … and any other information that may be useful in terms of personalising the commercial relationship with a client.

It is also increasingly possible to connect your CRM platform to tools (such as those proposed by Sparklane) enabling you to acquire external information concerning your leads. In this way, if you harvested a business card at a tradeshow, and you record it in your CRM, you will be able to enrich the lead profile with data that you didn’t possess.

The giants: Salesforce, SAP, Oracle, Microsoft…

These are the heavyweights of CRM! Used in the B2B and B2C world, these solutions are not rolled out with a wave of the magic wand but very often require the employment of a developer who will help you consider your needs and implement the different modules necessary. Even so, some of these solutions now propose versions that can be quickly rolled out on the cloud; this has always been the case, for example, for Salesforce, and it’s now also possible with Microsoft Dynamics. The pricing models are very variable, from fixed licence to a price per user, there’s something for everyone, but if you want to have lots of options, it won’t necessarily come cheap.

Salesforce is the undisputed leader! The CRM solution that Marc Benioff created in 1999 is now omnipresent on the market, leading the majority of the comparative studies (from Gartner to Forester to the community site G2CROWD), and there is no longer a single CRM call to tender that doesn’t evaluate Salesforce at some point. Moreover, the American company has also entered the marketing field by buying ExactTarget (more B2C-focused) and the Pardot marketing automation solution.

Other flexible online solutions, geared towards sales

There has been an explosion of CRM solutions on the market over the past few years. A very interesting category of these solutions is made up of simplified cloud platforms, dedicated to very small companies and mainly addressing an improved sales pipeline, yet without forgetting the essential elements found in a CRM system: alerts and reminders, synchronisation with your e-mails, attribution of leads to the different members of your sales team, etc.
In this category, we see solutions like Pipedrive, Insightly, Highrise, etc.


But also very professional OpenSource solutions

Among the CRM solutions we often hear about are those known as OpenSource solutions, even if this aspect of solutions is increasingly ignored. The two most well-known are undisputedly SugarCRM and Vtiger, but we could also mention Odoo, which was originally designed as an ERP.

The giants we mentioned above would not be ashamed of many aspects of these solutions. Their OpenSource DNA (even if the companies behind their development are obviously commercial) means that they are extremely modular and adapt to simple requirements or complex contexts in which major customisation will be necessary. Moreover, don’t start thinking they’re free because they’re OpenSource. In any case, they will need to be rolled out, which has a price, and you will of course need professional support for your users.

Marketing automation tools that also fulfil CRM functions

Some of the Marketing Automation solutions natively offer CRM functions. And it makes perfect sense. As soon as these solutions start to harvest leads, to harvest information on these leads, to undertake personalised marketing operations… then the data necessary for CRM exploitation is already in place. All you need to do next is add profile exploitation features that can be used by a sales team.

In the marketing automation world, HubSpot is probably faring best since its HubSpot CRM can be seen in several CRM solution rankings. We could also mention solutions like InfusionSoft, SharpSpring, … and still many more that play both sides of the fence.

It’s impossible to mention them all… and not easy to rank them

The categorisation of CRM solutions can be a real headache as the avenues explored by the different players (especially the most recent ones) are so varied. The inclusion of client support features, marketing automation, sales pipeline, etc. clouds the issue a little more.

So here is a non-exhaustive list of solutions that have not yet been mentioned in this article:

Which criteria should guide your choice?

As in any choice of software solutions, don’t head towards the solution that offers the most features! It is important to be able to define in advance the different needs that you have while bearing in mind that you need to avoid duplicates. If a feature is already present in another brick of your information system, you’ll need to make a decision.

As costs remain the crux of the matter, define your budget in advance, there should not be any surprises at this level. Integration costs may often be higher than originally stated, so you should take this into account.

To consider this matter further, if you could only keep two criteria, then you should probably let ease of use (the quality of the interface) and integration with existing tools guide your choice. This means that you will simultaneously have a tool that is better accepted by users and easier to integrate into your IT environment.

Another point that can be decisive is the tool’s capacity to be used on the move. In an increasingly mobile world, users must be able to connect to your CRM at any time from any terminal.

Finally, surround yourself! A responsive and efficient user support service is vital, particularly when your needs are complex.




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