Trials and tribulations of purchasing CRM

cloud crm

Stuart McLaren, Sales and Marketing Director, ProspectSoft, examines the trials and tribulations of purchasing cloud CRM – and says the traditional free trial is dead.

In the 1970s, the blind taste test was a staple theme of TV advertising. Ordinary consumers were blindfolded, fed similar products and asked to choose which one they liked best. Armed with no other information to guide them, participants were left to work it out for themselves; to make decisions, quite literally, in the dark.

Nowadays our choices are empowered by bewildering amounts of supporting information – and none of us expect to make blind decisions. Except, that is, in the world of cloud CRM, where the blind taste test still prevails. The promotion of cloud CRM is dominated by free trials that offer interested parties a glimpse of the software in action. The majority provide bog-standard default demos that leave customers clamouring around in the dark, trying to decipher how they work and whether they’ll translate in their own real-world environment. Many Freemiums provide no additional guidance, dialogue or customisation to determine whether a solution will deliver relevant business value. It’s a passive, almost arrogant, approach that forces SMEs to make quick decisions based on a limited view. It’s a blind taste test – and it’s not enough.

In essence, inflexible Freemium models expect customers to base their buying decisions on the same unsophisticated parameters used in Leslie Crowther’s 1978 taste test for Stork SB; a primitive look and feel. Yet the purchase of cloud CRM has more long-term implications than a tub of marge. The best can transform SMEs and give their customers an omnichannel experience. So why not show that from the outset? In a B2B world that preaches customer-centricity, vendors need to stop forcing SMEs to make decisions in the dark – and instead provide trial experiences that are personalised to the needs of individual businesses. It’s the only way to measure the true value of a cloud CRM. It’s time to remove the blindfold.

Trials and tribulations

The Freemium model still dominates most software-as-a-service markets – not least cloud CRM. It’s built on the premise that interested parties can quickly download a demo and try it out for size. The most discerning will download a range of options. The cloud itself enables this. Its inherent ability to facilitate speedy access to services is a clear advantage on protracted sales processes and face-to-face demonstrations. Immediacy is king. But the industry is at risk of turning this advantage into a weakness. Often the sign-up process is the full extent of interaction between trialist and vendor, with the latter retreating as soon as the software is downloaded and returning only to convert the sale.

This premature departure assumes technical knowledge on the part of the SME, leaving the user experience totally to chance. It foregoes the opportunity to help potential customers understand the full capability of the software and any nuances that might differentiate it. From a customer’s perspective, it can pretty much feel like you’re being asked to do the vendor’s sales job for them. Users are left to work it all out for themselves.

Personalised trials

The absence of engagement through the trial period negates the opportunity for dialogue to customise the experience. CRM is not an off-the-peg solution. Cloud systems are best evaluated when they’re set in the context of a customer’s own business. Where they’re not, SMEs are deprived the chance to see how the software can provide meaningful business value.

One of the biggest drawbacks of the standard demo concerns data. Most demos only allow users to ‘pseudo-use’ the software – you cannot run your business off it. Freemiums are typically loaded with generic data that’s irrelevant to the user’s sector or business type. This provides a narrow, indicative experience rather than an authentic one. The most effective trials allow you to sample a system using your own customer data.

Similarly, ‘templated’ demos make it difficult for businesses to measure a system’s utility in their real-world setting. Naturally, all CRM systems contain data fields that are common to every industry. However, each business is different and it’s important that solutions are configured to reflect those individual nuances. If that configuration can be made pre-trial, in concert with the software provider, assessing its true value becomes far easier.

The best trials allow for personalisation. This requires a cloud CRM that can be integrated with a company’s ERP before a trial begins. By making this link, businesses can import their own customer data into the cloud and trial the software using recognisable information. To strengthen this, the most proactive vendors will work with companies – once again, pre-trial – to configure additional data fields that are specific to their business. These fields can relate to KPIs or EPIs – early performance indicators – to ensure the trial produces meaningful reports and beneficial intelligence. The subsequent outputs will illustrate the insights a full-scale adoption could deliver. This proactive, personalised approach removes the blindfold of traditional trials and provides a clarity to guide decision-making.

Concierge and collaboration

Reaching the nirvana of a productive trial all boils down to the relationship between client and service provider – and the approach the latter chooses to take. Are they passive or collaborative? Are they playing the numbers game in the hope of converting a percentage of free trials, or are they offering a more personalised ‘concierge’ service that provides support and collaboration all the way through the trial? The most effective vendors won’t leave you floundering in the dark, they’ll take a partnership approach.

Choosing a cloud CRM system can sometimes feel like you’re comparing Golden Delicious with Granny Smith – and the passivity of the free trial model can perpetuate this view. So it’s important to remember that differentiation can be found in both components of SaaS; the software and the service. That service begins at the very first touchpoint – usually the free trial. Moreover, the trial itself provides multiple opportunities for additional interaction to personalise the system. It should be much more than a blind taste test – it should be a collaborative experience where software and service combine to unlock meaningful value.

In a competitive B2B environment, cloud CRM can give SMEs a clear business advantage through the effective delivery of an omnichannel experience. It’s a critical purchasing decision. So why make it in the dark? The Freemium model of cloud CRM must be replaced by a concierge service. The traditional free trial is dead. It’s time to remove the blindfold and taste the difference.