Improving interactions Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2009

Imagine one of your most valued clients will soon be arriving for a meeting. You look up this client’s information in your customer relationship management (CRM) database, which tracks every purchase he’s made, marketing proposal he’s been pitched, and interaction that has occurred between him and your sales rep. Not only are you more prepared for the meeting, but you have collective insight into the client’s preferences before he even walks in the door.

“CRM is your sales process on steroids,” says Chris Spears of Arke Systems. “It allows you to know what your customers are buying, when they’re buying it, and why. It is a tool that helps you focus on existing clients and execute the steps to bring in new clients.”

Smart Business asked Spears about CRM systems, what they are, and why you need one.

What is CRM?

CRM allows you to monitor clients and prospects to see how they are interacting with your company. It enables your customer-facing employees to see what communications have taken place, any previous purchases and the service requests they have filed. CRM in one form or another has been around for as long as people have had any kind of sales process.

Is CRM more prominent now that it can be tracked by software?

Definitely. If you don’t have a CRM system in place yet, you should implement one. It will help you improve sales and cover some basic areas that will enable you to focus on your customers. If your sales staff currently manages its own contact and client lists, what happens when a member of your sales team leaves? How do you know if your team has been actively communicating with all contacts and not leaving anyone out? How do you ensure that updates are made to all the lists a contact may be on? A CRM system can help your sales team to be more thorough, knowledgeable and efficient.

It also helps you prioritize your sales investment. Each salesperson has a resource cost, and a CRM system can help each person realize if he or she is spending his or her time on unresponsive prospects or accounts and allow the salesperson to focus on the prospects and clients that are more promising. You can give salespeople some insight into how they’re doing and where they’re getting their best results as well as develop a report on a group of salespeople at the organizational level for forecasting and activity. Where, as an organization, do you see the most deals? Where do you see the biggest waste of time? Who are your bottom 10 percent of clients that are eating up the most service and sales time and aren’t profitable?

What are the different features and types of CRM?

CRM is something different for every company. There are CRM systems that focus on account and contact management, CRM systems that handle sales force automation and customer service, etc. Most systems cover all of those areas, and each company will utilize them differently.

A company can implement CRM in a number of ways. Business users can decide that they want something on premise installed in their office. There are also hosted solutions available like Salesforce.com. With Microsoft’s CRM solution you can choose to be hosted or on premise with the exact same feature set.

CRM is not just a sales tool. Any good CRM system that you review is going to have multiple capabilities and features. CRM can help your marketing team, customer service group and executives. Imagine running a marketing campaign, watching new prospects come into your system and closing business. Then those new clients are automatically tied back to those marketing campaign efforts, which allows you to understand the exact ROI of the campaign. This information will be invaluable as you plan future campaigns and allow you to make better decisions.

The customer service capabilities of a CRM system track service tickets, response times and scheduling of resources. Sales people often say that it is easier to sell to existing clients than find new ones. Keeping clients happy is your key to providing them the next product or service that they need.

What about at the executive level?

A CRM system used across the board is going to show valuable metrics for the executive team. How quickly is my customer service department closing tickets? How many new tickets are being opened on a weekly basis? You can look into the marketing department and see how much money is being spent versus how much revenue is generated. Another important feature is sales forecasting. You can observe the sales pipeline, when you should be expecting to close that business, what it means for company growth and whether you’re hitting the numbers you expect.

What kind of company do you want to be when this economic ‘crisis’ is over? Companies that are investing in their future are going to thrive and companies that continue to stick with the status quo are going to fall behind even further.

CHRIS SPEARS is a principal at Arke Systems. Reach him at (404) 812-3123 x120 or chris@arkesystems.com.