Service-based CRM solutions are compelling on a number of fronts. For one, a service provider can implement a basic solution quickly. But more importantly, service-based solutions eliminate the worry of investing in ongoing software licensing, not to mention the infrastructure and staff needed to maintain the solution; instead, you'll just pay a monthly fee. In general, the costs are less than deploying a CRM solution internally.
If your enterprise is dispersed, a service-based CRM allows you to link large numbers of sales and marketing personnel without having to deploy and manage software in the farthest reaches of your enterprise. Most CRM services require only the presence of a Web browser.
But should you rush to adopt a service-based CRM strategy? The answer depends on how comfortable you are with having your data maintained by an outside source and on the reliability and stability of the CRM service. Service-based CRM solutions do offer some persuasive benefits, but your warning sensors should go off when you consider it as an option. Outsourcing CRM has potential risks far greater than implementing an in-house solution, so you need to weigh all of the possibly dangerous outcomes before signing off on such a strategy.
The biggest risk is to your corporate data. With service-based CRM, your company's data physically resides outside your walls.
Before giving control to an outsider, ask how the service provider will secure and protect your data. Does the provider back up your data? If so, how often? Has the provider successfully shown that it can restore data that has been backed up in its environment? You need to also know how stable and reliable your potential CRM provider is. Ask what provisions are in place to make sure you can get your data back in case the worst happens.
When considering outsourcing your CRM, also ask all of the questions you'd ask of any ASP, including about system reliability, scalability, technical support, and business recovery plans.
There are nontechnical questions to consider, too. How well does your provider's atmosphere mesh with your company's culture? Will the differences cause a disconnect between your staff and the provider's support personnel?
Find out what provisions your provider has should you decide to end the relationship. Does the company have a standard procedure in place to return your information?
Your provider should also be able to detail how it will manage technological change over time. For example, wireless and peer-to-peer technologies are expected to invade the CRM arena in the coming months. How quickly will your provider adopt these changes?
Technological change over time is an especially important factor to consider.