Small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) often need to undertake major IT initiatives, and one is deciding upon a new business application. They must consider many factors in their decisions, including their individual industry focus, the geography in which they operate and their specific business needs.

The challenge is amplified by their smaller technology budgets (as compared to those of larger enterprises).

Though business size and revenue may determine the scope of both capital expenditures and investments in infrastructure, they don’t affect a company’s most critical business needs: to exceed customer expectations, build loyalty and grow the organization.

In order to create the foundation necessary to build a competitive, stable company, customer relationship management (CRM) must be used. But it must be regarded not as an application, rather an underlying business strategy to be used for sales, marketing and services.

Why is CRM so important? As many SMBs know, new customer opportunities are valuable; they represent a significant portion of company revenue. In fact, every interaction with a customer represents an opportunity to grow. Without an integrated way of tracking customer information, this potential revenue will be lost, stymying growth and competitiveness.

According to AMR research, CRM technology was originally designed for the small business, to help increase revenue through better customer satisfaction and the ability to up sell and cross sell. Reduced costs can also be achieved through improved reporting, faster issue resolution and information discovery.

To ensure an SMB’s budget is allocated toward solutions that meet its business needs and challenges, the organization must identify a trusted partner to help identify appropriate solutions. SMBs must choose the best CRM application and desktop platform, plus the features and functionality that are pertinent to the company — with manageable support costs.

Having a consolidated, integrated CRM solution is attainable for the small and mid-sized business. But, when looking for a CRM solution, an SMB must ask four important questions:

  1. How will this improve the productivity of our users?;
  2. Can I keep my total ownership costs low?;
  3. How will I be able to integrate CRM data with other business applications?;
  4. Will this solution grow easily with my business?;

Working with its partner, an organization then must conduct a full audit of its IT systems and business processes — the good and the bad — and identify pain points, as well as other data and logistical issues that need to be resolved.

Unfortunately many organizations skip this assessment phase, and start plugging gaps with software products that don’t, from a holistic perspective, address their business process issues. This can create islands of information, and ultimately lead to missed efficiencies and quality of service gains.

As Canadian SMBs look at investing in IT to sustain them for long-term growth, they must look at software and platforms that help them to integrate, evolve and connect business processes. If their applications aren’t getting easier to use and allowing them to work smarter, what are they worth?

Krista Kuehnbaum is CRM product manager, Microsoft Business Solutions, Microsoft Canada and Jill Schoolenberg is director, Windows Client, Microsoft Canada.

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