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The availability of customer relationship management packages for the small and mid-size business market is growing,particularly in the on-demand or software-as-a-service models.

Every business needs some form of customer relationship management (CRM) system,argues Brian Donaghy,vice president of product strategy with Smart Online Inc.,a provider of software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications for businesses in Durham,N.C. That’s true even if the system is an amalgamation of Post-It notes,spreadsheets,and the like. Of course,this is not always effective.

That’s where software comes in. “A CRM application is a better way to manage so that you can be more organized and do more with less,” Donaghy says. An effective CRM application provides an organized,comprehensive view of a company’s customers and prospects,and employees’ interactions with them. Once a large-business luxury,CRM software packages have come down in price and scale as they have migrated to hosted applications or SaaS solutions,making CRM available to a growing number of small and mid-size businesses.

Spending on SaaS will climb by 25 percent annually through 2010,according to a May 2007 report by Saugatuck Technology Inc.,of Westport,Conn.,“Three Waves of Change: SaaS Beyond the Tipping Point.”

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Features to look for in CRM

Whether hosted or licensed,these are some common features you’ll want to look for in a CRM solution for your business:

Application Programming Interface (API): This allows the CRM solution to link with other systems,eliminating the need to enter information multiple times,says Clate Mask,president and chief executive officer with Infusion Software.

Multiple contact information: Users should be able to organize and access information by a person’s name,as well as his or her company,says Harding. That makes it possible to view all the interactions that have occurred with a particular person,as well as with multiple individuals within a single company.

Dashboards: The system should provide a summary view of the sales opportunities underway across a company’s customer base and the employees working on them. With this,promising opportunities are less likely to fall through the cracks,says Harding.

Delegation: Employees should be able to use the system to electronically delegate tasks to their colleagues.

Information entry and access: Employees also should be able to enter and access information from anywhere within the system,says Donaghy of SmartOnline. For example,if they’ve talked with a client on the phone,they should be able to enter details of the call under the person’s name. Once in the system,that information should be accessible through both the individual’s and the company’s name.


What CRM do you use?