This article originally appeared in the October 2010 issue of Customer Inter@ction Solutions
Small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) have to work smarter, not harder than their peer-level and enterprise-scaled competition to survive and grow in today’s and tomorrow’s economy. For that reason they are seeking effective, versatile and affordable methods that can uncover new revenue opportunities while enhancing existing customer relationships and at the same time saving them time and money to be more profitably used elsewhere. And that means they are employing CRM solutions for selling to businesses (B2B) and increasingly to consumers (B2C).
Customer Interaction Solutions interviewed several leading firms about CRM for SMBs. Questions were asked on:
· New and ongoing trends
· CRM expansion from B2B to B2C applications
· Social CRM
Avidian Technologies (www.avidian.com)
James Wong, CEO
By far the most impactful trend that continues to weigh on the minds of our SMB customers is the poor economic climate. With that in mind, what they continue to want is a way to make every customer contact more meaningful and especially more profitable. They’re not necessarily looking for something that will be a magic wand and turn every sales pitch into gold, but they want to increase sales effectiveness any way they can. They’re looking for a solution with a low barrier to entry, including in terms of cost and usability, and that will create an immediate ROI.
The basic underlying principles of CRM – improving customer relationships, increasing customer retention and improving sales – all still apply in the B2C world just as they do in the B2B world.
A lot of SMB B2C companies have used the standard business productivity software to manage customers, namely Microsoft’s (News - Alert) Office products such as Excel, Word, Outlook or Access, perhaps even some simple home grown database tools. The primary flaw with tools such as these when used to help manage customer relationships is that they weren’t necessarily designed for the specific tasks associated with relationship management, especially the collaboration necessary. They’re great for storing information, but they don’t have the built-in functionality to manage and monitor the customer interactions and sales pipeline that CRM solutions do. They also don’t make communication with customers a fluid process.
Some specific benefits of CRM for SMB B2C firms are having a consolidated and centralized set of contacts, having logs of when you talked to customers last and what was discussed. Other benefits include being able to categorize the contacts by group and then reaching out to those groups with customized marketing. Finally, it enables employees using the CRM tool to communicate more efficiently with each other knowing what each other has done with each particular customer.
Any business, whether large or small, cannot afford to ignore social media as a method of connecting with customers and potential customers. As consumer and business customers grow more accustomed to using social media for everything from entertainment to communication, they are expecting to be able to connect with the companies they do business with in the same way.
This is actually an area where SMBs can get a leg up on many of their larger competitors who might have bureaucratic red tape to work through in order to get a strong social media program for customer engagement off the ground. If you’re an SMB, it’s pretty simple as there are a lot fewer levels to work through before you can convince the key decision maker, such as a director of marketing or the CEO, that social media has to be a priority.The real question is, however, are SMBs actually taking advantage of this opportunity? For the most part, I would say about half of the SMBs we work with are indeed utilizing social media in some way to connect with customers. That means about half are not, though. Many of these companies are held back in this regard simply because they don’t know what social media channels are out there to engage with customers through. They don’t know where there customers are at online. I think once they figure this out, it’s actually pretty easy to develop a strategy.
Ray Stoeckicht, Vice President of Consulting Services
More SMBs are looking at and deploying CRM solutions and moving away from pen and paper, Excel, ACT and Goldmine. CRM tools enable them to manage contacts, customer records, alerts, and run reports based on key performance indicators inside a single integrated system accessible by all employees, anytime, anywhere. They can help firms determine customer value and permit them to make offers and present terms that reflect this to maximize lifetime profitability. It gives them insights into their sales pipelines so that they can better plan their operations in anticipation of increased inventory or service demand.
SMBs are trying to streamline their business and that’s a good thing; they realize that multiple databases with the same contact information in many different places are inefficient. They are also realizing they need to focus on keeping existing customers, which is much less expensive than prospecting for new ones and to base business decisions on data not historical record and gut feels. CRM permits firms to get to a single point of truth and use a single, centralized database as a centerpiece of the customer experience while tying in all departments such as marketing, sales, operations, and customer service.
When SMBs have employed CRM systems, it has been the firms that sell B2B and typically for sales force automation tasks. This is now changing as those who sell to consumers realize that CRM tools can enable them to extract more value out of their customer relationships.
