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Anita Campbell

CEO of Small Business Trends

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How to Choose the Right CRM System for Your Business

July 14, 2016

Consider these key points before you invest in a CRM system

A customer relationship management system, or CRM, can help you meet customer needs and sell more. It manages customer information in one place, and it can help with process flow from the sales-lead stage all the way through to serving existing customers.

Among other things, CRM helps you:

  • Understand your existing customers’ needs and satisfy them by tracking and managing customer service and other tasks.
  • Renew, upsell, and cross sell effectively—when more people across your organization better understand customers, you can more intelligently offer the right products and services to meet those needs, at the right times.
  • Assist with nurturing and growing new leads into closed sales.
  • Be more productive by managing your sales lead flow; good CRM can make it less likely to drop the ball on follow-through with new leads.
  • Have better sales forecasting ability, because managers will have more data in the form of reports and dashboards.

There are literally dozens of CRM software applications and mobile apps that can help you manage your customer relationships. But CRM systems often do different things. It’s not just a matter of choosing a certain vendor you feel comfortable with. You have to actually understand what each CRM package offers and whether it will meet your needs.

Here are the factors to consider when choosing a CRM package:

  • Customer contact database: Even the most basic of CRM systems will provide a database of customer contact information. Consider how much and what types of data you will need. Is the CRM system able to track key kinds of information you typically track in your company, out of the box? Or will a lot of customization be required?
  • Customer service capabilities:Does the CRM system help you see and manage key points of interaction with customers across your organization?
  • Sales leads: How well does it provide a framework for keeping track of, nurturing, and managing sales leads? Some CRM systems are better for managing existing customer relationships and don’t do so well with new sales-lead management. Others have sophisticated sales-lead management features.
  • Sales and marketing automation: Does the CRM system include any automation? For example, can you automate the follow-up of marketing communications rather than initiating all activity manually or “onesy-twosy?” Some CRM systems have sophisticated automation built in; some have little or none.
  • Integration with other systems: Most businesses use multiple software systems that touch customers in some way, e.g., accounting, help desk, social-media management, and email marketing. A crucial point today is whether a CRM system will integrate seamlessly with other important software systems you use. Integration gives you greater productivity and more visibility across your company and minimizes manual data entry.
  • Implementation ease: Many small businesses do not use a CRM system today because of the difficulty of implementing some CRM systems. It will require some work to convert data from other systems, get employees trained and up to speed, and integrate with other business systems. Are automatic import and conversion capabilities part of the software? Will you receive human implementation support if needed? How intuitive is the software for employees to learn?
  • Reports and dashboards: The best CRM systems help the owner and managers manage better. What level of reports and dashboards come with the system? Can you get the information you need quickly and easily, or will you have to custom-program reports?
  • Support: How much and what kind of support can you expect from the CRM vendor? Support varies widely—from online knowledge bases, to 24-hour email support, to immediate phone support. Know what you need and what you can expect for the package you purchase.

CRM is an important undertaking for any small business, and the benefits can be huge. Choose wisely, and it can accelerate the growth of your business.

This article was originally published on Inc.

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