It’s been a crazy busy morning! Your salesperson just sent off a bunch of introductory sales emails, made five outbound calls to prospects, responded to three text message inquiries, and closed a deal through a conference call. How does he manage to stay in charge of your sales pipeline? How does he know which customers need immediate follow up and which ones should be contacted next week? How does your company manage sales accounts in order to grow the business?
Today there are so many ways to connect with customers (and so many customers to connect to!) that trying to stay on top of all your accounts is nearly impossible without technology. Enter the customer relationship management (CRM) system. CRMs are critical these days for sales account management – and they are even more essential for scaling your business.
What is a CRM?
A CRM system, according to Wikipedia, is a “system for managing a company’s interactions with current and future customers. It involves using technology to organize, automate and synchronize sales, marketing, customer service, and technical support”. Sales organizations use the CRM as the hub of sales activities. CRMs like Stride allow your salespeople to know when a lead has entered the pipeline, what value the prospect represents and which stage she is in during the sales cycle.
Many systems also provide communications between employees, storage for documents, task management tools and reporting features.
When you have marketing campaigns driving leads to your salespeople, a CRM provides a way to distribute leads from those campaigns to sales agents then monitor how many turn into prospects and, hopefully, convert. CRMs make great tools for sales management as well as sales productivity.
Who uses CRM?
CRM systems are used by companies of all sizes. Not surprisingly, they can be very effective for small companies. In fact, we recently discussed a few CRMs appropriate for small businesses with only a few employees. A CRM can be used in any industry but is typically more effective in industries where buyers have a longer buying cycle, such as business-to-business industries. The Stride CRM, for example, is used in software development, broadcasting, manufacturing and other industries.
Benefits of a CRM system
First and foremost, a good CRM is a time management tool. Systems enable salespeople to manage their time by streamlining workflow, reducing repetitive manual tasks, and organizing contacts by pipeline stage.
Here are several more benefits:
- Decision-making is more agile by allowing sales managers to make well-informed decisions about team activities
- Higher quality leads are generated due to better customer segmentation and targeted marketing campaigns
- Forecasting sales becomes easier because pipeline stages, deal values and sales cycles are better understood
- Customer churn is lower due to a higher level of understanding about customer makeup
- Communication among salespeople and other employees is enhanced through reporting functions and messaging
- Sales and back-office departments like accounting can be connected in order to reduce double handling of tasks.
- Win rates increase because hot prospects can be identified and targeted
Of course, that last one is extremely important. Improving business workflow is one thing, but the major value in a CRM is its ability to impact your top line. Through the organization of sales activities, your sales staff becomes more efficient, which should lead to higher win rates and better lead-to-prospect conversions.
How a CRM helps to scale your business
There is a reason a CRM system can be as useful for small businesses as it can be for corporations. It gives small biz owners a way to grow their business without having to rely on costly hiring. Several business processes can be improved through the implementation of a CRM system.
One of the biggest challenges facing growth companies today is to build communication among internal teams and between the company and its customers. As a company grows, internal communication often suffers, with each business area focused on its own agenda. A CRM system provides a platform for cross-functional teams to comment on customer activities within a single interface.
Effectively communicating with customers becomes difficult when you’re growing, too. As more leads are driven to salespeople, it becomes harder to manage communications with customers without the use of a CRM system. Sales agents can handle communication with accounts in the CRM through task scheduling, allowing them to connect consistently with contacts in their pipelines.
Sales was a hit-or-miss activity before the CRM system was introduced. Without good account management, salespeople could only focus on a narrow set of prospects. The CRM allows sales agents to manage a broader group of leads, prospects and customers, with an incredible amount of data at their fingertips.
With a CRM, salespeople develop better identification skills. They have contact details, company details, deal details, everything in front of them. They can see who to talk with, what their needs are, and the potential revenue to be generated. As your company scales up, sales agents are able to manage more accounts and sift through the details to find the hottest prospects efficiently.
Sales forecasting gets much easier using a CRM. Managers can generate reports for each salesperson, identifying top targets and pipeline value. A CRM system enables users to evaluate buying cycles, identify prospects capable of buying within a reporting period, and view sales agent activity which indicates how actively a salesperson is pursuing an account. Using a CRM better equips managers to forecast growth, rather than just throwing up a number for the sales team to hit.
By using a CRM system to manage the sales pipeline, sales agents can communicate with more leads, leading to better win rates. Users can schedule tasks to keep leads interested and prospects moving through the pipeline as more and more potential buyers connect with your business. Remember the communications process we talked about earlier? Well, here is where the CRM helps salespeople become more efficient. Users can:
- create personalized email templates to reduce time developing distinct messages to each customer
- target group messaging based upon contact details and customer segmentation
- schedule consistent delivery for multiple messages in one step
- measure response rates to avoid wasting time sending ineffective messages
Your database will grow as your business scales up. It becomes more difficult to effectively target and prioritize prospects for follow up activities. Without a CRM, salespeople have limited ability to quickly sort through records to find hot opportunities. Implementing a CRM system provides three key benefits related to database management:
- Migrating (importing and exporting) records without manual entry, saving time and resources. Multiple databases can be imported, organized and segmented quickly (compared to manual entry)
- Databases can easily be segmented according to various criteria, such as location, company size and industry. Segmenting should lead to better database “yield”.
- Cold leads can quickly be removed from active lists and archived for future contact. This reduces wasted efforts chasing dead ends.
Steps to take when using a CRM to scale your business
CRM experts suggest several important factors to consider when you’re selecting a CRM system. It’s always a good idea to speak with a vendor representative often and make sure to ask as many questions as possible.
Installation – the platform should not be complicated to implement. Ask the vendor about integration with existing (“legacy”) systems and potential issues with security programs. While the time to scale up will likely vary among systems, it can typically take 6-12 months to fully implement a small to mid-size CRM.
Setup – there is often customization that must take place in order to adequately install a system. Menus, fields, reports and data may all require customization. Sometimes this customization can lead to “hidden” costs which can significantly add to the cost of ownership.
Adoption – when you’re transitioning to a new CRM system, you should make sure to select one that is easy for salespeople to use. Without sales buy-in, the amount of use a CRM gets will be diminished. Request a “test drive” so employees can provide feedback.
Storage – as your company grows, you’re going to need the CRM system to grow with you, most notably, the data storage capacity. While you might start out with a system that has 15 GB of storage, you may need that number to expand as you scale your business. Check out the capabilities and – especially – the costs that go along with scaled up storage.
A CRM system can become one of the most important tools you’ll need to scale your business. A word of caution, though: data integrity is incredibly important. As the saying goes, “garbage in, garbage out”. Once you have your CRM system in place, be sure to manage employee use closely and review data frequently.