customer relationship management how-to

Small business CRM

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Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is about reaching out to the right people, convincing them to do business with you, and then maintaining and nurturing that relationship.

It takes research and plenty of organization (not to mention software and technology) to operate an effective CRM program - and often, small businesses end up doing a mediocre job because of the complexity and amount of work involved.

Like other aspects of running a business, CRM is something you should either commit to and do properly, or avoid altogether. Doing things poorly can be worse than doing nothing at all.

But, good CRM can be a catalyst to launch your company into the limelight and keep it profitable and growing for years to come. So, if you want to get serious about managing customers and clients, here's where you start...

Why implement CRM?

CRM plays a role across a number of areas within and between a company and its customers.

The data recorded within a CRM system can be used for strategic purposes, marketing insight, and C-level decision making. In fact, this is originally the purpose of CRM.

However, broadly speaking, CRM can be used to improve performance in the following areas:

  • sales
  • marketing
  • customer service
  • tech support

Being able to record and manage all the interactions with current and future clients, from making contact through to sales and on to service and support, brings a number of distinct advantages.

It means you can:

1. Offer seamless service & support across different platforms

Make the state of your interactions and relationships with clients immediately available to the staff members dealing with them.

This can help deliver a seamless customer service experience across all different types of media (i.e. a social media customer complaint via Twitter can be handled just as effectively as a phone call).

2. Measure returns on sales & marketing

Recording the results of marketing and sales campaigns using a CRM system can provide valuable insight into how well your current strategies are working, and where they can be improved.

3. Better organization

It's almost impossible to implement CRM for sales and marketing activities without first having to research and understand market segments and channels.

If your company is making use of a decent CRM system then the very act of adding a new contact means you need to know where they fit into your overall strategy (because the add contact form tends to require this information in order to organize the data properly).

Obviously, it is important to ensure that the right message reaches the right people, and to do this requires planning and research (that perhaps wouldn't be done with the same rigor without using proper CRM software).

4. Integration

The cloud has opened up new opportunities to integrate online business services so that they can be managed under one roof.

Using an online CRM system means that information and functionality provided by other services can be brought into the fold from a wide range of disciplines like:

  • accounting & billing
  • email marketing
  • telephone and VoIP
  • job, time and calendar management
  • contract & proposal
  • help desk

Unifying these services under the banner of CRM can reduce the amount of human labour needed, and reduce costs while increasing efficiency and profits.

How to implement CRM

The short answer is software. But, the best CRM system depends entirely on the goals and objectives you choose beforehand.

In general, the CRM market is dominated by big companies like SalesForce and Oracle. But these systems tend to focus on providing service to larger organizations - although they also have offerings aimed at SMEs (even if they can be a bit pricey).

However, there is a lot more value to be found in lightweight, low-cost systems. More often than not, you'll have no real need for all the bells & whistles that comes with larger systems anyway.

Not to mention, using simpler, smaller CRMs mean less barrier to entry when it comes to training.

Here are a few solutions you might want to consider:

  • nimble - around $15 per month, with a focus on social media
  • insightly - FREE & paid ($7 pm), with great 3rd party integration
  • CapsuleCRM - FREE & paid ($12 pm), online CRM

While most of the above solutions are designed to be easy to use and understand, it is still important to judge how well their offering meets the demands your business will place on them.

It's probably worth trying out more than one to get a feel for what's on offer - since they almost all offer free trials.

We'll also offer a step-by-step guide to getting started with one of the leading services in due course, so watch this space.

Does your company already utilize CRM software? How has it helped or hindered the growth of the company?

Share your tips and experiences in the comments.

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