Put Cloud CRM to Work

Getting Started With Cloud CRM

As you would prior to adopting any new software, do some research and plan ahead before you sign up for a cloud CRM system.

• Assess your company's needs: Figure out which sales and marketing problems you want a cloud CRM tool to solve, suggests Leary. Look at all of the processes you have in place to see what's working, what isn't, and what you can eliminate. "This will give you a clear understanding of what you need a CRM system to do," he explains. "It gives you a checklist of to-do items, which helps you compare the various CRM systems and make the right decision."

• Take advantage of free trials: Use the services' free trial periods (usually 15 to 30 days) to familiarize yourself with each system's features and interface. Bear in mind that, after the trial period, you may be locked into a contract and subject to early-termination fees.

• Do the math: A cloud CRM system may help you reduce your investments in servers, software, and IT staff, notes Jeremiah Owyang, who oversees customer strategy at Altimeter Group. Instead, you'll have a predictable monthly fee that you can build into your budget. But be clear from the beginning what the monthly expense will be. Find out whether any CRM features that you want will cost extra.

• Consider mobile options: A few cloud CRM services--notably, Salesforce.com--have developed iPhone and other mobile device apps, so you can access customer records on the go.

• Ask about security: Cloud CRM service providers "are much more security minded and have more security expertise than most small businesses will ever have," says Gaskin. Also, as more large companies migrate to cloud CRM systems, cloud CRM providers must prove that their security is at least as strong as what the enterprise already has in place. Take the time to ask about security guarantees before committing your customer data to any CRM provider.

• Make sure the sales team is on board: Many small businesses moving to online CRM systems fail because their salespeople find the systems too cumbersome to use, says Gaskin. They don't see the value in taking time to learn the system, or they feel threatened by sharing information about their customers with others in the company. The sales staff "needs to see how they can make money from the CRM system or they'll resist it," he adds.

• Know your exit strategy: Make sure you know how to export your data from the cloud CRM service. That way, if you decide to migrate to another system later, you won't be caught off-guard by the export options. And be sure to export all data before you cancel the service. Some cloud services say that they expunge all your records as soon as service is terminated.

James A. Martin is a PCWorld contributing editor and a coauthor of Getting Organized in the Google Era (Broadway Books).

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