Tools of the trade: CRM Systems

Last time I offered up a number of New Year’s resolutions for your consideration.  One more that I should have added was to get organized and automated.  This week let’s start talk about tools which can help you do that.

At the heart of any good marketing and sales team is a central repository for prospects, leads and customers, typically called a CRM system (for “ Customer Relationship Management”, but “CSM”, “Customer Success Management” has started to emerge as well.  For our purposes today, consider them the same).  Depending on the complexity or scale of your business, these systems can be accessed online, require very little maintenance, and maintain your data safely.  While many companies try a DIY approach to maintaining such a database, I strongly—very strongly—urge you to use any of the dozens of tools built for this purpose.

On the low end of the complexity and cost scale are tools like Zoho, Nimble and Zyprr.  Costs are low per user, and all provide various levels of prospect, lead and customer information management.  Look for easy importing of existing data (usually done with a .CSV file, a standard spreadsheet export format) and exporting back (for email or other marketing campaigns and so you can change systems without reentering data).  Even inexpensive CRM tools will typically offer the ability to indicate the status of a lead or prospect in the sales cycle and record important interactions with them.  You’ll also be able to create reports and check on status.  At least as important will be the ability to aggregate the potential revenue from these prospects at each step in the sales cycle.  (Remember my frequent reminder to measure, read and react?)

At the higher end of the spectrum there is also a wide range of choices, but in this category there is a mix of cloud-based and on-premise (installed on your computer at your facility) software.  For most purposes I am a strong proponent of keeping it simple and accessing data over the internet.  It’s safe, you have more flexibility to access your information wherever you are, and you don’t have to worry about your system getting obsolete.  As with smaller systems there are many choices, ranging from the near-ubiquitous to SugarCRM, to Microsoft NetSuite and many others of similar ilk.  Costs are typically higher, but functionality and flexibility are typically also much greater.  Things like creating a customized “workflow” (a step by step process you may want your sales and marketing people to follow) which maintains uniformity of process, building dashboards and complex reports, integration with other software systems like accounting or customer support systems are common and desirable.

Also at the higher end you’ll find a rich ecosystem of add-on tools to enhance the experience.  Data cleansing is a key tool I recommend often for business to business use.  This is a tool which looks at the information in a current prospect or customer record, compares it with a broad database of the latest information about that person, his/her email, phone, job title, etc. and updates your data with the latest.  There are many others that offer marketing automation, statistical analysis, enhanced reporting, and lots more.  You can build out a very sophisticated tool set if the need is there.

Across both categories, some of these CRM tools will have mobile applications to allow for broader access to your information, and because they are typically cloud-based (accessed through the internet) so-called TCO (total cost of ownership) is low.  There are differences in functionality across the many CRMs, so I always recommend a trial run first with a set of data you put together before committing.  Something  to look out for is the amount of data storage you get with your subscription.  Since most of us aren’t computer geeks, offering  X gigabytes of storage without context doesn’t help much.  Try sorting out your phone’s data plan, right?  Many providers will give you a rough equivalency of customer records to storage size, but if they don’t, ping their customer support line. For many you can click the “live chat” button and get your questions answered.  This is a good way to test their help too.  Some can be absolutely maddening.  Others are terrific.  At least you’ll know before you commit.

Regardless of your needs, complex or basic, good marketing and sales begins with good information, and if you don’t yet have a CRM system in place you’re at a disadvantage.

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