Software deployment is like a boat trip — you never want to get too deep before choosing the proper vessel. Just as a canoe isn’t sufficient for deep-sea fishing, the wrong deployment model can hinder a business’ CRM software solution.
This is especially true for customer relationship management (CRM) vendors. The primary methods for deploying CRM are:
- On-Premise CRM systems use a network of highly-customizable onsite hardware and software systems that require software licenses to store customer data.
- Cloud CRM solutions exist on remote servers where software updates, security measures, hardware upgrades, backups, and more are managed by the CRM software service provider.
While evaluating the plethora of vendors available on the CRM market in a cloud CRM vs. on-premise comparison, one of the biggest requirements to keep in mind is which deployment you need. Some businesses need cloud CRM solutions (aka SaaS or web-based CRM), while others require an on-premise CRM solution. Most people say that the future of CRM is in the cloud, but each type of deployment has its advantages and disadvantages.
Will Cloud-Based CRM Systems Become the Only Type of Deployment?
As customer data management becomes more complex, many businesses are switching to cloud-based CRM solutions. Even small businesses are beginning to adopt cloud CRM to integrate all aspects of marketing and sales. In the short period between 2008 and 2014, use of cloud-based CRM jumped from 12% to 87%, and the trend is showing no signs of slowing down.
Moving Away from On-Premise Systems
Businesses that recognize the extensive benefits of cloud CRM are abandoning the old model of using a network of onsite hardware and software systems to store customer data. Although on-premise CRM systems offer more control over customization, the amount of resources necessary to maintain the infrastructure is a drain that many companies can’t afford. Small businesses in particular don’t have the money or staff to devote to monitoring, troubleshooting and updating an on-premise CRM platform.
Simply setting up a system onsite requires purchasing hardware, software and software licenses. Once the system is in place, routine updates are necessary to maintain security. Regular data backups must also be performed to prevent data loss. Should disaster or failure occur, equipment must be replaced at the company’s expense. Even something as basic as upgrading to a new software version can be a significant investment.
On-premise CRM also offers little in the way of scalability. Expanding requires the purchase of more hardware, and, if requirements decrease, the same amount of hardware must still be maintained until demand goes back up.
Customer Management in the Cloud
Cloud CRM moves the storage and management of customer data from onsite hardware to remote servers operated by hosting companies. All of the duties that an onsite IT staff would normally be burdened with are handled by techs at the company, including:
- Software installation and updates
- Security measures
- Hardware maintenance and upgrades
- Routine backups with redundancy across locations
- Application integration and management
This frees up extensive resources within the company, making CRM more accessible to businesses of all sizes.
Cloud CRM data is accessible from anywhere using any kind of mobile device, thus enabling sales staff to break free from the limitations of on-premise systems and be more productive in the field. It’s predicted that 55% of salespeople will take advantage of this capability to access and utilize sales apps. Data collected from any location is accessible through one user-friendly dashboard, and this access can be segmented by department through the use of unique logins with specific permissions.
Regardless of the level of access, data still flows freely from one part of the company to another, creating a comprehensive view of consumer behavior that’s invaluable when it comes to creating the targeted, personalized campaigns necessary to compete in the current market.
As of today, however, on-premise CRM systems aren’t dead yet. But your CRM deployment decision comes down to what your users need from the system. As you make that all-important decision, there are a few critical criteria to keep in mind:
How Much Access Will Your CRM Users Need?
How much access will your CRM users need? Will they all use it exclusively in the office, or will they need your customer data on the go? The accessibility of a CRM platform is where you should start your deployment evaluation. Cloud-based CRM solutions provide practically unlimited access. They’re available on any device with an internet connection, so your users can access your customer data on any laptop, desktop or mobile browser. In addition, most cloud-based CRM vendors have developed, or are in the process of developing, mobile apps that provide a mobile-friendly CRM experience.
For businesses that employ travelling sales reps and/or CRM users who may find themselves in need of their customer data at any time, a cloud deployment is the right answer. If your CRM users only access the data in the office, however, an on-premise deployment may be the better fit.
On-premise CRM deployment is more tethered than its cloud computing counterpart. For the most part, an on-premise CRM limits your access to the office, where the servers are stored. Although this dictates where and when you can use the system, it also almost completely eliminates connectivity issues. Cloud-based CRM systems rely on the internet to work and provide access. If your WiFi suddenly goes belly-up, you can’t access your data, even if you’re working in the office.
On-premise deployment, on the other hand, only requires proximity to access your customer data. Nothing short of a power outage can stop your ability to work with and view the data you need.
What are Your IT Requirements for Deploying a CRM?
How big of an IT department do you have? What’s their budget? And how many IT resources do you already have on hand? The capabilities of your IT department is another major factor in choosing a CRM deployment.
