“CRM” is a particularly tricky topic for SMEs. Most businesses know that they need one, but it can often be difficult to put your finger on exactly “why?” It’s common to see people who have gone ahead and implemented one, but then struggle to get any more value out of it than if they just had a “shoebox full of business cards”.
Phases of life
A good place to start is having a look at what CRM means – it stands for “customer relationship management”. This is the first area where we can come unstuck because the “customer” here is a misnomer. Your CRM system should represent everyone who has a relationship with the business. In particular, we need to specific look at prospects before they become customers, along with suppliers and other partners. (It’s usually not a great idea to put information on employees in your CRM though, because of privacy concerns – you should maintain a separate HR system for this.)
The purpose then is that our CRM system needs to help us manage the lifetime of our customers, suppliers, and partners from “cradle to grave” – or more specifically needs to help us track and manage the relationship of those three types of people through the three broad phases of their life – before “customerhood” (marketing), becoming customers (sales), and as customers (operations). Eventually, those customers will retire out of the business, which marks the point that we stop actively managing the relationship.
Often, when CRM is being implemented for the first time with a business, it will land in one of those life phases and tend to get stuck. For example, a marketing person might put the CRM to support their function, but then the CRM gets stuck only supporting them and their team – no one else in the business knows what it’s and as such doesn’t use it. An important trick is to make sure that this dimension is managed – that all of the business gets value out of the CRM by ensuring the CRM delivers value for each life phase through ensuring the CRM delivers value to each department/function within the business.
More than just contact information
The way you do this is by making the CRM more than just a shoebox of business cards. Most people treat a CRM in the same way that they treat a business card at the end of a meeting – we all have a stack of business cards somewhere “just in case”, but we’ll have some formal or informal process to transform a subset of those people into relationships that are meaningful to both sides (a new customer, a new supplier, a new partnership, etc).
What we need to aim at when we move to an appropriate level of sophistication with our CRM is having it as a store of the “narrative” of the relationship. From cradle-to-grave, it shoul be possible for everyone within the business to see, understand, and refer to each interaction with every person within the CRM. This needs to happen at both a “micro” and a “macro” level.
What I mean by this narrative of the interactions, any contact in or out of your business should be recorded in the CRM. This includes at least a copy of any emails sent or received, any phone calls made or received, and any meetings attended, along with notes that might be helpful for others. When we are in “marketing mode”, this should include any nurturing interactions that can be tracked from the website (clicks, downloads, etc). Any “document artefacts” created within the business should be recorded too – such as sales proposals and contracts.
With this narrative in place, the value can really be seen, and provides scale. With two leads and one partnership, anyone within the business can keep a “picture” of the relationship and it’s state in their heads. When we scale to more than this, it becomes impossible, hence we need a reliable, detailed record of that narrative. For example, a prospect that we’re trying to close we might see in the CRM that it was a lead created from a certain capture page on the website (and we might even be able to see the campaign that drove the traffic), then we might see emails to and from to set-up a meeting, then we might see the meeting, meeting notes, and then copies of proposals sent. The CRM can then also be populated with sales pipeline information – such as where they are in the buying process, and when follow-ups need to happen. This is what is meant by a “single pane of glass” – anyone in the business can look into it and see absolutely every interaction made, the huge advantage here of not having to hunt around for information, or miss details when engaging with the individual. As mentioned, importantly this provides scale.
Once we have this “narrative at scale” in place, at a macro level, all of this information can be considered on aggregate – this is where decision-making can become more data driven. It allows you to run reports and analyse behaviour in a meaningful way, and this in turn allows you to refine and optimise in a way that puts you on the path to continuous improvement.
This process tends not to work if you’re relying on getting data into your CRM manually – the approach is to integrate in with other systems so that data just “appears” in the CRM as you go about your business. This is why creating this sort of detailed narrative is a non-trivial task. Most SMEs don’t do it because a) they don’t realise they can, and/or b) when the realise they can either they can’t determine the costs, or can determine the costs and can’t balance it against value. It is an investment, but the transition to becoming a data driven business, regardless of the size, is 100% worth it.
Working on your CRM to put it at the heart of things and investing such that it becomes a single pane of glass that lets you reflect on every individual relationship within and aggregate performance about data your business is. It’s not free, either in terms of time or money, but it is powerfully transformative. It is the one IT investment that SMEs can make that is not “me too” – everyone needs their data in the cloud, email on Microsoft 365 or G Suite, reliable network printers, reliable broadband etc – most SMEs do not do this, but if you can, it’ll solve a lot of growth problems for you.