Customer Relationship Management in the Small Business Environment

CRM graphicAs we have become more and more technology-oriented in recent years, one of the trends I’ve noticed is that small business owners seem to assume that any task needing to be done to run their business requires a software package to facilitate it. Customer Relationship Management is no different. The multitude of CRM software packages available today, such as ACT, Outlook Contact Manager, Salesforce.com, SugarCRM, FreeCRM, SalesBoom.com and many others, have encouraged this trend.  In fact, to further engage use of their systems, Salesforce.com and SugarCRM have made available FREE versions of their software for small businesses in the hope that they will eventually upgrade to a paid version of the program.

However, what frequently occurs is that small business owners assume that the programs are so complicated, or so work-intensive, that the already over-worked small business owners assume they don’t have the time or resources to utilize them; and then further assume that they can’t proceed with a CRM program since they don’t have time to manage it with the software program.  A recent article, ‘The Small Business Case for CRM’ for which I was interviewed by SmallBusinessComputing.com, further explores this trend.

In an effort to get the very important CRM process started for your firm, I would like to propose that small business owners go back to the basics as listed below:

  • A database of your customers, in Excel, that can be sorted and updated and includes a comments section.
  • Follow-up steps, including “Thanks for your time/business” letters or e-mails.
  • An inexpensive e-mail vendor such as ConstantContact, SwiftPages or any other similar online service that can cost as little as $15 per month to manage up to 500 contacts.
  • A solid communication schedule, with a customer feedback loop that captures and logs in the customer contact history.
  • Buy-in from every employee in your company to execute the strategy.

The list of basic tasks above comes from a recent Forbes.com article that discussed CRM from a similar standpoint (the complete article can be found on our website), the premise being that CRM programs don’t need to be complicated to implement to be effective. Nor do they need to be costly or time-consuming. Make a plan, have a basic database to track your efforts, some simple tools, and you’re on your way to increasing business from the most cost-effective and profitable customers you can have – the ones who already know you and have done business with you.

When you’re comfortable, go to the next step and start using a free version of Salesforce.com or SugarCRM or the Outlook Contact Manager that comes with the Small Business version of Microsoft Office 2007 to see if it adds value and effectiveness to your CRM efforts.  Then, when you want maximum value, move on to a paid version of one of the software programs with all the bells and whistles.  Try this multi-step CRM strategy and see if it doesn’t have positive impact on your business!

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The author, Linda Daichendt, is Founder and Managing Consultant at Strategic Growth Concepts with over twenty years’ experience in working with small businesses. Linda can be contacted by email at strategicgrowthconcepts@earthlink.net. The company website can be viewed at www.strategicgrowthconcepts.com

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