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How to not panic-buy your next CRM

Chris Houghton
January 31, 2023

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The internet is a noisy place these days, with adverts screaming for our attention everywhere we go. What’s worse, we see the same ads time and again, as they seem to follow us on our online travels. Sooner or later, we bite. We click the ad. And because by now we’re so used to seeing the same product, there’s a greater likelihood that we’ll buy.

Boom, advertising works.

This is great news for advertisers, but it’s not necessarily so good for customers. For complex purchases like CRM, that tend to need a bit of thought, the most obvious choice isn’t always the best. To be sure of making the right decision, what you need is to be an informed and empowered buyer.

In this article, allow us to demystify the CRM purchase process, to see through the glossy sales techniques and to give you the confidence to make the best choice for your charity.

How to make a buying decision on your own terms

The CRM database market is diverse and loaded with jargon, which makes selecting the right solution really tough. Many charities find themselves overwhelmed by choice and get seduced by short-term offers, clever salespeople or by believing marketing hype. Sometimes, these can be the right reasons to buy, but in an ideal world you’ll be making the decision on your own terms.

This means being led by you and your team’s goals, rather than by marketing sales messages. Here are a few ways you can get to the heart of your goals:

1) Ask yourself which tasks make you sigh

A CRM system is a great tool for doing away with repetitive, boring tasks such as scheduling appointments or filing paperwork. According to the UK government, charities are missing out on over £600m in unclaimed Gift Aid, which is a task that Beacon in particular can support you with. Instead of manually calculating what could be owed to you in Gift Aid, the system gathers all your income along with Gift Aid declarations and submits a claim on your behalf. Unlocking extra funds for your charity has never been easier!

2) Ask yourself how much you want to spend

There is a cost to CRM integration in terms of both money and time. Scoping out what needs to be done and training up your team requires a proper investment, but the quickest way to panic-buy a CRM is to fall for some time-limited discount. This can feel like a win in the short term, but if the system is not right for you, unpicking a decision made under pressure can be more costly.

Remember: a CRM can be transformative, so be sure to evaluate the market to figure out exactly what sort of investment you’d like to make. This might mean allocating a big-ish budget but will put you in a much stronger position when it comes to making the purchase.

3) Understand the lingo

One of the most powerful ways to avoid being burnt out by the array of CRM options available is to understand exactly what is on offer. Taking the time to learn the lingo can help. Here are a few common jargon terms:

  • CRM - customer relationship manager, a piece of software to manage stakeholder comms
  • Database - a centralised system for storing stakeholder records and statuses
  • User - a member of your team with administrative access to the CRM software
  • Automation/workflow/rules - a method by which tasks can be setup to run without your direct involvement
  • API integration - the method by which one piece of software can be linked to another to share information (your CRM could be linked to Mailchimp, for example)
  • View - a screen showing specific information, such as a dashboard or donor profile
  • Pipeline - the flow of an individual asset within your CRM, such as a volunteer application
  • CSV - “comma separated values”, a file format commonly used to import and export data into/out of a CRM database
  • Form - a web form that can be added to - or linked to - your website to capture information and donations
  • Field - an individual piece of information within a record (e.g. a donor’s first name or DOB)

You’ve probably seen some of these words crop up time and again, so hopefully, this little list of definitions has helped to clarify their meanings. Getting to grips with the basic terminology will help protect you from being bamboozled by clever tech jargon and enable you to step back and breathe before making a decision.

Next, you’re going to want to prepare for being “onboarded” (don’t worry, it’s less menacing than it sounds!)

How to prepare for the onboarding process

“Onboarding” is what happens when you take the first step to signing up to a CRM system. Understanding how this works can help you to know where you are in the buying cycle, and make sure you know the path you are taking before you sign up.

There are generally two onboarding routes offered by most CRM providers:

  • Request a demo
  • Sign up for a free trial

The former is most useful if you need a little handholding and have specific questions you’d like to ask. The latter is best for those who’ve used a CRM system in the past and have a clearer idea of what they want to get out of it. Which approach sounds most appealing to you? In either case, keep in mind the following:

  • Invest your time - CRM demos work best when you’re engaged, and free trials expire quicker than you think, so be sure to carve out some proper time to explore.
  • Prepare some questions - a demo is a great opportunity to ask questions, not just about the software but about digital fundraising and data management more generally. The best CRM providers love being asked a good question!
  • Make notes - whether on a CRM demo or free trial, log your experience in notes to highlight any questions or comments you have about the system. This can be very useful when it comes to making comparisons, and ultimately, a buying decision.

If you thoroughly engage in the exploration process, you will be less likely to give the green light on a system that isn’t perfect for your needs. Give due thought to the onboarding process and use it as an opportunity to explore what’s available to you.

Good things happen when you slow down

Everywhere you look online, you’ll find free trials and special offers, each begging you to give them a go. This can bring with it a real sense of pressure, but make no mistake, it is a buyer’s market out there. As a small charity looking for a CRM, there are so many opportunities to do amazing things online with just a handful of tools and a relatively small investment.

Hopefully, the guidance offered here will help you to slow down and assess the market on your own terms, protect you from all those tempting options, and support you in finding a solution that meets your individual needs. Without the pressure!

If you’d like to discover how a CRM can transform your charity, arrange your personalised demo.