First of all, good work on realising there are tools out there to help you get your work done more efficiently! Many people never sit back from the day-to-day to analyse these things.
It turns out that the actions you take to manage your customers may require more than an address book and a stack of collected business cards...
Depending on what your client life cycle is like, or your marketing strategy, being able to identify each lead or client simply and easily allows you to focus on the business of doing what you do rather than spending time looking up their details and trying to find the scrap of paper where you last scribbled notes.
Bring on the CRM System
This is where CRMs come in. It stands for Customer Relationship Management and there are a bevy of tools that claim to make it easier, give you more sales and bring everything together in one tool.
Before you get swayed by all that jazzy sales-talk, make sure you take time to review what you're trying to achieve.
Why do YOU need a CRM?
There are so many different applications for these systems that it can definitely be overwhelming to make a choice. First of all, you should look at what parts of your process you are trying to improve.
Be honest about where things are falling apart for you. Recognise that sometimes these things may not be addressed by a CRM system.
Do you get stuck with a lot of data entry? Do you share clients with a colleague who doesn't keep you posted on the last client interaction? Do you need help organising tasks that are client-related? Do you want to send and track email communications somewhere other than your inbox? Are you looking for something to help you take notes while on the go? Are there other systems you need your CRM to integrate with?
As I said, there are many reasons a business will see a need for a CRM so make sure you first ask why you need a CRM. Make a list of the top 2-3 features that you need in a system.
But My Friend Uses This One...
Now, because every business has different needs, it pays to do some research on the features you've highlighted as your must-haves. The tool that your mate is loving might not be a fit for your business at all because they might have different needs. So take recommendations with a grain of salt and think about how the businesses are alike to determine whether there would be similar goals behind how the system is used.
Don't be afraid to get on Google and talk to lots of business owners before you narrow down your selections. Just be sure to keep your business needs in mind.
The Question of Cost
Yes, this will always come up. Of course with a business you don't always have unlimited budget to work with so be sure to include the cost in your research.
Be careful about being won over by a tool that's completely free - sometimes you may have limited access to features or may not have enough space for contacts to really make it worthwhile. So always check the next plan up in case you find yourself needing to upgrade a couple of months down the track.
Some free tools are great and don't have any hidden tricks to get you to pay but don't automatically think that the free one is the best one. You may be compromising to use the free tool but as long as it's doing the most important things for you, that can work out just fine.
Try Before Your Buy
As with anything, test it out before you commit. If the tool doesn't offer at least a free trial (and I would be kind of worried about that) contact the company to ask for a demo.
Spend some time with it, cruise around the different menus. Look at the features that you imagine you will use most. Check out their help docs and test their customer support response. Once you've been working in a system for a while you'll be less likely to migrate away from it so make sure you feel like the tool is a good fit for you before you're really into it.
Take the Time For Learning
Once you've decided, make the most of the tutorials and the help documentation offered. It's there to help you, but most of us just want to dive in and get going. I promise that you'll learn some things that will save you time in future so set aside a few hours (or even a series of 30-minute blocks) and read through the basics. Change and creating new habits can be scary anyways but even more so if you feel like you're just flailing along.
Review and Update
Once you've been using your new tool for a good couple of months, sit back and check that you've been able to do the things you wanted to do. If not, contact the company with questions about how to do them - now that you'll be familiar with their terminology and interface, the approaches will feel much easier.
Keep your system up to date - make those notes on the client conversations you've had. Add those new people from your recent networking event. The system will only be as good as the information that it contains so make sure you build the habits to make it work best for you.
Still finding it daunting to choose?
Contact me and I can send you my most recent research on the CRM options that are out there! I'm unbiased in regards to which one you use so I won't push you towards one that won't address your must-have features.