As your business grows, keeping track of sales and valuable data can be stressful if you don't have efficient systems in place. Customer relationship management (CRM) systems simplify marketing, sales and customer interactions in many ways.

CRM solutions can boost sales, improve business relationships and make life easier for marketing, sales and customer service teams. This software can be set up to manage all interactions with existing and potential customers – making new leads, providing ongoing support and leaving people satisfied to encourage repeat business.

Since repeat customers are the driving force behind many businesses, effective use of CRM can be essential for growth. Some of the advantages a CRM system offers are:

  • Reducing admin by automating processes, such as sending welcome messages to customers and notifications to sales or support staff
  • Keeping all information in a central location where everyone on your team can access it
  • 24/7 access from anywhere, with a cloud-hosted system
  • Simplifying training for new team members who won't have to work with multiple systems

If you've not used CRM before, or you want to refine your strategy, here are 7 ways to get the most out of your CRM software.

1. Make sure it's flexible

Business needs change over time, so you need to choose a customer relationship management system that's flexible enough to serve you at every stage. Choosing a solution that serves your business' needs right now could stifle you or prove too expensive if your circumstances change.

The best CRM systems can be scaled along with your changing needs as your business grows or slows down, as well as integrate with other business. Others may be more rigid in structure, but the contract with your CRM provider could allow you to upgrade or downsize the service as needed.

Scalability is especially important for a small business, as you may have little idea of what your needs will be like in the future. Having a flexible and reliable CRM application in place could help you adapt to changes in the economic cycle and other unforeseen events more easily.

If you need a scalable CRM, the best option is a cloud-hosted CRM. Since there's no physical hardware to install, you can hire only the services you need, when you need them. These systems are also faster to set up, and outsourcing IT support can reduce costs.

2. Bring everyone on board

One of the benefits of CRM is that it allows everyone in your business to share and collaborate effectively. But this is only possible when everyone signs up and knows how to use the system, otherwise vital customer data could be missing.

If individuals are holding back from adoption because they don't know how to use CRM, provide training to bring them up to speed. New employees should be given CRM training from the start, even if their role doesn't require using the system yet, as it may be useful later. If someone is holding out stubbornly, make sure they know that CRM is now a vital part of your business and that use is not optional.

Often, the reason CRM fails can be traced to the top of the company, if senior executives and management don't get involved. Knowing that the bosses are all on board could convince other people in the organization that CRM is a big deal and here to stay.

3. Be consistent

CRM enables collaborative working and easy data sharing, but only if everyone's using the system in the same way.

That's why it's a good idea to set standardized guidelines and make sure these are available to everyone for easy reference. Everyone who uses the system should know how to enter data correctly and what information needs to be included. Otherwise, vital data could be missing or you might have to waste time sourcing or deleting information.

Smooth CRM integration should complement and enhance what your team is already doing, rather than reinventing processes from scratch, although this isn't always possible. While they'll have to learn how the system works, you should make the continuity clear and show them how CRM will save time from now on.

When introducing CRM for the first time, or changing to a new system, you should also take the time to explain your strategy. Let your team know what your goals are and how CRM will help to achieve them, rather than being an end in itself.

4. Learn to prioritize

Not all data is equally important and not all customers are equally valuable. While you'll ideally have the time and resources to deal with every potential customer, your team should also know what your priorities are.

For many companies, this focus is returning customers. Someone who already likes your business may be likely to deal with you again and to spend more. You can also save the time and money of advertising to prospective customers when CRM helps you maintain customer relationship through automated reminders and customer support.

You should also prioritize the type of data you collect. In the information age, there's more detailed information out there on customers than ever before, but not all of these insights are going to be equally useful for planning targeted campaigns.

While you might want to collect as much information as you can at first – from contact details and order histories to interests gleaned from social media – this can lead to databases filling with clutter over time. If you notice that certain data fields prove irrelevant, these can be deleted to save time and avoid distractions.

5. Provide a personalized experience

If you fall into the habit of treating your customers like data, they might not feel valued. Aim to offer a more personalized experience that can be more engaging and humanizes your brand.

Organizing databases according to certain criteria will help you to see the different types of customers and leads you have, allowing for more targeted and effective campaigns and recommendations. This could help you to create or refine your customer personas, which can be used to customize the language and imagery you use and determine the best places to market to different customers.

To help customers feel valued, you should also ask them how they want to be contacted and make sure you honor this. Whether their preference is via social media, email or other avenues, contacting them on their terms – at their preferred time – is more likely to produce results. CRM also helps to ensure that their personal details are secure.

6. Embrace automation

Human error is the biggest threat to databases, where a minor error or missing data can sometimes lead to wasted hours or missed opportunities. Manual data entry can also mean that databases are slow to update, especially if employees are prioritizing other tasks.

Automating CRM can solve many of these problems, with many systems being designed to import, update and manage certain aspects of customer database automatically. This will make sure your sales and marketing teams always have accurate and timely data to work with. Talk to your CRM provider to find out what automated options are available.

To take things further, some businesses are now integrating CRM and AI. Artificial intelligence systems can work with CRM to add and pull relevant data, make appointments and carry out other interactions autonomously. Statista predicts that AI adoption will contribute US$394 billion to the CRM sector by 2021.

7. Analyze and improve

CRM isn't only useful for managing customer data. When the software includes analytics tools to analyze and visualize data, it can also offer valuable insights into the success of your campaigns.

Comparing metrics such as clicks, replies and ROI will give you a good idea of what's working and what needs to be improved. Some CRM systems feature live dashboards providing real-time results, if you need to make spur of the moment decisions.

If you're experimenting with different email templates or campaigns, database segmentation with CRM can also help you to plan AB testing, sorting customers according to the criteria you want and making it easier to assign a control group.

Is CRM worth it?

Introducing a new CRM system in your business can be a hassle, but one that should soon start paying off. According to a survey by Nucleus Research, CRM offers ROI of $8 per $1 of investment on average, but only when it's used correctly and consistently.

It's important to know that CRM isn't a quick fix for a struggling business. According to Meta Group, Inc, between 55% and 75% of CRM projects fail, and this is often because businesses don't take the time to plan and implement the systems correctly.

When used to its potential, CRM can turn a struggling business around or free up time and resources so you can concentrate on the bigger picture, as long as you and your team are committed to making the change.

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