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What CRM is...and how it can help

Today I'm going to introduce you to CRM, which stands for Customer Relationship Management. This is a term used to describe a system which helps you manage your interactions with your customers. On a simple level, this could mean an address book and post-it notes, but at a much more sophisticated level, there are CRM software products which aim to enhance your sales by use of recording activities, measuring and reporting on efficacy of marketing campaigns, and providing tools like mass email.

When you start to look at CRM products, it can start to bend the mind with the management style terminology.  I'll try and unbend it a little. Imagine having a list of all your prospective customers, those people you are hoping to do business with. You make contact with them, either en masse or individually, and these contact events are stored in a system. Based on your research and the feedback from them, you can start to target those with more prospect of converting to business, and great expected revenue.

I could go much further into the ins and outs of CRM systems, and may only scratch the surface. They can be quite big and scary. The best thing is to do your own research based on what you think you need, and what you can read on the website of the provider. What I can do is outline a few systems, and introduce you to one I picked for a small business:


Case study, Zoho CRM, affordable for small business

Some of the market leaders are Salesforce, SAP, and Microsoft Dynamics. However in the world of small business, these are quite expensive and perhaps too complicated. I went on the search a while back for a small business client to find a solution that was well made, mature enough not to vanish in a year, affordable yet sophisticated to fulfill the client's requirements.

I ended up with Zoho CRM. Zoho provide a number of online applications, of which their CRM is one. I found it easy enough to use. There was something of a learning curve, and I had to learn quite a bit about my client's processes. There are a number of Youtube videos which help explain the concepts. CRM is a concept rich approach, and taking this path can mean quite a bit of head scratching and rethinking the way you work. The outcome however should be that your operation is enhanced by using the tools.

Zoho CRM has a number of modules, some being Accounts, Contacts, Leads. We used Accounts to store existing client companies. Contacts to store contacts within those companies. We could use Zoho CRM to link Contacts to their associated Accounts. Leads are used to store prospective customers who will be targeted by marketing. Once a Lead takes up business, they are converted to an Account & Contacts.


Marketing campaigns and other features

The current client now has 35,000 leads they have obtained from a business contact database agency. We are now formulating a marketing campaign, including Zoho Campaigns, which provides very well produced email newsletters. Zoho CRM has a number of very useful plugins. I configured their Google Apps plugin to synchronise the Zoho CRM Contacts database with their centralised Google email contacts. The company now shares the same global contact database in Zoho CRM and email using Outlook on the desktop, and iPhones and Android phones.

Another benefit of using a CRM properly, is that all customer related activity is stored in the system. So for example, a customer calls to talk about a quote you just sent them. You write a quick note that is entered on their Contact and recorded with the time and date. This way anyone else in your organisation can quickly see what the state of play is with that customer. That way no matter who talks to the customer, they always know what is going on.



Zoho CRM has a very affordable pricing structure. It is free for up to 3 users, $12/user/month for Standard edition, and goes up from there giving more features. The standard feature set has mostly been enough. We purchased a couple of addons, like the Google Apps one to synchronise the contacts, and the Mobile one to place the app on some of the client's smart phones.



So to conclude, if you are feeling like you haven't really got a good control of your customer relations, CRM may be worth considering. It does take some learning, but like any business reshaping process, it is worth doing in the long term.