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.