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The Unified Future of Small Business CRM
CRM is only as effective as its users and the information they create.
Posted Jan 24, 2014
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For small businesses, using enterprise CRM is a lot like using a crane to move a lawn chair. The cost, complexity, and capabilities of the tool are unnecessary and inefficient. Even the still-expensive, small business versions of these goliath CRM solutions don't correspond with the fast, collaborative, and personal style of SMBs.

Traditionally, small business CRM is just a simple contact tracking system. Support ticketing, project tracking, pipeline management, and collaboration tools are siloed into different pieces of software. This, of course, is inconvenient for small organizations that need to maximize people, resources, and time.

Small business CRM systems are finally unifying these features into single platforms that can handle 360 degrees of customer interaction. And unlike enterprise solutions or their SMB offspring, this new wave of CRM is actually designed for small business operations. The best now offer a productivity ecosystem meant to be used as intensely as an email client.

In the SMB world, this is the only logical way to give a team of few the capabilities of many. Customer sales conversations, support issues, and projects are all part of an ever-changing, dynamic relationship touched by multiple people in a business. To have salespeople reach out to customers without understanding the scope of a relationship is akin to sending them into the wilderness without a map or compass.

Still, the existence of these unified CRM workspaces does not guarantee results. As the CRM marketing firm Merkle Group found in a survey of 352 executives at U.S.-based organizations with revenues of $1 billion-plus, 63 percent of CRM initiatives "fail the organization and/or its leader."

Ultimately, CRM is a tool that is only as effective as its users and the information they create. So for a small business, what are the keys to making a unified CRM a significant advancement over disconnected pieces of software?

1. Bring a team mentality. At a small business, everyone from the C-level down to the unpaid summer intern is involved in customer relationship management. Your approach to CRM must reflect this.

Imagine a scenario in which the top customer of a small software business emails about a technical meltdown. When an entire organization collaborates through CRM, resolution happens at blazing speed.

The customer support lead (who might wear many hats at a small business) can loop in IT to address the problem, notify the salesperson or executive who owns the relationship, and begin coordinating a fast, effective response without creating a trail of back-and-forth email with coworkers. Everyone looks at the same interface and conversations.

A team approach to CRM also boosts efficiency in less dire circumstances. Onboarding a new customer, planning an event, setting up a Web demo, or scheduling a product trial become fast and collaborative when small businesses share the tasks through one piece of software.

2. Make CRM a hub of information. Aim to make CRM a go-to source of customer intelligence and a true communications network.

Recording a customer's contact information, company size, and industry is a start. Detailing that customer's challenges, needs, pain points, and the results of sales conversations is even better. Attaching documentation from a request for proposal or screenshots from a tricky tech issue can put a conversation into context too.

But go beyond documenting customer interactions. Chat about sales leads inside the CRM alongside all that customer history and information. Use CRM to post news, announcements, and information that will have an impact on customers. The release date for a

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