Is CRM Right for Your Small Business?

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Customer relationship management (CRM) is back in vogue for many reasons. Thanks to companies such as and, CRM is easier to use, and it’s packed with great functionality and very affordable. All you need to use many of these systems is a Web browser, a BlackBerry or just about any other mobile device, if you’re a road warrior.

With CRM being more accessible from both a financial and usability perspective, it’s not surprising to see small businesses turning to CRM to find, catch and keep good customers. But should your company be jumping on the CRM bandwagon?

Here are a few questions that can help you decide if CRM is the answer for your business:

Are You Happy With the Status Quo?
This is not a trick question. Just about every survey focused on the concerns of small-business owners’ rank customer acquisition and retention as their top challenges. But there are businesses that are very happy with the customers they have and are not on the prowl for new ones.

If you’re in this position, more power to you — it’s a feeling most businesses might never know. And if things are going well, you’re not going to be motivated to enforce the kind of organizational changes that come with using CRM, and implementing any kind of CRM application can bring big changes to your business.

Do You Consider CRM to be Just Another Piece of Software?
Recently, a disgruntled business owner went through two of the best CRM packages on the market and couldn’t understand why his employees didn’t “take” to using either one of them. What he failed to understand was his employees were used to doing things their way and saw using any system as added work for which they received no added benefit — financial or otherwise.

The owner found out the hard way that implementing CRM is not like going to a store and picking up a copy of QuickBooks. Rather, CRM uses technology to implement strategies aimed at helping companies acquire customers, sell more, analyze the effectiveness of marketing activities and provide better service to increase customer retention.

So, if you view CRM as anything less than a business strategy that affects how your people (employees, managers, etc.) engage other people (prospects, customers, partners), it’s not for you at this time.

Do You Want Your Customers to View You as Vendor or a Partner?
Your most profitable and long-lasting business relationships come about when you are able to devote more time to really understanding what your customers value. By doing this, the nature of your relationship will go from vendor-customer (implying just a financial relationship open to outside competitors) to trusted partner/valued adviser. This is where your customers view you as important to their business and, in fact, become your biggest supporters inside and outside their organizations, bringing you leads without you asking them.

This is great stuff, but it can happen only if you can put in the time to focus on how to deliver what’s important to them. And to do this, you must find ways to automate the routine and time-consuming processes of finding and catching new customers.

Coupling CRM services with the latest tools such as blogs, wikis, etc. can extend your reach and provide richer communications channels, allowing you to really connect with your customers. And by linking CRM applications to your Web site to generate and determine good leads from deadbeats, you’ll free up time to turn customers into clients and clients into advocates and partners — if it’s important to you to be viewed that way. The bottom line is that CRM is not for every small business. Rather, it’s for those businesses that are looking to grow, react more quickly and, most important, do better by their customers.

It’s more than just writing a check to buy software (in fact, that’s the easy part). But if you’re serious about improving the way customers and prospects feel about your company, CRM might be just what you need.

Brent Leary is co-founder and partner of CRM Essentials, a consulting/advisory firm focused on helping small businesses leverage Web 2.0 technologies to find, catch and keep good customers. He can be reached at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.

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