Free is great! And, many CRM systems will try to tempt you to buy with a free CRM software trial. However, you must be prepared if you are to get the best out of a trial. Choosing a CRM solution can be hard work and making a mistake can be costly for your organisation.

If you already use a CRM system then at least you will have something against which to judge the new product. Even then, you should try to evaluate what your current CRM does well and what it doesn’t, you’ll want to have a baseline that you want to exceed.

Free CRM software: The opportunity

Remember that a CRM system is a solution to a business challenge, so ask yourself what questions you want answered by this new tool. Throughout the preparation for the trial and the actual evaluation involve as many of the stakeholders as possible. You’ll want input from a representative of every department who’ll actually be end users of the system; What do they need from the system? What are their specific requirements? What questions do they want answered?

Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013 was launched in October last year  and offers users a free trial period and Redspire are on hand to help you get the most of your Dynamics trial.

With or without our help, it is very worthwhile to watch all the supporting videos, and you should certainly review all the documentation you can before you get going. Experts also agree that using your own data will make any trial more realistic and more useful for you. Try to use your trial CRM as you foresee it actually being used in your organisation, if you have to prioritise, pick the processes that you think will make the most difference. Use processes until you’re happy with them and can demonstrate them to colleagues.

Do you need a CRM consultant?

As to whether you should use a specialist – like Redspire – to guide you, there is certainly room for debate. Clearly, you know how your operation works but a CRM specialist will be able to identify how to migrate your processes into the day-to-day operation of a CRM system.

CRM systems can be very complex, and take time to learn, so there’s bound to be a period with any new product while you’re finding your way around, bear this in mind when you’re going through your trial.

Free trials are a great resource, but they’re not free in terms of time and effort on your part and you must be prepared to expend both to get the most out of trials.

MS Dynamics CRM 2015 free trial

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So, you’ve forked out for a customer relationship management (CRM) system, the last thing you want to do now is hand over more cash for training. But, is this investment the only way to get the best out of your new CRM system, saving money in the long run?

There are certainly those (some of them in the business of selling the training) who would argue that it is absolutely essential. And they have the figures to back their thesis up – of the 77% of British businesses that use a CRM system around 40% weren’t getting the results that they wanted. Similar results have been found in other surveys and any reading on CRM will soon lead you to complaints about limited staff uptake of the system and over-complexity.

The people behind the research concluded that it wasn’t bad software to blame, it was human interaction with it.

The benefits of CRM training

CRM simply won’t work if your team don’t believe it will help them provide a better service and if they don’t buy in to what can initially be a potentially complex set of new processes. People are naturally resistant to change and anything that seems to make life harder is going to have your staff’s back up from the start. As CRM systems are typically designed to be organisation-wide and require different staff to chip in at different points to provide a complete picture you need to win a lot of people over. This lack of a defined beginning middle and end to what your staff have to do is just another barrier to successful CRM uptake.

If you’ve got your head screwed on, you’ll have researched your CRM decision in depth before you buy, possibly making use of trial periods before you committed. You may even want to bring in CRM consultants to guide the process and, if you do, they should give you the advice you need on training.

But be warned. This is an investment to save time and money in the long run, but it requires a fair amount of time and money in the short term, and that scares some companies off.

The process of CRM training

In an ideal world your trainers will take the time to learn about your business in order to deliver a programme that will really work for your staff and won’t waste time just sharing their comprehensive knowledge of a system parts of which your staff will never use. You should also look for a rigid focus on processes – what am I going to do? – rather than technical details. Training to the book on a system that will be heavily customised by the time your staff use it will also be a waste and this may be a particular problem if you engage the software company themselves to train your team, it may be better to go independent.

CRM training is a benefit, if you can afford it. Those users who report problems with their systems almost invariably point to human rather than technical failings. However, it’s a cost, possibly a large cost, and in the final analysis that will be the key decision, but you must remember to properly assess how much money you could waste if you fail to make a go of CRM.

Customer Relationship Management or CRM is all about the bottom line – converting browsers into buyers and occasional customers into regular spenders – so make sure you don’t waste money when you actually shell out for your system.

