For the past three years my business partner, James Roten and I have been building a cloud solution not only for our customers, but for ourselves too. Our original thoughts were to move our company into the cloud to minimize hardware and software expenditures and to reduce support. Well now – we offer these services to our clientele and we provide support to them. I guess the old cliché “be careful what you wish for” is true. Today we offer Cloud Desktops, Servers, Storage, VoIP and Hosted Exchange email, plus all the associated support.
As we moved forward with our cloud solutions we found that our current CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software was out-of-date and antiquated. Keeping track of our customer’s data, orders, invoicing, helpdesk tickets, and our contact with them was a major pain, we had customer data in 11 databases scattered in several different locations. Of course all of this data was standalone and did not relate to any of the other data. It was difficult and time-consuming to track down a complete view into our customer’s overall status.
During the latter half of 2011 we silently began to test and demo various online CRM solutions like Salesforce.com, SugarCRM and ZoHoCRM. Each of these packages served about 60-65% of our needs, but they all lacked a solid solution. Plus – at the end of the day, we had to conform to their ideological and format, or spend tens of thousands of dollars for a custom solution by a third-party company. Besides that the biggest deterrent was cost. Our target market has always been start-ups and small business, and the price associated with these solutions was just plain cost prohibiting, charging between $125 to $250 per user, per month. If you have five employees, this equates to $1250 per month. Plus – the dirty little secret about CRM is that it has failed to unite sales, marketing, and customer service. Data quality was an afterthought in the SMB market.
So in early January 2012 we commenced our journey, working on our own SAAS (Software as a Service) CRM package. Following the same model as above we want to be able to offer this solution to our customers at affordable prices. Our goal is to offer multiple users for the same price.
Today we are a little more than half-way complete, but we do have the core shell operational and functioning. We are making daily tweaks here and there while we enter data, we still have some test data to manipulate, but we also have a small amount of live customer data to help us understand what and how we need our data served up. Some days it feels like we are trying to change a tire on the car while we are still driving down the road, but the real data results outweigh the frustration by ten-fold.
I am excited to see how far we have come in just a few months. I am hopeful that we can provide a real customizable and cost effect CRM package in the middle of Q3 of this year. I think this may also open the door to other online software solutions like practice management, real estate listings, school attendance and grading, Human Resources, Helpdesk packages and so many more.
I know we are just finishing our CRM package, but to see how far we have come with this and how user-friendly it is, I am immersed with ideas of what we will be able to offer in the next year. I am not saying that this exploration of our own CRM requirements was joyful bliss, no – we had to deal with some real barriers and boundaries within our chosen platform, and sometimes we did not see eye-to-eye on a topic or function. But we were able to push through and had the resolve to figure out a practical out-come.
If you take anything away from this article today, I hope it is this – understand your data needs and how your business will need to see and use that data. Keep in mind that today you may only have yourself or a couple of employees, but as you grow – so should you CRM and how you use it. You need to make your CRM less intrusive, you need to make your CRM a helpful tool for your employees to get a snapshot view into your customer. An overall glance is the single most important thing you need to see regarding your customer. Who and where they are, what products and services they subscribe to, what communications have transpired and what is their financial standing with your company. Once you have that view, then you can drill down to the details, if you need to.
If you would like, we provide a Free Technical Assessment, this can be beneficial to new and startup companies that are not sure where to start.