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Expert Advice on Web-Based CRM Software editorial staff editorial staff

For start-ups, communication between the marketing, sales and customer service department is simple; all the business owner has to do is talk to herself.

But if the start-up starts to grow, these jobs -- once handled by one person -- are delegated to new hires. The result? Communication becomes more fragmented.

Cue CRM software.

CRM software streamlines not only the customer experience -- by consolidating all information and communication with customers into an easily accessible database --  but it also improves the overall business process, eliminating redundant work and errors.

We recently caught up with Ian Moyse, the sales director at, a cloud CRM vendor. Among many accolades and awards, Moyse was named one of the top 200 cloud channel experts in the world in 2011 and was first in the United Kingdom to pass the CompTIA Cloud Essentials specialty certification exam earlier this year.

Here's what he had to say about Web-based CRM Software:

What is your background and expertise in CRM software?

I have used a varying range of CRM systems in my directorship roles over the past 20+ years including, Salesforce, Siebel, Sugar, Netsuite and Superoffice, and now work as sales director at Workbooks. Having run a number of teams -- from smaller start-up businesses to large, multinational sales teams -- I have experience  of the needs of a CRM from a customer perspective and also the frustrations often experienced. CRM is a solution and outcome decision, not a technology driven one.

What are the advantages of using CRM software?

CRM used correctly can be transformational for a business, not only allowing all accessing it to have a common and consistent view of a customer's information, activities and communications, but also improving business processes, removing duplication and errors and driving efficiency. CRM can extend outside of the traditional sales and marketing to encompass support, finance, operations and to drive better interaction across departments.

What are some of the most popular functions of this software? In your opinion, what are some of the most underused functions?

CRM typically gets led by a sales and marketing requirement and the most common uses begin from managing contact details to storing email conversations and activities that have occurred around this customer. The real benefit jumps to a company, however, come when  you integrate and bring together the varying other interactions and parts of the business with the CRM. These include marketing campaigns and tracking spending and success/failures to enable smart decisions and future activity planning. Operations and finance being integrated can greatly benefit the organization -- allowing sales to have visibility of what a customer has ordered, is licensed for, has paid before, is due to renew, etc. and allowing easy visibility of what a customer has bought, are they up to date with their support contract, have they paid, etc.

Workbooks customer Adam Smith, Managing Director of Rawnet, commented: "Prior to implementing Workbooks, invoicing was such a manual process, but with Workbooks it's so easy. Once an order is completed we can convert this into an invoice at the click of a button, and it is linked with Sage and raised automatically. Raising invoices is no longer a big task."

What types of businesses would benefit most from CRM software?

Businesses of all sorts, sizes and across industries can benefit from a good CRM platform to underpin its information and customer interactions. It is key, however, that businesses choose the right CRM platform for their business needs and do not get distracted by brand or technology features. Increasingly, sales teams are on the road or dispersed across the country and others may be working from home. This geographic freedom offers significant benefits t0 businesses, but can make it difficult for business leaders to keep track of sales activity and progress as well as productivity of its workers.

At Workbooks, we have customers across all industries and are experiencing a large increase in companies moving from legacy contact management type on network platforms -- such as ACT and Goldmine -- to more robust and effective cloud-based fully fledged CRM solutions such as Workbooks.

When should a business think about implementing CRM software?

The simple truth is that too many organizations buy an off-the-shelf CRM solution, without first considering what business issues they really want to address. The old saying goes that "if you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there," and this is true with CRM.

A CRM solution should be a serious consideration if a business finds they are duplicating customer information in silos in the business and are not able to easily see all communications that have been made with a client or prospect. It should also be considered if the company does not have easy and quick ways to gather management information on issues such as which clients have not renewed, who places the most support calls, the correlation between sales and the client calls and visits made, and what marketing expenditures work and what are wasted.

Additionally, if you find much of your business -- such as renewals, forecasts and reports -- are difficult to get and end up being run on spreadsheets, it is likely time for a more effective and consistent CRM delivery method. CRM done well can have a dramatic benefit to the business.

What are the advantages of cloud computing? 

Cloud delivery of CRM (delivered over the internet as Software as a Service, SaaS) has a great deal of benefits, especially for the smaller business that typically cannot afford the cost and time to build the resilience and security into a system run internally. Using a cloud CRM, such as, enables a customer to quickly switch on the service and log straight in. No hardware to buy or set up, no software to install and maintain and upgrade.

As a hosted provider, we provide CRM service from multiple, highly-secure and resilient data centers, enabling a customer to simply use and not worry about the backups, the resilience to ensure availability (which we guarantee at 99.5 percent of the year) and the security where we have invested and built highly-secure systems using security experts and involving regular penetration testing by third parties.

