Friday, May 6, 2011

CRM in the Cloud: Part 1 of 3

 I recently switched to a "cloud" based Contact Management / Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system after using ACT since 1999.  What is “cloud based”, you might ask?  It simply means a “software” solution based on the internet rather than installed on your desktop computer.  The reasons I switched include:
  • I was tired of the cost and hassle of upgrading ACT software every few years
  • ACT seemed like over-kill... way to many features that I never used.
  • ACT is clunky. Compared to user friendly online contact manager systems, it seems very old fashioned and the user interface is not very user friendly.
  • ACT lacked integration with any email system but Outlook; not even with Outlook Express. I've been using Thunderbird email for 2+ years and ACT won't integrate with it. I was also never able to use ACT's internal email system because I use IMAP email rather than POP.  You might check with your email provider to see if you're setup as IMAP or POP (topics for a future post!)  If you’re not using IMAP already, you might want to switch to that.
  • ACT needed manual data synchronization between my computers. It works well, but it's just another step to think about when I'm trying to pack up my laptop and run out the door. And if you're having to sync manually, then the more people in your organization, the more complicated that becomes.
  • ACT has very few integrations with other business software applications, especially cloud based business software
So at a recent conference in Raleigh I came across a cloud invoicing solution called FreshBooks.com.  As I started reading reviews about it and perusing it's website, I began to see a whole world of cloud based business software solutions for small businesses and I was quite amazed at the range of solutions that were available.  So if you look at http://community.freshbooks.com/addons/, you'll see many software solutions that integrate with each other.  And if you check out any of those other cloud software solutions, you'll be able to see the whole range of cloud software solutions that they integrate with.  So I tried to find a CRM system that was commonly integrated into many other business software solutions.

What I discovered was that "cloud" based contact manager/CRM solutions have many advantages:

  1. no software to install, update, trouble shoot, etc. In the cloud, you'll always automatically have the very latest version of your CRM system whenever you login.
  2. there is no need to sync data manually between your various computers and smart phones and various employees who use the contact management system. All of your contact data is automatically synced regardless of where you access it (laptop, desktop, smart phone, iPad, home, work, airport, coffee shop, grandma's house, etc.)
  3. Many cloud based contact managers / CRM solutions have free versions for a few hundred contacts. Most have many price tiers for different levels of need, and almost all are month-to-month with no long-term commitments. Most also have free trials.
Whether you’re looking for simple or complex, there are CRM solutions that run the gamut.  But something that is increasingly important is the ability of your CRM to easily integrate with other business software solutions.  For instance, if you use forms on your website to collect information from interested prospects, why should you ever have to manually type in that information to your contact database? A cloud based CRM combined with an integrated cloud based forms processor is an ideal solution. In that case, the form submittal will automatically create a new record or update an existing record in your CRM for every new form submitted. And it can simultaneously update your email newsletter list and your invoicing system, if desired.

Additionally, a CRM should be easily accessible from anywhere and always up-to-date. Cloud based CRM accomplishes this automatically and without the need to manually launch a synchronization task. Plus, cloud based CRM makes it easier to have multiple users and to scale-up or scale-down as needed. There is no need to buy multiple licenses, install software on multiple machines and on a server, and no need to set-up and manage synchronization. Also, there is no need to update software or to wonder if your aging software will still be supported as new versions come out.  Updates just happen automatically in the cloud!

Overall, cloud based CRM is worthy of serious consideration, and, in my opinion, it offers many significant advantages over competing software/desktop based CRM systems.

In the next two post of this three part series, we'll discuss the four cloud based contact management systems that I tested.  Please be sure to come back and read those new posts!  You can subscribe to blog updates or the RSS feed (both to the left) to easily stay up-to-date as this series progresses.

We look forward to your feedback and questions!


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by Brian Baer, BaerMarketingNetwork.com
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