How to make CRM work for your small business

Customer relationship management systems can improve data analysis and boost profits—you just need to know how to harness their potential.

Smart business owners know how crucial customer relationships are. In fact, they could even be the lifeblood of your company. So maintaining contacts, reaching new prospects and keeping dynamic and relevant lines of communication open is pretty important.

Customer relationship management, or CRM, systems pull all your customer data together to make it simpler for you to analyse performance and trends and respond with agility. Used to its optimum, the right CRM should help you boost profits.

Here’s how to pick the best CRM system for your small business—and how to make it work hard for you.

Play the data game

Many large enterprises have sophisticated CRM systems—like Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics—to gather and track leads for high volume, fast-moving sales teams. That kind of scale usually needs a dedicated team to oversee the system and optimise its capabilities.

But CRM isn’t just the realm of the big guys. Your small business also needs customer data to survive—and thrive. It can help companies of any size gain insight into customers, nurture existing relationships and create new ones.

On its simplest level, a CRM system keeps all your customer contacts up to date and in one place, manages appointments and sets reminders. On a deeper level, it’s a customer analytics tool, providing you with insights into customer behaviour that can help you to craft more targeted communication.

Choose the right CRM for your budget

There are options for small businesses working with fewer employees and less cash, too. There’s a range of affordable, workable CRMs out there, including Hubspot’s free version and SugarCRM, which has several packages and offers a free seven-day trial.

Cloud-based Agile CRM is specifically designed to simplify data gathering and analysis for small businesses by bringing everything together under one platform. Its Gamification feature is also a fun way to crank up the competition—and encourage collaboration—between members of the sales team.

Any of these could be a good starting point when researching the best CRM for you, and it makes sense to choose one with relatively low (or zero) outlay while you’re still getting to grips with using it to gather business intelligence. You can always invest in more complex data-gathering systems later, as your business and needs grow.

Make it work for your business

If you already use analytics tools, teamwork apps like Slack and other software like MailChimp, look for a CRM system that integrates seamlessly with those platforms. It will bring all your data together and prevent unnecessary headaches.

Most CRM systems start with the same basic capabilities, though there are a few targeted to different business niches or designed to solve particular issues—Affinity is tailored to early-stage start-ups still crafting their brand, for example.

Consider your motivation for getting a CRM system: is it to track the effectiveness of marketing strategy, or is sales forecasting a priority? Does it need to be cloud-based so your team can access its data and share files and information from anywhere?

There’s a lot of choice out there, so do your research and take advantage of free trials before committing.

Use it to boost your business

Any tool that can increase efficiency is good news for your business. Used to its full potential, though, a CRM system could do more than save you money and time. It could be the key to scaling up.

Online gift retailer Not on the High Street uses a bespoke version of OpenCRM to track team productivity and workloads and nurture leads, while Harriet Molyneaux of London-based Hot Spots Movement, a research consultancy focused on workplaces, says Insightly CRM is invaluable for sales forecasting as it creates “a footprint of every single interaction that we’ve ever had with our clients”.

Learn a few insider tricks

The CRM systems we’ve mentioned are designed to be intuitive and user-friendly. But a little research and practice can help you get more bang for your buck. Scour blogs and business titles for tips to squeeze every drop of effectiveness out of your CRM.

Data drawn from CRM systems can be used to successfully align sales and marketing teams, reckons Insightly’s blog. “Data is a vital component for overcoming vagueness and developing shared, measurable indicators of success,” says the company’s VP of sales, Mark Ripley.

Mopinion, a software developer, suggests customer segmentation is key. CRM systems can break existing or prospective customers into groups based on location, interests and preferences, giving sales teams a more streamlined, focused approach.

Of course, getting employees on board is pretty important, too. A post on SugarCRM’s blog recommends involving the entire team from the beginning and selecting a system “that jives with the way they want to work”.

The ideal CRM system should make your life easier, help you to set and meet targets—and swap teetering piles of files and notebooks for one streamlined platform.

Matt Farrelly
Matt is our Head of Zipcar for Business and spends a lot of his time thinking about how we can deliver a better future, of more sustainable business transport in our cities. The rest of the time he's likely to be found either with his head in a book, playing tennis or continuing his attempt to break the world record for weekend Netflix binges.

Date published: 11 June 2019

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