Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Small Businesses Benefit with CRM Applications

Be honest: what do you think when you hear “customer relationship management”? Is it that CRM systems are only for big business? Or that since you don’t have a customer service department, you don’t need CRM?

Hate to tell ya, but you’re wrong on both counts. The truth is that a small business may actually have more to gain from CRM and cloud computing than some larger companies. If you need to not only attract more customers but retain the ones you have, and if you would like to have an efficient method of analyzing the various aspects of your business, keep reading.

A cloud-based CRM system can pull all the information into one central, easily accessible data center. You can look up a customer, see what he is purchasing, review quotes, analyze problems the customer may have reported, and track which marketing programs have been directed his way. In addition to helping target this particular customer, you can use the data to plan more accurate forecasts, identify future opportunities for sales, and offer unparalleled support should he call with any problems.

Consolidating all of your customer information in one location lets you be ready at any moment to intelligently discuss all aspects pertinent to the account. You don’t have to put customers on hold to retrieve a paper file or switch from one program to another just to find basic information. You have the opportunity to make the customer feel special, as if you have committed to memory what he buys and how often, whether he ever received a defective shipment, and how long he has been your customer.
Practical Application:
Aerospace Composite Products is a manufacturer and distributor of composite materials, primarily for military, medical, automotive and sports equipment applications. This family-owned business, with a staff of 10, had been attempting to track sales flow with a paper and pen. They had no centralized database of documents and contacts.

Much of the critical data on vendors, procedures, and customers was not written down anywhere. The founders, who launched the company out of their garage in the mid-1980s, kept a lot of the information in their heads. This was going to make it difficult for them to retire.

The company installed a CRM system, complete with mobile access for when the owners are traveling, to consolidate customer information, vendor data and processes in one location. A formal return authorization program was also added, and they were also able to identify additional sales opportunities.
Now consider how similar information is handled in your business. Can you access the data you need from a remote location? Can your employees find information quickly, or must they go on a scavenger hunt every time a customer calls? How much vital information is kept “in your head”? If you decided to retire tomorrow, would you be able to leave behind a clear and concise picture of your clients, your suppliers, and your flow of business? Could a new employee decipher your marketing strategies or your sales forecasts?

One of the biggest advantages of cloud-based CRM to a small business is the scalability and the low overhead. Instead of maxing out your credit to purchase a server and a bunch of expensive, off-the-shelf software programs, cloud computing is billed on a subscription model. You pay only for what you need, when you need it. When you need more, the capacity is available almost instantly. There’s no infrastructure to mess around with, no wasted server capacity during less-than-peak times, and no need to hire an IT person to take care of the technical side of business. Cloud-based CRM platforms are usually so intuitive and user-friendly—much like popular interactive Web sites—that there practically is no technical side.

Even if your customer service department is called Margaret—and she also makes the coffee, keeps the books and designed your logo—you should be supporting that customer service department, as well as your sales team and the rest of your employees. Keep everyone on the same page, and build a solid business foundation with a comprehensive CRM system run in the cloud.