While software in any form is an integral part of running a successful business, selecting the right customer relationship management (CRM) or accounting software can be a strenuous and often personal process.
Finding a software that fits the needs of your company now, and in the future as it continues to grow, should be the ultimate goal.
And there are several factors to take into consideration when making the switch to a new system or diving into the realm of software for the first time.
Making the selection
General Manager John Patterson, of the Pennsylvania-based Grasshopper Lawns, says the company has been using the same CRM system for practically a quarter of a century.
“We’ve been using our customer management software for over 20 years — maybe closer to 25 years at this point,” he says. “We live and die by it.”
Patterson notes the best thing about the software is it’s always evolving and forcing the company to keep up with the times.
“There’s a lot more features to it now and it really keeps up with technology,” he says. “It’s always progressing.”
The Grasshopper staff uses the CRM for everything from remote estimates to inter-office communication, note keeping, add-on sales, mass communication, marketing opportunities and more.
The company utilizes a very popular software brand for its needs, and Patterson says working with a big corporation has a few advantages — particularly the chance to connect with other businesses using the system.
“I like that they have a broad, universal appeal,” he says of the brand. “Because of that, we can touch base with other companies to and share and ask questions so that we can learn from each other as well.
“If you pick something that’s only for one (market) you don’t have all those options,” Patterson adds.
Matt Bohn, president of Bright Water Illumination & Irrigation, in Maryland, employs the same tactic. When he and his wife started the business in 2011, they chose to go with a very popular accounting software.
Because it’s such a well-known system, Bohn says it’s easy for him and everyone else to use.
“It’s kind of the gold standard in the accounting world,” he says. “Every accountant that I know is extremely familiar with it. It’s what they recommend to all their clients.”
Also, it’s a web-based system so sharing information is even easier.
“What I really like about it is the accountant can dial it up and see everything live,” Bohn says. “That’s a huge benefit to us. It’s a big timesaver. He’s 45 minutes away from me, and being a small company, I don’t have time in my day to pull reports, send them to him and be real hands-on with it. Whatever information he wants, he can pull up and it’s at his fingertips.”
Yet when it came time to choose a CRM, Bohn wanted something more personal.
“We didn’t just want to be a number to someone,” he says. “My wife and I both had experience with other software companies and their support was minimal at best. They’re so big they just treat you as another number.”
Bright Water is structured through three primary segments — irrigation, lawn care and pest control. Bohn says he spent a long time researching software that would blend all these segments together.
“We’d been shopping around, and we found someone who was good with lawn care stuff, another who was good with irrigation and another for pest, but we really couldn’t find anybody who was good with all three,” he says.
Bohn wound up choosing a small software business that’s primarily utilized by pest control companies.
“We ran into them at a recertification seminar, and they were really willing to work with us,” he says. “They were a small growing company just like we are. They were very happy to help us adapt our business model into their software.”
Not only was the personal service a major factor in Bohn’s decision, but he says the all-in-one pricing was also a selling point.
“What really helped us in the decision-making process was the price,” he says. “They charge us one price for everything. Some of the other companies had a price for one thing and then another for a different module, and for this and that, and the number just kept growing and growing.”
Getting it going
After selecting a software comes the implementation process. Something that Bohn and Patterson admit can seem daunting and takes thoughtful planning.
Bohn’s advice is as simple as Nike’s slogan — just do it. He says take the time to input all of the data at the beginning instead of just adding to it while you’re trying to utilize the software.
“Onboarding is never smooth and as easy as you’d hope,” he says. “My wife spent a ton of time working with it and getting the data inputted correctly.”
Plenty of training is also important, according to Patterson.
“Be prepared because it’s going to take some time,” he says. “You’ll want to have a plan for the changes and the training and the follow-up. If you jump in without being ready for all of that, it’ll be a challenge.”
Recently, Grasshopper upgraded to the latest version of their CRM system. Patterson says training was rigorous but needed to get everyone comfortable with the changes.
“We recently upgraded from one version to the latest one. The big change there was it went to a web-based program, which has a lot of convenience since you can use that anywhere you’re at,” he says. “They gave us some online training that we did last winter as prep.”
Additionally, Patterson says Grasshopper makes use of retreats and conventions hosted by the software company.
“They have a convention every year in Florida, and we sent some employees down to it to ask questions and pick up more tips,” he says.
Bohn says he didn’t face much pushback when it came to training. He adds that his employees really like the CRM as it’s improved their efficiency.
“Everyone who uses it likes it,” he says. “It makes their job easier. And when you can give them something that makes their life easier, the buy in happens.”
But if the buy in isn’t happening as fast as you’d like, Patterson says practice makes perfect, and that patience is a virtue.
“Upgrading always comes with its own challenges,” Patterson says. “Be prepared to work through all the quirks. You have to be patient.”
Patterson also advises leaning heavily on your software provider not only during onboarding but whenever issues arise.
“You want to make sure you’re working with someone who’s good at following up,” he says. “If someone just sells you software and says, ‘go at it,’ then that would be tough. You really do need that follow up.”
Bohn says anyone looking to implement new software should also keep the time of year in mind as it takes longer than you think to install correctly.
“If I was going to do a software implementation again I would definitely do it in December,” he says. “We got onboard with them at the end of February. I’d never do that ever again. We were getting ready to jumpstart our season and we ended up spending way too much time, and way too many late nights, trying to get everything up and running to make sure we were good to go in time.”
Bohn adds that more so today than in the past, it can be easier for landscaping companies to get caught up in the latest and greatest software, and purchase more than they need for their size business. He advises using software only where you can clearly determine it’s return on investment.
“Ten years ago, guys were going broke buying a ton of trucks and equipment and shiny things. Today, I got a lot of friends in the business who are spending a ton of money on software and gadgets and computers. I don’t think anyone really looks at it to see if it makes them the money they spent,” he says.
Additionally, Bohn says time is money. So, software that can improve efficiency is also a good thing.
“For us being a small company, it’s all about time savings,” he says. “Where it used to take five to 10 minutes every stop to fill out paperwork, now it’s done in two to three minutes. In the day that’s getting me an extra couple jobs done. And for me, that’s how we justify our technology purchases.”
Patterson adds that he sees value in the company’s CRM through several lenses — one being that it highlights mistakes and helps the company realize its own potential.
“We’ve had ups and downs, but the positives definitely outweigh the negatives,” he says of using software. “It gives you a lot of insights into areas you can improve upon.”