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.
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.
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.
- Leverage your CRM to its full potential
- 10 ways tech can boost sales for SMBs
- The SMB technology renaissance
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.