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Article 5 min read

7 questions every small business should ask when looking for a CRM

By Erin Hueffner, Content Marketing Manager, @erinhueffner

Last updated April 5, 2024

When you’re first starting a business, it’s not too tough to manage information about your clients and contacts. But as your business grows, and you add more customers and bring on new employees, getting a handle on all of your customer data is much more complicated. Now, your information is spread across the company on different spreadsheets, sticky notes, and databases—and that makes it harder to see a clear picture of your customers.

Capturing the whole customer experience can help you develop better relationships, and that can pay off. Customer loyalty can help drive the success of a business, and customer experience drives loyalty. In fact, 52% of customers report going out of their way to buy from their favorite brands.

Great news, right? But loyalty isn’t easily earned, and it can be lost in an instant without the right care. Creating a great customer experience means connecting all of the ways your customers engage with your brand—like support, sales, social media, and email marketing. It can be hard to bring together data stored in different formats across your organization, but it’s vital to give your team the tools they need to provide truly personalized customer service, and that’s where CRM software comes in.

What is customer relationship management?

Customer relationship management (CRM) software gives you tools for creating a deeper, more meaningful customer relationship. It was once thought of as a tool for managing your sales pipeline, but modern types of CRM solutions have gone beyond those boundaries. Think of it as a way to collect data from every customer interaction—phone calls, social media, emails, page views—and then turn that information into insights. “Companies know they live and die by the long-term relationships they establish with their customers,” says Jon Aniano, Zendesk vice president of product. “It’s not just about sales anymore. The new world of CRM is built for the customer, and for customer experience.”

“The new world of CRM is built for the customer.”– Jon Aniano

7 questions for small businesses to consider when looking for a CRM

People expect to get more personalized service from a small business than they would from a big-box store, and that can give you an advantage. While price is paramount to customers, service ranks as a close second, according to Zendesk’s CX Trends Report 2020. Here are 7 important questions to ask when deciding on a CRM platform:

1. Where is your customer data?

Take a look at all the places you store customer data. What software are you using, and how many systems do you have right now? You’ll want CRM software that can integrate data in whatever format, wherever it lives, so you can bring insights to your various teams: customer support, sales, product development, and marketing.

2. Can the CRM platform grow with your business?

As your business grows, so will your data. Many CRM systems aren’t flexible enough to handle changing requirements—they often need expensive consultants and developer resources that can take months to get up and running. Look for a cloud-based CRM solution that’s built on open standards so developers can use the technologies and skills they already know.

3. Will the CRM integrate easily with your systems?

Most small business owners don’t have a centralized IT department, so it’s important to know how easily a CRM will integrate with what you already have. Otherwise, you could run into hefty charges to get the system working. And when you’re running a small business, unexpected costs can be a big problem for your bottom line.

4. Can you get the CRM software working quickly?

Ask if you can try the CRM with a real use case before you buy. While you’re getting started, see if the software is easy to use without a lot of hand-holding. Can you get it working by yourself within the first day? If not, that’s a red flag, says Aniano. “You shouldn’t have to engage a consultant to get a use case going.”

2021 Gartner Magic Quadrant for the CRM Customer Engagement Center

The 2021 Gartner Magic Quadrant report is available for complimentary download for a limited time.

5. Does it enable self-service?

Customers want to take care of problems themselves using self-service. They want fast replies on the channel of their choice, and they’re open to using bots and artificial intelligence (AI) if it means quick, efficient resolution. Not only that, but giving your customers a chance to resolve simple issues on their own gives your team more time to handle more complex problems.

6. Is your customer data secure?

Nothing is more important in a customer relationship than trust. That means trust between you and your vendors, and your customers and your company. If you’re putting a system in place that stores customer interactions that with your company, you need to make sure your customers can trust you with their information. “Look for a CRM solution from a company that has a proven track record of trust,” says Aniano. “Data security is a practice that evolves over time. That’s what I’d be looking for.”

7. What reporting tools does the CRM offer?

Data is only valuable if you can distill it into insights. Your CRM needs to do more than just store a lot of data—it needs to mine that data, analyze it, and quickly deliver actionable information to your teams. This is how you’ll find ways to strengthen your customer relationships and make business decisions.

Customer experience is key to success

According to research by McKinsey, companies that put a priority on customer experience can increase revenue by up to 15 percent and customer satisfaction by 20 percent. CRM software gives you the tools you need to cultivate your relationships with customers and build the kind of customer experience that will deepen loyalty, satisfaction, and trust. And happy customers means a happier bottom line.

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