When Is It Time For a Small Business to Invest in CRM Software?
Guiding Considerations to Adopting CRM Systems
Perhaps the business you started a few years ago is humming along, and after lots of effort, you're starting to see some real traction. Revenues are growing and your customer list is progressing as well. And that's the problem – as your business grows, it's starting to become noticeably tougher to deliver consistently good service to your customers.
So is it time to start thinking about a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to help keep your customer communications, transactions and relationships organized and flowing so your business can continue to grow without the associated growing pains? When you start asking yourself this question, there are quite a few things to start thinking about. Here are some considerations for your checklist.
So at what point in your business should you start thinking that CRM software should be adopted? When you reach a certain number of customers? Or is the deciding factor a certain level of revenue or sales or when your staff count reaches a certain number? This is not a straight forward question, and there is no one answer for everyone.
The best advice is likely that you'll know you need to start evaluating CRM applications when manual business processes becoming overwhelming. When you reach a threshold of customers where managing them, doing the follow-up calls, responding to inquiries and keeping your sales churning becomes more onerous than in the past, then you'll likely be thinking that something's got to change. That's a good clue it's time to grow your business automation and consider CRM software.
Rob Enderle, an IT analyst in San Jose, California, said you will know that it's time for CRM automation when you hit a critical mass in your business workload. "You bring in CRM software when the customer number gets beyond what the executive staff can personally monitor," he advised. "The point to CRM software is to maintain consistent customer satisfaction and once a company reaches a size where sales and support, without oversight, are the primary aspects of maintaining customers you bring in CRM as a way to put executive oversight back on maintaining customer loyalty. It's a tool which allows a few executives to keep track of more customers than they can touch manually." Read more CRM investment»
The Link Between User Experience & Customer Experience
CRM Interfaces Impact Learning Curves, Adoption and Productivity
CRM vendors are increasingly releasing applications built around the premise that their user interfaces have to be as customer-centric as their products' users. In other words, the user interface has to empower customer facing staff with real-time, key customer information in an easy to consume fashion. As CRM software has become a critical tool for more departments within the business, that's become more difficult, since different people need varying access to different data elements from the same data set, meaning there's a challenge and an opportunity to deliver role-based or user-customizable interfaces designed for flexibility and for delivering customer analytics that are vital to each user.
We frequently talk about customer experience, as we should. But where does that customer experience begin? If we assume it starts with the contact between the business and the customer, then we're somewhat implying that everything that comes before that is not as pertinent, and we know that's not the case. The groundwork that must be laid, and to a lesser extent, the experiences that lead the customer to the business, shape the customer experience even before the two parties have made the first contact.
And a portion of that groundwork, I would assert, is the design and quality of the CRM UI and its impact on the staff who use it. This is seldom more readily apparent than in customer service. A stodgy, inefficient or rigid user interface can prevent agents from getting the information they need quickly, thereby frustrating both the agent and the customer. An antiquated interface can pollute the customer experience in other areas and in subtle ways. Read more CRM user experience »
CRM Software User Interfaces Impacted By Social CRM
The Evolution From Software-Oriented to User-Oriented Interfaces
An often-repeated piece of advice to CRM decision makers is to pick a CRM software system that works the way your staff work. In other words, imposing a CRM application on staff that requires them to alter their business processes – especially processes which are effective – is a bad idea that can destroy CRM user adoption and staff productivity.
Despite such advice, CRM users have spent over two decades viewing user interfaces that require them to mold their ways of working around the way information is displayed and transactions are navigated. In recognition of this some CRM vendors such as Salesforce.com and Microsoft with its Dynamics CRM have taken measures to include as much design functionality as possible in UIs that are familiar to users – the Salesforce.com social media-like interface that resembles Amazon or eBay and the Microsoft Dynamics CRM UI which is built with an Outlook and Office theme.
These user interfaces still require staff to mold their approach to work around those applications' layouts and structure. But as an increasing number of staff within the business are being asked to use and update CRM data, and reliance on a single-display UI design generally forces staff to view data in a manner dictated by the application.
