As a subject, CRM (customer relationship management) is like an iceberg - there's much more to it than might seem to be the case at first sight.
Contrary to the preconception that many business owners have about CRM being relevant only to large organisations servicing thousands of consumers, a closer look at the CRM iceberg reveals that the latest feature-rich software makes effective CRM solutions available to all sizes of organisation, whether operating in a business-to-business or business-to-consumer marketplace.
At its most basic level, CRM is simply a way of maintaining and categorising a client or customer database, but such is its scope that it has many applications, such as integrating that database with correspondence, initiating marketing campaigns, recording and measuring the outcomes of such campaigns as well as categorising sales leads and tracking prospects throughout the various stages of the sales process.
In essence, CRM is a workflow management tool that can be established to process the most basic contact details while capable of assuming much greater complexity through the introduction of work flows as relationships with clients progress.
Should a sales executive receive a request for a brochure, for example, then CRM software can be set up not only to automatically create a brochure pack for posting, but can also log a reminder for the sales exec to make a follow up phone call a couple of days later, before logging a similar reminder a week or so after that for the executive to contact the client to assess interest and offer assistance.
Microsoft's latest CRM software has really come of age, having jumped straight from CRM1.2 to CRM3.0. The ability of Microsoft CRM3.0 software to link in with other packages means that it can be integrated with, for example, accounting software such as Navision and Great Plains.
This means that not only does CRM software enable companies to generate sales leads but, if linked with other packages, it can check if products are in stock and automatically generate invoices or quotes so that users can source everything they need from the same package.
Microsoft's CRM software is available in two versions - a Small Business Server aimed at organisations with less than 75 employees and an Enterprise version providing an equivalent service for larger organisations.
Regardless of which version is most appropriate, one particular attraction of both CRM software packages is that not only do they help companies manage their clients, but they can also help manage supplier relationships, as well as enable companies to keep an up-to-date database of competitors.
A further attraction is that the software is customisable and can be readily configured to include a company's own branding and set up standard documents that automatically display a company’s own letter heading and graphics.
These and other valuable features make an investment in CRM software worth considering for any business owner looking to work smarter by managing relationships with customers and suppliers more efficiently and effectively.
And the good news is that CRM software has come a long way since the days when feature-rich packages were typically expensive and beyond the budgets of most SMEs. Today's sophisticated CRM software packages are not only economic, but far richer in features than ever before.
In order to derive the maximum benefit of CRM software, users should seek the services of a specialist IT consultant to assess their requirements and set up the software application to suit their purposes because CRM software is not an off-the-shelf product.
That's why there's little to be gained from an IT consultant attempting to shoe-horn a one-size-fits-all CRM solution into all clients, regardless of size or sector. Rather, setting up a CRM solution is a specialist skill requiring a consultant to understand fully a client's unique work processes in order to set up the workflows on the solution which will derive the maximum benefit.
And with only a handful of CRM software applications currently in use by SME business owners in Scotland, those enlightened business owners who realise the benefits to be had from their installation will steal a march on the competition by accessing a more efficient and effective means of managing their customers, clients and suppliers more successfully than ever before.