CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management and covers methods and technologies used by companies to manage their relationships with clients. In technology terms a CRM system usually refers to the software to help manage this process.

CRM systems vary massively in what they do but in simple terms they store current and historical information on existing (and sometimes potential) customers. Most CRM systems also enable information about those customers to be extracted and reported on in various ways. Additional features of more sophisticated CRM systems include:

  1. Workflow automation – ensures the business follows a set of steps by automatically leading the users in one or more departments through proven and agreed processes.
  2. Marketing – generate automatic personalized marketing based on the customer information stored in the system.
  3. Product and service information – stores information about your products and services, and enable relationships between these and your customers to be set up to enable quotes, invoices, etc to be automated.
  4. Sales force automation – the entire sales cycle can be automated, tracked and measured.

Unfortunately many SMEs rely on numerous spreadsheets and disparate pieces of software to help run their businesses and those that do have a true CRM system rarely maximise its use.

A well designed and fully utilised CRM system can transform a business by massively improving customer service and providing valuable insight into business performance.

So what should SME’s focus on when considering implementing a CRM system?

  1. Make sure your business processes work There is no point in implementing a CRM system that reflects a bad process. Make sure that the way your business processes work is effective and then make the CRM system reflect or, if possible, improve on this.
  2. Understand your real business goals and communicate them Make sure that when you implement a system you know exactly what you are trying to achieve in real business terms (E.g. Speed up the quotation cycle) and communicate these goals to staff and the CRM provider. Don’t implement technology for technology’s sake!
  3. Focus on your customers Remember a CRM system should make things better for your customers, not worse. Sometimes internal issues take over and the result is a system that does nothing to help the customer. Improve the customer experience and the rewards will come back to the business.
  4. Get “buy in” from your staff Most staff are very good at what they do and know what will and won’t work. Engage your staff so they can see how this will improve things and if they have concerns, don’t assume they are awkward and against change, they may have some great ideas.
  5. Keep it simple Many CRM systems offer an incredible array of functionality but for most businesses this just serves to confuse. Don’t be taken in by wonderful looking systems with bells and whistles. Think about your business and what it needs, think about your customers and think about your staff. Keep it simple to maximise its effectiveness.

Where can a CRM system make a positive impact?

The most basic CRM system will contain all current and historical information about a customer enabling any member of staff to have instant access to what they need to provide and personal and knowledgeable experience for the customer. How many times have you been frustrated at having to repeat information to a company representative? Just this simple availability of information can speed up internal processes, improve customer perceptions and ultimately lead to increased business.

A web based CRM system (which we highly recommend) improves access to information which can aid with flexible working practices and can speed up service delivery. For example, compare a sales team that whilst out with customers are able to instantly access all the information required to produce a personal quote, which the customer can sign then and there, to a team that has to go back to the office to prepare and send the quote. The flexible and responsive team will save time and close more business.

By linking products to customers the system can automate quotes and invoices which saves time and reduces errors.

Finally, reporting can provide an invaluable insight into how you can improve your business. For example, you can determine the profile of the customers that are your most profitable, you can see which marketing source produces the most or best quality leads, you can see which staff deal with the most calls, and so on.

To summarise, if you don’t have a CRM system then you need one, if you do have one then check that you’re making the most of it.