Web-based customer relationship management (CRM) software is becoming a popular option for organizations looking to implement CRM software. This deployment model is gaining traction because the upfront investment can be lower than traditional on-premise software installations. Additionally, as the name implies, Web-based systems can be accessed over the Web, from virtually any browser, making it easy to use from any location with broadband Internet.
The industry has responded to this dynamic, with new vendors and products entering the market at a steady pace. With so many choices, it can be a daunting task to find the solution that best fits your needs. That is why we created this buyer’s guide to assist you in your understanding of the market and the products available.
Here's what we'll cover:
The primary difference between customer relationship management software, sometimes called contact management software, that is Web-based and other forms is the deployment model. With traditional offerings, companies had to purchase and host the server on premise. They required an IT team to manage, update and maintain the server. Web-based deployment removes this burden by having the server hosted remotely by the vendor. It also reduces upfront investment, with vendors offering a pay-as-you-go plan instead.
There are two types of Web-based systems available: application service providers (ASPs) and pure browser-based systems. ASPs function like a client/server system, with the organization downloading the “client” onto their computers, and the vendor hosting the data remotely on a server. Browser-based systems, on the other hand, can be accessed from any Internet browser, with no download required. The obvious benefit of a browser-based system is that it can be accessed from anywhere and is presented in a familiar format. Many ASPs are Web-enabled, meaning that users can also access information via a Web browser, but this method is often slower, and the user interface tends to be simplified, resulting in reduced functionality.
A Web-based CRM system offers increased flexibility across sales, customer service and marketing. For example:
While features vary from system to system, common capabilities include:
|Marketing automation||Tools to attract new customers, often through delivering promotional materials over social media and email marketing campaigns. Turning customers and visitors into leads (lead generation), and nurturing those leads through the sales funnel.|
|Sales force automation (SFE)||Encompasses workflow automation, helps sales representatives manage customer interactions, leads and accounts. Tracks sales opportunities and provides management with insight into sales pipelines and forecasting.|
|Channel management||Also called “partner relationship management,” helps automate marketing and sales processes through outside channels. For example, linking social profiles to CRM system and using those social channels for marketing activities such as outreach and promotion.|
|Data visualization||Includes dashboards and reports for sales tracking, forecasting and pipeline analysis, as well as marketing analytics for campaign management.|
|Mobile apps||Access CRM account data from mobile devices (click here for a description of iPad CRM features). Also includes additional mobile-specific capabilities, such as GPS-mapping and calendar-syncing.|
Before beginning your software evaluation, you will need to identify what type of buyer you are. Nearly all buyers fall into one of these categories:
Small business buyers. Many small businesses are looking to upgrade from a basic email marketing or content management system. They are likely growing, and therefore require more sophisticated functions, such as customer support tickets, lead generation and sales force automation (SFA). Many small businesses opt for Web-based systems because of the low upfront cost and ease of deployment.
Best-of-breed buyers. While customer relationship management software can be purchased as a suite, it is made up of several core applications that can be purchased as standalone items. Core applications include SFA, marketing automation, customer service, help desk, call center and knowledge management. Some companies will opt to go for a system with best-of-breed availability in one of these specific areas.
Enterprise buyers. Larger organizations are typically looking for a Web-based system with deep functionality that can integrate seamlessly with their existing enterprise resource planning (ERP) suite. In most cases, these buyers will be more focused on integration than specific features. Fortunately, most Web-based CRM systems can easily integrate with today’s major ERP suites.
Web-based software has a number of benefits over installed on-premise systems.
Reduced IT burden. With Web-based, all of your data is kept in a remote location where it is monitored and managed by an experienced IT staff. They handle back-ups and regularly scheduled upgrades and maintenance. The level of data management provided by the vendor often far exceeds what any single operation could handle running the server in-house.
Ease of use. Because the software is accessed via a Web-browser, it is presented in a familiar format—a Web page. This helps reduce the costs associated with training and usually results in increased user adoption.
Remote access. Today’s business is rarely conducted 100 percent behind a desk. Many professionals, whether they be in sales, marketing or customer service, spend a significant portion of their work time outside of the office. They appreciate the increased accessibility provided by online systems. Many systems today also offer mobile access, making it even easier to do business while on the go.
Subscription pricing. Traditional on-premise CRM systems require a hefty up-front installation fee. Web-based systems, on the other hand, are offered on a subscription basis. Essentially, you pay as you go. Companies can avoid the large capital expenditure of installing on-premise software by opting for the low, ongoing operational expense of a Web-based system.
A potential issue associated with Web-based systems is the reliance on Internet connection. If the connection goes down, access to important client information and records is lost. This could be an issue if your organization has a history of Internet connectivity hiccups. Additionally, Web-based CRM systems are typically more difficult to customize to the specific needs of your company or industry, although systems are constantly improving in this area.
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