CRM: The Same Difference for All Businesses

A Customer Relationship Manager is the most significant, and in my opinion, the most underutilized business tool. Practically overlooked by small businesses, a CRM should be what most small businesses invest in first, well before business cards, office space, or even a Web site. Having a good CRM can help you visualize, plan, execute, and fine tune your sales process, business workflow, communications, marketing and customer service – all from one place. Being able to do all of that, as a small business owner, will make you all that more organized when you’re ready to open your doors, real or virtual.

At the very heart of every single business mankind has devised are two things and two things only: customers and services. I used to say “products and services” until I came to the realization that products are merely what a business delivers to a customer. It is the delivery, whether by truck or as stock on shelves, that is the actual service of value to the customer. A business without customers has no one to service, and therefore has no business. If you provide a service yet have no one to pay you for it, you likewise have no business.

Beyond that, the differentiation between every business is the nature of the service provided, and the type of customer the business targets. A hospital provides health care to patients, an electrician installs air conditioning, a web developer creates Web sites, a teacher educates students. No matter what business you’re in, no matter what position you occupy within the company, it all amounts to the same thing.

Seeing Patterns in Business Paradigms

As I connect with different business owners and decision makers online, I’m always interested to learn about how they’re doing business. As we discuss their business, I’m constantly fascinated by how I can hear the differences between their business and other businesses I learn about, yet I can still distill the underlying essence of their business that makes them essentially the same. Whether they have an extensive vetting process, or provide services to any and all customers, whether their services (and/or products) are real or virtual, if they’re business is local or international, it always, always, comes back to the same thing: customers and services.

A CRM, out of the box, is a very generic tool. So generic, in fact, that it’s pretty useless until you start configuring it. But it is precisely this generalization that proves my point. The good news is that it doesn’t stay generic for long. Any CRM worth using typically provides you with record storage for customers, products (since not every one agrees with my premise. Yet.), and other record types that can help you plan, run and improve your business. The better ones will provide a way for you to add custom record types (sometimes called modules) with customized fields. The good news is that there are so many free CRM software platforms that “investment” I spoke about earlier only means the time spent setting it up.

More Than a Sales Monitor

The CRM is mistakenly thought of as a sales tool, a way to monitor how salespeople are doing with their leads and the sales pipeline. It has been my experience that there is so much more value in a CRM than simply watching what your salespeople are doing. For your customer-facing staff, a CRM can give them access to the entire customer history, including support calls, purchase history, and so on. In the marketing department, you can design and launch campaign from within the CRM targeting very specific slices of your customer base. For executives, the reporting capabilities should provide a snapshot of how the company is doing from any perspective.

If you have a CRM tool, start looking at it differently, and start harnessing the power of the data that’s in it. If you don’t, it’s time you got started. If you would like guidance, my door is open. Let me just put your details into my CRM…