In the words of Thomas Keith, CEO of a Marketing Consultancy firm, Australia
Can there be any benefits from CRM for Very small business. Small entrepreneurs often conclude that CRM may not be helpful for very small setups. But in reality, CRM can also be useful for a one-person company. The usefulness of CRM for very small business can be seen in manifold ways.
Below is a real scenario that shows how CRM can help a very small business. A Marketing consultancy firm used CRM for its one-person business. Let’s know how the entrepreneur benefitted:
After working as a full-time Marketing Professional for 10 years, I decided to start my own Marketing Consultancy firm. My offerings included end-to-end marketing assistance. The list of services included, creating a marketing plan, performing consumer survey, designing advertising campaigns, holding events, and other related marketing activates. When I started the company I was the only employee or the person working in the company.
I launched the company website and spent a great deal on advertising through newspaper, trade directories, networking with business associates, and so on. Based on my advertising efforts, the company started getting initial response. In a matter of 2-3 months, I started receiving Inquiries on the business email id. Initially, the number of emails were limited to 10 -15 per day. I would respond to these emails without much hassle. But as the time passed, my firm gained more visibility. The volume of emails also went up. Some would be new enquiries, while others would be follow-up emails, or additional communication on previously queries.
Once the volume of emails went up, I was failing to respond to the queries in an efficient manner. Suppose if my inbox had 20 new emails, I started answering them in a sequence. But by the time I was writing reply to the 4th or 5th one, the 1st email will get a counter reply. I would get tempted to shift my attention and reply back to the customer, and in the process lose track of the unanswered emails. Thus many emails got delayed attention. As a result, I failed to respond to customers in a consistent manner.
Another challenge that I faced was that the emails were unorganized. It was a Hercules task to quickly locate a particular piece of communication. Suppose if a customer called up and I wanted to open his emails to look for the quote or any other info sent in past, I had to keep the customer on hold for a long time. This turned out to be embarrassing. Also, I would get confused between senders with identical names. At one point of time I had two customers named Michael, and I often mistook one for the other.
Inadequate email solution
As a one-man company, with multiple tasks at hand, I desperately started looking for a system to organize my emails in a better way. Then someone recommended me to shift to Gmail as it provides the functionality of creating email thread. I switched to Gmail but realized that the functionality to create thread doesn’t work fully as it either mixes or separates emails occasionally. Also, Gmail has no feature that would prompt to answer emails in a sequential manner. Thus I still remained inconsistent in answering emails.
What I needed was a CRM
I was back to square one and again on a look out for an ideal platform. My requirement was not limited to organizing emails. I needed a system that could also prompt me to answer them in a consistent and timely manner. Also, a platform that can group emails in a systematic way, making it easier to find a particular piece of communication. After checking with other entrepreneurs and reading on web, I realized that a ticketing system like CRM, can fulfill my requirements.
Although, a one-person company, I did not give a second thought before subscribing to a CRM. I chose a simple but user-friendly platform that costed me around 40 USD per user, per month. It was not even a couple of months that I started realizing the multiple benefits of CRM.
How CRM benefited
The CRM created a ticket for every incoming email, and any subsequent communication on that ticket got tagged under it. The emails were well organized and the features in the CRM prompted me to answer them in a systematic manner. As a result, my efficiency to attend to queries increased by 60-70%.
In a few years, my business reached new heights. I had a reasonable customer base and it was difficult for me to manage single handedly. I hired a few employees to assist me. Also, I had a few customers based in other countries, and a new sales office in Melbourne. At this stage my present CRM proved inadequate as it could not handle the complexities of the growing business. So in part two of this article I will explain how we invested in another CRM and finally shifted to Solastis CRM.
Thus, I strongly agree that it is beneficial to use CRM for very small business, as happened in my case. Merely by shifting the platform from email, to a ticketing system, my productivity drastically increased. However, be careful to choose a CRM that is advanced, so that it can handle the complexities that are encountered as the business grows in size and scale. The CRM should have dynamic features to anticipate the growing needs of the business. Otherwise the CRM gets ineffective and needs upgradation.