For businesses with a small IT budget and few resources (mostly small businesses), cloud-based CRM is far more viable. They require little to no intervention from the IT department. Why? Because cloud-based CRM solutions are hosted by the company that develops them. They own the servers, they handle the updates and they’re responsible for the general management of the platform. If there are any issues with the system, you don’t have to try to fix them yourself; you can just reach out to your vendor’s customer service. This saves a huge amount of time and money that you can allocate elsewhere.
On-premise CRM applications, by their very nature, require a lot of IT attention. When you deploy any kind of software on-premise, you’re essentially taking over every aspect of platform management. This means that your IT department has to dedicate a large amount of time and resources to implementing and managing the system. Typically, large businesses have the amount of resources required, so they’re more likely to adopt an on-premise CRM.
On-premise IT management all starts with setting up the servers during initial implementation. You have to deal with loading data, taking care of the servers every day, and problem solving if/when the system goes down. Although your vendor can certainly help your IT staff with some issues, it’s ultimately up to your staff to get it up and running again.
Based on this, it seems like on-premise is simply a waste of time and energy. However, there are some pretty big advantages to on-premise deployment. First and foremost, customization and configuration are more flexible. When you install the system yourself, you can make slight tweaks when needed to better fit your business and the processes you already have in place. One of those customizations could be easier integration, which is a powerful capability for interdepartmental collaboration.
While many cloud-based CRM solutions integrate with other types of software, such as a BI platform for performing Big Data analysis, you can integrate with pretty much any system you want when deploying on-premise. This is because you own the servers the CRM is hosted on, so you can more easily create gateways that allow your CRM to communicate with other systems.
What are Your Budget Requirements for a CRM?
One of the most obvious considerations of software buying is the cost. Most buyers look exclusively at the price of the system, whether it’s a one-time, upfront fee or a monthly subscription. However, there are too many buyers out there that don’t understand the dynamics of evaluating the cost of enterprise software. The downfall of these buyers is that they don’t take the hidden costs into consideration. These are usually upfront costs involved in implementation, but can also include occasional ongoing costs related to maintenance.
Generally speaking, cloud-based software is cheaper from the get-go. The main, and usually only, cost companies have to pay is the subscription fee. Most subscription fees are based on how many users can access the system, but some cloud CRM vendors have a flat fee no matter the number of users. This pricing model ensures that cloud-based CRMs have small upfront costs, which makes them very affordable for businesses. That’s why cloud deployment tends to be more popular with small businesses — because they can afford it.
Along the same line, the upfront costs are what make on-premise CRM systems less viable for small businesses, but popular with larger ones. Getting an on-premise CRM online can get pricey. Among the upfront costs of an on-premise solution are the one-time purchase fee to the vendor; buying and installing servers and other hardware; and, of course, paying your IT staff to make it all work.
Ongoing maintenance costs also be taken into consideration for on-premise deployment. These can be some of the most expensive hidden costs associated with on-premise deployment, as the maintenance of the servers and other hardware has to be done regularly. And when issues come up, it takes time and money to fix them.
Once again, despite some of the cost disadvantages of an on-premise CRM system, it’s not all bad. Because there’s only a one-time fee to acquire the software, as opposed to ongoing monthly payments for a cloud CRM, if you use it for long enough you may end up with a lower TCO. Despite the cloud’s lower short-term costs, after a given time, an on-premise platform can end up as the cheaper option.
Similarly, large enterprises commonly find on-premise to be the cheaper option because of their size. As we mentioned earlier, most cloud-based CRM solutions base their subscriptions fees on the number of users. Large businesses with hundreds or thousands of users may end up with large monthly fees that simply aren’t worth it. Since businesses of this size don’t have to pay per user for an on-premise solution, the one-time fee may be the cheaper, more appealing option. The fact that they have the resources for proper implementation and management of an on-premise platform only enhances that appeal.
How Does the CRM Handle Data Transfer and Security?
Using the above criteria, the average company would probably find more benefit from a cloud-based CRM. When it comes to data management, however, it’s just the opposite. On-premise CRM systems tend to have better data security than a cloud-based solution. The more networks data has to travel through, the more vulnerable it is. When your data is hosted on a vendor’s servers and transferred through the internet for your use, it’s at risk of being hacked.
On-premise solutions decrease the likelihood of a hack because the data only transfers from your internal servers to your device. Although cloud-based vendors have been closing the data security gap in recent years, on-premise solutions are still the safer deployment.
The higher level of security that on-premise software provides is why many industries don’t allow the use of cloud solutions. If your business is in one of these industries, you can’t even consider cloud-based CRMs because of the compliance standards. Even if your industry doesn’t require it, there are many that advise the use of exclusively on-premise deployed software. In this case, it’s still best that you stick with an on-premise CRM so that your customers know you’re doing everything in your power to keep their personal data secure.
Where a cloud-based CRM system has on-premise beat is in data sharing. As we mentioned earlier, cloud-based CRMs provide access to your sales reps and other employees no matter where they are. The true power of CRM data in the cloud lies in its shareability. Your sales reps, executives, marketers and even your external partners or customers can all have access to real-time data. Although you can share data from an on-premise platform, you don’t always get the most up-to-date data when you’re out of the office.
