Web CRM for the SME – The Catalyst for Business Processes That Fuel Growth

Mastering the dynamics of customer relationships is one of the most valuable skills one can develop in business.Whether it’s with clients or prospects, the methods with which you communicate define your organization and its future.Our daily grind can take its toll on effective, timely communications with customers opening opportunities for failure.But luckily frameworks for unifying and automatic some of these things are emerging at a fever pitch.One of the largest areas of innovation is in Customer Relationship Management (CRM.)Double digit growth in the $75B CRM services business has enticed competitors to the table, driving costs down so that comprehensive CRM systems are now more affordable than ever.

By way of definition, CRM technologies include operational, analytical and collaborative tools that can fundamentally change a company.Most CRMs on the market provide a unified solution for customer contacts, information sharing, lead management, email, and sales process automation.Reporting tools that let SMBs create forecasts, identify opportunities and watch for trends.

Unifying a business process requires vision that covers the entire scope of operations from prospecting to billing and input from every person in-between.Even with such promise, staff resistance to CRM deployments is common according to published reports, and should be expected.Sales and marketing staff can resist the transparency and accountability these systems enable. Others relish the openness of the system to scrutiny – especially in misunderstood or underappreciated areas of the business previously invisible to senior staff.

The Lack of Effective CRM

Businesses without a CRM plan (or those with a failing one) are easy to spot.Unreturned emails, lost phone messages and uninformed staff project an image of chaos and a rich target for savvy competitors.When SMBs allow existing customer relationships to erode, they neglect fertile ground for business growth – the existing client base.When disenfranchised customers flee, the company must undertake the far less efficient and more costly process of finding new ones to replace them.

As usual, Web 2.0 adds a twist that makes quality customer relationship management more critical than ever.Social networking, blogging and reviews now frequently expose a company’s weaknesses when a vocal mavens is wronged.This can have an impact on branding efforts and sales processes for months or years since anyone doing due diligence on your firm will often stumble upon such disruptions.CRM can help companies prevent these issues from happening.

CRM Technologies

Today, two major flavors of CRM technologies exist, hosted and on-site. Hosted CRM solutions are fast becoming the solution of choice for SMBs for reasons I will outline.Literally dozens of new players enter this market annually with buckets of features for very little money.At present, at least one vendor, Zoho, will let you use its system unrestricted with 3 or fewer users absolutely free.

Hosted CRM

With hosted solutions, the data, software and support are housed at the vendor.Access is through the Internet via PC or mobile devices.Upgrades, backups and technical problems are handled by the vendor according to a Service Level Agreement.Uptimes are usually over 99.5% and support is often 24x7x365. Hosted solutions are usually scalable from 5 to 500 users without changing the underlying setup.

Downsides to hosted systems include forced upgrades several times a year, slower performance (over Internet connections) and limitations on what can be customized in the system.Microsoft has recently mentioned it may be releasing a hosted CRM for use with Office Live and industry-leader http://www.SalesForce.com has began to integrate nearly as many customization features as on-site CRMs offer.

On-Site CRM

On-site systems are often much more customizable.Improved speed and tighter integration with legacy systems, such as ecommerce and email, give these systems a unique place in larger organizations or with those with a flexible I.T. infrastructure.Upgrades, security, backup, and administration will be the SMBs responsibility, requiring a commitment of I.T. resources, hardware, and administration.The business has control over upgrades and can modify the solution as needed, but great care must be taken or subsequent upgrades might break the system.

With either, you must do plenty of homework to be sure the features and services you’re buying meet your own business goals.Most companies will give you trial or limited-user-license versions so you can get a feel for the tool prior to purchase.A simple list of CRM solutions in no particular order is provided below.

What excites me most about CRM is the potential for it to unify an organization under a single set of processes that is repeatable and refine-able.Having a collaborative road map with directions on where to venture and where to avoid reduces risk and improves competitiveness.The business systems, once mastered become easy to repeat, and with the software solution working for you, taking friction out of the system.In short, you are able to work on your business more than in your business, giving you’re a better perspective on the future.

All business relationships occur in phases or cycles. Whether Business to Business (B2B) or Business to Consumer (B2C) keeping aware of these phases and how best to communicate with your customers is often the difference between one-time-sales and lifelong customers. These relationships have hundreds of small opportunities for success or failure that will either impress or disappoint prospects.

Untold numbers of customer relationships go unrealized because of poor Customer Relationship Management (CRM.) Unreturned email, phone calls, and uninformed staff project an image of chaos in the customer’s point of view – which can erode confidence. Most valued clients are lost “a little at a time” through small errors and missed opportunities in relationship management. Anytime an organization maintains informal methods for communicating with customers there is risk that someone could have a bad day or information could be lost. But more importantly, there is no way to know what’s working, or how to make it better. This is where CRM tools come in.

This is just a list, not a review site. I encourage you to look over these and see which is right for you. These are simply listed in alphabetical order.

Big Contacts
Boss CRM
Biz Automation for Exchange
Centric CRM
Consona CRM for Manufacturing
CRM Solution
Deltek CRM + Proposals
Easy Customer
Entrepids Power Suite
Epicor Clientele CRM.NET
Free CRM
Heap CRM
Highrise, 37 Signals
Infor CRM
Instant Sales Tracker
Maximizer CRM
Microsoft Dynamics CRM
Net Suite
On Contact
OpenBox Technologies
Pipeline Deals
Pivitol CRM
Sage software
Sales Boom
Siebel by Oracle
Soffront CRM
Solve 360
Surado CRM
Zoho CRM

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