Using CRM to gain and maintain a competitive edge

By Naseem Saab

Why CRM?

CRM (Customer/Client Relationship Management) is software that is used to record, track, and report on all prospect, customer, and vendor activities and transactions. CRM allows businesses to have information that is immediately available, complete and up-to-date, enabling them to respond appropriately to any request, to increase effectiveness and success. Firms used to consider this type of centralized and comprehensive information resource a desirable option. Now it's a business necessity. As the speed of business has increased and competition grown, good CRM software has become a critical component for success and will help you and your clients survive the current economic crisis.

The CRM Advantage

Consumers and businesses want to buy from the firms that know them and care about their individual needs and desires. In the late 1990s, many companies discovered the best way to build customer loyalty is to obtain good information on all of their customers and use that information to create programs that cater to each customer's preferences. The most effective of these programs gives everyone within the enterprise access to customer data, which enables anyone who might have contact with a customer, from the salesperson in the field to the shipping clerk in the warehouse to, in effect, be a customer service agent. The continuing need for firms to present this single face to their customers is the primary reason why CRM software is expected to be the hottest selling business application of the early 21st century.

Sales of CRM software actually began to soar in the late 1990s. According to figures compiled by AMR Research, CRM software sales topped $762 million in 1997 and then jumped to more than $2.3 billion in 1998 and $16.8 billion by 2007. AMR predicts that this market will continue growing at a rate of 49 percent a year.

"CRM applications are so hot because they enable companies to create strategies that focus the entire enterprise on serving customers," AMR's Peggy Menconi says. "Companies are realizing that they can increase earnings faster if they know their customers better. If they have a better picture of their customers, they can tailor goods and services to them. They can cross-sell and up-sell to them. After all, it is a lot cheaper to sell more of your products to an existing customer than it is to find a new customer."

Menconi also notes there is urgency among firms to become more customer-focused, and that is helping to move the purchase of CRM applications to the top of many companies' lists of priorities. "When you have clear potential for increasing your revenue line, you don't wait," Menconi says. "If you do, you could find yourself suddenly losing market share because your competitors know more about your customers than you do."

A properly implemented CRM system allows companies to segment their clientele and track preferences and trends. This permits them to target promotions and client contact in ways that say, "We know you and care about you." The result is more client loyalty, better success with promotions, and increased client referrals. In a difficult economy, the importance of client loyalty and referrals is even more pronounced, increasing the value of a well-tuned CRM system.

Whenever you pick up the phone your CRM system becomes your information hub, where you go to immediately know who it is on the line, how you know them, what they were promised, what was delivered, and whether it's all been paid for. With a good CRM system, businesses can expect to increase sales, reduce costs, and improve cash flow. The CRM provides business continuity and makes information a truly valuable business asset by centralizing all of your client information, sales opportunities, documents, and communications history.

Integration with Business Systems

No one needs a case study to tell them that it's time-consuming and even frustrating to search for a particular e-mail message or document. Add to that the problem when it's on someone else's PC or might have been archived or deleted. The CRM system can integrate with Outlook and also have a Document Management capability, so you gain an almost complete contact record, tying together all of your client-related e-mails, documents, and notes in one place. The time savings and improvement in client service are significant once you eliminate the need to look in different places for all the client-related information.

Staff accountants and bookkeepers report that too much of their time is spent preparing QuickBooks reports for Sales and Management personnel. Sales and Management complain that the account information they have is rarely up-to-date enough because they have to wait for Accounting to provide periodic reports. A CRM system that properly integrates with QuickBooks will give everyone in the organization visibility to the data they need, without giving them access to the books.

When a CRM Solution is designed to be fully integrated with both Outlook and QuickBooks, it becomes all-encompassing to the data that matters: from communications, to operations, to finance. CRM empowers firms to respond to client requests and sales opportunities with great speed and efficiency, regardless of whether they are a small business or the largest, most well-staffed corporation.

Conclusion

CRM provides firms with competitive marketing advantages and improved client satisfaction. In difficult economic times customer loyalty and the success of marketing efforts are the key ingredients for survival. As you consider your business plans for adding efficiency and planning for business growth consider the benefits to your firm and to your clients' firms in implementing an integrated CRM solution.

About the author
Naseem Saab, president and founder of Results Software, is passionate about helping businesses succeed! With more than 25 years of experience, Saab is a recognized pioneer in the CRM industry and office automation technologies. Saab is a frequent national speaker on the importance of CRM, business growth strategies, office automation, and leveraging a virtual office. Recognizing the consistent need of businesses to maximize the efficiency of limited resources, Saab developed and launched Results in 1986. Leveraging the Results model, Saab helps clients streamline their operations, increase efficiency and improve customer relationships.

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