Customer-Facing Businesses: How to put CRM at the Center of your Operations

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It was both inspiring and surprising to present recently at the Zoholics User conference in San Francisco. Inspiring because the vast majority of those attending were there to supercharge their use of the Zoho CRM app. Working with GetApp – the largest SaaS marketplace in the world – I have a window seat to see how CRM is sweeping the world. CRM is by far the most sought after business app in our marketplace. In the past 12 months, searches for CRM tools has continued to rise, mirroring global industry trends. Gartner, the IT research and analyst firm, sees CRM as the biggest driver of new business software uptake, and reported that Zoho CRM, for example, enjoyed a 2012 growth rate of 81.2%.

So it was inspiring to be part of a conference where so many businesses are looking to make best use of their CRM tools. And the issues for those making use of their CRM were very similar: how to maintain a 360 degree view of each customer, and how to update records consistently whenever a customer makes contact with your business.

But at Zoholics it was surprising as well to be amongst so many businesses who were new to CRM. For several of the participants I talked to, using a CRM was a fairly recent addition to the suite of business tools they used in their day-to-day operations. At GetApp, we eat our own dog food: our business is 100% cloud-managed. When we set up our business two and a half years ago, the first business app we installed was a CRM. Three months before our first customer came on board, we were routing all of our industry contacts and engagements through a CRM tool to track our relationships. It is a strategy we would encourage for any business starting up.

Here’s a summary of the lessons we learned at GetApp – and shared at Zoholics – when we started building our cloud-based business.

1. Make sure your processes are streamlined upfront

One of the benefits of starting our business with a CRM front-and-center is that it encouraged us to think both with a customer-centric mindest and a workflow approach to our business processes. Map out your supply and value chain and be clear about how information flows through your business, and what triggers you to act.

Document each of your core business processes in a step-by-step model. This will reveal any duplicate steps in your workflow, inefficiencies, or stalling points. It is also an essential task before you can scale your business effectively. Whether you are bringing on new staff or opening a new international location, to scale successfully you need to know how you do the things you do.

2. Clean your data before getting started

One of the benefits for us in starting with a CRM app in our business is that we did not have any legacy data to import into our systems, but could instead focus on keeping our contact information up to date. If you have introduced a CRM app into your business, it is tempting to leave your legacy data where it is and only update contacts in your CRM on an as-needs basis. For everyone we have talked to, this has been a serious impediment to making best use of the power of a CRM database. You will quickly find yourself managing multiple systems, and having to search in three or four places in order to double check your last contact with a potential sales lead or customer.

Use a CSV file to clean your data and import all of your existing contacts from each system you use: email, invoicing, subscriber lists, contact directories. Use the processes you have documented in step one to identify where you store your contact data and import it all into your CRM tool at once. Now spend an hour or two cleaning up all your contacts in your CRM. You will only need to do this once and from then on, you will have a powerful data engine that can help you build lasting relationships year after year.

3. Start by automating simple processes

Now you are in a position to start turbo-charging your CRM as the central spine of your business operations. Small productivity gains will have the largest, long-term impact, so resist the urge to overcomplicate your business by creating a conveyor belt of if…then rules for each business process. Instead, look over your process maps from step one and identify the biggest areas of data entry or duplication. Where does the data come from? Are you double handling it? These are the processes you can automate now.

For example, if you receive email enquiries from potential new customers into your Gmail account, these contacts can be automatically imported into your CRM. Any invoices you create for a new customer sale, again, you can automate so that these customers are automatically added to your CRM. Services like CloudWork can manage all of these integrations for you. Have a look at the complete list of integrations available for your CRM in the CloudWork integrations catalog and start activating automation solutions in your business data flow.

4. Keep integration at the forefront of your next SaaS app decision

64% of businesses that use cloud apps indicate that the lack of integration between their business tools is the biggest headache they face. You can prevent this by checking what integrations are available for the apps you are considering before you implement them in your business. Check that you can connect your CRM to your email marketing software, for example, or that you can backup your invoice app to a cloud storage service so you always have a record of your transactions. Many apps will have a specific section indicating what integrations they support, or check if a third-party integration service like CloudWork can do the heavy lifting between your apps.

With these four key lessons, any business can use a CRM to build year on year sales growth. The sign of an efficient customer-facing business is the ability for managers to make decisions based on the latest customer data. These four lessons will help you become that business.


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    Interesting article. Embracing technology like a CRM can improve customer service. Came across another whitepaper that readers will find useful “Pros and cons of migrating to Microsoft Dynamics CRM from” @