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Three steps to maximize CRM functionality for small businesses

Find out why many smaller organizations don't make the most of their CRM investment, and learn about the challenges they face in utilizing CRM and how they can overcome those challenges. In this article from CRM expert Jim Berkowitz, discover three tips for maximizing CRM functionality and improving CRM for small businesses.

Far too many small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that take the leap and invest in CRM software fail to realize the full potential of what today's CRM products have to offer. Here are three primary steps to maximizing CRM functionality at SMBs:

1. Critique current customer management issues.

2. Configure the CRM product so that it is quick and easy to use.

3. Make sure management views CRM as a process, not a project.

Let's take a look at each of these three related suggestions in a little more detail and explore how they affect CRM technology usage in many SMBs.

Step 1: Critique current customer management issues

Once a CRM product has been selected, many SMBs don't have much money to spend on the CRM implementation, and most of the vendors are anxious to get their new customers up and running as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, these two factors will most assuredly hold back organizations from using CRM technology to its fullest potential.

The truth is, for most SMBs, implementing CRM so that it results in a meaningful return on investment isn't easy. Many find that just setting up a complete and accurate customer database can be a time-consuming and difficult process.

However, to get beyond using CRM technology as a glorified database and contact manager and to begin to take advantage of the functionality available in today's CRM products, organizations must take the time to critique their current customer management issues. That means identifying the specific problems that are negatively affecting the business's ability to win, keep and grow profitable customers.

This process is often referred to as "discovery" work and ideally should be completed before organizations even begin to look at CRM product and vendor alternatives.

"Understanding our existing internal sales processes and identifying exactly what needed to be cleaned up was instrumental [in] our ability to generate positive results with CRM," noted Russ Dworshak, regional sales manager with Compressor Systems Inc., a leading manufacturer of compressor equipment for the gas industry.

For SMBs, discovery work generally takes about 30 days and consists of a variety of activities such as:


  • Completing interviews with key management, staff and administrators that focus on what's working and what's not.


  • Conducting surveys: surveying customers about loyalty and surveying internal customer-facing personnel about their effectiveness and efficiency.


  • Documenting current process flows.

    During this discovery work process, organizations should be trying to answer two very critical questions:

    1. What opportunities do we have to improve the effectiveness and increase the productivity of our customer-facing people?

    2. Are we exceeding customers' expectations and building a loyal customer base?

    The problems that many of the mainstream CRM products are going to be most effective at solving are going to be process-related. For example, some organizations may find that their business doesn't have a formal lead-qualification process. As a result, too many unqualified leads are being passed on to their sales force, who are then wasting time on people who aren't qualified or ready to buy.

    Or maybe the manual process that's in place for fulfilling requests from prospects for product data sheets is too labor intensive and time consuming.

    Once the organization has identified its most critical problems, the next step is to document both how things are done now and how the process should work going forward.

    For example, the organization may now be turning over all new leads to the sales team. They want to implement some changes so that a sales assistant could first rate each new lead in terms of quality and readiness to buy; second, they'd like to automatically assign only the leads with a high-quality rating – those who are ready to buy -- to the appropriate sales reps; and finally, they'd like the high-quality leads that aren't ready to buy to go into a prospecting database so that marketing can periodically send out emails to the prospects until they indicate that they are ready to buy.

    Step 2: Configure the CRM product so that it is quick and easy to use

    Now comes the tricky part, the part that's critical to selecting the best CRM software for the organization and ultimately successfully implementing the CRM product in the business: setting up and configuring the CRM product so that it can help with desired new processes.

    This can be accomplished by working closely with the vendor or business partner as part of the CRM implementation or, better yet, as part of the software evaluation and selection process.

    Typically, during the CRM product evaluation and selection process, SMBs do not place enough emphasis on evaluating:


  • "Process" -- How exactly each product will help solve the business's customer management problems.


  • "Usability" -- How easy it will be for people to learn and use each product.

    I recommend that before the final product demonstrations, organizations have each of the CRM vendor finalists set up and configure their product to clearly demonstrate what it will be like to use their product to complete the organization's most critical CRM-related processes.

    Many of the CRM products out there do the same things, but the ways in which they do these things can be very different. Seeing how each CRM product will actually help improve customer management within the organization is one of the most valuable exercises in the CRM selection process.

    It's best to have the vendor finalists demonstrate these configured processes to as many CRM product end users as possible to get end-user feedback in terms of how easy and effective it will be for them to use each product to complete each process.

    Remember, the CRM marketplace is mature. As a result, a lot of products have similar function and feature sets. So it's not what they do that differentiates them, it's how they do things that's the key to selecting the best product for your organization.

    Make sure that the end users of the CRM product can see exactly what it will be like to use each CRM product alternative. Ultimately, organizations should choose a CRM product that everyone is going to be excited about using, not simply a product that will do everything they need it to do.

    If organizations don't complete this portion of the software selection process, they are increasing the risk that -- once the chosen CRM product has been set up and configured -- end users may not like the way it works and may be resistant to adopting it.

    Through the years, I've noted that the No. 1 reason businesses switch from one CRM product to another is that, over time, they have become more and more dissatisfied with their CRM product's ability to do things the way the users would like them to be done. In other words, the CRM product is too difficult to learn and/or too cumbersome to use.

    "The key to success with CRM in our company has been how simple it has been for our people to learn and use our chosen CRM product," Dworshak said. "The flexibility to configure the solution to fit our exact business needs has been a huge factor in getting nearly 100% user adoption after just nine weeks."

    Step 3: Remember that CRM is about continuous process improvement for SMBs

    The owner or key executives at most SMBs are very busy people, and they are constantly confronted with a host of issues that need their attention. When one issue is solved, they quickly move on the next.

    Unfortunately, what this means for CRM is that once the initial product implementation has been completed, management's attention generally moves on to other issues. This can be very unfortunate because CRM is not a one-time project -- it's an ongoing process of (1) critiquing the current situation, (2) identifying and prioritizing CRM issues and (3) implementing action plans and configuring the CRM solution to achieve measurable results. CRM success is all about continuously working on and improving the best way to manage customer relationships.

    The ongoing process paid off for Dworshak.

    "Now that we've addressed some of our most critical customer management problems as part of our initial CRM implementation project and we've begun to realize measurable improvements, we're anxious to tackle more problems," he noted. "But to get our management team's attention back on CRM, we can see that we need to initiate a new CRM Discovery process so that we can show management how addressing new CRM problems will lead to both revenue and profit enhancement in our company."


    Getting the most out of the functionality of your CRM product can yield significant financial returns. So don't be satisfied with using only the very basic functionality included in your CRM tool. Use the simple methods discussed in this article to continuously take advantage of more of what your CRM software has to offer, and take your customer management skills to the next level.

    About the author:

    Jim Berkowitz

    Jim Berkowitz, Founder and CEO, CRM Mastery, Inc

    Jim Berkowitz is a seasoned executive with more than 20 years of professional services and product management experience in Customer Relationship, Financial and Enterprise management software solutions for small (rapidly growing), midsized and Fortune 500 companies.

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