Customer Relationship Management

SEMA News—March 2016


By Joe Dysart

Customer Relationship Management

The Top Five Solutions Available
These days, CRM packages also track, “remember” and analyze how customers are interacting with a company’s brand on the web.

Marketers looking for a dashboard to manage every aspect of their interactions with customers will want to take a detailed look at—the number-one-selling customer relationship management (CRM) solution on the market today, according to Capterra, a company that advises businesses on the best software to buy.

“Salesforce is clearly the 800-lb. gorilla in the CRM world,” said Katie Hollar, director of marketing for Capterra. And Kate Legget agrees. Legget is an analyst with market researcher Forrester and the lead author of the 2015 Forrester report, “CRM Suites For Large Organizations.” She said that Salesforce’s strong customer-centric strategy coupled with its compelling business vision and case studies have allowed it to penetrate an installed base of more than 150,000 customers, both large and small.

The solution, she added, “best suits organizations looking for a Software-as-a-Service-based, rapidly deployable CRM application with strong social capabilities.”

Other competitors close on’s heels in terms of market share are, in descending order, Zoho, Act!, SAP and Microsoft Dynamics, according to Capterra’s 2015 CRM Industry User Research Report (

CRM solutions started out as a way for companies to keep all of their customer information in one place—names, addresses, e-mails, past sales history, etc. But the packages have grown in sophistication over the years to encompass ever more capabilities.

These days, CRM packages also track, “remember” and analyze how customers are interacting with a company’s brand on the web, in social media and via more traditional communications channels such as telephone calls and print media. And they can also be programmed to nudge select customers closer to a sale with multiple follow-up e-mails, inviting them to finish a purchase in an abandoned shopping cart or suggesting new products and services to buy from the company, based on the purchases they’ve made previously.

Solutions can also be programmed to ferret-out:

  • Offers that are working optimally at a company across all salespeople.
  • Discounts that are also bringing in the most business.
  • Product bundles that are moving sales most briskly.
  • Similar tactics that are working exceptionally well.

The best solutions increasingly turn to predictive analytics to uncover and act on these insights, Legget said. Indeed, according to Salesforce’s 2015 State of Sales Report—in which it surveyed 2,300 sales pros worldwide—high-performing sales teams are 3.5 times more likely to use sales analytics as compared to their underperforming competitors. Moreover, 74% of all those surveyed said that they were either already using analytics to help close sales or that they planned to be using analytics by the second quarter of 2016.

Bill McDermott
CEO Bill McDermott’s SAP CRM solution is among the top five sellers on the market.

Not surprisingly, those high-performing teams are also linking mobile tools to analytics. In fact, 60% of high-performing sales teams have already integrated mobile tools into their CRM software or are planning to, according to Salesforce. And 27% of marketers said that they are also expanding CRM to include mobile apps that enable customers to buy directly from their smartphones and other mobile devices. And another 34% of those surveyed said that they planned to add the same capability to their CRM by the first quarter of 2016.

Most decent CRM packages also enable a business to create niche lists of customers—for instance, all the customers in the greater Los Angeles area who’ve made a purchase in the past year—and then develop a specific pitch letter for that specific demographic.

The most sophisticated CRM packages can also create and store sales quotes for each customer and then transform those quotes into invoices once a purchase is made—invoices that can be distributed company-wide to sales, accounting, marketing, research and any other company department that thrives on such data. And many CRM packages enable sales reps and their superiors to easily track and analyze the relative performance of each sales rep in terms of overall numbers, quotas achieved, performance in response to specific incentives and the like.

Ideally, one of the primary goals of all this technology is to free up sales and marketing from the mundane aspects of providing maintenance to a sale, so that both departments can devote more time and energy to adding the human touch to the sales and marketing process, according to the Salesforce report.

Not surprisingly, CRM is most often used by sales and marketing departments—80% of users surveyed said that their sales and marketing departments had access to their CRM systems. But other company departments are also using CRM, including information technology, finance and human resources, according to Hollar.

“Finance typically needs access to customer billing records and contracts, which can be stored in your CRM, as well as forecasting data based on current sales trends reported in the CRM,” Hollar said. “Human resources professionals may use CRM notes and call data to track employee performance and the productivity of other departments, such as sales and customer service, or they may use the company’s CRM to keep track of job applicants and candidates instead of implementing a different system specifically for recruiting.”

All told, there are currently more than 350 CRM solutions on the market today, Hollar said. Here’s a rundown on the top five:

Salesforce (, $25–$300 per month: Salesforce is currently the industry standard against which all other CRM solutions are compared. The downside is that Salesforce is a bit pricier than its top competitors. And you need to negotiate separately for a Service Level Agreement that binds the company to the standard of service you expect.

Zoho (, $12–$35 per month: Zoho is a robust and relatively inexpensive solution, but it has fewer add-on applications that easily integrate into its system, compared to market-leader Salesforce.

Act! (, $10–$35 per month: Act! is a relatively inexpensive solution that has been on the market a long time and has lots of fans, but some users report that it is a memory hog that runs slowly on their machines.

SAP (, call for pricing: SAP regularly sets new industry standards when it releases major upgrades of its product. However, consultants who are fully conversant with SAP’s CRM can be tough to find and are often expensive.

Microsoft Dynamics (, $65 per month: This simple-to-use solution fits like a glove for Windows users. Like Zoho, however, Microsoft Dynamics has only a so-so selection of add-on apps that easily integrate into its system.

Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan.

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