Software that really does make your life easier!

I took a phone call last week from someone who I remembered had advertised with me previously, but it was a long time ago. Tapping her name into my PC as we spoke, I was immediately able to see all her details; ad size, which magazines she had run in, notes re calls and artwork and most crucially a complete thread of all our email conversations.

The software that enabled me to do this is a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system.

CRM is one of those acronyms that nobody really understands. Often it is seen as being software for “big” business” and descriptions of what it can do are tied up in corporate speak with complex explanations about data analysis, customer management, sales forecasting etc.

But if you cut through all that there are lots of companies that provide CRM software specifically for small business and these systems can really help us run our businesses more easily.

For me one of the biggest pain points in my business – pre-CRM – was being able to reliably find all the emails that related to a particular customer. Yes, I realise that sounds like such a small detail – but it is always these little things that give you the most grief.

Now, whenever I send an email, I bcc my private CRM email address and it automatically gets saved to that customer record in the software.

I cannot over emphasise how much that helped me – it took away so much hassle.

Moving on from that I now use much more of the functionality – I can tag customers by categories (e.g. which magazines they advertise in), produce lists, add notes and set up reminders to be sent to me when I need to update customers’ artwork.

… and of course, you can do all this and more if you have lots of prospective customers whose enquires you want to track, analyse and follow up.

CRM software is also extremely useful if you have a team of people or several offices as you can all see exactly what is happening with individual customers and record all interactions in one place.

For me it also means I can go on holiday and know that if I do need to deal with an enquiry, I can simply log in remotely and have all the info I need at hand.

BUT having all this functionality is, I believe, one of the main reasons why more small businesses don’t use CRM packages – it just looks far too complex and really quite overwhelming.

CRM software also appears very time consuming to understand and implement.

However, it doesn’t have to be so and it really is worth it, but you need to tackle it in stages and have realistic expectations.

So here are my tips on how to choose and implement a CRM system for those of us who live in the real world and from someone has been through the pain!

1.   Google “CRM for small business” and read all the review sites. (I would emphasise the need for the word “small” in this search)

2.   Never be tempted to use a “free of charge” system – you will need the support you get with paid options.

3.   Narrow it down to a few options and sign up for a free trial. Spend some time finding your way round the system and make sure the system you choose feels intuitive to you. (I had to change Accounts packages a few years ago when my original supplier changed their user interface and I could not get on with the updated version).

4.   Have realistic expectations, yes there is lots you can do with the system but that is in the future… for now you just want to get started and running.

5.   So, make sure you (and your team) really understand how to enter customer data – consistency is important for the future even in terms of the basics e.g. if you have a direct dial number for an individual that needs to be recorded against their name, not as the main office number on the organisation’s entry.

6.   Then you have a big decision to make – what data should you enter?

So, this may be controversial but I ignored all historical data – I didn’t have the time and it was not stored in a consistent format. I simply set up basic records for my current advertisers at that time – just inputting the absolute minimum data required to get the system running.

Then I started using it and every time I interacted with someone, I checked my CRM, adding their info if they were a new enquiry or updating / adding to their info if they were already listed.

7.   Be patient. Once everyone is using it and is comfortable entering data then you can start adding in other features and utilising the functionality. But to start with, focus on the basics and just let it run in the background for a while. If you build up the database steadily, as you go, soon you will find most people you are interacting with are on the system.

8.   Remember accuracy and especially consistency, is important. The usefulness of the analysis and reports that you might want to generate later are only as good as the data that was entered.

9.   Finally, when you do reach the point of wanting to use some of the more sophisticated analysis make you sure you really understand how to define the information you want and check the results carefully – you may find you need to be very precise in your specifications – yes, I know that from painful experience!

Seven years after I started using my CRM system my whole business revolves around it – I use tags, sort lists, can find everything related to each customer all in one place – which is still the best thing ever!

Do I use all the functionality? No, not at all. (Think washing machine with multiple functions where we only ever use a hot and warm wash).

But I could not run my business without it…

… and if you are interested, I use Capsule which I love, but you might not, but I am sure there is a system out there that you will.