Monday, August 22, 2011

Small Business, Big Dreams: Realize Your Potential with CRM

When you think about it, “doing business” really means fostering relationships. And just like in your personal life, some of those relationships last longer than others, while some have great potential but never really get off the ground, maybe because of a miscommunication. Some relationships begin early and last for a lifetime.

What kind of relationships do you have with your customers?

Small businesses can have the ability to build solid, long-lasting customer relationships, but unfortunately, they often don’t have the time to devote to that. After all, an employee in a small business wears a lot of hats. One great way to stay on top of all the emails, phone calls, social media initiatives, promotions and incentives—not to mention the products themselves—is to invest in a customer relationship management, or CRM, system.

A customer relationship management system, specifically one that runs in the cloud, can free up a small business owner from the administrative tasks that eat time. But this is more than just a tool for organizing data: cloud-based CRM apps can actually analyze and automate that data, presenting you with a real-time, 360-degree view of your customers. With this information, you can capture leads, empower sales reps, fine-tune marketing campaigns, and run forecasting reports that will enable you to maximize resources while minimizing costs. CRM systems also allow you to provide excellent customer service and identify new opportunities for cross-selling.

What does it mean to run a system like this “in the cloud”? It’s simple. You simply log in to applications run over the Internet, rather than opening software that runs on a hard drive or centralized server. This means that you don’t even have to have a centralized server—or the bills, maintenance and headaches that would come along with it. All you need are Internet-ready devices—computers or laptops, smartphones, iPads—and the log-in information. You contract with a cloud-computing CRM vendor to provide you only the apps and server capacity you need, and nothing more.

This saves money, sure, but it’s also easy for your employees to use. The interfaces of these apps are customizable and intuitive. Tabs help users switch quickly from one task to another. Open multiple screens to create a tailor-made view of an account, or enable one or more employees to view the same information and collaborate on a document in real-time.

One thing to consider is the possibilities for elastic expansion offered by applications operated through cloud computing. Applications run through cloud computing can expand with your business. In fact, they’re so flexible you may be able to get started right now, even if your enterprise is still relatively small. As you add employees—and customers—your infrastructure can grow with you to ensure that your profit margin stays as high as possible. The scalability of cloud computing also means that seasonal businesses, such as those that sell strawberries, Halloween costumes or Christmas decorations, don’t have to buy excessive server capacity just to handle peak periods. You only pay for what you need, when you need it.

If you’re in business, you’ve got big dreams. No matter how small you start out, cloud-based customer relationship management systems can help you achieve those dreams, even while you’re cutting costs and building lifelong relationships with customers.