Crowd Control

Making It Work

When Jim Johnston, vice president of business development, was first getting his broadband ISP, DSLindiana, revved up with co-founder Chuck Reed, 44, he wasn't giving much thought to implementing a CRM system. The Indianapolis business, like many others, started out with ACT! as its basic customer information database program. Its salespeople, however, used several different programs, depending on their personal preferences. As the company grew, Johnston, 35, realized that having valuable data scattered across multiple applications like seeds in the wind just wasn't going to cut it anymore. Johnston weighed several options before choosing hosted application solution SalesForce.com.

"The biggest thing for me was to not have to reinvent our processes," he says. "We use it every day, from every angle of the business, from the support side to the sales side." Now, not only is DSLindiana's customer information all in one place, they've also discovered the perks of being able to watch and analyze trends.

Choosing between a Web-hosted CRM solution and an on-site software solution is a basic decision that has to be made. Some entrepreneurs are wary of having their business data stored elsewhere, but this wasn't a concern at all for Johnston. "We did our due diligence on SalesForce. Any company has to do that when looking at a vendor," he says.

Selland adds that businesses shouldn't be afraid to look into hosted solutions. More often than not, a reputable Web host can provide a more secure place for your information than you can. This is also a strong option for entrepreneurs who don't maintain their own servers.

The Big Time?

For many, CRM conjures up images of big providers like J.D. Edwards, PeopleSoft, SAP and Siebel. All four have traditionally targeted larger firms by offering enterprise-style software--customizable and complex CRM solutions with industry-specific features. Though famous for huge installations, they've also started to eye small and midsize businesses as desirable places to shop their wares. For example, Siebel offers a MidMarket Edition. PeopleSoft has a host of small- to midsize-business (SMB) applications, and SAP has a set of offerings called Smart Business Solutions.

Most truly small businesses won't look twice at these big boys. "They're overly complex, not flexible. The kinds of things that make them powerful for large companies make them less desirable for midsize companies," says Joe Outlaw, former research director and SMB CRM specialist for Gartner Inc. That doesn't mean there aren't places where these applications fit in. According to Outlaw, businesses that see themselves quickly growing into the enterprise features, or those that already have an investment in other software from the same company, may be interested in checking out the CRM offerings. If that sounds like you, be sure to explore all the CRM options available.

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This article was originally published in the August 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Crowd Control.

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