Fortunately, a new generation of CRM software user interfaces is arriving. These UI's are customizable by the user without need for assistance by a system administrator or IT, allowing staff in different roles to be presented with the data most important to their jobs while still drawing from the same shared data set as everyone else in the business. The sales force can view sales figures and contact information, marketers can review leads and campaign performance, customer service staff can lookup customer histories and open service tickets – and, if there's a benefit to look at data outside their normal views, they can see additional data usually associated with other roles in the company by a simple link or drill-down. Read more CRM user interface »
Demandbase Lead Management Software Compliments CRM
The Integrated Components of Customer Relationship Management
Many business leaders think that getting a CRM application in place is a one stop solution to their sales problems. It not. But it can be an excellent first step, particularly if you view it not as a single, solid blanket approach but as a major patch in a sales/marketing/service infrastructure quilt. There are many tools out there to help with CRM functions, and being clever and strategic about sewing your quilt can deliver real competitive advantage.
You normally can't kick off a sales process until you have figured out how to acquire new leads. Lead generation remains much more of an art than a science. That makes sense in a way as we're talking about people and their behaviors, and it's hard to get technology to accommodate that. That challenge however has not curtailed the efforts to make technology an enabling partner in lead generation, and the vast number of marketing automation software solutions crowding the market attests to that fact.
It's not enough to have volumes of new contacts any more. Your sales and sales conversion rate don't go up just because you've dumped thousands of new contact records on your sales staff. Getting the right leads to the right sales staff at the right time, when those buyers are ready to buy, is crucial to maximizing your sales effectiveness.
A natural method for doing this is identifying buyer signals, or behaviors that likely buyers exhibit. One such behavior is a buyer spending increasing time on your company's website. The more pages a buyer looks at, especially when they are pages you know buyers often browse just before their point of purchase, the greater likelihood they're good candidates for the sales team. Read more marketing automation»
CRM Mobile for Company Staff and Online Consumers
Prepare To Enter The Mobile Web
CRM software systems are advancing more by the tools they leverage than any change to core capabilities in marketing, sales force automation or customer service. Some of the most significant advancements include changes in technology such as open source CRM systems, changes in software delivery such as software as a service (SaaS), changes in customer communication methods such as social CRM, changes in reporting such as customer analytics, and now changes in devices such as mobile.
More of what customer facing staff do online, or can do online if empowered, is mobile and done on smartphones, PDAs, ordinary cell phones, netbooks, iPads, laptop computers and other mobile devices.
So is your business leveraging mobile CRM for account managers meeting with customers, field sales staff giving presentation or traveling executives who are constantly in more than one place? Do you empower your customers to use their mobile devices to interact with your websites and your company? If not, you may be missing a business process opportunity for your staff and a business development opportunity for your company. Read more CRM mobility »
CRM Analytics Increase Value and Software ROI
Business Intelligence Brings a Second Wave of CRM Software Benefits
Your new CRM application is finally deployed and working well after months of research and implementation effort. So you think that you now have some time to relax a bit? Not really.
Now the next phase begins – getting the most out of this new high-performance application so that your business gets all the critical information necessary to help decision makers make better decisions. Simply installing CRM software provides little competitive advantage. However, harnessing data, getting information to the right people at the right time, and leveraging business intelligence delivers real and sustained competitive advantage.
You have to collect, sort, interpret, distribute and use the detailed and illustrative information the systems are automatically gathering about your marketing campaigns, sales successes, service results and customers behaviors. Then you have to get that invaluable information into the hands of the people inside your company who can make it actionable and apply it for company growth.
That's where the customer analytics and business intelligence come in, and this is a primary reason why you built a CRM system in the first place. Information is the name of the game.
The more information you have about what your customers need and want, what they buy and when, and what they will likely need and buy in the future, the healthier your bottom line can be. Now the information that's being collected needs to be distributed to marketing managers, sales people, support people and others inside your organization that can use it.
