A client who called Normand Chabot founder-owner of O Transit Inc. to inquire about an engineering project the Montreal firm tackled for him many years ago was pleasantly surprised.
Actually that’s an understatement.
The customer was flabbergasted that Chabot could still recall the exact measurement of the materials used in the assignment carried out some 10 years ago.
And Chabot had another trick up his sleeve. The O Transit owner told his client at which restaurant they had initially discussed the project and what they had for lunch.
No, Chabot doesn’t have a photographic memory – quite the contrary.
Instead he relies on Maximizer CRM, an automated customer relations management tool from Maximizer Software Inc. of Vancouver, BC.
“I have one of the worst memories. There are times when I even forget my daughters’ names,” says Chabot whose single office consultancy firm specializes in hydraulic projects for international clients.
He said the CRM tool has enabled him to streamline his client data gathering and retrieval process, create an instantly accessible project database, and yes – remember names and birthdays.
“In the old days it would have taken me days to pull out data on a 10-year-old project, now it’s just takes a matter of seconds to sort through the more than 10,000 entries in my database.”
Like many an SMB operator, Chabot started out recording client information and transactions with pen and paper when he opened up O Transit in the early 1990s. Like many respectable business owners, he diligently wrote down customer names and contact information on journals, sticky notes and whatever piece of paper that was handy.
As O Transit’s business grew, so did the mountain of hard copy data, until it became difficult to retrieve information in a timely fashion. “It got to a point where you literally had to dig up information.”
Chabot’s problems are very common among SBM operations, according to Angie Hirata, worldwide director of marketing and business development at Maximizer.
“A CRM system is typically not the first item on an SMB’s shopping list when they hang up their shingle,” she said.
Businesses often start out building their client database on manually written ledgers or rolodex-type address books.
If there is an attempt to automate, the tool of choice would likely be a spreadsheet such as Excel or an e-mail program like Outlook.
But these tools do not provide the appropriate features needed to effectively keep tabs business transactions or keep information secure, Hirata said. “It’s very easy for confidential corporate information to be released through Outlook and an employee leaving the company can easily take an Excel file away as well.”
Basically, tools such as Maximizer’s CRM 10 Entrepreneur Edition provide start-up users with secure contact management software that ties up data such as client names, contact information and other associated data with information about a project or transaction.
Users can call up a client’s name on a computer screen, locate various individuals associated with the person or company, and determine at what stage the client’s project is at, Hirata said.
The Entrepreneur Edition also offers features such as mobile access with MaxMobile Lite for BlackBerry, on-demand business coaching, integration with Outlook and on-the fly reporting.
Companies have to carefully consider their business needs before purchasing a CRM product, according to Carmi Levy, senior vice-president for strategic consulting at AR Communications Inc. in Toronto.
“It’s not about the application, it’s about the underlying business process and figuring out how technology can improve them,” he said.
There are three basic components to CRM: sales, marketing and customer service.
Ideally, a CRM tool will help users create client contact lists and aid salespeople in tracking leads, qualifying them and doing follow ups with proposals and quotes. The tool will help a small team collaborate by allowing them to share a repository of relevant e-mails and by generating reports.
Chabot said he was aware of companies using Maximizer to generate sales, but for his operation the product served him best by rationalizing his database.
For example, he uses his client’s International Organization for Standardization (ISO) identification as a peg for their files and associated projects.
“As my clients are ISO registered. I have them in the system by their ISO IDs. Maximizer enables me to set user-defined shields to enter searches based categories such as professional lines, sales, date or other fields,” he said.
Business looking to install a CRM tool must consider several key strategies:
- Understand your business and determine what you expect to get from a CRM package
- Determine what type of CRM tool you need, an out-of-the-box model, a configurable package or a hosted service
- Make sure the accompanying licensing structure is designed for SMBs
- Before purchasing, determine how the product will change your process and plan ahead for this transition