What To Look For When Evaluating CRM Systems

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What to Look for When Evaluating CRM Systems

In the last article, we looked at the range of technology options currently available and determined that web-based solutions are the best choice for a number of key reasons:

  • They offer a lower cost of entry and lower total cost of ownership
  • They can typically be purchased via a monthly subscription
  • They’re quick to implement and allow for rapid transmission of information across your entire organization
  • They’re easily accessible so you and your staff can use your CRM solution anytime and anywhere you have a computer and internet access
  • They don’t require you to purchase costly hardware and they’re automatically upgraded and/or debugged at regular intervals

In this article, we’ll examine the kinds of features and functionality you should be looking for in your web-based CRM solution, paying particular attention to features of most interest to insurance professionals.

Data Accessibility

You’re a busy professional that spends a great deal of time out of your office. Whether you’re conducting seminars or engaged in client meetings, you don’t often have the luxury of spending large chunks of time sitting at your desk in front of your PC. As we discussed in the last article, this is the core reason you should limit yourself to a web-based solution. Your data is stored on a remote, secure server that you can access anywhere, anytime – provided you have a computer and internet connection. With the increased number of Wi-Fi “hotspots” available today, a laptop can provide you with a workable solution - simply head to your nearest Starbucks, power up your laptop and you’re good to go. But what about those of you who live and work in more rural areas where this is no local Starbucks and no easy access to your data? A laptop won’t work for you and the inconvenience associated with carrying around printed lists of contact data for your clients and prospects is the reason you started looking at a CRM solution in the first place. You need to be able to access your data in an alternate way and with the increased adoption of smart phones and improved cellphone coverage and data download speeds, the best option is through your phone or PDA. Therefore, when evaluating your CRM options, focus on applications that offer access to your data through a mobile device.

Recommendation: Whether you live in the city or in a more rural area, limit your research to CRM solutions that offer mobile data access.


Monthly Subscriptions & Try Before You Buy

If the CRM solution you’re considering doesn’t offer a monthly subscription option – stay away. Paying a one-time or annual subscription charge may seem like a cheaper option initially, but what do you do if you’ve paid for your subscription up front and don’t like product? What if the customer service is non-existent? What if you discover the product doesn’t do what you thought it would do? Paying up-front can leave you stuck with an application that doesn’t work for you, so be wary of companies that require you to purchase a long-term subscription. Also, while we’re on the subject of subscriptions and finding out if a product is going to work for you, I encourage you to limit your focus to CRM companies that offer a free trial of their application. The expression “Try before you buy” is never more appropriate than when applied to CRM solutions. Take a free trial and try the product before you commit to any kind of subscription so that you can more effectively evaluate whether a particular solution is the right one for you and your practice.

Recommendation: Focus on products that don’t require you to pay for a year or more in advance and limit your research to companies that offer a free trial of their product.


Read the Fine Print – Avoid Add-On Charges

As a follow on to the last recommendation, before you commit your hard-earned dollars to a solution, look at the fine print and find out what’s actually included with your subscription. Many of the currently available solutions charge additional monthly fees for extra users and certain types of functionality. Do you need to give your partner or a colleague access to your data? Beware, this may require you to pay an additional monthly user fee. Do you have a large number of contacts in your database? Check before you commit as some services limit the number of contacts you can store which means you may have to purchase a more expensive subscription in order to store all of your data. Do you want to be able to send emails from within the CRM solution? Be careful – this may not be included in your subscription and you may have to pay more for email functionality. The bottom line? Be sure to thoroughly research the features and functionality that come with your subscription so you can avoid additional, and potentially expensive, monthly “up-charges.”

Recommendation: Read the fine print. Make sure your subscription includes all of the features and functionality your practice needs.


Import Existing Data or Start from Scratch?

If you’ve been storing your contact information in Outlook or in an Excel spreadsheet, make sure there’s an easy way to migrate to your new CRM solution. Stay away from CRM products that don’t provide a quick and easy method of uploading your existing contact information – something typically achieved by saving your data as a .CSV file and importing the information into the CRM application.

Recommendation: Don’t waste time re-entering all of your contact information. Make sure there’s an easy way to upload your existing data into the new application.


Security and Restricted Data Access

As an insurance professional, you’re given a great deal of personal and sensitive information by your clients and prospects. It’s incumbent on you to ensure that not only is this data is stored securely, but that access to it is restricted to those who need to be able access it. Thoroughly read the information provided by each CRM provider and look for them to reference their data storage protocol to ensure that every precaution has been taken to safeguard your data.  Also, from a feature/functionality perspective, make sure you can establish user privileges so that access to client information can be restricted by you or an administrator.

Recommendation: Make sure the CRM provider has taken every precaution to safeguard your data. Also, ensure you can establish user privileges and restrict individual user access to data.


Features & Functionality Designed for Your Industry

As noted in the last article, many of the CRM solutions currently on the market are designed for use by companies in a range of industries. You might say that they contain “generic” features and functionality. You’re an insurance professional, so should you have to settle for a solution that wasn’t designed for your unique needs? Absolutely not! I encourage you to research available CRM options and focus your efforts on those companies that offer a solution that was designed for the insurance industry. As an example, one such solution is the InsurPro CRM application offered by Lodestar Technology Labs (www.StarterCRM.com/insurance-pro.aspx). InsurPro contains features and functionality designed specifically for insurance professionals which enable you to:

  • Customize fields with information specific to the Carriers you work with
  • Customize the application with insurance specific product information
  • Store client policy information
  • Track data such as such as premiums paid by your clients
  • Store beneficiary information
  • Track and manage your commissions as well as commissions you split with other agents
  • Generate insurance-specific reporting to help you manage your practice
  • Create policy review date reminders
  • Set up birthday and anniversary reminders and send your clients a congratulatory email
  • And much more…

Recommendation: Use a CRM solution designed for your industry. Doing so will shorten the learning curve and minimize the amount of amount of time it takes you to start fully taking advantage of all of its features and functionality.


Focus On Applications that Do More than Just Store Contact Data

The beauty of adopting a CRM solution is that it enables you to more fully interact and engage your clients. As we noted in the last article, CRM solutions can provide you with a 360° view of your clients – every interaction between you and your client can be tracked, managed and stored. As you research CRM solutions, be sure to focus on solutions that offer you more than just the ability to store contact data. A true CRM solution will allow you to do much more than store information and should offer you tools to interact with your clients. These tools may include email functionality, marketing campaign implementation and tracking and customer service tools.

Recommendation: Focus on applications that do more than just store contact data.



Of all the recommendations above, I believe that the most important is the last one. As you search for a CRM solution, I would encourage you to focus efforts on products that were designed for use by insurance professionals. Even if you find cheaper alternatives, the money you save more than likely won’t make up for the time you’ll waste trying to make the application fit your specific situation. Not only that, insurance-specific CRM products offer features and functionality that can help you more effectively manage & service your clients, improve client retention and create additional sales opportunities so you can grow your practice.