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5 Questions to Ask: Choosing Client Relationship Management Software

By Bill Hawks on 04/11/2016
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You may be asking yourself, what is a customer relationship management software? Or, What is a CRM? Do I need a CRM? Sometimes we even get asked, why can't I just use Microsoft Outlook to manage all my contacts? An effective CRM is a software that helps you document your contacts in all of your current accounts, prospects, and leads. The very best CRM's help you keep track of your latest interactions with that contact in a way that helps you make the best possible sales decisions. Interactions may be phone calls, meetings, proposals/quotes, or even an interaction by the prospect on your website or blog. Ultimately, your CRM tools should match your customer relationship management strategy for lead generation, identifying opportunity, and closing more business. Without a CRM, you are constantly searching for contacts in spreadsheets or emails and asking each other for sales advice on certain accounts. With a CRM, you should be managing pipelines of sales opportunity and making the contact you are working with feel more well known and appreciated. 

Choosing a software to be the central point of management for all client relationship needs can be a daunting task. Too little thought and you've wasted money going down a path that just won't integrate with your business processes. Too much thought and you experience paralysis by analysis, putting your team in software purgatory without clear deadline as to when the software can be up and running. 

SeedSpark doesn't just help business owners make these choices, we've had to go through major integration challenges of technology and business process ourselves. Our hope is that this list of questions will help you accelerate towards the right choice for CRM in your business.  

1. What are your goals? 

It's been said that if you don't know where you are going, any path will take you there. Too often the "tech guy" is forced to recommend a software without having the opportunity to first understand the context of the business goals. Sometimes the marketing team has to choose one software without factoring in sales enablement. We believe clarity in your business goals is paramount to success in the software game. Whether you are choosing an already existing software or building your own custom application, knowing how the technology will eventually position you to provide more value and drive profitability is critical. 

Here are some examples of goals we had while modifying our own SeedSpark ERP/CRM:

  • Provide more consistent service through shared knowledge of a client and their last interaction with SeedSpark
  • Determine if what we are selling is accounting for the hours it takes to sell and manage the project in order to maintain profitablity 
  • Better understand our client needs and touch base with them more often (whitespace planning)
  • Develop a proven process for determining the right solutions for our clients and seeing it flow from identification of need, to quoting, all the way through to completion, and follow up tasks on the work 

Here are a few examples of goals from a recent client project where they built their own custom CRM: 

  • Ensure that all work done by field technicians was captured under the right client record 
  • Ensure that great follow up steps were taken by client service representatives so they could improve their survey responses and online reviews
  • Centralize sales statistics to eliminate the need for lengthy sales meetings with disparate spread sheets 
  • Set goals for touching base with past clients, current clients, and prospective clients 

2. What is the "story" or "lifecycle" of an order in your business? 

Perhaps the best way to understand your own processes or to convey them to an IT consultant is to tell a story. To do this, first you have to establish a clear accountability chart. Who is responsible for what in your organization? If the ball were to be dropped relating to a client, how would you find out where the process broke down? What was the last communication was to the client prior to the issue?

Tell a story about a real order and don't forget to mention every bit of communication that had to happen (internal and external) in that story for the order to flow from sales/marketing, to a line of business, and on to accounting. 
Here's an example of a lifecycle story:

  • Prospect reads a blog post 
  • Prospect clicks a website "Call-to-Action" and fills out a form 
  • Marketing team creates company record and contact record in the CRM and alerts sales person of a marketing qualified lead (MQL) 
  • Sales person calls the on the lead and sets a meeting. 
  • Sales person records the meeting date and time in the CRM 
  • During the meeting an opportunity is identified that would fit in Line of Business #1 
  • Sales person creates a pipeline opportunity, documents discovery notes, and alerts engineers in Line of Business #1 that she will need their help deciding on the correct scope of the project 
  • Line of Business #1 engineers record their recommendations for the amount of hours it will take them to create the solution based on discovery notes and alerts the sales person and/or an internal quoting or proposal writing expert. 
  • The internal quoting or proposal expert needs to alert the sales person when the quote/proposal is ready 
  • Once quote/proposal is ready, sales person needs to email the quote to the client and change the status of the opportunity to proposal/quote sent so all involved up until that point are cleared of their responsiblity 
  • If sales person successfully closes the business, they will need a status for winning the opportunity that assists in alerting accounting of the billing terms and alterting the line of business employees that the project needs to be scheduled
  • Accounting creates the work order, invoice, or pick list that Line of Business #1 will use with the client project
  • Sales person and a project manager from Line of Business #1 schedule a kick-off call with client
  • Line of Business #1 completes work and alerts accounting and sales that work is complete 
  • Accounting invoices project and sales person contacts client a final time to ensure satisfaction 

Wowzers! How does one capture all of that properly in the software you are about to dive into? How do we automate some of those alerts or cut down on manual entry? This is a process that may take many weeks to flush out. We recommend taking your time in this, and preparing lots of examples. 

3. Where are your contacts currently? 

As a matter of housekeeping, you will want to survey your current contact landscape. Some may be in your email program, others in spreadsheets, others on business cards (anyone still have a rolodex?), perhaps some will be in accounting package like QuickBooks, and still others will be in a legacy CRM system. Plan to get all of these to a particular format that will import appropriately to a new CRM. Often this means organizing many columns of data into excel or SQL databases. Do this early on in the process so you have clear expectations for onboarding in your new software! 

4. What do you have to integrate with?  

When it comes to small and medium sized businesses, it's rare that you find a software that fits every aspect of your business from day one. What's more likely is that you may still run a specific accounting software like QuickBooks that needs to integrate, or you may have a special quoting or distribution source that determines how you price services and communicate client expectations. We recommend that all softwares that will stay in play after the new CRM is up and running be documented, and that a development team review each one for integration plans and potential pitfalls. Gather a list of the existing softwares and any points of contact you have at the companies who created those softwares. 

5. What (actionable) insights will you want to pull from the system once you are up and running?

Think about what blindspots you have today in your business and what you wish you knew. Is there a report that would help you more clearly plan your week or more effectively understand your client's needs? 

  • Do you want to check in on pipeline forecasts by sales person or territory or line of business?
  • Do you want to be able to see a list of all past interactions with a client/contact? 
  • Do you want to have lead scoring based on how a lead has interacted with your marketing initiatives and website? 
  • What dashboard views will you want for different roles in the business?
  • Is your sales cycle unique? Do you need to customize a system’s deal stages?
  • Do you hope to see what items are on order or what projects are active by client? 
  • Do you hope to link inventory to quoting and sales? 
  • Do you need to be able to create custom contact properties?
  • What filters will be valuable by client type?


This is just a primer or a start to the CRM consulting process. These questions will help guide your team in launching a discussion about CRM needs. If you are interested in evaluating CRM's in the near future and would like to talk to us about what we have been through ourselves, we would love to help! Hit the link below to tell us more about you and your project and we will be in touch shortly. 



Topics: Marketing