Cloud-based CRMs and on-premise systems tie in terms of flexibility. Cloud-based CRMs have better scalability, which helps growing businesses adjust to growth they can’t predict. However, a major issue with cloud-based CRMs is the high reliance on vendors for support, software and hardware. On-premise systems may be harder to scale, but your business owns the hardware and software, giving you control over the solution. It’s also easier to incorporate custom applications into on-premise systems instead of hoping the cloud vendor has an API available for their system.
Ease of Deployment
Cloud-based CRMs have an overall ease of deployment since they are hosted at a vendor instead of your location. You don’t have to disrupt your existing infrastructure for a cloud CRM deployment; you simply adjust a few business processes and instruct employees of the app to download or the login location. In contrast, an on-premise CRM requires everything from on-site servers to an IT staff capable of installing and maintaining the necessary software.
How Do You Make Your Best-Fit Decision?
Every business strives to create great customer relationships while exceeding client expectations. With the help of a CRM, any business can achieve these goals. But doing so requires their best-fit software solution.
Although choosing the right deployment model isn’t the end-all-be-all, it can make a difference in how successful your implementation is. Whether you need a cloud-based CRM or an on-premise solution, it all comes down to your business requirements and the resources you have at your disposal. Carefully assess these before starting your search. Once you do, you’ll have a much clearer picture of what type of CRM you need.
1. Be Clear & Specific About Your Objectives for CRM
Some cloud CRM software is a bare-bones relationship management system. Others are full-featured systems that include functionality for both sales and marketing, such as features for managing the sales and marketing budgets, handling POS data, and even vendor management. Take the time to determine if you actually need those functions before investing in lots of features you don’t need or that are already handled by other software, like your marketing automation tool.
2. Conduct a Feature-by-Feature CRM Comparison
It’s difficult to conduct a head-to-head comparison before you narrow down your search to a handful of options. But once you’ve whittled down to a manageable number of systems, determine which features you need and then do a feature-by-feature analysis of your top contenders. Some of the most popular features are:
- A dedicated document library
- Role-based user access
- Support for multiple world currencies
- Workflow automation features
- Integration with your email service, marketing automation, email marketing systems, and other back-end systems
- 24-hour support (via phone, email, chat, etc.)
- User forums
- The ability to gather leads from your website
- An accessible API
- Customizable reporting
- Email tracking
You may not need some of these, but you might need every one.
3. Look for a Scalable CRM Solution
A good CRM solution helps the business grow, which means you need to choose a service that is capable of growing with you. If your business enters the contract at the top level, there’s not going to be any room there to expand your services. Find a solution that offers flexibility and scalability so that you can add on services, users, and more data as needed.
4. Examine the Vendors — Not Just Their Products
When it comes to a CRM software comparison, don’t simply compare the products and features. Look closely at the companies behind those services. Which have been around longest? Which have the best records for reliability (uptime) and security? Which are easiest to work with? Before even considering the cost of the service, be sure that the strength and reputation behind that service is solid and well-proven.
The Future of the Cloud
Personalization and the creation of a seamless customer experience are two top trends that will continue to grow and evolve as cloud CRM becomes more popular. Presenting a consistent voice and image for your company on every channel is crucial to building brand loyalty, and customers are increasingly coming to expect that level of cohesiveness.
The development and use of predictive analytics adds another layer to customer management and influences the development of marketing campaigns. Rather than relying exclusively on existing data, predictive tactics look at trends in consumer behavior to forecast what actions a particular market segment is likely to perform in the near future. This data has the potential to maximize ROI and increase conversions throughout every facet of marketing.
With more businesses relying on software as a service solutions, cloud CRM is moving toward offering greater integration between platforms and applications to create more streamlined workflows and offer greater opportunities for customization.
What CRM Vendors Should I Look At?
We are big proponents of doing a formal software evaluation. So to help you start that evaluation, the following CRM solutions are some of the most commonly selected by our network of software buyers:
Obviously the de facto in cloud CRM, Salesforce is usually the most popular choice. With a standard set of key CRM functions as well as a huge ecosystems of integrations (like marketing automation) and apps, you can do almost everything you need with Salesforce. However, it’s not the only product on the market and other CRM solutions are often a better fit.
Microsoft Dynamics CRM is available as either a cloud or on-premise CRM solution and you certainly can’t go wrong with one of Microsoft’s longest standing and supported products. While it remains a distant second to Salesforce’s market share, between other CRM giants (Oracle and SAP primarily), it’s one of the few that have gained some ground in the CRM market.
Oracle has two leading CRMs in its suite of products: NetSuite and Siebel. NetSuite is a web-based CRM, while Siebel has options for both. Both are popular and robust CRM solutions especially for larger organizations.
SugarCRM also offers both cloud and on-premise CRM solutions. Aside from general CRM functions, one additional functionality sought in tandem with CRM that SugarCRM exceeds in is Sales Force Automation.