In the brick-and-mortar world, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) may have an advantage over their larger competitors when it comes to establishing customer relations. “Mom and pop” stores have been offering friendly advice, along with the products they sell, for years. But in the virtual world, SMEs are facing a new set of challenges.

How can your SME become an e-business when you have limited advertising and IT budgets? How do SMEs find efficient, cost-effective ways to acquire and retain customers, in the face of competition from larger businesses? The answer for many SMEs is to find customer relationship management (CRM) solutions that do not drain business resources.

Interact Commerce and TriVium are two of the companies that offer low-cost, highly productive CRM solutions for organizations lacking extensive IT expertise and big budgets.

A rock and a hard place
SMEs looking for CRM solutions often either pay for more CRM-related functionality than they will use or make do with less than they can afford.

Many SMEs are growing quickly and need solutions that allow for growth and integration with other unforeseen products. Both Interact Commerce and TriVium offer CRM solutions designed to meet these needs.

How big is a small business?

“The typical small business has revenues between $20 million and $100 million per year and fewer than 100 employees. Medium-size businesses are those that have revenues between $100 million and $500 million per year and 100 to 1,000 employees,” said Gartner analyst James Browning.

The need for speed
SalesLogix, Interact Commerce’s flagship CRM product, is designed to keep up with the rapid growth rates many SMEs face. “They are usually growing very fast. They are always in a hurry. What the mid market requires is rapid deployment and gradual customization,” said Michael Simpson, chief marketing officer for Interact Commerce.

SalesLogix, created as a sales force automation solution for mid-market businesses, now includes more CRM functionality. “We’ve built a full CRM suite with support products, marketing products, and e-business solutions,” Simpson said.

TriVium’s new CRM product, SimpleRM, also targets rapid-growth SMEs. According to Mahmood Sher-Jan, TriVium’s director of marketing, “we are really focusing on businesses that are on a high growth rate. They could be small companies or mid-market companies, but they are really on a competitive track to grow their business.”

SimpleRM is a Web-based eCRM suite that monitors sales, marketing, and support interactions across various communication channels. Although the product was introduced in October, it is supported by TriVium’s five years of experience in call analysis.

Maturity is key
Maturity is an important factor SMEs need to consider when choosing a CRM solution. The CRM market is still new, and it seems that products are introduced daily.

But a newer product should not be automatically rejected. “TriVium initially appears to have a well-architectured product,” said Gartner analyst Joe Outlaw. “It could appeal to a small more than a mid-sized company at this point.” Outlaw added that TriVium may grow into servicing larger companies.

“SalesLogix is a more mature and a more rounded solution. It is more of a fit for a mid-sized company,” Outlaw said.

Simpson compares the current state of CRM products for SMEs to a child reaching adolescence. “All markets, as they mature, will slow. What happens when a market reaches this point is very much like what happens when a child reaches this point. It starts to question authority. It starts to feel like it has enough knowledge to ask questions.”

SMEs are looking for proof from CRM vendors that projects will not go over budget and deployment schedules. They are also rebelling against the larger vendors, Interact’s Simpson said.

In the right place
SMEs are looking for a happy medium between CRM functionality and cost and between application development and deployment. “Most SMEs don’t need the level of customization or scalability of large enterprises,” Outlaw said.

Interact Commerce and TriVium may be the perfect fit, depending on the platform a SME needs. But even the platforms themselves have to “see” into the future and offer SMEs integration with the customer touch points that develop tomorrow.

Right now, CRM vendors targeting SMEs are in a good place. SMEs are beginning to see that larger vendors like Siebel or Clarify, while offering large solution packages, may not provide the greatest “fit” for SMEs.

“We would just very much like to be the opposite of Siebel, the anti-Siebel,” Simpson said.

SMEs need the CRM functionality that exists for enterprises but at a level that suits them. According to TriVium CEO Matthews Manaloor, “What we’re trying to do is what the PC industry did to mainframes—bringing the capability and functionality of a mainframe down to the desk top of a small to mid-sized business user.”

Essentially, what an enterprise needs for business processes is much the same for SMEs. “Those needs are really no different in some ways than the needs of enterprises. Business is business, and today any business is an e-business,” said Sher-Jan.

SME in need of CRM?

Do you represent an SME that is looking for a cost-effective CRM solution? Which products are you looking at? Drop us a line and tell us.