Cutting it down to size

While the idea of installing customer relationship management (CRM) software can be intimidating to smaller businesses, it shouldn’t be. In fact, it doesn’t have to be either complicated or expensive for those companies that consider themselves SMBs.

Montreal-based Sirius Personnel, which specializes in the recruitment of sales and marketing professionals, has cut operational costs by 30 per cent and increased revenue by 20 per cent by installing a new CRM system – for a crew of just seven employees.

Today, it’s hard to avoid using some form of bare bones CRM, whether it’s a customized system, a contact manager or even sticky notes plastered to your computer screen. CRM’s advantage is, however, that you can actually integrate it into your other existing systems, reducing duplication of tasks and data, and making it easier for its users to collaborate.

Planning the scanning

On average, Sirius receives 200 to 400 resumes per week, which were previously sorted by staff. The firm was looking for a way to scan its database for candidates, and turned to Bell Business Solutions to deploy Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

“What the CRM [system] permits us to do is store thousands of CVs and sort by a number of different fields,” says Dawn Williams, president of Sirius Strategic Development. “We couldn’t do the kinds of searches we can do today. It’s like comparing a tricycle with a sports car.” She adds that the firm will never fully automate its processes. There must be a human element as well, in the form of telephone and face-to-face interviews. Future plans are to integrate its CRM software with Microsoft Outlook.

Buyer strategies

In order to get the most bang for your buck, it’s important to look for a licensing structure that is actually designed for a small business – where you can pay per by the user as opposed to as a lump sum for the system itself. For Sirius, a lot of CRM software was simply too expensive to buy outright considering its very small user base.

Make sure your partner understands your business, including exactly what you do, how you do it and why it’s important. That way, says Williams, your partner will be able to personalize CRM for your specific requirements. For example, it is this type of knowledge that Bell Business Solutions used to develop custom data capture fields when setting up Sirius’ system. Also, it’s useful to appoint someone internally to be a subject matter expert – because you can’t use a partner forever. Take into consideration this person’s workload, particularly in the beginning, when there will be some kinks to iron out.

Both small and large companies require a central repository of customer information, says Michael Burns, president of Toronto-based 180 Systems. The most basic CRM systems include a contact management system; but more sophisticated features include sales force automation, marketing automation and service management (but as a small company, some of these features may be overkill).

Program pillars

There are three components to CRM: sales, marketing and customer service and every business has those components, says Frank Falcone, CRM product manager with Microsoft Canada. The key with CRM is to make it easy to use, so people don’t have to relearn another program. After all, if no one is using your CRM system, it’s useless.

But even a small business can benefit from sales force automation (SFA), which is a component of CRM, if they track leads, qualify them and follow up with proposals or quotes. And a small team can also benefit from collaboration, says Falcone, for example, by sharing a repository of e-mails and generating reports.

Something on the side?

Out-of-the-box CRM will work well for most small businesses, but if you’re a vertical organization with specialized requirements, you may want to consider customization or third-party add-ons. Can the CRM system be tailored to fit your business and is it easy to deploy from a technology standpoint? Do you want to buy your own software or have CRM hosted through a third-party provider, where you pay a monthly fee? Decide how you want to pay for it and how you want to deploy it. And remember, technology is only half the solution – you also have to be willing to change your processes and methodology.

At one point in time there was a differentiation between front-end systems, like CRM, and back-end systems, like accounting or ERP, but that distinction is gradually fading, says Burns. Now it’s recognized that you require both, and even the most basic of systems will usually contain CRM components. Several accounting packages have tight integration with products from top-tier CRM vendors, for example.

“It’s hard for any company that has an application that automates your enterprise to exclude CRM,” says Burns. But, he adds, if you don’t have it, you’re going to have a hard time down the road selling your wares.

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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