Managing customers has long been one of the business community’s greatest goals. Protecting them from being “poached” by competitors, ensuring all their requests are answered promptly and accurately, providing them with information that relates to their purchasing patterns, and exploiting the market potential for new customers. These, along with countless others, are key factors in customer relationship management (CRM).

In order to streamline CRM activities and responsibilities, many businesses opt to invest in CRM solutions. Historically, these have been expensive systems that provide single-point access to the collection, storage, viewing and analysis of information relating to current and prospective customers. In fairly broad terms, a CRM solution provides features such as contact management, task management, customer service issues and resolution, sales reporting, marketing campaign management and even opportunity analysis.

CRM Software

In the majority of cases, CRM solutions are designed to integrate with existing vertical applications, such as financial accounting, eliminating the need for double-entry of data. The fact is that as CRM software vendors have almost exhausted the new business opportunities in enterprise and large business sectors, they have turned their attention – at long last – to the small to medium business (SMB) sector.

There is now a wealth of CRM solutions that have been developed specifically for the SMB market, affording smaller businesses all the CRM functionality that larger businesses have enjoyed for years.

Cost-effective marketing

Marketing to existing customers is often considered more cost-effective than marketing to non-customers. The challenge, though, is to ensure the marketing that goes out to individual customers actually relates to the customer. After all, if a hardware company sends out special offers on new plumbing supplies to its carpenter customers, it’s hardly likely that there will be much of a response.

With a CRM solution, an enormous amount of the guesswork is taken out of targeted customer marketing. Information on new products can be sent out to those of your customers who have either a history of purchasing similar products, expressed earlier interest in receiving such information or, work/live in an environment where the product can be seen as appropriate.

Having said all that, few businesses can really survive and prosper by marketing only to their existing customer base; and expanding the customer base is a key objective of any CRM solution implementation. It’s with a CRM solution that companies track queries from potential customers, then follow up on those potential sales using a pre-determined workflow.

For example: Our hardware company might receive a request for pricing on a range of bathroom fittings. Rather than sending out the quote and hoping for the best, the company’s CRM solution can automatically alert a sales team member a week or two after the quote was sent out. Once alerted, the team member can put through a call to the potential customer and follow up on the quote.

Even if the sale isn’t made, the company has captured the details of what could easily become a future customer through targeted marketing.

Generating loyalty

In using a CRM solution, many companies have achieved greater customer loyalty than otherwise they could only have hoped for. By tracking and responding to customer complaints or queries, companies demonstrate clearly that they have a firm commitment to customer service – a lack of which sees all to many customers justifiably switch their loyalties to other businesses.

This is further demonstrated in instances where a customer calls the business. With a CRM solution, virtually anyone within the business – provided they have been granted access – can immediately view a complete history of the customer’s activity. This can include purchases, support issues and their resolutions, full contact details, outstanding payments and marketing campaigns in which the customer has been included.

Rather than having to ask a series of questions, business personnel have all the information about the customer, right at their fingertips. Quite aside from saving a large amount of time in re-capturing information, the CRM solution has given the business yet another step up in increasing customer loyalty. The customer recognises almost immediately that he or she is dealing with a business that has a focus on professional customer service.

The extra investment

Before even considering the purchase of a CRM solution, it’s important that business owners or IT decision makers are prepared to commit to investing resources in training personnel to use the solution correctly. While this may seem a somewhat odd comment, it’s worth considering that the effectiveness of a CRM solution can only be as good as the quality of data on which it draws.

If personnel within the business are lax in capturing information such as customer queries, accurate customer information and purchasing histories, then the old adage of Garbage In Garbage Out certainly applies. Your personnel must be trained to recognise the enormous value of virtually any information relating to your customers – and capture it!

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