The problem is that CRM is a broad term and, particularly for the small business, the temptation to spend more than you need on systems that do more than you or your staff will ever need them to do is strong.

You shouldn’t let complexity and cost frighten you away from CRM. Whether it’s something you want to include in your organisation’s DNA or a system you need to invest in, CRM can provide a valuable service that will reap real commercial benefits.

However, you need to take care when you make decisions about CRM purchases. It’s an important choice and deserving of very serious consideration. Perhaps cheap and cheerful is all you need, but to know that you need to make a decent assessment of what CRM can do for your business and at what cost (and you should beware of hidden and long-term operating costs).

To get the best deal you need to think ahead. What should your system be doing in each department? Customise your system so that’s all that it does. This means that the CRM purchasing decision should be a collaborative one, involving people who are going to be using it.

A CRM that isn’t used is a waste of money and you need to insure that the process of moving to use a CRM system involves more than just installing some software – your staff need to understand and believe in the system. There is no point in taking an expensive system designed to give you sophisticated customer information if your staff are going to ignore it in order to make cold calls with no preparation.

A system that isn’t used is a complete waste, one that isn’t used properly is a waste of potential. CRM can bring a more complex understanding than a simple record of transactions – your staff need to understand that networking, prospecting and follow-up should be the fundamentals of your CRM-based sales processes.

Let the CRM pricing tables guide you

Look out for free trials on CRM systems that you’re considering using and make sure you can customise the programme that you buy and that that will mean cost savings. Be savvy about how and when you are going to pay – look for per-user costs, how much support or licensing will cost and so on.

CRM has and is being extensively marketed. Technology is at the heart of most businesses these days and a magic bullet solution to turning customers into more money is attractive to say the least. However, you should consider whether or not you actually need a CRM system at all.

Particularly if you are a small business and you can introduce CRM thinking into existing systems you may feel spending money on software is redundant. It’s also possible to get CRM for free, even if you don’t end up with that system a trial period can introduce you to what CRM can do for your company.

And, remember one of the surest ways to waste money through CRM is by getting fined by breaking the data protection act – security should be an important part of any CRM system.

It’s a big choice and an important choice so give it the time it deserves in order to avoid wasting money. There’s lots of information out there, but be aware of who’s behind it, many sites that claim to offer reviews are making money from sales.

How to Measure CRM Effectiveness

Many companies now view customer relationship management (CRM) tools as an important part of their business, because of their huge capabilities. CRM’s are like an extra member of your team – providing reports, analysing and collating data, identifying sales opportunities, automating marketing processes (such as autoresponders, follow up e-mails etc.), plus much more.

They are also, of course, there ultimately to manage your relationships with your customers and potential customers. And one of the major benefits of this part of the software includes keeping all the customer information in one place, with easy access from other parts of your organisation, if needed.

CRM effectiveness and customer service

This means that if a customer has answered questions previously, or has expressed a certain dislike or like of a product or service, this will form part of their profile. Communications can be customer-specific and targeted to the individual, so they are not alienated by receiving non-relevant, ‘spammy’ communications and offers.

It is the seemingly little things like this that make a customer feel valued, and will encourage their loyalty. And increased loyalty means increased revenue.

Tracking CRM effectiveness

But are you making the most of your CRM system? It could be that you are not taking full advantage of what your relationship management software offers. Or, it may need a ‘tweak’ in the sort of rules you set up within it.

So, how can you measure your CRM effectiveness? There are many ways to track and work out just how hard your CRM tool is working for you.

For marketing, look at activity such as:

  • The number of new contacts;
  • The number of opens
  • The numbers of interactions, etc.

For sales, it can be data such as:

  • Sales volume;
  • Additional sales;
  • Cross sales;
  • A tangible increase in revenue that can be directly attributed to your CRM tool etc.

Once you have carried out this exercise, you will be able to see how your CRM tool is helping your business. If you feel it could be doing more for you, or that you are not using it to its full capabilities, then you may benefit from speaking to a specialist for help and guidance.