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Customer relationship management software guide for the midmarket

Customer relationship management (CRM) software options are increasing for the midmarket. This guide will help you make informed choices, with CRM news for midmarket CIOs, product options, tips and expert advice.

When it comes to customer relationship management (CRM) software, the needs may be similar for midmarket CIOs, but the tools and services may differ somewhat. Automating sales, building repeat business, tailoring customer incentives and other tasks are all simplified with CRM software -- but at what cost? Luckily, CRM options for are rapidly increasing for the midmarket. From customer relationship software news to product options to expert advice, this Midmarket CIO Briefing will give you the background and up-to-date information you need to make good CRM choices. But first, you must determine if CRM is right for you. Begin with our tips and advice columns and you'll be on your way to a successful CRM software implementation.

For free advice and resources on more IT and business topics, visit our list of Midmarket CIO Briefings.

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  CRM suites suit SMBs
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Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) need customer relationship management software just as much as their big-company competitors do. It not only automates many time-consuming sales and service-related tasks, such as fulfillment, but it also provides a 360-degree view of customer buying habits and problems.

But purchasing the right CRM system -- one that fits the budget and really works the way the staff needs it to -- can be daunting for a small firm. And price is almost always the first and most problematic stumbling block for SMBs.

"It always comes down to cost," said Jim Berkowitz, CEO of consulting firm CRM Mastery Inc., based in Denver. "I say to people, this is not about spending money. It's about making an investment that should bring a return to the business."

Both Berkowitz and Steve Raye, executive vice president of eVergance Partners LLC, a CRM consulting and integration firm in Overland Park, Kan., strongly advise IT managers at SMBs to treat CRM as a long-term investment, and resist the urge to grab the cheapest package available. That, they say, will only create more expensive problems down the road.

Besides price, there are five other key issues that any SMB IT manager needs to consider when buying a CRM system, Berkowitz and Raye said.

Learn more in "CRM suites suit SMBs." Also:

  • CRM suites for SMBs (SearchSMB.com)
    It may be the No. 1 hosted CRM software, but there are plenty of alternatives with more services and smaller price tags for SMBs.
  • Shopping for CRM systems (SearchCRM.com)
    This chapter offers a look into how to properly select the CRM software that is right for your company.
  CRM heeds to SMB call
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When it comes to using CRM tools, the needs of SMBs don't differ markedly from their enterprise-class brethren. IT professionals and sales staffs at SMBs want to use technology to do things like automate sales-oriented chores, track prospects, build repeat business or create tailored customer incentives.

What sets SMBs apart is the lack of resources and budgets available to put those tools to work. "In most cases, these companies are very resource-constrained compared with what we think of as large enterprises," said Laurie McCabe, vice president of SMB business solutions at New York-based AMI Partners Inc. "Even in midsized companies, the IT group is still relatively small, and they don't have a lot of people to sit and evaluate and do as much research."

As a result, the CRM market, which is mature at the high end, has opportunity for growth in the SMB arena, where buyers have waited for the technology to mature and prices to come down before taking the plunge. CRM vendors are responding by creating products that are more attuned to the different pain points that CIOs bring to the table.

Learn more in "CRM heeds to SMB call." Also:

  Got CRM? 10 questions to ask before you buy
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As customer relationship management software infiltrates more SMBs, the options for CRM products and services are increasingly coming from smaller vendors. These vendors can now compete with their bigger counterparts, offering Software as a Service (SaaS) and best-of-breed products for specific CRM functions and industries.

Selecting the right CRM software and implementing CRM to deliver measurable business growth and profit improvement can present many challenges to IT professionals and business managers. But if it's done right, your efforts will be rewarded with significant competitive advantages and bottom-line profits.

Here are 10 questions -- technical and strategic -- to ask when considering an investment in CRM:

Get the 10 questions in "Got CRM? 10 questions to ask before you buy." Also:

  • Open source vs. SaaS -- what SMBs should know (SearchSMB.com)
    How big is your wallet? How high is your tolerance for complexity? These are just two of many factors to consider before you choose between open source or Software as a Service.
  • CRM learning center (SearchCRM.com)
    SearchCRM.com's All-in-One Guides, learning guides and quizzes provide topic-focused resources on topics like like call center management, customer loyalty, marketing strategy, open source CRM, self service and more. This compilation is a quick and easy route to the most up-to-date information.
  Open source making way in SMBs
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Ernie Ball Inc. is certainly not the norm when it comes to software use.

The San Luis Obispo, Calif.-based company switched completely to open source software after a surprise audit by the Business Software Alliance produced a hefty fine for using unlicensed software.

Most SMBs are nowhere near that level of open source use. "The majority of open source attention goes to the hobbyist market and large enterprises, and it's much more difficult for smaller companies to find what they need," said Maria Winslow, an open source strategies consultant based in Chapel Hill, N.C.

That's too bad, because open source software offers one big benefit prized by SMBs -- cost savings. No licensing or upgrade costs, not to mention no initial software purchase, can prove an attractive proposition for cost-conscious SMBs.

For example, Athenahealth Inc., a healthcare software company in Watertown, Mass., recently saved a bundle when it switched from Salesforce.com Inc. to SugarCRM Inc., a Linux-based CRM application.

Learn more in "Open source making way in SMBs." Also:

  • Open source software lures cost-conscious CIOs (SearchSMB.com)
    Some midmarket CIOs are turning to emerging commercial open source vendors. They've got the goods, they're eager for your business and the price is right. But there are some risks.
  • Firms demand more from Web hosting vendors (SearchSMB.com)
    As more small businesses move to a crowded and complicated Internet, they will need to find vendors that can offer more than Web hosting and design services.
  Open source making way in SMBs
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