I plead guilty to enjoying a cold beer or two, and I’ve watched with amazement as the decade-long bull market in the craft beer industry shows no signs of abating.
For small businesses, using enterprise customer relationship management (CRM) is like trying to ride the Olympic mogul course at Sochi using a pair of skis designed for Yao Ming. Unless you’re 7’6”, those skis will not turn without a lot of effort. So you spend the run slamming into each mogul instead of turning your skis and absorbing the bumps.
While enterprise CRM providers try to water down their platforms into “SMB” versions, they essentially drop the prices without reducing the complexity and unwieldiness. And until recently, small-business CRMs were glorified rolodexes. SMBs had to handle pipeline management, project tracking and support ticketing with different software.
So, small business CRM systems are finally unifying all these features into single, collaborative platforms. The best now offer a productivity ecosystem meant to be used as intensely as an email client. In small businesses where time, money and people are limited, running 360 degrees of customer interaction from a single interface makes a lot of sense.
However, the existence of such software doesn’t guarantee success. SMBs still have to know how to ride a CRM system to victory, and many organizations have not figured out how. As the CRM marketing firm Merkle Group Inc. found in a survey of 352 US executives at $1+ billion US-based organizations, 63 percent of CRM initiatives “fail the organization and/or its leader.” Their software was probably not the problem.
I would argue that collaborative CRM generates the most value when users commit to using the system, approach it as a team and create quality information. For a small business, there are three critical steps to making a collaborative CRM a significant advancement over fragmented pieces of software:
Pick a platform your team enjoys using
When you choose a collaborative CRM, you’re marrying your business to a new way of operating. To get value out of the system (and avoid a divorce), you need your entire team to take the vow and use it.
If your team only sometimes records customer information, sales updates and project developments, the system becomes pointless. As the data becomes old and misleading, your team will stop relying on the CRM for information. When a CRM system is used without exception, you don’t have to question your data and customer intelligence.
Therefore, the first step to succeeding with collaborative CRM is to pick a platform that your team will want to use. Test drive multiple systems and invite as many team members as possible for demos. Imagine arriving at work and opening your CRM interface before any other piece of software – will you be satisfied in six months? Can you customize the CRM to match your current workflow and future needs?
2. Use CRM as a team
At large corporations, customer management usually belongs to select groups. Developers, for instance, usually do not get a CRM login. However, in small businesses customer management belongs to everyone, and their use of CRM should reflect this.
Consider a scenario where a small software business’s top customer calls about a technical failure. In this case, IT, development, the account manager and even the CEO probably need to take actions. If the entire organization collaborates through CRM, resolution happens at blazing speed.
The customer support lead can loop in everyone by simply posting the details to the CRM system. Chatting over the CRM, the team can coordinate a quick response without creating an email trail. When everyone sees the same interface and conversations, CRM takes the classic “I didn’t know” or “You didn’t tell me” issue out of the equation. Using CRM as a team, accountability and transparency go hand-in-hand.
A team approach to CRM also creates efficiency in less urgent situations. Onboarding a new customer, planning an event, scheduling a web demo or launching a product trial become part of a continuous, seamless workflow when small business employees team up through one piece of software.
3. Create and share collective knowledge
Many small businesses scatter customer information across Excel, word documents and post-it notes. To make the most of a collaborative CRM, aim to make it the one and only source of customer intelligence and a true communications network.
Start by inputting customers’ contact information, company size and industry, but also document their challenges, needs, pain points and the results of sales conversations to give everyone in the organization the ability to understand and serve the customer. Your team members would probably write down or chat about this information anyway, so recording the it in CRM should come easy.
Documentation also makes your organization resilient to change. If your sales lead goes on vacation or leaves the company, the CRM preserves his or her work and allows another person to step in. Over time, CRM becomes a collective reserve of customer and company knowledge.
With many systems, you can go beyond documenting customer interactions. Use CRM to post news, announcements and information that will have an impact on customers. For instance, posting the release date for a software update or the solution to a recurrent customer support issue can answer questions that your team members likely have. Use a collaborative CRM platform to post announcements internally or loop in customers.
The rise of collaborative CRM systems for SMBs will save companies that feel trapped between goliath enterprise systems and low-powered alternatives. To get the most value out of CRM, small businesses must choose carefully, use the system as a team and be diligent about the completeness and quality of information.
So how do you know you’re getting the most out of a CRM system? You can look at some metrics: Are we closing more sales? Have we reduced our response and resolution time for service tickets? After a sale, how much more quickly do we install or deliver our product? What do our customers say about us on social media? Are we getting referral business?
Ultimately, a CR system delivers its full value by helping you achieve results that amaze your customers. If customers are telling family, friends and strangers about your incredible service, I believe you’re using your collaborative CRM to its best potential.
Steve McIntosh is the founder and chief operating officer of Fanhub, a small business collaboration center offering a full suite of solutions to help your team communicate, collaborate and succeed.