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10 Questions you must ask before you buy

When shopping for CRM software, there are several questions you should ask your potential vendors about their customer and technical support services. After all, this is a big investment for your business or organization and you’re probably going to be working with this vendor for a long time. You want to be sure you’re getting the right product and the right support for your needs.

So, when you find a product that interests you, be sure to approach the vendor and ask them:

Many products are point solutions, “best of breed” products that do one thing very well, such as contact management or correspondence tracking. Over time, they add on other functionalities to meet demands, but because the system wasn’t designed for this purpose, it doesn’t handle the work efficiently.

Does the vendor claim that the product can run your entire office? In that case, ask about specific areas you want to automate, such as assets or scheduling and ask to see proof – can they give examples or reference accounts?

Another drawback to point solutions is that, over time, they become isolated tracking systems because they don’t share information with other products or across your organization. Also, they often force you to purchase additional software solutions to meet your other needs, increasing both your administration and maintenance efforts. Find out if the product(s) you’re interested in integrates with the other products you’ll be using.

If the bulk of your documents are mail related, you should compare how efficiently it handles these documents, both incoming and outgoing. We recommend talking to other organizations that have implemented the product and asking them how well the system handles volume, different media, sending correspondence out, tracking information, and showing record status. Also find out if the web mail component is integrated with the regular paper mail. How has their productivity improved since implementing the system?

Oftentimes people use a software product and see something that could work better for their office, or have a new workflow or process that should be worked into the system. Is the vendor open to new ideas? Ask if they will accommodate your requests and how. Also ask if they charge you directly for the work. Some vendors give you a price up front for the software and hit you with hidden costs down the road every time you make a request.

Assuming that the vendor does accommodate your requests, how often do they offer upgrades with these new enhancements? Do you have to wait for a quarterly or bi-annual release? On the flip side, there are the vendors who push out patches on a daily or weekly basis. You want a bleeding edge product, but you don’t want your users to deal with frequent disruptions either.

A system that features a dashboard and automatically sends email notifications and “ticklers” to alert staff is far more efficient than a system that requires its users to compose and send an email or set alarms. Find out if the system automatically alerts users of new assignments, pending or past due items, follow-up actions, changes in status, or upcoming appointments, and also find out how this is accomplished. It should be built right into the system.

When you look at the product, closely evaluate the interface and navigation. You want a product that is both easy to get around and view information. Can you tell where you are? How many mouse-clicks does it take to get where you’re going? Look for tools that let you search across records and databases for keywords and text, pull contact or document histories, and sort and display records.

Every office has preferred tools for word processing, email, and instant messaging. In addition, your office needs a system that can both integrate with your existing website to accept customer submissions and respond in kind. Evaluate whether the product integrates with your existing communications.

The information in the system should be usable and pretty graphics don’t always translate to knowledge sharing. The tool you select should support your efforts to gather, organize, disseminate, and refine information. Can you quickly locate the information you need? Can you easily share it with other users and collaborate on solutions? Will you be limited by the kinds of information you can record or store?