Why your small business needs a CRM

In my last position, I spent weeks building out a perfectly customized CRM for a team of fifteen salespeople, complete with every automation and add-on imaginable. My work made it easier to do things like send rapid-fire follow-ups and track lead quality in real time, which made the entire marketing and sales process smoother, faster, and more effective.

To most run-of-the-mill businesses, a CRM buildout on this level may seem overly complicated, inaccessible, and maybe even unnecessary. But not only is this sophisticated technology within reach of every business, large and small, I would recommend it across the board to every B2B (and many B2C) businesses. This is probably why I have done CRM-related work in almost every company I’ve walked into, whether in my job description or not. It just seemed like a no-brainer to me.

Hold on, what is a CRM?

Customer relationship management (CRM) softwrae in its simplest form is a database of all of your lead and client information that tracks your communication with each contact, as well as their place in the sales funnel. Nowadays, CRMs come with many features above and beyond this, often automating some sales processes entirely and seamlessly integrating with all of your other databases.

And when I say everyone can benefit from having a CRM, I mean everyone. Yes, your team might be small. You might even be the only person making the calls and writing the emails. And yet I still recommend that you implement a CRM for the following reasons.

You can retain detailed client records for later.

Your hope might be that all of your clients proceed step-by-step through a linear sales funnel, with the same actions taking place at each step, and regular communication along the way. If this is the case, maybe you don’t need that CRM after all and a spreadsheet will suffice.

But in my experience, the journey is often anything but linear. Potential clients drop out of the pipeline halfway through, only to call you out-of-the-blue six months later. Your point of contact is suddenly replaced by someone else. You have multiple deals on the table at various stages with the same client. The possibilities are endless.

In these cases, it helps to have a central location to keep all of that information so you’re not rooting around in your email for that one message your client sent that had all of the important details in it, or scratch your head over which version of the proposal you last sent them. Most CRMs are organized so that each of your company records links to all of its related contacts, deals, emails, and files.

Of course, one huge caveat is that the detail of your records is only as rich as you make it. But never fear, many CRMs make the data collection step easy as well, from syncing up with your inbox and calendar automatically to providing tools that can create, link, and update multiple records at once.

It can grow with your team.

A related reason to keep detailed records of your past deals is that, if you’re lucky, one day you will pass on that work to someone else. So rather than forwarding emails, writing notes from memory, and transferring files for each client, your new salesperson will have everything they need in one place, and can build on that information in a way that makes management easier and more transparent.

CRMs are also helpful when it comes to transferring leads between salespeople in case one leaves or is out of the office for an extended period. Especially in cases where a salesperson leaves suddenly, it can be difficult to track down their records, and often their leads and clients go cold.

And it should go without saying that client interaction doesn’t end when the ink dries on the check. Your current clients can be your best sources of referrals and testimonials, and may also have lingering support questions. In all of these cases, it is easier for your sales, marketing, and customer service teams to have access to the same client database so they know the details of the entire customer life cycle.

You can gain insights that you can’t from staring at your emails.

Ah yes, data. It’s hard to function without it, and yet most businesses don’t keep enough of it or don’t store it properly. Now that you have all of the information about your clients in one place, patterns may start to emerge that you wouldn’t have noticed before.

Are most of your clients dropping out at a certain stage of the sales funnel? Is there an overwhelming reason cited for why deals were lost? Is there a magic frequency of follow-ups that produces the best response? Without a CRM, it’s difficult to answer these questions and thus optimize your sales process.

That said, data is a double-edged sword. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you can easily get overwhelmed by the wealth of information in your CRM and end up tracking nothing, or tracking everything and taking action on nothing. It may also mean you structure your records in a way that doesn’t allow for easy tabulation later (like hiding important information in notes, for example). Think hard about the ways in which you hope to improve your sales process in advance, and the knowledge will pay dividends later. And of course, I’m always here to help when you don’t know where to start.

It can be a real time-saver.

Perhaps one of the best uses of a CRM is to help a busy salesperson structure their day. The undisciplined salesperson may spend their whole day clearing their inbox, but that’s likely not where the highest payoff is. By prioritizing and grouping your deals by their value and stage, you can focus on those tasks that are truly the most important to your bottom line before doing anything else.

Most CRMs include basic time management features such as tasks and calendars, and often come with phone and desktop notifications, but some of the best come with automations that go a step further. Some of my favorites are those that send follow-up emails to clients who haven’t responded in a certain time period, or to the salesperson when a deal has gone cold. Others simply help save data-entry time, such as creating and linking a deal every time a company is created. Again, this aspect of your buildout requires careful consideration, and can be overdone.

It’s not that expensive, and in fact, often free.

Yes, that’s right. Many CRMs provide a free or open-source version for those businesses that only have 2-10 users in the hope that through the magic of data and automation, you can grow your business with the platform. Just google “free CRM” to find several lists of platforms to choose from.

When built out and managed properly, a CRM is a truly powerful tool. And these days, it’s a tool that everyone with an internet connection can access, so why not try it out?

Don’t know how to start building out your CRM? You can reach out to me for a thoughtful analysis and tailored recommendations based on your unique needs.

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