"Gene, what's the best CRM for my business?"
I get asked this a lot. That's because my company sells and implements five Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems. It's how I make my living. A CRM system, if implemented the right way, can significantly increase your cash flow. It will serve to make sure that nothing falls the cracks, all opportunities are tracked through successful (or unsuccessful) conclusion and everyone in your company knows what's going on with your customers, prospects and partners. It's a great tool. And yet, more than two-thirds of our 600 clients don't use it as well as they should.
Chris Hathaway is the CEO of AggData LLC, a Dupont, Washington company he founded to provide data and data solutions that support his customers s in their marketing efforts. AggData uses a great CRM product called Insightly (my firm doesn't sell Insightly, but we've done work with them). Chris uses Insightly for a specific, revenue generating purpose: signing customers up for data subscriptions. "Many of our customers have purchased data from us one-off," he told me. "Recently we started selling subscription plans which offer more annual benefits. Our goal with Insightly is to use it to help us grow our subscription revenue."
To do this, Hathaway accumulates data from his one-time customers into Insightly and instructs his five person sales and service team to follow-up via email or phone to move them to a subscription plan. This is great stuff because Chris has a specific goal in mind for using his CRM system, not just a vague "I want CRM to improve my sales," that I hear from so many of my clients. AggData is doing pretty well with Insightly. But they could be doing a lot more.
Like many of my clients, AggData is using maybe 25% of their CRM system. It is not fully married with the company's email system to completely track all incoming and outgoing messages. It is not integrated with their website to capture leads and sales opportunities into their system. Chris is not employing any workflows to automatically trigger messages or alert staffers when there's a problem or opportunity. Quotes are not being generated. Reports are not being used. And little time has been spent investigating the many cloud-based products that are offered by Insightly's partners that could make his system better by reducing double entry, bringing data into one place and improving workflow.
Chris knows this. As well as he's doing, he knows he's bought a BMW and driving it in second gear. He knows that his CRM could be doing much, much more. And that he could be getting a greater return on his investment. He's just missing one component to turn his CRM system into the best CRM system. And that component is a person.
The companies I know who succeed with CRM systems, regardless of the application, have also invested in an internal person that owns it. Regardless of what software vendors say, a CRM system is nothing more than a database. And the best CRMs have the best data in it. It's not about the features--they all have way more features than you and I will ever use. It's about the information.
This person is not a technical person, although it helps to have someone who likes working with software and technology. This is a person who will be responsible for the accuracy and the completeness of the data in the CRM database. If data is incorrect, out of date or missing it's not the "owner's" fault--but it is the owner's responsibility to fix the problem. That may mean more training of users, more diapering of salesmen, more wiping the noses of customer service people, more internal controls, more data entry checks and balances. The owner should be an expert user of the system and on demand. The owner's job is to train people, generate reports, send out mass communications. But it goes beyond that. The owner's job is to make sure that more than just 25% of a CRM system is being used.
No question that this is a cost. Even for a five person system like Chris' the "owner" could be spending a half day to a day a week, on average, tending to the CRM database. But the return could be substantial. With the right person in place, Chris could be taking full advantage of his CRM system and turning it into a genuine go-to business system, complete with processes and integration to manage all opportunities, relationships and communications from any prospect or existing customer that stumbles into his radar. And that will generate more cash.
If you're asking what's the best CRM system you're asking the wrong question. Instead, ask yourself who the best person is to own your CRM system.
A version of this column previously appeared on Inc.com.