Choose the Right CRM Solution for Your Small Business

When you think of CRM, you might think of big corporations inputting masses of data into a large database, but all sorts of businesses, from multinationals down to sole traders, now use CRM in one form or another. While previous-generation CRM systems were expensive and difficult to use, new technology makes it easier than ever for small businesses and start-ups to track sales activity and gain insight into customer behavior.

But with so many CRM products out there, it can be difficult for small businesses to know which one is right for them, especially as the available solutions continue to offer expanded functionality—and come with accompanying additional licensing costs. Small businesses and consultants can be overwhelmed by the number of options available and unsure what functionality—and financial investment—they actually require. Let's take a look at the essential CRM features small businesses should look for to get the greatest value and return on investment.

Mobility

With an ever-bulging feature set, traditional CRM solutions have become increasingly complex, meaning that many do not operate easily on mobile devices. While some providers offer "mobile optimized" versions of their solutions, these often fail to meet the requirements of agile small businesses that spend a lot of time traveling to meet customers and prospects. Smaller businesses should be looking for truly mobile solutions that are built for smartphones and tablets, and that are designed to meet the requirements of a mobile business.

A truly mobile CRM solution will simplify processes and be easy to use without compromising on functionality. Key mobile features should include voice-to-text technology to ensure that the best possible data and information is automated in the system, and geo-location, which is integrated with meeting schedules to help smaller businesses identify more opportunities quickly and efficiently.

Automated Reporting and Analysis

Running a small business and working as a consultant is very time-intensive, and data collection, reporting, and analysis can often be pushed to the bottom of the to-do list. But without these insights, organizations have fewer tools and less information to help them identify weaknesses, areas of improvement, new opportunities, and potential business.

Small businesses should look for a CRM system that automates as much of the burden associated with reporting and analytics as possible. Central to this should be an in-depth analytics measurement tool that can identify blind spots as well as prospects in the business cycle. CRM systems should not just track and store data but also evaluate and analyze it, and present the analysis in a clean format that is easy to understand, providing management with actionable insights into staff activity and customer behavior.

Cloud-Based

For small businesses, cloud CRM, or software-as-a-service (SaaS) CRM, offers a number of advantages. Since all the data is stored externally in the provider's data center, all the updating, backup, and maintenance of the data is handled by the CRM provider. As well as reducing your overheads, this means you don't have to worry about storage space. Cloud-based CRM systems can also be accessed from anywhere with a smartphone, tablet, or laptop, which is ideal for small businesses that need to be able to access content on the go or for sole traders who regularly visit customers.

Real-Time Activity Tracking

A good CRM system will track sales activity in real time, enabling your business to react quickly to customer requests and take advantage of new business opportunities as they arise. For example, geo-location technology means that sales directors can see exactly where their staff members are and if there are other accounts nearby that could be contacted. With more substantial and accurate information about staff and customers, sales directors can improve efficiency, make better-informed business decisions, and provide their sales team with greater resources to support sales activity and nurture relationships.

Ease of Deployment

A priority for most small businesses is how simple and quick a new system can be set up. Small businesses and consultants don't have the time or resources to spend days installing software, migrating data, and training staff how to use new technology. Instead, businesses should look for CRM solutions that are intuitive, easy to use, and complement existing software (e.g. Microsoft Outlook). These factors will save time and money and mean that employees are more likely to use the system.

Flexibility

Every business is unique and has different needs. The system with the most features might not necessarily be the best for you, so think about what you want out of your CRM and what features would actually be beneficial to your business. As your business evolves and grows, you want your CRM system to easily adapt to changes. Look out for features such as email templates and customizable home tabs that will allow you to tailor the system to the needs of your business.

Above all, take the time to really think about the needs of your business and what features you want out of your CRM software. You'll stand a better chance of making the right decision and choosing the solution most beneficial to your business, now and in the future.

Javier Peralta is the UK Country Manager at ForceManager and has worked in the software-as-a-service market for over 10 years. Javier has an MBA from Manchester Business School as well as a BSc in Economics from University College London.

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