04 Oct Using Customer Relationship Management to Your Advantage
CRM is an acronym you may have come across when exploring options for streamlining customer interactions. Perhaps it is a new-to-you term, or one that you’ve just seen in passing, but decided that it was one thing too many for you to even explore as you run your small business. In this post, we’re going to explain what CRM is and why you might want to use it and look at a few options for how you can add it to your small business management toolkit.
The Acronym Unpacked
CRM is generally understood to denote Customer Relationship Management, an all-encompassing concept of how you interact with your customers in both real and virtual environments and how you can keep track of those interactions, analyze them and learn from them in order to improve your relationships. Sometimes you will see CRM broken down into Customer Records Management, which is a practical description of what various software platforms can do for your small business to help manage those relationships. For our purposes, we follow the Customer Relationship Management model for our own business and mean that when we refer to CRM.
CRM platforms can be dedicated software applications or add-on features to productivity software you already use. You could also improvise your own database of customer interactions, referring to it to know when to send a message, which type of message to send (introduction, follow-up, thanks, customer service, etc.) across all of your accounts, and tracking the response to your marketing messages. As a small business owner, you are probably doing a lot of informal CRM already, just thinking of it as sorting through the business cards you picked up at the trade show, your voicemail and your email in-box. Putting all that information in one place is the first step in implementing a CRM system.
Why would you want to formalize CRM for your business? Tracking your customer interactions lets you keep tabs on where you are in the sales cycle and helps you avoid unwanted or duplicate messaging that can turn customers off. Automating interactions (at least some of them) also means that you won’t accidentally skip a loyal customer and leave them wondering why they didn’t get the special one-time offer.
Standardizing your interactions also allows you to deliver the appropriate message to the client based on where you are in your business relationship. Tracking and reviewing customer responses to your relationship management efforts helps you refine your messages and time them for maximum effectiveness. All of these things can be done manually, or tracked in a simple spreadsheet, but as your customer base grows along with your business, adding a software platform specifically designed to handle these interactions can free you from administrative tasks and let you focus on creativity and production.
As with adding any kind of operational technology, you have to balance cost, features, and time. The lowest-tech solutions cost the least money, but the most time; on the other hand, paying for features that you don’t need and are unlikely to expand into needing can be an inefficient use of both your money and the time spent on learning to use something that ends up not being useful.
As we said above, if you are a small producer with a few wholesale accounts, your CRM needs are probably modest and can be handled manually with appropriate telephone calls and emails. Keeping track of which calls you’ve made or which emails you’ve sent and how your customers responded can be as easy as entering the information into a spreadsheet or even an analog record like a notebook or ledger. Analyzing that information is something you would do with your own eyes and a calculator at hand.
However, if your business is bigger than that and you have plans to expand further, then a CRM application would probably make sense for you. Remember that any CRM system is basically a database, so it will only be as functional and as complete as the information it contains. With that in mind, there are some basic decisions you need to make before you start evaluating different platforms.
- Do you want your CRM platform to be on-premise only or accessible through the cloud? On-premise systems are generally more expensive. They are not accessible from anywhere, the way a cloud-based system would be, but they are theoretically less vulnerable to hacking as well as downtime due to lost connectivity.
- How many people will be using the system? Pricing models can be by user, or through monthly subscription, features accessed, or some tiered combination of the three.
- What features are essential to your planned use of the CRM system? Are you looking primarily for a contacts manager, or do you want help with lead generation, sales and marketing?
- With what other applications do you want your CRM software to integrate? Do you also want it to tie into your social media marketing?
Answering these questions will help you whittle down a lengthy list of possibilities to a few options, most of which offer free trials.
You may have a streamlined CRM program available to you already if you subscribe to Microsoft Office 365 Premium Business Plan. Outlook Customer Manager is free with your subscription, and it would certainly be a place to start to manage customer information, tracking not just interactions, but also organizing information like emails, calls, tasks, and deadlines. Just click on the Manager icon on your web-based Outlook window to explore its features. There is also an Outlook Manager add-in for iOS so you and your staff can use Outlook Manager on the go as well.
If you’re ready to investigate dedicated CRM platforms, you may want to read “Best CRM Software 2017” from Business News Daily. While they highlight their top picks at the beginning of the article, if you read down, the article offers annotated thumbnails of more than 50 CRM software products with links to product websites. It’s a good overview of the offerings in the sector with enough information to help you make a short list.
Depending on the nature of your business, you may have even more specific needs. At Stitchcraft Marketing, for example, we use the Sharpspring platform specifically for social media marketing as part of our overall CRM strategy. It’s another layer that addresses needs that arise in our particular niche. As a manufacturer or wholesaler, though, you can begin with keeping track of your customers and the sales you make to them; adding other features can come later.
In the end, we have to reiterate that any CRM system will require a lot of initial data entry to get up and running, followed by consistent updating of contacts, deals, and other pertinent information in order for the software to generate the automated assistance for which you invested in it. Only you can decide whether that is a worthwhile investment of your resources at this point in your business’ growth and development. Being aware of what’s available puts you in control of if and when you want to implement CRM software for your company.
If you found this information useful and would like to learn more about how we can help the owner of a craft business click here to contact Leanne.