What Is CRM?
CRM, or Customer Relationship Management, is a crucial tool for any entrepreneur who's serious about growing their business. While keeping costs down is also imperative, not obtaining detailed information you'll need about your customers and prospects could be a death knell for the company.
A good CRM system will provide comprehensive information about who your customers and prospects are, what role they play in the businesses they're in, what's important to them both personally and professionally and track your relationship over time. It will provide scheduling capabilities and support a calendar to guarantee you don't miss calls and appointments.
There are many other features, but this is the basic heart of the system and one of the things that will keep you focused on what's most important to your customers and prospects.
Which CRM System is Best For You?
As with any other part of your company, you will need to select a system based on how your business operates. It's a meaningful exercise to take an initial look at systems, then set up your criteria for what you want. Remember, and this is important, your CRM system must support your company the way you want to operate it, not the other way around.
Unless you don't have good business processes and want your CRM system to help you with them. It is usually best to look for a system that's more consistent with the way you do business. Such things as how many people in the company are selling and managing customers is important. Also the type of customer you deal with can impact your decision-making process as well. Do you have a small number of customers with complex requirements and a large number of employees involved with decisions. Or are your clients single person operations with small ticket sales that recur often.
So by taking care of the assessment of your existing business requirements and wants up front, you'll save yourself a great deal of time and headaches in the end. Remember that your CRM system will take some time to set up. If you attempt to employ a system that will not meet your needs you will burn a lot of time and have to begin all over again later. This can also possibly damage relationships with customers if you lose data.
You also want to determine whether you need a system which is resident on your computer or web-based. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Probably the biggest advantages to web-based, is if your computer crashes, or you don't have access to your computer, any computer with web access will get you to your data. The downside, is if you don't have web access you don't have a CRM system.
That correlates with the most important advantage of a resident system. Regardless of whether you've got Internet access or not, you always have access to your CRM system. The draw back being obvious, if your computer crashes, or you don't have access to it, you also do not have access to your CRM system.
I personally like the web-based applications, because of the above mentioned reason and also because upgrades and adjustments tend to be easier to perform and support costs tend to be lower. I also like the fact that, I have been able to get access to key information using my smart phone right before entering a client's office. You can't do that with a system resident in your computer.
Entrepreneurs, Don't Use CRM at Your Own Risk
You can survive with spreadsheets and sticky notes, but you do so at your own risk. If something happens to you and you must have a partner or employee cover an account, you're placing them at a tremendous disadvantage. They won't be able to get to your notes, or in my case, they wouldn't be able to read them.
Taking those notes and attempting to get them consolidated into one spot can be a challenge all in itself. But then you have to tie them back to customer objectives with deadlines and calendar the dates for the follow on meetings and then meeting those deadlines gets to be an unruly mess. Keeping it in a worksheet or on pieces of paper may end up in missed schedules and appointments.
The more complicated the sales cycle and the product, the greater the chance of losing something or getting something wrong. The better documented you are and the easier it is to access, the lower the risk you have.
Beyond the CYA side of this product, there are also the massive upsides as well. An excellent CRM system (provided you upload the information), can keep you abreast of significant events in your prospect and client's lives. It may enable you to get out those birthday cards, or congratulation notices, or remind you of the date of a new product launch. Or even automate that process so it takes place auto-magically.
As an entrepreneur, you want to make sure you have the strategic advantage of an effective CRM system. If you don't, assume that almost all of your competitors do and they will use it against you.