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Losing track of your customers? A simple guide to CRM software

Updated on February 19, 2015
CRM for Small Business
CRM for Small Business | Source

Manage your customers with good CRM software

If you want to create a long term, sustainable business, then building mutually beneficial, trusting relationships with your customers is essential. Whatever your products or services, tracking your interactions with your audience is central to growing in a sustainable way.

One of the areas that can really help out with this is Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. These applications are designed to allow you to manage, understand and use information to improve the ways your small business works with your customers.

CRM isn’t just for your clients though. It can help you track work, manage relationships with suppliers and partners and help your marketing perform.

This article provides an overview of CRM including:

  • What is CRM software?
  • Key features of CRM software – Customer contact, sales and conversions, financial and work management, marketing, advertising, brand and reputation
  • How do the elements of CRM fit together?
  • Where can you find CRM software?

You and your small business will benefit through:

  • Getting an overview of CRM
  • Learning about the key features of CRM software and how they can help you
  • Building and maintaining great relationships with your customers

Good CRM can significantly improve customer loyalty and trust in your business
Good CRM can significantly improve customer loyalty and trust in your business | Source

What is Customer Relationship Management software?

CRM software is designed to help you understand, track and manage your interactions with new, existing and potential customers and clients. It can help you find and win new clients, assist you in retaining your existing clients and support your marketing and service efforts. CRM software will provide insight into many aspects of your relationships with your customers, partners and suppliers.

There are several areas where CRM software can help your small business:

  • Customer contact
  • Sales and conversions
  • Financial and work management
  • Marketing, advertising and brand
  • Reputation and social media

How CRM software can help your small business
How CRM software can help your small business | Source

Key features of CRM software – Customer contact

One of the main ways that CRM software can assist you is in keeping information on all of your customers and contacts in one place, including:

  • Contact management
  • History
  • Research
  • Accounts and activities

Contact management - Gathering information on your customers

Good contact management means that you can capture and track all of the various ways to get in touch with your clients. In addition to standard areas like address, email and phone numbers, many CRM solutions can also integrate with social media, so you can contact and support your clients through Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and the like.

History - Interactions between your business and your clients

It's important to track, understand and analyse all of the different ways that you and your client have communicated with one another. A good 'History' function will capture how your business has approached youir client and vice versa, through letter, phone call, email, social media and more.

Research - Learn about your client's online profiles

Some CRM solutions integrate directly with social media networking sites. This means that you can get publicly available, background information on your clients (e.g. from Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn) so that you can tailor your products and services to their needs.

Accounts - Proposed activities and more

You can see all of the activity relating to a client or prospect in one place including marketing, proposals and more. This allows you to easily plan and tailor approaches to clients or groups of clients and helps you in your marketing, advertising and outreach efforts.

Key features of CRM software – Sales and conversions

It's very useful to be able to understand, track and plan exactly where you are in the sales and marketing process with individuals and groups of customers including:

  • Sales process
  • Leads
  • Appointments

Sales process - Managing all the different stages of the sale

The modern sales process often has many elements - Initial contact, proposal, relationship building, testing and signing. CRM software can help you track and understand exactly where you are in the sales process with each client or lead and let you know what you need to do next.

Leads - Tracking and understanding the best ways to convert

For any business, turning leads into paying customers is vital! With this functionality you can track your lead generation techniques and analyse which approaches and techniques best convert leads into sales.

Appointments - Make sure you meet your commitments and schedules with your clients

It's vital to manage your diary well to make sure you meet your commitments to your customers. Appointment and scheduling functions make sure that you can effectively plan and agree appointment times and meetings with clients.

Forecast your likely future work, cashflow and resource needs with decent CRM software
Forecast your likely future work, cashflow and resource needs with decent CRM software | Source

Key features of CRM software – Financial and work management

CRM software isn't just about managing clients, it can also help you to manage and plan the work itself in areas like:

  • Pipeline, forecasting and resourcing
  • Project progress and costing
  • Scheduling and planning
  • Analytics and reporting

Pipeline, forecasting and resourcing

CRM isn't just about managing what's happening now, it should also allow you to look ahead and understand how you can prepare for the future. You can make predictions of potential future work (and related income), forecast demand and possibly cashflow and ensure that you've got the resources and people in place to provide service to your customers.

Projects, progress and costing

If your business provides services that are billed on a time / materials basis, it's vital to track how much time you're spending on work for a specific client so that you can bill them fairly and easily. Many CRM solutions have project tracking built in so that you can charge time and recharge materials and other expenses to your clients appropriately.

