Every firm will gain from customer relationship management software

Neon patterns

In the past few months most of us have had phones ringing off their hooks as we strive to keep in touch with clients and suppliers during an unsettling crisis.

The more conversations you have, and the more complicated they are, the more important it is to have a decent CRM.

If you’re only dealing with one or two clients, you can just remember the important stuff. You know them. It’s probably your mum and your best mate.

Many more than that, though, and you need to find a way to keep decent notes. They’ll enable you to pick up conversations where you left off and help you avoid embarrassing yourself by forgetting what the person on the phone actually does for a living. Or, worse, getting their name wrong.

Years ago, people used something called a Rolodex for this – a desktop gizmo that let you flip through brief notes on each client with one hand and hold the phone handset in the other. If need be, you’d back that up with manila folders full of paper in filing cabinets.

Or so I’m told. I grew up with computers, doing almost everything digitally, so the idea of bits of paper and folders seems ridiculous to me.

If you can keep electronic records, why wouldn’t you?

Especially when you consider all the options this gives you to, first, automate processes and, secondly, integrate your systems.

A CRM that connects to your cloud accounting software… To someone like me who believes in the power of systems, and likes things properly organised, that’s a beautiful thing.

Benefits of CRM for small business

One of the main benefits of a CRM is knowledge security, in a world where knowledge is power.

There’s an old test that applies here: if you got hit by a bus tomorrow, would your business be able to continue in your absence? Or would you be lying there in traction answering endless phone calls because key information is in your head rather than in the CRM?

The principle is simple: information on clients and client relationships shouldn’t lie with individuals but in a central repository.

If staff leave or are absent, another member of the team should be able to pick up their projects without interruption to the business.

A decent CRM also has the advantage of automating the process of personal relationships. That might sound a bit contradictory – shouldn’t a personal relationship be spontaneous and natural? Well, yes, but when you’ve got to manage lots of personal relationships, a bit of structure helps a lot.

Your CRM can remind you to contact people you haven’t been in touch with for a while. It can nudge you to make a follow-up call you promised. And it can help you tailor a standard email so it feels personalised to the people receiving it.

The more data you have, the more you can target your communication. It’s really useful to be able to quickly and easily extract contact lists of clients who regularly buy Service A, or those who’ve expressed an interest in webinars, or who are based in, say, Oldham.

At the less pleasant end of things, your CRM can also help keep tabs on who has paid, and who hasn’t. You don’t want your sales team to sell more products or services to people who habitually fail to pay or have outstanding debts.

More generally, the CRM will make it easier to track client demographics. As long as your information is kept up to date, you’ll be able to use the information it outputs as fuel for KPIs to make sure your business is on course to achieve its goals.

And if the dashboard shows surprising trends, it might help you pivot or suggest new products and services.

You might even use your CRM to make sure the conversations you have with them always focus on the payment issue first, until it’s resolved.

Which is the best CRM for me?

This decision depends on the size and nature of your business.

There are lots of industry-specific CRMs such as tiny+ which is designed for architects, engineers and designers.

There are also big name generalist CRMs that come packed with features and lots of online support. The most famous are probably Salesforce and Hubspot but there are also packages available from Microsoft, Sage and other established names.

The best way to choose the right package for your business, and to avoid being dazzled by unnecessary bells and whistles, is to start by mapping your requirements.

What do you need your CRM to do? How many licences do you need? Will you be using it on mobile devices across many sites, or on desktop computers in a single office? And is there existing software you want it to integrate with?

Salesforce and Hubspot are both fairly easy to integrate with Xero and FreeAgent using third-party add-ons.

CRM pitfalls

First things first: customer relationship management software is a tool, not a magic solution to all your problems.

You need to use it, and make your team use it.

It needs to become a habit to open customer records during calls and update records during and after every contact.

If you don’t keep the data up to date, you can have embarrassing problems like two salespeople calling the same lead on the same day – totally off-putting and counterproductive.

One of the first jobs you’ll want to do when you get a CRM is import your data then review it thoroughly. Set aside time to do this properly – it’s a good investment that will pay off in the long run.

Look for things like:

  • duplicate client records – delete, combine or link them
  • conflicting contact information, e.g. multiple email addresses per client
  • out-of-date records – remove former clients, or reclassify them as leads.

This is also a good time to agree principles with your team so you’re all using the system consistently. Add new data fields that will be genuinely useful and remove those that are obsolete – when did you last send a fax?

It pays to be efficient

With tough times ahead for the economy, every efficiency counts. And more and better conversations mean more and better sales, which means more cash into your business.

Talk to us about cashflow and cloud accounting software.

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