One of the most important elements in the success of any business is making and nurturing contacts. Lasting relationships, whether personal or professional, require consistent communication. Communication takes time, and in the past, if you had a lot of friends, some were bound to occasionally feel neglected after not having received a phone call, card or letter during traditional holidays.
Social media has proved to be a great tool for helping people maintain long-term friendships over time and distance. A single occasional update on Facebook enables you to reach all your friends simultaneously, and a single click of a mouse on the like button can let someone know you’re thinking of them.
In the professional world, business success requires a far larger number of contacts than it would be possible to maintain without the help of modern technology. Customer Relations Management (CRM) software was developed for just that reason. Every business that offers products and services has a need to continually expand their contact base, without neglecting their valued regular customers.
CRM software is designed to do just that, and much more. Through the magic of analytics and automation, you can maintain value-added contact with your customers. Let’s take a closer look at what we mean by analytics and automation. With CRM you can:
- Gather a wealth of information at every customer touch point, including when they visited your website, what platform they used during their visit, browsing history, information requested, questions asked, purchase history, and of course their personal details;
- Store the data for ease of analysis;
- Deliver usable data that will assist you in contacting your prospects and customers at the right time with the right information, incentives, and offers.
CRM doesn’t produce cookie-cutter results; you need to evaluate the data that you gathered about your audience to personalize your approach.
Why you need CRM
Almost everyone, before investing in CRM software, asks something like: “Is this gathering, storing, and delivering of actionable information really going to make a difference for my business?” Data gathered from adding and implementing CRM software often proves to be a fantastic investment. According to Storyteller Media and Communications:
- ROI of CRM is more than $5 per $1 spent
- 75% of sales managers queried said that CRM software increased sales
- Potential sales growth by up to 35%
- Boost in short term sales by more than 40%
CRM offers fantastic ROI and in my experience, most sales managers who use CRM software would recommend it. Many businesses haven’t fully implemented a CRM program because they don’t know how to use the aggregated data or don’t have a sales team confident with utilizing the data.
Kathy Heil once said “One of the biggest challenges across sales and marketing organizations is that 99% of sales managers don’t know the amount of work a CRM takes, and don’t know how to really use one to leverage more sales.”
CRM isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. Any CRM platform you purchase will take you some time to get your head around it, though many are very easy to get yourself familiar with in order to drive results. For example:
Bill Gates once said “How you gather, manage, and use information will determine whether you win or lose.” Here’s another gem from the co-founder of Microsoft: “Information flow is your lifeblood.” And another: “The most meaningful way to differentiate your company from your competition, the best way to put distance between you and the crowd, is to do an outstanding job with information.”
Anyone tasked with implementing, training or using CRM tools needs to remember, the potential gains are too big to ignore. You may ask, when is the best time to implement a robust CRM strategy? I’d say three years ago. Now you may ask, when is the second-best time? I’d say, right now!
Basic characteristics of CRM
With so many options available, choosing the best CRM software for your business can be daunting. There are a few basic features, characteristic and capabilities that experts agree as essential for all types of businesses:
- Ease of use
- Remote and mobile access
- Multichannel support
- Integrated analytics
- List, data, and campaign management
- Lead generation and tracking
- Flexibility and customization
Industry specific software solutions
While many of the biggest names in CRM software provide all of these features, they often cost much more than programs offered by less-known companies. The initial cost of the software often isn’t the only factor during the purchasing decision making process. The time it takes to customize “one-size-fits-all” software can be equally expensive, and a contributing factor during the decision making process.
That’s one reason for many businesses to choose software designed specifically for their particular industry, usually by someone with extensive experience in that industry. Such choice provides yet another advantage, for example, employees are able to adapt faster to a system that uses the terminologies and processes which they are already familiar with.
Different professions utilize different features of particular software to achieve maximum efficiency. For example, non-profit organizations have a different financial structure due to their funding streams and tax status. The ability to easily apply for grants, keep track of and organize donation, members, volunteer lists and capture information from visitors is key to their success.
Real estate professionals require tools that allow them to track client and agency information as well as state and national housing trends. They also need to be able to analyze sales cycles, generate reports, manage projects and create action plans. For this purpose, special CRM software was designed for real estate professionals with features that allow them to automate certain processes.
Thereby, the CRM software is freeing up more time for agents to focus on providing superior personal service to their clients. As time goes on, more and more custom CRM software packages are developed to meet the industry specific needs, instead of old approach of “one size fits all”.
Superior customer service
CRM software makes it possible to automate regular, consistent contact with your customers. Customers love nothing more than feeling personally valued while being offered financial value. Sending them information about new products that they may like, based on their previous purchasing history, is a great way to create brand loyalty and earn positive reviews that can attract new customers. News about upcoming sales events is usually welcome, too.
One mistake that some businesses sometimes make after purchasing CRM software is communicating with their end customers far too often; as opposed to timely and relevant communications. Business experts advise, two communications per month is an ideal number to remain connected without risking alienating your customers. Rising sales figures would confirm “consistent communication with added value” is what customers appreciate the most.
Internal organization and security
CRM software is ideal for improving communication with customers in different ways, including user forums and live-chat windows. It also improves communication and collaboration between departments and individuals within your organization. Data can be shared between sales, engineering, manufacturing and customer service departments with ease.
Having access to all relevant data enables your teams to coordinate and execute their actions more effectively whilst avoiding unnecessary duplication. For example, the sales team can utilize information gathered by the customer service team to offer more personalized products and services.
While the improved ability to share data between departments has many advantages, it’s important to remember that the security of customer data should never be compromised. That data represents the level of trust your business has earned. If time equals money, then trust equals opportunities, because without trust, there is no business transactions. That’s why it’s vital to take the necessary steps to ensure your customer data is safe upon implementing your CRM software system.
The best CRM software will allow you to define access control for every user and it won’t generate an audit trail when changes are made. There are several types of security strategies but let’s explore one here:
Security clearance: access to sensitive data can be granted according to the role of individuals within an organization. For companies that choose that strategy, it’s important to track staff changes and adjust security settings during company reorganizations.
According to Frank Eliason, the Director of Global Social Media for Citigroup, not everyone in an organization should have access to customer data. He recommends that demographic data should remain anonymous. Companies should give their employees strict access to customer data, enough to do their jobs effectively.
CRM software, once a luxury only available to big businesses, is now levelling the playing field for every business. There are a number of articles available describing the best practices for using CRM and how different companies can make the most of it to create more opportunities for their business.
Now Over To You
What do you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts, so please use the comment section below to share your view.