(This column originally appeared in Forbes)
Recently, USA Today published their list of the Best CRMs (Customer Relationship Management) software for 2024. And there were a lot of familiar and excellent applications mentioned.
For example, the best value, according to the reviews, is Zoho (full disclosure – my company sells and implements this product). The one that’s highly customizable is Apptivo. Monday, Nimble, HubSpot and Zendesk all made the list. And of course Salesforce.
None of this surprises me. All of these applications are great. And it’s my belief that any business would be well served by any of them. But unfortunately these are not the best CRM applications. These are actually the worst CRM applications. And no, it’s not because they’re inferior products and it’s not the vendors’ fault.
These are the worst CRM applications because of how they’re generally implemented and used. Software is only as good as the people driving it. And I’ve found over the past 20 years of selling CRM solutions that if companies don’t do the right things implementing these applications they’ll turn the best ones into the worst.
So what are these “right things?” It actually comes down to one thing: who owns the system and how they’re supported. To be the best, these CRM systems need an owner. Unfortunately many companies don’t invest in this person. And so they get the worst.
Every CRM system has to have someone — or a small team — who owns it. This person doesn’t necessarily have to be an IT person but should be a power user. They should be connected to the group that’s using the system (i.e. the sales or customer service group) and act in a support role. That person should know the CRM system well and also be given all the resources needed by management to make it a success, including training and the availability of outside experts and consultants.
CRM systems are just databases. The owner is responsible for the integrity of the data in that database. If anything is out of date, incomplete or inaccurate it’s the owner who should be fixing the problem and then then ensures that it doesn’t occur again. Internal controls should be established. Fields locked down. Dropdown lists created that force users to enter a specific choice of data. More training applied. More checks and balances put into place.
There’s been lot of talk about AI in the tech world and most CRM systems are rolling out some amazing AI functionality that can do anything from measuring sentiment and chatting with website visitors to monitoring and giving feedback to salespeople or automatically creating campaigns and landing pages. It’s the owner’s job to know all this. They should be in regular contact with the CRM provider and be completely up to speed on all the AI and automation functionality both available and on the horizon so that their team is using the system to its best advantage. I can’t think of any better scenario where the best turns into the worst than when a company is paying thousands in monthly fees for a CRM system and then only uses 20 percent of its features.
To that end, the owner — or team — must be meeting frequently with their vendor to determine what more can be done. Are better reports needed? More integration with other systems? Workflows? Alerts? Automations? All of this would then be the owner’s responsibility to implement whether on their own or with the help of a consultant.
One of the biggest issues my clients face with their CRM systems is getting people to use them. Over the years I’ve countless clients complain to me how bad their CRM system is because no one is using it.
CRM systems are not like accounting or order entry systems where financial transactions are essential to the operations of the business. Owners need to be in the middle of this too. They should be identifying those 20 percent of users who are advanced and leave them alone. They must pay attention to the 60 percent who need just a little TLC to get them using the system adequately.
And for the remaining 20 percent who don’t even know how to turn on a TV, let alone operate a cloud based platform? They’re the ones who need special attention, training, supervision and support. It’s important to remember that just because a sales or service rep isn’t great with technology doesn’t mean they’re not valuable to a firm. But a CRM system is a group database and if some in the group aren’t entering data it hurts everyone else.
Finally, the owner of the CRM system must be fully authorized, supported and encouraged by the boss. Whether it’s the VP of Sales or the CMO, everyone in the group should be clearly aware that the owner has that manager’s full authority to do whatever needs to be done to make the system work. No excuses. No crying. No complaining. It’s the company’s data and it’s a big data world and the company is making a big investment to help grow sales, provide better service and increase its value.
Many of my clients don’t have owners. Why? Because there’s a cost. Sometimes the owner works at a company and can be assigned to support the CRM system. Other times someone has to be hired. And a typical owner of a 10 user system can expect to spend a day or two a week supporting the system and its users.
All of this requires an ongoing investment and sometimes companies aren’t willing to make the investment. But one thing’s for sure, without an owner any of those “best” CRM systems will quickly become the worst.