Apparently, it is National Small Business Week. And while I tend to think these kinds of “national weeks” or days, or what have you, are often pretty silly … well, as someone who has been in the trenches with the SMB community over the last few years, I could not be prouder of my readers.
I know how much it takes to get a company off the ground. I know the hours and dedication involved in keeping it running and thriving.
I know the sleepless nights and the emotional weight of carrying an entire venture on your shoulders. You don’t get to “turn things off” at night.
You are my hero.
So, in that vein, I’ve recently touched on various software programs from accounting to payroll… so it only seems natural to jump into Customer Relationship Management, the high and mighty “CRM.”
Customer relationships are the key to a thriving business – customers are at the heart of whatever it is you provide. And the relationship needs to be MANAGED, and at scale … otherwise, you’re merely a glorified freelancer. And just like accounting transactions and payroll taxes can be automated, so can various aspects of customer interaction.
Let’s talk about customer relationship management software…
Managing Customer Relationships Demands the Best Software Available
“Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.” – Henry Ford
We all know there’s nothing simple about running a small business these days – and it certainly isn’t easy tracking the activity of your customers from when they first walked through your door all the way to their last transaction.
A clear and complete picture of their journey with your company could have quite an impact on your bottom line.
Enter Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, next in our series looking at tools for your business.
Everything in one place
CRM comprises many customer management systems – sales, marketing, and customer service, to start. It connects your departments to keep a trail of every interaction your staff has with each customer from initial purchase to support calls and emails (including in detail what was discussed) to additional purchases. You can track and analyze this data, then intensify a customer’s experience with your company – presumably leading to repeat or increased sales and better profits.
(Data’s key: A recent survey showed that a lot of companies lose a lot of money over bad data in their CRM system.)
Every company can benefit from quality CRM. And even if you have a CRM system now, it should be a constant job to refine it and determine if you should upgrade.
You might be thinking this function just sounds like a big spreadsheet – and it is, except to the nth power. CRM doesn’t just retain user and contact information but can use it dynamically: setting calendar events and appointment reminders, prioritizing your pipeline, spotting new sales opportunities, and moving customers through the different departments of your business.
Sales and marketing. The right CRM system can make it easier to connect with buyers exactly when they’re ready to buy and via their preferred method. It can also help predict future sales and budgets and give your salespersons more real-time information on clients on a wider variety of devices, like smartphones. Similar information can help you get word out to prospects more effectively, too.
Customer support. Uniting customer service and sales will help you predict your customers’ preferences and more easily track and act on their purchase history. This also makes it a lot easier to handle (and diffuse) complaints.
What customer relationship management software should offer
Look for customizable and continuously updated dashboards, centralized customer data whether on-premises or in the cloud, scalability (as with all business software …), and easy integration with all your other software and modules, such as those for email marketing or customer support. If you are a flipper, do you have a W-9 Form from the electrical contractor? Check it out in your CRM.
You should, for instance, be able to create customized messages for customers and set up prompts so your employees (no matter where they are) know exactly how often a customer has been contacted and what information they have received. If you are a buy & hold investor, is the rent paid? Is it time to send out a “pay or quit” notice?
Your customers should have their own portal in your system; this takes a lot of hand-holding labor off your plate. Look for portal features that let clients create and receive answers to requests (such as for support), update their own information, and receive automated contact. If you are a property manager, it’s easy to write one notice and know that everyone is aware of the parking lot striping.
Cost and value
This isn’t going to be the cheapest thing you’ve ever bought for your business, so get the most for your buck.
First, check with your salespeople, marketers, and customer-support staff about what they need in a system. Dig into whether your people will need extensive training or new mobile devices to use the system (those costs add up fast). Look for free trials from providers – most vendors offer one, though some vendors are more generous than others.
Some important questions to ask potential vendors:
- What’s your experience in my industry?
- What are your training options?
- Are there self-service tools for certain issues?
- Enhancements for CRM are coming, such as artificial intelligence. What can you tell me about your updates? Will there be a lot of downtime for those?
- What’s the hardest thing about using your CRM system?
Here are a few offerings (as usual with biz software, the more you pay, the more you generally get):
Apptivo CRM: Offers visual pipeline, integration for smartphones, and capturing leads from your website, among other features. Prices start at a few bucks a month and increase by the number of apps, fields, and dashboards.
Sales Cloud Lightning Professional: Features an Account Insights background intelligence on prospects and industries. There’s a personal assistant to ping you about overdue tasks, trouble spots, and leads. Cost is low two to low three figures per month per user, billed annually. A two-week free trial is available.
Zoho CRM: New “Canvas” design editor to create dashboards that give minimalist role-critical information to industry-specific sales data with broader industry context. (Say that fast, 5-times) “Ultimate” package cost is about 50 bucks a month per user but has a 30-day free trial option.
And there are others out there, these are just a few insights for you to have a jumping-off point. You have to find the right system for your company.
If CRM seems like a lot to tackle, just remember: The Cs are the heart of your business – fail to M them and you won’t wind up with much of an R.
I’ve discussed a lot of different software improvements you can make in your business. And I know there are a lot of options and a lot of little things to think about.
Customer Relationship Management is just an internet search away. Then watch a YouTube tutorial and you’re off and running. (I am smiling…see you next week!)
BE THE ROAR not the echo®