Many CRM providers have recognized this trend and have developed a B2C paradigm as an additional CRM functionality. Working with many firms such as mortgage brokers, financial advisors and realtors, who sell to end consumers, CRM application have been modified to fit alternative selling methods, which centers on consumers rather than businesses.
There is a challenge in employing CRM tools for B2C in that those aimed for that purpose have been written and priced for enterprises while the solutions scaled for SMBs have not been traditionally been architected for that purpose; responding to market needs they have been geared instead for B2B. There are several key differences between B2B and B2C applications. For example there is no little or no need in many B2C deployments for accounts functionality and reports. Yet outside of Intelecrm, there are few B2C-geared CRM products in the marketplace, which means there has to be a lot of customization enables the same successful B2B paradigm with CRM in B2C.
If B2C SMBs have been behind those selling B2B on embracing social channel they are leaders in social media. People sell to consumers are starting to use Facebook (News - Alert), Twitter and YouTube to market their wares. For example real estate agents are using YouTube to show properties to prospective buyers. B2C SMBs have the social paradigm in their grasp a lot easier because they are selling to consumers and that is what social CRM is catered to: people rather in organizations.
Maximizer Software (www.maximizer.com)
Vivek Thomas, President
SMBs are now looking to their CRM systems for enterprise-quality capabilities like robust business intelligence: including clear visibility on projected revenues and ideal sales resource allocation. Besides the centralized contact database and repository of basic customer data and communication, there is a growing desire to track lead flow – from creation to close, opportunity nurturing and proactive customer service. SMBs are also realizing that CRM offers a window into areas for improvement throughout the customer interaction lifecycle via dashboards. SMBs’ CRM investment means a lot more now as they are leveraging it for other key business insights that enable informed – and often critical – business decisions.
While SMBs have traditionally been heavier users of CRM for B2B the number of companies using it for B2C is growing. We’ve seen consumer-focused financial services businesses relying heavily on CRM to manage their customer interactions and leads, as well as for regulatory tracking of transaction requests. And while many other types of SMBs on the B2C side have often used POS systems to track basic customer information, they are now recognizing the value of CRM and adoption is on the rise.
As social media has become more mainstream it provides another avenue for SMBs in both B2B and B2C segments to gather and utilize key customer/prospect information, which can then be combined with existing data in their CRM systems for the most complete customer profile possible. Also, social media has changed the way people research technology-sourcing options in the B2B space – making the process more like B2C – as they can easily research online commentary before making decisions.
SMBs recognize that social media is more strongly aligned with B2C but that the B2B component is continuing to gain momentum. Yet the main stumbling block for social media is the lack of a proven ROI, which is holding them back from fully embracing it.
Microsoft Dynamics (http://crm.dynamics.com)
Bill Patterson, Director, Product Management, Microsoft Dynamics CRM
We see organizations today that are still challenged to maximize their business productivity using CRM systems. Even if they had deployed a CRM system to centralize data input or standardize data capture, their CRM systems previously used were heavily favored toward management, rather than helping an individual sell to or serve their customers better.
We also see CRM emerging into a broader category solution. It used to be that CRM focused entirely on the notion of (1) sales automation, (2) marketing automation or (3) customer service enablement, but with organizations large and small now focusing on maximizing the value of every relationship, we are beginning to witness CRM branch out beyond those three core lines of business. As a result, we are supporting organizations as they optimize engagements and establish across all lines of business within an organization.
What we feel is driving this change to B2C is the emergence of the consumer as holding their own destiny. If we think about it for a moment, 10 years ago, when most businesses were preparing for Y2K, consumers were pretty locked-in to where they shopped, consumed the same products and services, and paid the same prices for what they consumed. Today, with the Web becoming the way in which we do business, we can now use mobile devices to find the best price and nearest location open, or engage with others who have made similar decisions to be sure that is the right product or service for me. The shift toward convenience over conventional relationships is something that an SMB must to respond to and CRM is a key asset that can ensure an SMB is responding to the needs of their customers.
Consumers are certainly rising to the occasion when it comes to engaging on social networks. A simple search for “bad service” on Twitter returns feedback about some of the biggest brands – and yes, even small businesses. The question thus becomes, are businesses listening? More often than not, we see SMBs intrigued by the idea of social, but are not yet social themselves. They have yet to establish an identity, incorporate social into their businesses processes, especially customer service, or use social networks and influence networks to increase brand awareness.
