Many SMBs pride themselves on enjoying close relationships with their customers. Based on the old "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" saw, they are sometimes reluctant to invest in the kinds of customer relationship management (CRM) technologies adopted by their larger competitors.
However, a recent CIO Today article lists a number of reasons why SMBs may want to reconsider. For instance, if valuable customer information is stored primarily in a salesperson's personal files rather than a company database, it will likely leave a company when the salesperson does, says a consultant interviewed in the article.
Despite the business benefits, however, a CRM software developer says that CRM systems aren't for every SMB. The two best candidates, he says, are companies with aggressive growth plans and those in which just a few staffers manage the entire sales cycle, from quote to invoice to delivery.
Avidian Technologies CEO James Wong makes a similar point in a recent IT Business Edge interview: Is CRM Overkill for Some SMBs? He says that many SMBs need a contact management or salesforce automation system rather than a full-fledged CRM system.
Wong cautions SMBs not to take on too much with their CRM efforts:
Don't try to integrate your customer service with your sales and accounting and say, "Wouldn't it be nice to go all the way from a prospect into financial systems?" Just take it one step at a time with what is critical to your business -- closing sales. Find a way to manage your sales process and activity.
Still, plenty of SMBs do find CRM useful. The owner of a New Zealand bicycle business interviewed in the CIO Today piece says his new software helps him make better use of customer data. While he rarely looked at data contained in spreadsheets because it "was just too time-consuming to get anything out," he finds the new system much easier to use.
A number of companies are creating CRM solutions tailored to smaller businesses, many of which utilize the software-as-a-service delivery model that has proven popular with SMBs. Among them are Microsoft, with its Dynamics Live line, and Google and Salesforce.com, which have partnered on an entry-level product for SMBs that incorporates Google's AdWords.