Enterprise Functionality for Small Business | Relating to Customer Data
Many small business owners are under the impression that most powerful business process management solutions are just for big businesses. A common misconception, for example, is that robust CRM products with turn-key functionality are too complicated and expensive. This misconception leaves most small business owners to frequently turn to inexpensive online solutions or to their favorite email client in order to store and manage customer information. In today’s competitive business environment, the intelligent and innovative use of technology and business information is often the determining factor between success and failure. Now more than ever, small businesses must leverage tools with the same capabilities as their enterprise counterparts in order to help the business perform at levels necessary to drive growth and maintain profitability.
The data developed within the solutions supporting various business processes is the key which unlocks business intelligence. This data may only be captured and used if the systems and tools in place allow for it. With far too many small business CRM solutions, the assumption is that simplicity of use is the equivalent of less functionality. Approaching the problem from the standpoint of what most small business owners KNOW they need to know, developers have sometimes failed in delivering the capability (and resultant data) small business owners didn’t know they needed or would benefit from. What business owners need to know about is the customer.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions help businesses identify, acquire and retain customers. Almost any business relationship or interaction represents a customer opportunity. Present customers are customers now, past customers are not just past customers but prospects and everyone else is a prospective future customer. Consider that vendors or resellers are different types of customers, too. Even employees and coworkers can be seen as “internal” customers. Keeping useful and relevant information about these various “customers” and documenting how the business interacts with them is essential to understanding the entire relationship lifecycle, which is a step towards understanding the business better.
When a small business elects to use a software solution to handle the various interactions with customers, it is often approach in pieces rather than in a comprehensive manner. Traditionally, Contact Management solutions are applied to sales efforts, providing tools for communicating with leads and prospects as well as current customers. However, related information is also often stored in accounting systems, which handle billing and payment processes involving customers (clients, suppliers, employees, etc.). Some businesses also may use other systems for time management, service or work order management, project management and to archive related documents and emails at various levels of the relationship, where customer information is used and data is created. With segmented pieces of information in numerous databases, it is hard to achieve true Business Intelligence and a comprehensive view of the entire operation. Smaller companies can easily miss out on the benefits that their enterprise counterparts possess.
It’s not really unusual for businesses to store some of the same information in several systems, generally in order to support specific job functions for workers in those areas, and delivering data on the equivalent of a “need to know” basis. For most small businesses, though, an integrated Business Management system that provides CRM as a component of its overall offering could be the answer to providing a single comprehensive solution for all departments. An integrated solution of this sort would seamlessly integrate with the accounting, email, and document management products Small Businesses use every day. Examples of such solutions include, but are not limited to, Results CRM, Method CRM and LeGrand CRM.
Beware, however, that not all integrated CRM solutions are created equally. If your organization delivers billable services, make sure that the integrated CRM system that you select can take a billable appointment that was scheduled in the CRM system and automatically place that on an invoice for you – without duplicate data entry and manual tracking of timesheets – so you’re not leaving money on the table. If you manage projects, make sure that the CRM system has the cohesiveness to include project and resource management functionality so that the full business relationship – from sales to the delivery of services to billing – can be managed and tracked in one system without duplicated data entry.
When systems are not tightly and intelligently integrated, sharing data between them becomes very problematic. Without the ability to check for duplicate records or properly map data points and related fields between systems, there is a great potential for errors in or duplication of data. The result could be a large amount of unrelated and unusable information, which is often what happens when list or transaction data is simply copied between applications without the necessary logic to understand changes in various records, record types, or record states.
There’s a reason why “legacy” integrated software solutions made sense for businesses, and why many enterprises continue to hold on to their solutions – they include the wide variety of tightly integrated functionality and logical data sharing that has been a benefit to the business for years. As organizations seek to start up or reassess their software and systems, they would be wise to keep in mind that generating “big” data with a bunch of loosely connected applications isn’t enough. The data must be intelligently related – just like the business and the customer.
A tightly integrated and well-managed CRM and Business Management solution, whether in-the-cloud or on premises, is not out of financial reach for small business. While a solution of this type is not free, the reasonable investment in a quality solution will provide the Business Intelligence necessary to build and maintain a competitive advantage.