By Sean Pinegar
In any industry, the core technology that a small or midsized business uses can ultimately give it the edge needed for market leadership. But the strategy for using the technology is often just as important as the technology itself.
CRM is one of those core technologies that, when paired with smart planning, can create the right framework for long-term customer success. How do I know? At Redglaze Group, our CRM system implementation produced 30 percent more efficiency across sales and project management, while saving our accounting team countless hours every week. These benefits are due in part to the innovation inherent in our CRM system (SugarCRM). But our strategy for using the system also contributed significantly to the successful results.
Other SMBs can achieve similar success with their CRM implementation. But there are some critical steps to take before this success can be realized. First, a clear plan must be developed for your CRM strategy. At Redglaze Group, we began by examining three key questions:
- Does my team have adequate information to easily and quickly respond to customer queries?
- Can my company provide a seamless experience for our customers regardless of the channel or employee they contact?
- Are repetitive manual tasks wasting time?
A comprehensive CRM strategy considers multiple levels: business objectives, communications planning, data use and analytics, and a continuous improvement roadmap. Below, I share six essential go-to practices adapted from our CRM playbook that can help refine your strategy and ultimately ensure you choose a CRM system that’s optimized to work for you:
1. Don’t implement a weak process where failure is imminent. Start with the end in mind. Rather than structuring your new CRM system to meet outdated business processes (possibly specified by the limitations of your previous CRM or in-house spreadsheet system), determine what type of data to collect and what you want to achieve with the data; then create CRM processes tailored to the way your team wants to conduct its daily business. This seems like a no-brainer, but it is often overlooked. By creating new processes that enable your team to succeed in their roles, your CRM system will give them incentive to actively manage the data within the system. (Added bonus: When you give your team the tools to succeed, you’ll likely have no problem convincing employees to adopt the new system.)
2. De-silo the flow of information. Leverage your CRM system to enable collaboration and coordination among the different departments in your business, such as marketing, sales, accounting, etc. Customer relationships can be long- or short-term, spanning months or up to decades. It is important that each customer-facing employee knows the nature of these relationships, and how to best nurture the customer from their unique vantage point. Improving the flow of information provides each department with a 360-degree view of each customer, with up-to-date, accurate and valuable data.
For example, at Redglaze Group, our project management team handles an inordinate amount of information for each job site. By giving the sales team access to that project information through our CRM system, the same files used to manage a project’s progress become a sales-enablement tool that empowers the sales team to show a prospective customer images of similar work — including details on the architect, contractor and materials used. This information is incredibly powerful and time-sensitive, but the sales team wouldn’t have it if they couldn’t access the project information through our CRM system.
3. Carefully plan data structure and access. When building your CRM system, it is critical to ensure that the right people have access to the right data. Pay close attention to what employees are asking for, and gain clarity as to what and why they need access to certain fields. Also, determine which documents will be shared, and standardize naming systems to sensibly enable internal and external access.
4. Automate to embrace efficiency. Anything that streamlines and measures tasks and workflow increases efficiency and makes employees more productive, so all repetitive manual processes should be considered for automation. Workflow automation, for example, can be especially helpful to departments that rely heavily on a flow of information and approval processes. For example, in Redglaze’s accounting department, invoices can be automatically generated, shared for approvals, linked to related contracts and change orders, and sent to the customer for payment. Automation saves our accounting team countless hours accessing documents and confirmations every week. Who couldn’t use a few extra hours and a few less headaches in their day?
5. Train, train, train… and then listen. Never underestimate the value of training your team, and realize that training should be ongoing in order for your employees to continuously evolve in their CRM system usage. Trainings should focus on both the business processes and the system itself, all customized to suit your team’s unique needs. And just as vital is establishing ways to gather employee feedback on a regular basis about how the system, processes and data access impact their work. Ultimately, the success of your business users dictates the success of your business, so set time aside on the front end to ensure you get the desired results.
6. Make the technology work for you. Build your CRM system so that it not only fits your current business environment and processes, but will also improve what your business can accomplish in the future. In short, don’t plan your processes around the limitations of the system — think of the business processes that must be achieved and build your CRM system around them. It’s not about how you fit your work into the CRM system’s mold; rather, it’s about building a system that supports how you really want to work.
With innovative technology in place and a solid strategy to support it, your organization can improve the flow of timely, accurate and business-critical information to every customer-facing employee, and ensure a consistent, superior customer experience from every interaction.
Sean Pinegar is a software engineer at Redglaze Group. He has more than seven years of experience in designing, developing and integrating process-driven, automated Web applications to meet ever-changing business requirements in diverse industries.