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10 things SMBs should look for in a CRM

CRM systems have traditionally been associated with big organizations, but a new breed of CRMs is aimed at smaller businesses. Here's a rundown of key features to look for.

Small and medium-size businesses are often at a competitive disadvantage next to the big guys, but never more so than in this hyper-connected age. While big businesses have the budgets to create or tailor CRM systems that track and manage customer interactions, SMBs typically struggle to find efficient, cost-effective ways to acquire and retain customers.

That's starting to change, though, with the rise of cloud computing and a number of CRMs designed specifically with SMBs in mind. Here are 10 things SMBs should look for in a CRM to get the greatest ROI.

1: On the cloud

When it comes to big businesses, we could argue all day about whether the cloud is beneficial. With big IT departments at their fingertips, they can maintain maximum security by continuing to store and manage data on their own servers. They can also develop customized CRMs without radically increasing their costs.

But SMBs don't have that luxury. Cloud-based CRMs are particularly useful for small businesses because they enable the outsourcing of development and management costs to the CRM provider (in a software as a service -- SaaS -- model), which takes responsibility for developing, managing, updating and maintaining the CRM externally.

2: Better email campaigns

It is not uncommon in SMBs to find employees answering individual emails one at a time. This creates an inbox bottleneck and increases response time. Any good CRM will enable more email efficiency, allowing for marketers, salespeople, and customer service representatives to better launch and track campaigns. In addition, all those email interactions will be stored and tracked inside the CRM (and not on each the mailbox of each individual), which increases control on the whole communication process with your prospects.

3: Connecting via social media

Social media presents great opportunities for small businesses to connect with their customers. It also presents a whole lot of headaches. A good CRM will help monitor the social media universe so that when customers start tweeting negative feedback about a product, their complaint can be quickly routed to the person in the business who can do something about it. Likewise, social media tools will also help companies identify and amplify praise, as well as any rich content they might be providing via articles and blog posts. Finding a CRM that aids a company in improving its content and conversations is essential.

4: Tracking and integrating customer data

Greater access to customer feedback means more information to track. Any good CRM will not just track and store customer data but it will also package information into easy-to-use, meaningful reports that illuminate how, when, and why customers are making purchasing decisions.

5: Enabling the sales pipeline

One of the most difficult things to track for small businesses is the progress of potential sales. Who's doing what, how far along they are, expenses, travel details, and so forth. Good CRMs track this data in real time, enabling the sales department to act quickly and accurately.

6: Evaluation tools

Data is just as valuable during the sale as it is afterward. Evaluation tools are an essential feature of a CRM system, enabling departments to run analyses and package information into easy-to-understand reports that can help them get out ahead of the pack the next time around.

7: Mobility

With more salespeople working on the go or remotely, it's important to be able to access CRMs from afar. This enables real-time tracking of tasks and sales and increased agility. A CRM that doesn't have good mobile features is out of synch with the way companies operate today and you shouldn't waste your money on it!

8: User interface

With a number of CRMs available on the market, SMBs should search for one with a user interface their employees can navigate intuitively. This will lessen the amount of time and money spent on training, and it will motivate employees to actually use the system. Look specifically for CRMs that centralize most tasks into user-friendly dashboards.

9: Customization

Different businesses have different demands. This means some SMBs will need to customize their CRM, which is often easier said than done. If you know your business is going to need to make a lot of tweaks, look for one that makes this process simple.

10: Vendor services

How much support does the CRM provider deliver? They will probably be there for technical errors and provide materials to train your employees on the new system -- but what about customization? Will they help you as part of the onboarding process or will you have to hire their services separately? Are there local service companies that can help you deploy the system and evolve it when your needs change? One thing is for sure: You always end up needing help deploying a CRM system. So find out who can help and how much will it cost before you make your decision.

Additional resources

About the author

Michel Ozzello is head of online marketing at OutSystems, which provides application development solutions for enterprises. For the past nine years, Michel has been working on creative ways to integrate marketing automation systems, CRMs, and custom-built applications to manage, track, and measure online marketing and sales activities globally.

6 comments
sipeki
sipeki

Without doubt I would recommend Google Apps users to check out Insightly. Really intuitive to use and does everything that a SMB needs, and not bogged down with features that are not required. Have rolled out to other organisations and they love it. Only issue I have is there is no print option to print out reports, or details in a printer friendly manner. http://insight.ly/

The0d0re
The0d0re

Concur. Technology, in many forms, has a great many acronyms. The writer has an obligation to be clear and explanatory. The usual convention is when using the acronym for the first time to write out the words, e.g. OBM (Office of Management and Budget).

TsarNikky
TsarNikky

This would have been a much better article with a wider audience if the "sin" of not defining SMB and CRM had not occurred. CRM=customer contact response software? SMB=small business? Thank you.

mozzello
mozzello

Thanks for pointing it out Tsarnikky. We use so many acronyms in our day-to-day that sometimes we forget that they might generate confusion or overlap between areas of expertise. In this case CRM=Customer Relationship Management (once also called Sales Force Automation) and SBM=Small and Medium Businesses (whose definition may vary a lot depending on the industry and territory. A US based SMB might be considered a mid-market company in some smaller countries). Thanks for pointing this out Cheers Michel