Are You Ready for a CRM?

Are you ready for a CRM? As more Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions emerge for business management, one of the fastest growing segments involves Customer Relationship Management, or CRM. We have worked with multiple clients engaging them with a CRM solution, and there is a substantial difference between the theory proposed by the solution providers, and the real world experience of companies using (or attempting to use) the software.

What is it?

As a starting point, a CRM is designed around its title: customer relationships. The idea is that a provider of a product or service will engage their customers with a new ongoing exchange of information, data gathering, and promotional or incentive-based marketing activities. One of the key challenges for anyone wishing to deploy a CRM is that not every client thinks they need this solution – and in fact many would rather not be so engaged.

There are many types of CRM systems in the marketplace. We provide two types of solution support related to CRM use: we’ll create a custom in-house CRM for you, or alternatively we’ll consult on implementation of a third party solution. Either way, talking about how and why you might want to use a CRM is essential – many are so feature driven it will take you literally weeks of training to learn how to properly implement some of them.

Everyone Must Be On Board

There is no point in implementing a CRM solution if everyone doesn’t use it. If some do and some don’t, the data you acquire will be incomplete, leading to the potential for “false math” or incorrect assumptions. The bottom line is that the most sophisticated tools are useless if your team either a) Won’t use them; or b) Spends too much time feeding the system that it takes away from their customer-facing efforts.

Selling or Data Entry

One of the key problems with a CRM solution is that the role of the account executive is modified – often taking them out of their comfort zone. In many examples, when implementing a CRM, all of the various departments (marketing, sales, etc.) chime in with the customer data they feel the CRM should track. The marketing organization often wants to track lead sources, organizational structure, competitor information, and an array of information they believe to be “valuable.”  The accounting and legal teams have their wish lists. What often ends up happening in most organizations, is someone from Marketing, Accounting or Legal suggests: “While sales executives are speaking with the customer, they should gather that information.” Ummm… no. Don’t let that happen.

Do you want your salespeople to drive revenue, or perform data entry? Top performing salespeople are effective at planning and executing the sales process. Most are not trained or wired to be effective at producing quantities of data in digital form.  One possible comparison would be asking an airline pilot to also do the maintenance on the aircraft and provide ticking solutions for each customer.

Develop and Maintain Institutional Knowledge

One of the most valuable aspects of a good CRM is to have a repository of information about your firm’s opportunities and clients. This is one of the most overlooked aspects of a good CRM. Using a shared spreadsheet on a network drive is not the answer. There are too many opportunities for that data to either walk away or be deleted.

Communicate Internally

If you have separate marketing and sales teams, they need to talk often enough (maybe multiple times a day) to ensure they’re operating from the same piece of paper (metaphorically). If you’re gathering client intelligence, make sure your sales team reviews the history of the client BEFORE contacting that person. It won’t do your firm any favors to reach out and offer a deal to someone who is in the midst of a problem, or for which a past experience hasn’t been resolved.

Use eMail Appropriately (internally)

Most of your communication is likely via email. Don’t make your team jump through hoops to capture email conversations in the CRM. If you don’t have seamless integration with your email system, you are either using an antiquated email platform, or a soon-to-be-outdated CRM platform. Once you type the client or prospect’s name the system should link that email address to their CRM record.

Native Mobile Support

In today’s world, mobile apps may be more important than a desktop solution. If your team can’t access what they need from tablets and smartphones, then you’ve made a bad investment. When the customer calls while you are on the road, you should have fast access to the entire history of their account.

Effective Follow-up and Automation

The greatest value in an effective CRM platform from a sales perspective is the ability to remind sales reps to follow-up with opportunities at the right time. The largest benefit from a marketing perspective is to automate drip campaigns, advertising, social media, and other types of outreach. The most significant benefit to the accounting folks is being able to rapidly (often in real time) track the sales history of a client, including revenue, payments, etc.

Keep Your Eyes Open

When you read about the projected benefits of nearly any CRM, you’re likely to say, “hey, we need to get this type of solution on board right now!” Slow down. Don’t forget the fundamentals of the sales process: filling a need with a desired product at a profit.

A CRM can help you manage inventory, but you still need to know how much and when to order. Are you trying to achieve “just in time” inventory management, or do you want to maintain certain longer term levels? Those are not decisions a CRM should be making.

Don’t buy into products or features that you may not realize a benefit from. If you sell five products to two types of retailers, a complex CRM will make your cost of sales go up, not down.

And, returning to my broken record repetitive comment: If you cannot ensure that your entire team will use the system – and use it appropriately, the project will never be successful. Don’t force sales people to become administrators. That means you may need to add people to the mix.

If you’re working with a third party solution, investigate every type of cost that might be involved. Many CRM solutions offer a “per seat” monthly cost. Often, they don’t mention “hidden” costs, including but not limited to transaction fees, bandwidth fees, support and training expenses, etc.

A CRM can be a huge benefit to a company that actually needs to develop metrics based on the information gathered. Understanding that need and when to execute is the key to success for anyone interesting in adding a CRM to their organization’s operations.


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