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How Fast Can You Get SaaS CRM Up and Running?

Customer Relations Management

How Fast Can You Get SaaS CRM Up and Running?

How long does it take to implement a SaaS (Software as a Service) CRM suite?

In one sense, the answer is days, if not hours. One of the great advantages of SaaS (also referred to as "hosted") CRM solutions is that they're ready to go with most of the work done for you.

"Theoretically, you're up and running instantly," said Martin Schneider, director of product marketing at SugarCRM Inc., which offers both hosted and stand-alone CRM suites.

A hosted CRM solution generally takes less time to get up and running than an on-premise CRM suite because so much of the work is done by the hosting company. The customer doesn't have to purchase or configure servers, and the CRM vendor handles difficult decisions or lets clients stipulate preferences by simply clicking a check box. "We can even load the data for you," said Schneider.

In another sense, however, a CRM SaaS rollout can take weeks or months. Like on-premise suites, hosted solutions deal with perhaps a third of CRM implementation. The other steps, such as defining your business processes and getting your staff behind CRM, take about the same amount of time for a hosted or on-premise solution.

Planning a Successful CRM Implementation

Most of the work involved in setting up a CRM system doesn't involve technology at all. If you scan the checklists for implementing CRM you'll see that technology is not a major component of the rollout.

First, you must carefully define your business processes so that your system both the hardware and the people can follow them. This should begin well before you install your hardware, and is inherently time-consuming because it is usually an iterative process. That is, you create a diagram of how you think the business processes work, share it with the people doing the work, discover processes that don't work the way you thought they did and revise your business-process design. You will have to repeat this until you have it right, regardless of whether you're implementing a hosted or on-premise solution.

Both SaaS and on-premise CRM suites often provide utilities that help with business-process design. But their usefulness is limited. While they can help you keep processes straight and minimize the chances of forgetting important components, they don't measurably shorten the time it takes to finish the project.

Another time-consuming step in CRM implementation is selling the solution to your employees, especially your sales force and CSRs (customer service representatives). Getting staff buy in should start almost as soon as you make the decision to deploy CRM, and certainly well in advance of choosing the software.

According to SugarCRM's Schneider, getting buy in is easier now that today's sales forces are much more computer savvy. "We've benefited from two things," Schneider said. "Computers are more familiar and SaaS products look more like products, like GMail and Yahoo!, [that] they use every day." This familiarity helps staff learn the CRM system quickly and easily.

After addressing these issues, you can start rolling out your CRM software. This is where hosted CRM saves an enormous amount of time. "With SaaS they're up and running in a matter of weeks, rather than tinkering with an X-series server for weeks before they ever load the software," said Schneider.

In contrast, an on-premise CRM system requires setting up the underlying hardware getting it installed, purchasing licenses for supporting system software like operating systems and communications technology and tuning everything for best performance which demands a lot of time and effort from your IT staff. Then there is the job of configuring the CRM system itself. Starting from scratch with a stand-alone system usually requires a good deal of effort and expertise. This is another major time sink for getting your CRM system up and contributing to your company's bottom line.

The Trade-Offs

Schneider noted that SaaS CRM won't work for every business. Some companies have needs that are so specialized or so elaborate that a hosted CRM solution can't adequately meet them. An organization needs to determine whether the hosted approach can address its individual demands before choosing a solution.

By nature, hosted CRM suites trade off complexity for ease of implementation and, to a certain extent, ease of use. One of the reasons rolling out a hosted solution is so fast is that the vendor has made a lot of the basic choices for you. As Schneider pointed out, the usual take on a hosted CRM solution is "you can't really customize it, you can only configure it."

For many companies, this may not matter much. "If you can make the system work the way you want to with drop-down boxes, a lot of development time goes out the window," Schneider said.

Looking Down the Road

But hosted CRM's limitations could create problems as your business grows and its needs increase. "Now I want to integrate my CRM system with my back end, I want to add project management, or maybe I need tight integration with an Oracle database, or to heavily customize the system," Schneider said. "You may be stuck there."

In that case, your choices may come down to getting another CRM solution or building a suite that can handle your expanded needs. That's expensive, and yes, time consuming.

The lesson, said Schneider, is "SaaS can not only save you time, but it can waste you time."

In short, the hosted approach has some major advantages when it comes to implementing CRM. There are also some drawbacks and caveats. Before you commit to an approach, much less a vendor, you need to carefully consider the positives and negatives.

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How Fast Can You Get SaaS CRM Up and Running?