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Thursday, 26 February 2009

What can CRM do for my business?

by Derek Curtis of Bond Solutions

As someone who’s been involved in customer relationship management for a good few years now, the main questions I am asked by Financial Directors are “What can it do for my business?” and “How do I implement it with the least amount of fuss and without breaking the bank?”

It seems that everyone knows that keeping healthy relationships with customers and clients is imperative, but not many are too savvy on the best way to go about it. What is a common misconception is that CRM is a sales & marketing tool, if used correctly it is a Business management tool and can provide some precious information on the future shape of the business.
So, how can we look after our most important assets – the customers who ensure we stick around during this tough economic climate – while remaining cost effective, and more crucially, not targeting the wrong people.

These are my top 10 tips on how to make your CRM work for you:

Plan your implementation. You wouldn’t set off on a long journey in the car without knowing you had fuel in the car and it has oil, the tyres are inflated and most importantly where you are going. Similarly you should not set off on an important software implementation without knowing where you are going and what you are going to need to get there, hardware, people, connectivity etc. It’s a fact that starting off with the end goal in mind does pay dividends. So make sure you have defined your KPI’s you need from the system and monitor them.

People & Processes. All too often people think that CRM is about technology, the reality is nothing could be further from the truth as it is people who will make it work but the same people will hide behind the technology when things are not going so well! Correctly implemented CRM technology should make their job easier but take care that they are not bogged down by over complicated processes which the technology will only exaggerate. Keep it simple and make the technology work around their daily processes and it will be accepted by good people.

Financing. Explore the options available to you to finance the system. Clearly you will want to gain Return on Investment as soon as possible so consider leasing the software and services you are going to need from the vendor. Perhaps there is a rental model available which suits your business, known as Software as a Service (SaaS), whilst this does not suit everyone it may suit your own business model.

Choose your Vendor carefully. A common misconception is to build a bespoke system from scratch. However the larger vendors now have over 20 years experience in building and developing CRM systems, so use that experience. In most cases it will be possible to customise their systems to varying degrees so you can still bespoke the part of the system that you need to. There really is no need to re-invent the wheel. Pick a vendor with a track record and where CRM is a key focus of their business, not “something they also do”.

Choose your partner carefully. It is rare that companies have the in house skills to implement a CRM system themselves and at some stage will need outside help from an expert. That help may just be around training or may include full implementation assistance. This has a cost which can typically be 2 or even 3 times the cost of the software so you need to make sure you are working with a reliable partner who takes the time to understand your requirements. Ask for references, look at their past history, don’t just look at sales awards, that just means they have sold a lot of software but how many of their customers are loyal and satisfied?

Close the loop. For a full experience consider closing the loop and going for a full system where the CRM system integrates with the Finance system so that you have one view of your customer. Typically any business will have enquiries which turn in to quotes which hopefully turn into orders which are then fulfilled and invoiced and the money is collected. A system which can manage that process will pay dividends.

Fact – it's much easier to sell to existing customers than find new ones. They trusted to buy from you before so, in theory, should again. If you have a database of previous customers, it makes sense that sending a message to them about new services or products or additional products, has the potential to deliver some great sales. The key is in getting that message out as simply and as cost effectively as possible.

Build your database to your advantage. One of the key benefits of a CRM system is that it holds data on your existing customers. You would expect any basic CRM system to hold at least name, address and email, but where a good CRM system comes into its own is by holding information bespoke to your company. For instance, type of product bought, version number bought, type of product not bought. In this example it would consequently be easy to find the customer who had bought “product x, version number xx”. However, perhaps more importantly, it would be possible to find all the customers who had bought “product x” but not “product y”, or all the customers who had bought “product x, version xx” and now should upgrade to “product x, version xxx”. So give some thought to the structure of your database to make segmenting it easier in the future.

Make sure it's kept up-to-date. Don’t make it the responsibility of one person to keep it up-to-date – it's everyone's responsibility. So many times when speaking to companies I hear: “Our database person has not updated the database yet”. Your CRM system should be easy to update and everyone should be encouraged to update it, even incentivised to do so. Your database is probably your most valuable asset and why shouldn’t your employees be encouraged to look after it.

Use your CRM system to send out newsletters or regular messages. It's important that your customers know you are still there and sending out regular messages will help to self cleanse the data in your database. You will be surprised how many responses you get, give it a try!

Derek Curtis is Chief Executive of Bond Solutions, specialising in CRM and business systems and an FC Procurement supplier.

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