Customers also get an easy way to allow user access across multiple offices, locations or from mobile devices without any IT setup or complications at their end.

What do you do to ensure security for businesses using your web-based software?

Workbooks treats Information Security as its top operational priority. The service can only be secure through the application of rigorous policies at many levels in its implementation. We employ a wide range of security approaches to ensure the top level security possible is delivered to our clients. We maintain physical security on our multiple data centers through their being located in inconspicuous buildings with 24-7 manned security, CCTV-monitored data centers with biometric systems, and certified entry procedures.

We provide network security through the application of multiple layers of protection, including packet filters/ACLs, firewalls, and other techniques which are confidential.

All Workbooks systems are also carefully designed by a team of cloud and security experts with many years experience of delivering hosted solutions. We employ regularly third party expert penetration testing and are approved as part of the Governments G-Cloud program as a cloud provider to the public sector.

Why do you think it's important for sales, marketing, customer service, etc. to be integrated? How does your software aid communication between these different groups?

Our belief is that CRM can not only bring these departments together, but finance as well.  Having one coherent view of a customer or prospective customer enables a business to better engage, service and deliver to their own and customers' expectations.

Workbooks enables all these groups to achieve such visibility and information easily and intuitively, and unlike other CRM systems, also brings information to the CRM view from and to a customer's finance system, giving sales and admin the ability to quote, process orders and invoices all within the CRM interface.

What happens if the company grows? Can CRM systems grow with the business?

Sure, if a CRM solution is implemented well, users will use it. If they use it, its value grows as the customer profiles and information you store gains increasing value to your business. Hence new users joining will want and need access to the CRM. A cloud-based system makes adding these simple and quick as you can remotely enable the growth of users and not worry about locally having to take action on extra hardware performance, license purchasing and activations.

What questions should a company shopping for a new CRM system ask themselves before looking?

A business should ask and define the outcome they wish to achieve. Is it ...

  • Increased sales?
  • Improved efficiency?
  • Better reporting, shared information across the business?

We recommend putting together a needs and wants document across departments and delegating input from each area of the business. We provide customers an open requirements collection document that they can use to gather this information. This provides a starting point for engagement with any CRM vendor, as we feel this is a key fundamental first step on the journey to a successful CRM outcome.

What are the biggest mistakes a company makes when they're shopping for a new system?

Implementing a CRM system for any sort of business is not without its challenges, but for small- and mid-sized companies without dedicated IT teams or budgets, it can be even more difficult.

In order for any CRM project to be a success, there needs to be clarity on what success actually looks like. We speak to many organizations that "feel" they need a CRM system, but are not entirely sure what it could deliver and how it will benefit the business. We encourage these organizations to really consider what they are trying to achieve by investing in a CRM project and how their business might be different in six to 12 months with a successfully deployed solution.

CRM projects cost time and money and may demand a change in working practices. This means that for any CRM project to be successful, there must be the support from business leadership. We would recommend establishing a project team right from the outset which includes managers and users. We would also recommend you empower the user representatives to be "project champions," tasked with explaining to their colleagues why the CRM project is being started, what value it delivers to the business, and ensuring they get feedback on issues or concerns from their peers.

One of the most important factors for a business should be to understand how much focus and support you are likely to get from your CRM provider.

How can CRM software reduce operational costs?

CRM can help reduce costs in a multitude of ways, from providing visibility of earlier actions needed on a sales engagement to more effective working of renewals to better customer support information. In the Workbooks system, that means more effective cash collection and improved communication across all internal departments regarding customer matters.

How can it improve customer service?

CRM in itself does not improve customer service, but for the committed organization and team it can be a powerful tool that enables consistent interaction and communication with customers, and empowers actions to be taken at the right time.

For a salesperson contacting a client, knowing a customer has an open support call, hasn't paid, or has made a complaint to another department can be a key decision-maker on the approach taken. For the business knowing that more sales are lost because of a specific function or lost to a common competitor can change the training sales gets or the tools provided to them.

Understanding what sort of customers buy quickest or renew the least can allow key decisions to be made.  Having a CRM that is intuitive to use -- meaning that users put data into it -- increases the value and information you can get out and drives increased use, thus becoming an upward positive spiral.

How has this software changed and/or improved in the past 5 years

The latest hype is Social CRM, ensuring customers' social media interactions are captured and such discussions are recorded. In reality, most small- to medium-sized companies need to get the fundamentals of a strong CRM outcome first, before running to the new world of Social CRM. You should ask is this a key for your business interactions with customers right now or is it overkill and is technology hype pushing a step too far, too soon.

Image Credit: NanoStockk / Getty Images editorial staff editorial staff Member
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