Sage North America (www.sagenorthamerica.com)
Larry Ritter, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Sage CRM Solutions
We are seeing SMBs begin to use cloud-based connected services to supplement their existing CRM systems. Examples include subscription list building and e-mail marketing services that integrate with a company’s CRM system. Connected services such as these can be available at a moment’s notice to help SMBs identify new sales prospects and market to them.
These services are easy to switch on to enable rapid use. Businesses that use a steady regimen of these services find it affordable to keep the services switched on for the team members who need them most. If there are seasonal spikes to address, more users can be added temporarily and affordably.
We are also seeing SMBs continuing to evaluate and implement cloud computing and SaaS (News - Alert) CRM systems. Cloud deployments are ideal for businesses seeking a highly adaptable CRM experience with no capital outlay or IT burden and subscription options that allow them to pay as they go.
SMBs are revealing [in the process] their top concerns, some of which are not what you would expect or what some vendors would suggest is important. Traditional SaaS vendors push debate over architecture (single- or multi-tenant) and while each has its benefits SMBs are saying architecture type is of little concern compared to their true needs which are data security, workflow, customization and mobile device support. Saugatuck Technology’s latest SaaS research surveyed SMBs and found that just eight percent specified a multi-tenant architecture as important.
SMBs’ CRM focus may have traditionally been focused on B2B due to CRM’s high costs of entry in terms of deployment costs, system flexibility and customization. Systems today are easier to use and rapidly deployed, lowering the time and out of pocket costs for SMBs to serve broader interaction models with their customers. With the advent of very affordable cloud CRM and connected service options, plus the continuing evolution of mobile CRM applications, it is quite reasonable for SMBs to acquire and use CRM tools to support their sales efforts regardless of the target audience is, business or consumer.
SMBs are still trying to figure out the impact of social media on CRM. There is a lot of great work by industry influencers and observers to help guide SMBs along this path, and some of the more proactive entrepreneurs and small businesses are achieving success with social media, yet most are still trying to determine what additional context from the social web is valuable to pull into their CRM systems. As vendors we’re building in capabilities to monitor social media at the company and contact levels within CRM and bring the relevant data inside the systems for firsthand use. As SMBs identify what additional information helps them sell, they’ll be able to map how much revenue was achieved with the assistance of social media and these aspects that pull their weight will remain while other shiny social media tools may fall away.
SMBs should consider while evaluating social media to define what they are trying to accomplish, start simple and think bigger as they progress through testing and applying different social tools and walk the talk by using social media to learn more about social media, and improve customer relationships in the process.
Scott Holden, Director, Product Marketing
Cloud computing continues to be a big hit with companies of all sizes, including small businesses, offering ease-of-use, security, flexibility, ease-of-upgrade, low overhead and low costs. We believe that mobility and social media are the future of business applications. Businesses want mobility because employees often do their job best when they’re not tied to a desk. This is arguably even truer in small businesses where flexibility is often in the job description. Mobility is becoming an expectation, which is why all of our CRM products include a mobile version.
As an external marketing channel, social media is very promising for small businesses. Much like a good website, social media can help build presence and credibility. In addition, it allows brands to proactively listen and respond to their audience.Done correctly, social media can be a very powerful way for small companies to have a strong brand presence and build a loyal following. However, done wrong it’s ineffective or can even have negative effects. Social media marketing is still very much an emerging practice and it requires a fair amount of savvy to understand and engage with audiences on Facebook and Twitter effectively. While small businesses should consider the opportunities, the path to success isn’t always clear.
CRM For As Low As $10 a Month?
One of the big reasons stopping many SMBs from considering CRM systems are high costs: installation, access and support.
Illuminetic (www.illuminetic.com) and crm-now have partnered to make crm-now/PS cloud-based CRM solution, offered to European SMBs since 2004: to their American counterparts through an exclusive agreement between Illuminetic and crm-now for as low as $10 per month per user. The crm-now/PS solution includes U.S.-based customer support, training, and services to help existing CRM users migrate from their current CRM system to the crm-now/PS platform.
“Most of our customers are using CRM systems for the first time,” points out Illuminetic President Alan Kobran. “Especially with small companies, they are looking for ways organize their contacts, leads, and interactions with these people.”
Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi