CRM holds the promise of helping us better understand our audiences and target our messaging. Yet, achieving the desired state of functionality always seems just out of reach. This post looks at a possible reason for this disconnect and offers some ideas for prospective buyers on the CRM marketplace.

In conversations with organizations and businesses, with large and small teams, I often hear consistent dismay (or apathy, at best) with the value received from their CRM. The promise of these systems is far from being realized on an everyday basis and perhaps one cause of this could be the drive to find a “best-in-class” solution that provides cover for not making a wrong purchase decision. The issue with best in class is that more often than not it leads to an enterprise-level system that made it on the list of a Gartner or Forrester report. While these tools are powerful and warrant the acclaim, they are designed and best used in an enterprise setting, the majority of nonprofits we work with are not staffed to handle a system of this magnitude and thus are never fully capable of realizing the systems’ potential.

At ParsonsTKO, like for many of our clients, a CRM is vital to our operations and we scoured the marketplace for options that fit our budget and specific needs—those of a small but growing company. We wanted a CRM that would let us successfully switch systems with minimal data disruption in the future, while meeting our need today.

For anyone looking at potential new CRM systems, I wanted to share some of the nimble and cutting edge products we considered during our research and evaluation that might be better fits for your organization than you realize. We are not affiliated with these companies but I wanted to share a sample of today’s CRM marketplace of systems that offer tremendous value and high quality functionality at remarkably affordable price points. Long gone are the days when Salesforce was the only major option outside of all-in-one proprietary tools.

So, why not Salesforce? Salesforce is a powerful tool and sits atop the CRM SaaS industry for many reasons. It offers the ability to add countless extensions and handle every and all possible business need. Without a dedicated and empowered system owner and strategic alignment of all those extensions, however, Salesforce quickly becomes jumbled and the original intent and promise of the CRM, as constituent manager, gets lost in the shuffle. A Swiss Army knife is invaluable when you are in the wilderness, but when I am out of the wilds and in my home I want a steak knife to cut my dinner and a proper wine key to open a bottle. Like all things in life, situation matters and your organization’s situation should dictate the best fit for the tools you invest in.

Another concern I want to address is the potential of outgrowing a lighter-weight CRM and the pain it might cause if an organization needs to switch systems. Given the increase in competition and the vast number of new and quality SaaS offerings in the CRM space, outgrowing your system is a good thing for several reasons:

  1. With technology, you should always be planning for obsolescence. Something better, faster and sometimes cheaper is right around the corner
  2. You can develop your process and governance while spending less money
  3. You can build buy-in over time without the worry of justifying the costs of unused licenses
  4. Your data will be structured and kept fresh, so it will be easy to port to a new system
  5. You will have a clear understanding of the buying criteria and requirements for your next system
  6. Onboard your staff & configure the system to solve real, well understood business problems in the best and most efficient way possible
  7. Lower the bar for training & expertise needed for running the system by limiting the dusty unused corners & features of the system that you’ll never use
  8. Following industry trends, newer systems are increasingly easy to integrate with other tools

While I love scouring and playing with new tools, a tool is a just a tool and cannot help you until you know how to use it, and why you are using it. Without a plan and understanding of what you want to achieve, it will be impossible to know whether or not your system is working. For example, as you plan for a new CRM you should talk with your staff about reports they need or might like to have—sometimes starting with the idealized end state in mind is powerful for defining the right solution.

If you have a question, want to talk about your CRM strategy and change management plans, or want a heads up when we post about ways to connect these new and modular marketing platforms, get in touch! If you have any comments or think I missed any points or tools tweet me @tonykopetchny