The Small Business Case for CRM

Customer relationship management (CRM), that catch-all term for solutions that automate everything from sales to marketing to customer service, used to be the domain of big enterprises with deep pockets and the patience to undertake mammoth implementation projects.

Not any more, according to Darius Vaskelis, vice president of CRM at Sakonent Partners LLC, a Chicago-based consultancy that specializes in CRM. “Now, CRM is genuinely available to any business, whatever the size,” Vaskelis said. His firm, which provides what it calls “CRM 2.0 consulting,” offers customized solutions for clients with as few as two people that can be up and running in two to three weeks.

CRM solutions also continue to improve. Better analytics and dashboards give managers and employees instant snapshots of activity in their areas. Integration with social media on the Internet is creating new ways to interact with customers and capture prospects in CRM programs. And mobile CRM – which lets you interact returning to the office or finding a place to boot up a laptop – is now a viable proposition.

Indeed, now may be the time for small businesses to make the move into CRM.

Solid Business Case

The business case was always there. When implemented well, CRM systems help companies better organize, monitor, track and analyze customer-facing activities. CRM increases productivity, ensures every lead and prospect is pursued, and it improves customer service and satisfaction. It produces bottom-line results.

Today’s more open, modular CRM platforms have made it possible to implement solutions for small groups and pilot projects very quickly – in days or weeks rather than months or years.

The problem was that CRM was so expensive, so difficult to implement properly, and it seemingly required radical change. That may still be a perception among some small businesses, said Linda Daichendt, a consultant who works with small firms in Detroit. “CRM is one of those concepts, even though it’s been around a long time, that I’m not sure many understand well.”

Small business owners are often too distracted, overworked and obsessed with bringing in new customers to be able to get their heads around fundamental CRM objectives, Daichendt said. These include ensuring that companies derive maximum revenue from existing customers – a much cheaper way to generate revenue than bringing in new business, she points out  – and focusing the greatest effort on the most profitable customers.

Small businesses often view CRM solutions as “too complicated” with capabilities they don’t really need, Daichendt said. “They’re wrong,” she adds.

CRM 2.0 – A New Deal

Vaskelis argues that CRM 2.0, a term that refers to a clutch of recently converging trends, makes the technology much more feasible for small businesses. It’s not just that companies such as – followed by everyone else, including Microsoft, and even enterprise software providers such as Oracle – introduced small business-friendly software as a service (SaaS) offerings that reduce capital costs by orders of magnitude.

Nor is it just that prices have come way down for all kinds of CRM solutions. (Some vendors, including and the open source-based SugarCRM Inc. offer basic versions of their products for free.)

It’s also that today’s more open, modular CRM platforms have made it possible to implement solutions for small groups and pilot projects very quickly – in days or weeks rather than months or years. Projects can now be, and often are, driven by business units rather than IT. They don’t require as many, or in some cases, any IT resources.  Both developments make CRM more feasible for small businesses.

In the past, CRM systems had to be tightly integrated with existing internal systems. Now they’re more likely to be “loosely coupled” – a less onerous integration task – and integrated not just with internal systems but also external online data, including social media sites and sources of competitive intelligence.

The solutions are also easier to use. And they’re more likely to be customizable in ways that help tailor them to the people using them rather than – as it often seemed to employees grappling with new CRM systems in the past – the other way around.

“All of this has changed the way people think about CRM,” Vaskelis contends.

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