A CRM or customer relationship manager is an essential tool for all business owners. the resin for this is that the most value asset of any business is the data that it holds on both their customers and their prospects. This information can help drive sales and retention of customers which is the lifeblood of a small business. The way in which you organise this information so that it can be used in a practical sense can be the difference between gaining a new customer or not as well as loosing a customer to a competitor. Although all the information can be stored in spreadsheets, there are many tools out there that can make your life a lot simpler to get the most out of the information that you have
Hot Tip - Go With A Cloud Based Solution
There are two options available with respect to CRM software.
The first is a hard install into your computer or network which is typically the type of software that most of us are accustomed to. The issue with this type of installation is that your business becomes responsible for the backup and maintenance of the database which can involve hiring expensive IT support or contractors to protect your data against theft, viruses and crashes.
The second option that is available to you is the direction that most newly developed software is going which is delivery via the cloud. This might sound a little futuristic to some but all this basically means is that your data is hosted on a secure server and accessed through the internet, very similar to the way that you do internet banking. The benefits of opting for this model are as follows:
1) There is no requirement for a large up front payment for the software - normally you pay a monthly subscription which can be easier to budget for. This makes it realistic and feasible for small businesses to access cutting edge technologies that were traditionally only available to large organizations.
2) Cloud solutions are scalable - You will only be required to pay for what you use meaning that the amount if subscriptions that you use can grow as your business grows. With hard install solutions you usually are required to make and up front commitment as to the number of users you will have and the pricing reflects this.
3) Updates are in real time - Any software package that you consider for your business should release regular updates which provide new features and functionality as well as bug fixes. With traditional software you were required to install the new version on your server as well as each PC that was using the software which is time consuming and costly. With cloud based software, each time you log in you are automatically using the latest version of the software without you being required to do anything.
4) Accessible from any device - you will no longer have to be glued to your desktop computer in order to access your information as access is through a web browser you can login from any computer anywhere in the world. This also means that applications have been developed for popular systems such as iTunes and android which can be accessed using your smartphone and tablet which is great for updating notes during and immediately after your meetings and phone calls.
5) Third party applications - with a cloud based CRM or any software for that matter, there is normally functionality that is missing which would be perfection for your businesses specific requirements. The reason for this is that the software has been developed with a broad market application in mind, not for your specific niche. The good news is that cloud based software allows for third party developers to build plugins which work together with the software created by the CRM vendor to bridges those gaps. Many vendors in fact have a marketplace where you can likely find the functionality extension that you are looking for. If this sounds confusing to you, consider the iPhone and the App Store. There are many applications that you can purchase to extend the functionality if your iphone that Apple did not think of or intend. This is the same principal with cloud based software
So Which Cloud Based CRM Do I Recommend?
Having been involved with small business CRM's for a long time naturally I have used a few of them to try and find the one that is the best fit for my requirements. Currently I am using Salesforce which has proven to be the most functional, simple and flexible platform that I have tried. There is a test user forum there that has provided me with valuable information to help customise the application to suit my requirements and I use some of the third party applications on a daily basis. One example is Geopointe which plots all of the contacts in my database on a map within a distance radius of my current location which has really changed and simplified the way in which I go about my business.
What CRM systems do you use for your business? Why did you choose that one?