In today’s business environment, just getting by is out of the question. To be successful, you need to constantly look for ways to improve your business, streamline your processes, and maximize your profits. Sometimes you get information overload or miss opportunities because of small things that fall between the cracks. Most times, you wish for a little help in managing and delegating tasks. All the time you find that you need all hands on deck and you and your staff can get a bit overworked. Sounds all too familiar to you? Life can be better if you only had a way to take the load off of your hard working staff, help them out a bit so that they can work more efficiently than ever. Well, you can, with the help of some powerful little helpers called CRM systems.

No matter what your business, you will always want to have new customers, and you will want to keep the customers you already have. Which means you need to find effective ways to manage prospects and delight existing customers. And if you are serious about your customers, you should consider Customer Relationship Management, more commonly referred to as CRM.

CRM is used to describe any model for handling business-customer interaction through automation. CRM is not just about the technology – it’s equally important to understand it is about the processes you create to ensure that you give the right sort of attention to each and every prospect to get the sale, and the processes to ensure that existing customers keep on coming back to you.  The technology – usually called a CRM Solution – keeps track of all those processes, reminds you and your staff of when to follow up with customers, and automates the communication and promotions you have with your customers.  

All CRM solutions keep data that will help business owners manage customer relationships. How exactly do these CRM systems make this possible?

Records and organizes data

The heart of a business is it’s relationship with the customer, but even before a relationship with a customer commences, you need to start with essential information about the customer and their needs. When it comes to selling,  ‘knowledge is power’ and if your sales people have the right information at their fingertips, they are more likely to offer something your customer wants, in a way that they want it.  Conversely, too much information can get in the way of a sale. Information overload is a very real problem for a business as it can cause delays in decision making, and delays cost sales.

CRM systems help you organize this data and weed through information in order to get what really matters. All modern CRM solutions allow you to sift through customers to focus on just those with specific interests, or those who have not been contacted for a while, or that spend a certain amount of money in a given month, etc.  In addition, many CRMs also allow the salespeople to keep track of what each customer has purchased in the past, or on a seasonal basis, which is vital information for the horticultural industry.

CRM solutions store and organize this information and additional documents that might be helpful in building a strong relationship with each customer. This information is kept at a central location – either on a server in your office or cloud-based (we’ll look at the available solutions in our next article).  Holding customer information in one central location allows for collaboration between salespeople and support staff. No longer is important customer’s information held captive by a single staff member.

Leads generation

Customers begin as “leads” or “prospects”; someone you know from somewhere. As with any relationship you begin by exchanging details: a name, a phone number, interests. This begins the ‘getting to know you’ process, which is often referred to as ‘leads generation.’  

Marketing your products can be a lot easier if you know your customer’s preferences, inclinations and spending habits. This is known as ‘profiling.’ With the information captured by a CRM solution, a small business can start a ‘marketing campaign’ and keep track of the results. Most CRMs now support a variety of marketing campaign channels, such as online and search-engine ads, email, social media, telemarketing and even good ol’ fashioned direct marketing. As leads respond to the campaigns, the CRM captures their information and allows you to build a relationship to the point where a sale is made.

The marketing campaigns can be based on customers’ purchasing history, so you if you have a lot of products targeted for different users, the sales team can sell, upsell and cross sell effectively.

Automate the sales processes

As a small business, most of your employees have multiple jobs. As tasks and the number of customers grow,   tracking the work becomes increasingly difficult. CRMs have the ability to not only track, but automate a range of business activities including: employees tasks, scheduling customer interactions, setting appointments and sales calls. CRMs can automate task delegation, reminders, social media updates and email marketing.

When setting up your CRM, it is important to spend a little time thinking about what sort of tasks need to be performed to win sales. What happens when a client orders a product or service? What is the process to be followed when a prospect calls and asks for a product that is out of stock?  What do you do when a client returns a product?  All of these interactions can be standardised and largely automated. The CRM will remind staff of their tasks at each and every step, for each and every customer interaction. Of course, as businesses change, the automation can be modified accordingly.

Automation of sales processes encourages best practices like logging calls and keeping notes on each customer’s contact history. This will allow for consistency of customer service.

Accounting automation

Selling is surprisingly expensive, especially if it is a manual process. A good CRM solution should help save money (and reduce mistakes) by automating the sales processes. Small businesses can do away with manual accounting entries and connect their CRM directly into the invoicing and bill settlement process. With the help of a CRM, sales processing can be done at the customer level, with automated printing or emailing of quotes and invoices, and having the information automatically transferred to accounting.

Some cloud-based CRMs work with online stores, and completely automate the invoicing and payment process. However, for the majority of the nursery industry, this level of automation is still a little way off – although there are an increasing number of niche suppliers selling online.

Not simply software

CRM is not just software, it is a business tool – it is a strategy that, when used correctly, can help you manage your business better and maximize your profit. Review your business processes and take a good hard look to see if using CRM will benefit you and your company. The key is to finding which one is a good fit for your business needs. In the next article, I’ll have a list of popular CRM systems to help you get started in choosing the right one for you.