In this first of two articles, we look at the features and functions of a CRM that are specific to small business requirements. In the next installment we’ll look at small business CRM needs that are less technical but at least as important, such as ease of use and affordability.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) implementations that resembled CRM as we know it today began in the late 1990’s with large enterprise firms. Their initial goals were to link customer sales opportunity and interaction data in a CRM with customer financial data in an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) tool such as SAP.
So details of sales opportunities, their size, the products and services involved, and the estimated closing dates became a key part of CRM data. As did service requests and their resolution history. Aggregating the sales data provided crucial visibility to the organization’s sales funnel.
Overall we can summarize early CRM fundamental features as:
- Track service requests and their resolution
- Track sales opportunities, the aggregated sales funnel, plus sales quotas and forecasts
- Report generation
As CRM became more of a mainstream application, and moved down the hierarchy to smaller and smaller businesses, its capabilities evolved and expanded, to include:
- Documenting the history of every customer touch – calls, meetings, emails, proposals, and documents in addition to sales and service interaction history
- Integrated email client
- Integrated calendar and group calendaring
- Integrated email campaign management, and the composition of html email templates
- Integrated lead capture from website forms
- Automated workflow rules and actions
- Dashboards and charts to provide ‘at a glance’ information
As time went on the CRM field expanded so much that some segmentation developed – with products for various size businesses, for a Business-to-Business or Business-to-Consumer focus, and for specific vertical markets such as real estate and insurance.
Some speciality or add-on CRM products appeared that focused on Social CRM, Business Intelligence (BI) aspects of CRM, aggregation of so-called ‘big data’, and more.
With all this proliferation, segmentation and fragmentation of the CRM market, it’s worth re-visiting the simple question “What do small businesses want from their CRM?” While the initial ten bullet points above are a good start, how about another eleven?:
- Social network integration
- Mobile CRM access
- Data synchronization with phones and tablets, as well as desktop and cloud email clients
- Data synchronization with other business systems, such as accounting systems, document management systems, customer sales & service portals
- Order management – quotes, sales orders, invoices, payment allocation, AR balances, POs, Bills, suppliers, shipping/receiving, etc ..
- Office administration such as HR management, Expense Reports, Timesheets, etc ..
- Project management for professional services, tracking actual HR costs and expenses vs. forecasts, as well as the income side of the equation
- Advanced mass email capabilities such as newsletter subscriptions, multi-stage email campaigns for new leads and existing clients which adapt to client responses, plus advanced charting of email campaigns and responses; or integration with Constant Contact, MailChimp, and similar products
- Advanced user self-customization features, such as designing and adding new modules, a wide selection of custom field types, inter-module relationships, and cosmetic customization; plus features for professional developers to extend the CRM, such as APis, upgrade-safe coding techniques and logic hooks
- Advanced reporting and charting capabilities to provide integrated CRM Business Intelligence features that answer higher-level business questions about lead sources, email campaigns, salespeople, products and customer service
- IP Telephony integration, to speed up volumes of outgoing calls and reduce costs, as well as to automate the tracking of these incoming and outgoing customer touches
Now it’s your turn! While we’re pretty sure that nearly all of these items are important to most small businesses to a greater or lesser extent, we’d be very interested to hear what’s important to you! Share it in the comments below!