• October 1, 2018
  • By Brent Learycofounder and partner, CRM Essentials

Which CRM Features Are Small Businesses Not Taking Advantage of?

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I've used my October columns the past couple of years to pose questions to executives at some of the leading CRM vendors serving small-business customers. Two years ago I asked why CRM adoption wasn’t higher. Last year I asked what small-business customers want from CRM vendors. So this year I wanted to know what small-business customers weren’t taking full advantage of when it comes to using CRM systems. Below are some areas the executives cited, and why.

ACTUALLY USING CRM

Even in 2018, we’re still seeing a majority of small businesses not using a CRM application at all, according to Meredith Schmidt, executive vice president and general manager of Salesforce Essentials and SMB. “Although SMBs seek to offer better customer experiences, only 33 percent of them are currently using CRM tools. It’s unfortunate, because on average, small businesses spend 23 percent of workdays manually inputting data. CRM can eliminate many manual processes.”

AUTOMATING IMPORTANT PROCESSES

Speaking of eliminating manual processes, that’s another area where SMBs must start taking full advantage of CRM, according to Nimble founder Jon Ferrara. “Any CRM requiring end users to go to the CRM to use it and manually update conversation histories and contact information is faulty at its core. Look for options that enable users to be more effective at engaging customers and prospects by unifying contacts into a single system of record; enriching those records with company and business insights; and empowering them to engage everywhere they work.

Salesforce’s Schmidt agrees. “Automatically keeping customer records up to date without tedious data entry by connecting a user’s email and calendar means small businesses spend less time on manual data entry and more time finding, winning, and keeping customers.”

MANAGING RELATIONSHIPS INSTEAD OF DATA

Traditional CRM systems were built solely with the transactional sales team in mind, says Jon Lee, CEO and founder of Copper (formerly ProsperWorks). “Today, that’s changed. Companies not only manage customers but a broad range of business relationships that are not captured in a CRM. In this new era, every relationship interaction and conversation needs to be captured as companies shift to build lasting relationships and repeat business.”

Insightly chief marketing officer Tony Kavanaugh notes that SMBs need to focus more on the “R” part of CRM. “CRM deployments should treat sales force automation as table stakes and focus on what it takes to make the buyer journey as frictionless and as fruitful as possible. Relationship scoring and intelligence, sentiment and signal analytics, next-best-action recommendations, project delivery, and AI-based advice at every step of the buying journey are all key to this new imperative.”

BENEFITING MORE FROM INTEGRATED DATA AND PLATFORMS

Integrated applications and platforms can greatly increase ease of use and efficiency, but “I don’t think businesses have fully recognized the benefits of having all of their customer data on one platform and just how much further it extends the use of CRM,” says Vijay Sundaram, Zoho’s chief strategy officer. “As CRM starts to unify business information by going upstream into marketing processes, downstream into customer support, and cross-stream into finance, inventory, and invoicing processes, it will transform what a business can learn about its customers. Insights previously available only at a business-unit level will now be available at any segment level, or even at the level of individual customers. Profitability and lifetime value can be examined under any dimension captured by CRM, like industry, geography, deal size, customer tenure, etc. That would be the Holy Grail for financial analysis.”

SugarCRM CEO Larry Augustin also thinks integrated data can help more SMBs succeed. “We find it surprising that a lot of CRM users are not yet leveraging third-party data sources and services to augment the data in their systems. CRM has seen some adoption issues, specifically because users don’t want to put data into the system. And using data services does the heavily lifting for users, driving adoption in addition to enhanced productivity.”

LEVERAGING AI TO KNOW MORE ABOUT CUSTOMERS

Augustin also points out the importance of good data to artificial intelligence. “As AI and other insights-driven approaches to CRM become more prevalent, we must understand that we must first start with rich, deep—and reliable!—data sets to gain meaningful insights.”

Infusionsoft CEO and cofounder Clate Mask agrees. “AI and machine learning are enabling us to really understand how users are benefiting from our products. Using this data, we can then personalize and simplify the experience for our users—which in the end saves small businesses time as they are getting the benefits of the product that best fits their specific needs.”

David Thompson, chief marketing officer of Freshworks, adds that “while AI has seemingly become the nebulous answer to all questions about the future of sales and marketing, it has real applications right now. We’re starting to see our customers take advantage of AI-based lead scoring, as an example, but we expect that adoption will truly start to take off in the next year as the feature proves its value. Qualifying leads continues to be thought of as a manual process, and most automated approaches to this point haven’t done the job. Customers should be able to rely on their CRMs to be an intelligent partner, and AI-based lead scoring is one area where they can see immediate impact.”

TAKING ADVANTAGE OF TRAINING AND BEST PRACTICES

Finally, maybe more small businesses would use CRM—and use it to do more than the obvious things—if they took advantage of the training and best-practices content available to them. Salesforce’s Schmidt says that “although 62 percent of SMBs feel they would benefit from training that continually improves their operations, there are many types of free training and resources available to them that they likely aren’t aware of. Free online learning environments like Trailhead can help leaders and their teams learn the technologies and strategies that they need to be successful.”

These are just a few of the responses I could fit into this year’s “ask the vendors” column. A big thank-you to all of them for participating. Now I can start thinking about what to ask them next year.

Brent Leary is cofounder of CRM Essentials, an Atlanta-based advisory firm focused on small and midsize businesses. He is also the author of Barack 2.0: Social Media Lessons for Small Businesses.

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