Scheduling and planning

When you know what is coming down the pipeline, you can schedule in people to provide services and support so that you can meet all of your commitments.

Analytics and reporting

Information and analysis is one of the most powerful tools we have for making good business decisions. Effective CRM will allow you to export, report on, analyse and understand all kinds of data and management information, helping you to refine, test and tweak your approaches to maximise conversions and sales. Good reporting can also help with workload, marketing, planning and more.

CRM software can help you track all of the ways that you can reach your customers
CRM software can help you track all of the ways that you can reach your customers | Source

Key features of CRM software – Marketing, advertising, brand and reputation

CRM applications can also touch other areas of your business such as:

  • Reputation
  • Marketing
  • Promotions and prospects

Reputation - Building trust in your business

Business reputation is essential to building trust in your business. CRM software can help by ensuring you follow up with existing and new clients and that you resolve issues and problems quickly.

Marketing - Tracking and tweaking your marketing efforts

Marketing and advertising are often significant parts of our budget and spending. CRM can help you be certain that you're getting a good return on investment by understanding how effective your marketing and advertising efforts are at bringing in new customers. You can then refine your campaigns accordingly.

Promotions and Prospects - Maximising the effectiveness of your promotions

You can measure how well promotional offers and other special approaches are at capturing leads and converting into sales. You can also see where your prospects are coming from and learn the effectiveness of your marketing and advertising channels.

Key features of CRM software – Social Media

Businesses have never as accountable and open to feedback as they are now; that's why many popular CRM solutions often include customer service and social media functions:

  • Customer service and support
  • Social media integration

Customer service and support

Some CRM applications will allow you to record and respond to specific client issues, problems or complaints and get them resolved quickly. This means that you can track any impact on a particular customer and also understand the history, issues and problems they may have faced.

Social media integration

Social media is an essential part of how almost all businesses are seen. You can track when your business is mentioned on social media networks and learn what your customers are talking about on Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter and the like.

This means that you can act quickly to answer questions, provide support or deal with issues in an effective way, further helping to build your business reputation and trust.

How customer relationships are altered by Social CRM

Traditional (Old way)
Social CRM (New way)
Business area
Specific people dealt with customers
Anyone can be contacted by and deal with customers
The business said how and when it would deal with customers
The customer now defines how and when they can be dealt with
Defined channels, normally letter and phone call
Many more channels, especially social media (Twitter, Facebook etc.)
Business Hours
Customers dealt with only during normal business hours
The customer decides when and how they interact
Predefined 'transactions' with the customer
The customer decides how they want to interact with your business
The relationship was Inside > Outside the business
The relationship is Outside > Inside the business

A brief introduction to CRM

A novice's introduction to business CRM
A novice's introduction to business CRM | Source

Video - Small Businesses and How They Can Use CRM

A Quick Quiz on Customer Relationship Management

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Customer Relationship Management software (local install)

CRM software that you can install and use on your PC.

  • Hipergate CRM (Free) – Hipergate is a highly modular CRM system. Features include customer service, bug tracking, project management, sales automation, content management, webmail, email marketing, intranet, social networks integration, file sharing, forums, calendar and eCommerce integration
  • CentraView CRM (Free) – A business management and CRM solution, features contact management, collaboration, project management, calendaring and more

Customer Relationship Management software (web based)

CRM software that runs in the cloud, through your web browser.

  • (Free) – Web-based CRM featuring people and organization management, activities, notes, sales leads, opportunities, quotas and more
  • Zoho CRM (Free) – Another online solution from the Zoho stable, their free CRM version features leads, accounts, contact management, opportunities, social integration, reports, dashboards and webforms
  • Base CRM (Paid) - Base bills itself as 'software built for people'
  • High-rise (Paid) - A simple CRM system from 37 Signals, the business behind the popular Basecamp app
  • Capsule (Paid) - Simple, effective and flexible online CRM system that integrates with Google Apps
  • Salesforce (Paid) - The most fully featured and integrated of all cloud based CRM apps, Salesforce is a market leader

Remember that if you’re capturing and recording customer data, you should have a publicly accessible privacy policy on your website. This means that new and existing clients can see exactly how you will treat their personal data.

Do you have any advice or tips on how you've used CRM software successfully in your small business? If so, please let us know in the comments.

If you found this article useful, interesting or informative, please do check out my other guides for small business owners here.

Other articles I’ve written that you might be interested in


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