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Now’s the time to connect with past customers

CRM isn’t just about database software. Customer relationship management is a key business practice that should be ingrained in your processes and your staff.

Times are tough for small businesses right now. The stats show more are going under each month and redundancies are being made in businesses big and small.  When business owners and management are under stress, the temptation is to bury one’s head in the sand or pedal faster rather than smarter.

But think again. How about utilising some good old fashioned CRM (customer relationship management) strategies to get things back on course? You may be surprised at how reaching out to old friends who have done business with you before, may be prepared to help you now.  So I suggest it’s time to reconnect with all those customers who haven’t heard from you for a while.

So what is CRM?

Customer relationship management is the management of all your data, relationships, interactions and communications with those you communicate with on a daily basis. The best CRM systemsare fully integrated into your business and make communication easy.

The system should hold the details of everyone who is important to your business – your customers, prospects, suppliers, media, influencers, potential, past and current employees. An effective CRM system can track sales, provide personal details on each contact and even help you manage events, sales promotions, campaigns and newsletters; everything involved in communicating with your customers.

CRM systems have evolved over time from simply being a database of customer contact details, to having a focus on relationships. The technology is evolving to support interactions and not just provide facts about them. It can integrate the sales, marketing and customer service functions of your business into one, accessible function.

Your database is king – CRM should rule

Your database of past customers remains one of the single most important assets in your business.  Knowing this, it is surprising how few businesses have a process that maximises and manages client relationships effectively.

With the emergence of social media tools, we have new ways of communicating with our target audiences. While we can tweet and blog and interact, LinkedIn remains the most direct database function for business. But what about traditional CRM solutions?

When I started out in my profession, my boss had a rolodex. Remember the Filofax? Laugh you may but I would hazard a guess that those old fashioned ways of communication were sometimes better managed than some of our sophisticated computerised solutions today.

The fact is today there are no excuses for poor database management – except perhaps for lack of discipline and human tardiness.

Discipline your business around CRM

While I was discussing with my CRM provider the other day the hours spent on database maintenance, he told me there is simply no other way with any CRM system on the market, than to discipline the human beings that use CRM. Across sales, customer service, production and accounts, individuals should be required to continually ensure the customer database is updated.

So essentially CRM is about people, not systems. To be effective, you need to choose a CRM system that is user-friendly and suited to your company culture.

Take some time out to invest in implementing and managing an automated system that helps you communicate with your customers, build relationships with them, ask for referrals and grow your business.

Choosing the right CRM solution

As business owners, our time is often our most precious commodity. So what do you need to ask to review your CRM strategy?

Marc Englaro, co-founder of InsightfulCRM, which consults on and distributes the CRM solution SugarCRM, suggests: “Small business owners often don’t have the time or discipline to think about their CRM strategy. Which means that many, if not most, businesses are not maximising their CRM investment. It’s a challenging exercise to define a really good CRM vision for a business so that it includes the context of the customer’s experience and defines the outcomes desired, before commencing work with implementing the chosen CRM system.”

What next?

A mistake many organisations make with CRM is they jump on the CRM bandwagon without thinking about what their needs are without first determining how CRM software can help them. The reason why some CRM strategies fail will, more often than not, come down to your employees and their resistance to change. You can combat this by including them in the implementation process.

Many online web-based CRM systems can be used within minutes of buying them over the net, but this method often possesses problems with implementation, particularly with no consultation, training and support.  So work with a supplier who can offer training and consultation, not just the software.

Why is CRM important?

Customer relationship management is our bread and butter. If our businesses closed tomorrow, with our databases safe and accurate, we could re-start engaging with those that know and trust us.

A truly successful, integrated CRM solution requires a constantly evolving strategy and attention at senior management level. The relationship with customers and the manner in which you engage with them is unlikely to remain static over a long period of time. It needs to constantly shift along with changes in the market and your own strategic direction.

Today, CRM is the key to succeeding in the current market, where focus on building relationships with your contacts is more important than ever.

CRM Top Tips

  1. Have a view of your business’s CRM strategy. What sort of relationship do you want with your clients?
  2. Think about this from the customer’s perspective. How will they perceive your organisation?
  3. Think about redesigning processes so your business lines up behind your CRM strategy.
  4. Work out what your information strategy is. What information do you need to provide quality service, and where will you get it?
  5. Think about where your customer data is kept, and what information systems need to interact.
  6. Define a plan to move from your current state to a future state, in small, manageable stages.
  7. Work with a specialist firm who can help you set the objectives, and help deliver both the organisational change and the technology.
  8. Work out the potential business benefits of each stage of your project, so you can compare that the cost.
  9. Consider that your industry and business may change in the future, and maintain flexibility to adapt.
  10. Start with a team brainstorm to decide what you need to get out of your CRM system – for example, do you want just a phonebook, event management support or to drive better relationships with clients.



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