As entrepreneurs start new businesses, they’re typically organizing their contacts through a collection of business cards, sticky notes, etc. At some point, they may graduate to putting all the contact data in an Excel spreadsheet, or they use their accounting software, such as QuickBooks, as their way of tracking customer contact data, thinking that they’re too small to actually invest in a customer relationship management (CRM) tool. However, using a CRM for sales and marketing efforts is critical for small business growth, and the sooner you start using one, the better you’ll be down the road.

What exactly is a CRM?

A definition by TechTarget defines a CRM as a term that refers to practices, strategies, and technologies that companies use to manage and analyze customer interactions and data throughout the customer lifecycle, with the goal of improving business relationships with customers, assisting in customer retention and driving sales growth. Sounds complicated but it’s really not. In layman’s term, it’s where you put customer and prospect’s information, keep track of communication with those people, track communications, and keep track of deals. It allows businesses to manage business relationships and the data and information associated with them. When you first start out, and you’re communicating with 5-10 people, you may not see the need to do this (and could probably track it in your head) but what happens when you start communicating with dozens if not hundreds of people?  Setting up a CRM now will make your life easier down the road.

CRMs will keep you organized

Most small business owners start out the same way, more or less. They have a great idea or service, and confidently launch a new business endeavor based on this.  They are so focused on bringing in new deals and keeping current clients happy, that they completely overlook the critical need to establish workflow processes for their small business. As their business grows, their internal processes become more and more muddled, some to the point of chaos, which can negatively impact the ability to scale and grow successfully in the future. Using a CRM to establish good workflow processes is one way to keep the chaos in check.

CRMs help sales and marketing efforts work well together

Understandably, when you first start a small business, you ARE sales and marketing but at some point, as business grows, you’re going to need a way to ensure that all your marketing efforts are generating qualified sales leads and that sales isn’t wasting good leads by not understanding how you’re marketing.  A good CRM will help with that. How you ask?  Marketing isn’t about mass outreach anymore. You want to segment marketing efforts based on need, industry, or whatever other driving indicators will induce a prospect to buy.  You can keep track of all that in a CRM. You can track what product or service a prospect is interested in, how they became a prospect in the first place, what industry they’re in, and much more. Then you can customize your marketing efforts based on those factors. Sales and marketing integration is crucial for small businesses. Making sure these two departments (or people, or your two areas of focus) work together effectively is vital;  sales and marketing integration will generate more business and more revenue for your company.

Small businesses have plenty of affordable CRM options

There are many CRMs out there, so small businesses have quite a bit to choose from.  Some offer comprehensive, enterprise level solutions such as SalesForce, but that doesn’t mean the small business owner is left out or has to pay a lot of money to get an affordable CRM. One great little CRM that is free is HubSpot CRM. You can track prospects and customers, communications and deals, and much more. This is a great tool for a small business owner starting out.  Ready to elevate to something a bit more comprehensive, perhaps once you add salespeople or a marketing team? Pipedrive is another great tool and offers options to grow as your business grows. Do your homework and compare CRM reviews for yourself; you’ll find one that is right for you, and affordable.

The time for small businesses to set up and use a CRM is NOW. Creating a good sales and marketing system, even if you’re an army of one, will save you time, money and heartache down the road as your business grows.  It’s never too early to get started!

Patty Hughes
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