Do we need a way to track our current, past, and potential customers? That depends... how long do you want to stay in business? I was once hired as a consultant to lead a project for an organization that had three separate - but related - businesses under one umbrella that were utilizing three separate home-grown customer relationship management (CRM) systems and none of the three were serving their businesses very well… they knew they were losing customers and missing contacts. My job was to figure out what was working for each business, what wasn’t, and what was really important to each of them. Then find common ground and implement one off-the-shelf, but customizable, CRM solution that meet most of the needs of each business…but in the end they would all be using the same solution.
Most small businesses don’t need this level of detail. It would be overkill and a budget breaker. But do you need something? Oh yes. Right now for me, as an independent consultant, it’s mostly something I track using emails sorted into folders. And yes, it’s sort of driving me crazy so I don’t recommend it. I’m in the process of changing how I manage my customer relations so I definitely have some current thoughts on the issue.
CRM by definition
To establish sort of a baseline definition of what we’re talking about in terms of CRM, let’s look at what Wikipedia has to say about it. Wikipedia defines CRM as this:
“CRM is a widely implemented model for managing a company’s interactions with customers, clients, and sales prospects. It involves using technology to organize, automate, and synchronize business processes - principally sales activities, but also those for marketing, customer service, and technical support. The overall goals are to find, attract, and win new clients; nurture and retain those the company already has; entice former clients back into the fold; and reduce the costs of marketing and client service.”
Critical CRM info and needs
Some critical fields you need in a CRM for your small business are these:
- parent company
- primary contact
- secondary contact
- email addresses
- contact dates
Some critical functionality that will be helpful to your business as you use your CRM to track your current and potential clients and customers:
- dashboard reporting view
- customizable fields
- ability to add fields
- standard reporting out of the box
- ability to create custom reports
- ability to initiate contact with clients from within the CRM (will initiate emails and skype contact from within the CRM software)
You can start with a product or you can do as I am doing and start by building what you think you need into something like an Excel spreadsheet or an Access database. If you want to proceed with a product, then I suggest that we once again refer to Wikipedia as a first place to search. As it often does with other similar software solutions like project management software and task management software – Wikipedia has included a nice comparison chart of several leading CRM systems. It is located here. This list is far from all-inclusive, but it will get you started in the search for the right match for your needs. Most offer a free 30-day trial and some are even free, so give it a try and see if one works for you.
The bottom line is you could search and search forever and never find an exact match to what you want. I suggest you do as I did: begin by writing down the key information you would like a CRM system to capture for you and possibly even begin to build what you think you need into a spreadsheet. But do something because if you wait till you know for sure what you need 100%, you may have already missed some key opportunities with some potential clients that you’ll never get back. You could wait forever for perfection and never get there…so do something now.