CRM for Very Small Business- Part II - Status after 2 years
We used the first CRM for two years. In these two years the company was growing at a desired pace. We had total head count of 10 people. Besides this, 3 freelancers worked from different cities. The growth in business indicated that we handled our marketing and sales processes in an efficient way, and to some extent the presence of a CRM platform helped to a large extent. However, after using the CRM for two years, we reached a stage where business was growing at a fast pace, but the functionalities of the CRM, were limited.
The existing CRM could not cope up with the growing complexities that developed due to growth in business. Some of the major challenges were
We chose the last CRM for its simple and friendly features. However, at that point of time we failed to realize that the CRM is very basic in nature. The functionalities were limited and many problems remained unsolved. For example, it was not possible to create different case types. The CRM provided certain labels, but these labels were not good enough to classify the cases in various groups. The feature was restricted to labelling. As a result, all the tickets/cases remained of the same type. This meant that we could not define different processes for different case types.
Authorization was weak. Anyone could see any data. One sales consultant could easily view the proposal and pricing sent by another sales person to a customer. This was causing problems. Also, if I wanted to view sales report, some data from accounts department will also be present in the report. This was annoying and obstructive.
Thirdly, the ticket creation functionality was not intuitive. Sometimes incoming email will get correctly tagged to the ticket sometimes not. Secondly, if a case has been closed a few months back but an email comes from the same customer’s email id, the status of the closed case changed to open. This caused confusion and the new email failed to get required attention.
New CRM for support operations - We decided to operate two CRMs
Thus, after two years we started evaluating another system to help us handle the growing complexities. After some research we decided to deploy an additional CRM to handle our service desk, as the previous platform was already handling the sales process, employees were comfortable with the interface and thus we decided to operate both CRMs.
The new CRM had better case management platform. The platform came with functionalities to help in creating different case types, automating key steps, better authorization, and so on. However, as the time passed, we realized that this new CRM also lacked advanced functionalities. The platform did not seem to be thoughtfully developed. We experienced few key issues as below
The emails were tagged under the relevant cases, but still it was not easy to analyze the communication on cases. For example, if there are 80 sent and received emails on a case, all will be listed under the case with sender’s name, subject, and date. To view the communication, each and every mail needs to be clicked. So for 80 mails, it will require 80 clicks. This was tedious and annoying. Although the functionality to analyze communication was present in the CRM but with limitations. As a result, we had to do custom development to generate all communication in PDF report format. This partially solved our problem, but we still had to generate PDF every time we wanted to go through emails.
The CRM generated quite basic reports. The report displayed a list of open cases and tasks, but beyond that there was no intelligent analysis offered. The reports were only list-based, similar to what we get after exporting data to an excel. So the data was there, but we had to work externally on its interpretation and analysis. There was no mechanism to review which case types are faring well, how people are performing on specific cases, and so on.
Operate two CRMs
Presence of two CRM systems, one for sales and one for service, created extra work. Employees who had to work on both sales and service cases were required to access the two systems separately. Also, customer data was created separately for both the platforms, resulting in re-work.
Thus we felt that, although the new CRM had better case management functionalities, the features were only half-developed. In fact, we started calling it a click-click CRM, that would require multiple clicks without generating any useful output.
If I look back, and evaluate the situation, both the CRMs only solved the business problems partially. I won’t say the platforms were completely useless. The sales and service processes definitely improved with the help of these systems, but complex requirements could not be fulfilled. So both the platforms had their own strengths and weaknesses, but somehow our business could not benefit in long run.
Solastis CRM+ Case Management Platform
Finally, last year we took the decision to subscribe to Solastis CRM, and in fact lucky to be the first few subscribers of this dynamic platform. We were greatly impressed to see the demo. It highlighted comprehensive features to address the major issues faced by business.
Solastis CRM goes beyond the benefits offered by both the previous platforms. The system is simple to operate. It is not a just a click-click platform and every click gets meaningful results. The best part of the system is that it is very intuitive. The platform allows to create multiple case types, task templates, assigning SLAs, and so much more. These functionalities eventually help us in managing the case and employee performance, in a better way.
Overall we are quite happy after shifting to Solastis CRM. The employees love the dynamic dashboards, and user friendly interface. My managers are happy to get intuitive and in-depth reports without much effort. Authorization features are excellent resulting in better security of data.