Much of the analytics information will come directly from the CRM application but be aware that other data such as customer purchase and payment history resides in the accounting software or enterprise resource planning (ERP) application. Most packaged CRM systems offer built-in analytics that will deliver insight about your customers and their buying and spending habits. Use the built-in reporting and analytical capabilities and fine-tune them to get to the granular levels of information you need and be amazed at the wealth of information that is at your fingertips. Read more CRM analytics »
CRM Software Selection Advice
The Link Between CRM Software Selections and Broken Business Processes
I've written about ways to fix broken CRM processes and simple steps to developing a CRM software shortlist. Those may seem like unrelated topics, but they have something in common. Perhaps more than any other business software system choice, CRM applications require a high degree of self-awareness on the part of the business. If you don't understand how your company handles customer data and customer relationships now, it will be next to impossible to make the best decisions on how to improve data and relationships in the future.
The mismatch between what companies do and what they think they do dooms some CRM projects before they ever get off the ground. Likewise, deciding on a CRM application is tremendously more effective when you know what about your business works, what doesn't work and what you want to improve.
So why is this a continuing problem? It's because in many companies today, there is a great fear of admitting you don't know what's going on. Many managers and staff see such an admission as a career-limiting move, so instead of launching needed introspection and investigation, they create assumptions, often based on alternate realities that favor their particular job circumstances. For example, many sales professionals, when asked why they're having a tough time winning new business, describe a problem that emphasizes the failings of marketing. There may be some truth to that, but it overlooks other issues that should be fixed and which sales more readily controls.
Creating alternate realities also keeps you from understanding your problems. And when you don't understand your problems around customer data and customer relationships down to a root cause analysis, you lessen your chances of being able to make effective decisions around new CRM software or strategy to fix those problems. I'm sure the occasional shot in the dark may occasionally pay off. However, the vast majority of business decisions around CRM made in an intelligence vacuum fail to deliver forecasted results. Read more CRM software selection advice »
Learning From The CRM Mistakes Made By Others
Learn From the Mistakes of Your Predecessors
One of the most painful parts of being a CRM observer is that this vantage point forces you to see different companies repeating the same mistakes over and over again when selecting and deploying CRM software systems. Here's a few cheat sheet items that countless others have learned before you.
Talk to colleagues, peers and other companies to understand the pitfalls they went through.
Ask CRM vendors for legitimate reference customers who can give them a warts-and-all view of the things that did not go as planned (then find a LinkedIn group or another social network that leads to a more honest advisor than one provided by the CRM vendors).
Read plenty. There's a ton of good material on the Web that reviews these hazards in great detail.
If you arm yourself with an understanding of what often goes wrong, you can chart a course to mitigate those recurring problems – or at least understand the source of the problems when you run up against them and be better prepared to deal with the situation. A classic example is data migration. Read more CRM mistakes »
Uncovering Hidden Capabilities in Your CRM System
Increasing Your CRM Software Return on Investment
So your CRM software implementation is complete, your users are adopting the application and your company is better achieving its customer strategy and customer relationship objectives. Great news! However, as you may know, CRM is never really finished; your customers' actions, requests and expectations constantly change and so before long you'll find both new opportunities and issues to address.
So how best accommodate these changes? When business conditions or customer strategy materially change some organizations begin the CRM software selection process all over again, searching for the newest software technology to address their new priority issues. But smart businesses do something different: they look at the resources they have already invested in their CRM for answers.
The current era of CRM applications are so versatile and sophisticated that, in many cases, the configuration or feature sets needed to tackle emerging issues are already present. These capabilities may not have been needed to deal with the conditions that initially drove the CRM investment, so they sit dormant, and possibly unrecognized, until needed. Or in the case of cloud-based SaaS CRM applications, new features can be introduced in the normal course of upgrades but go unnoticed by users that could put them to use.
So how do you avoid overlooking these useful capabilities and, at the same time, maximize your CRM software investment? Read more CRM capabilities »