CRM Reading Lounge: The Essential CRM Guide

The World of CRM: This article is an excerpt from our free CRM Essentials ebook series.

Detailed specifications are key to a successful CRM installation. In order to prepare specifications, though, you need to have a good grasp of what modules you can expect to find in a CRM system and what each module does. Most CRM systems offer more than just the basic functions and in many cases will have functions beyond the requirements of the business. While this is wonderful if your business requirements are complex, you could also end up being bamboozled by features you do not need.

In our ebook we discuss CRM modules in enough detail for you to get a good understanding of what the different modules are capable of – and why they might be important – with the end goal of getting you to articulate your CRM specifications. By the time you finish reading this book, you will have a better understanding of how and where CRM might fit in your business, and will have been introduced to some of the common jargon with which you can expect to be bombarded when you start talking to CRM vendors.

If you are new to the concept of CRM and the modules that make up the system, read the text in the boxes after each heading. If you already have an understanding of CRM, you can skip the content in the boxes.

Sales Force Automation (SFA)

In its simplest form, SFA is a method of automating the flow of leads generated by your marketing efforts and passing them on to the relevant salesperson.

What is it? SFA for the uninitiated

At the heart of any CRM system is sales force automation. The term “sales force automation” may conjure up visions of your sales team being turned into an unstoppable robotic force, tirelessly generating new leads, closing deals, and completing paper work accurately and on time. Unfortunately, that’s not what SFA is about.

Businesses process requests for information and sales leads that come from more than one source, including online transactions, email enquiries, telephone enquiries, and registration for online newsletters. Every one of these is a potential sale, or has potential for follow-up sales and service. The purpose of sales force automation is to automatically allocate leads to sales staff based on criteria defined by you. Managing customer contacts is a core function of CRM. How well you manage those contacts will determine, to some extent, how successful your business is. The same applies to any sales lead or query that comes into your business. Unless you allocate the inquiry to someone, chances are you are losing a potential sale. Without some sort of system in place to manage these contacts, many of them will go without a response and the potential customer will find some other supplier to satisfy their need.

You probably already know that many customers do not buy from you the first time you call on them. The market segment in which you trade will determine how much time potential customers spend sizing you up against your opposition, but unless you are in a commodity market, such as food or clothing retail, you will know that some customers do not buy from you until the third or fourth contact with them. That initial query from the prospect may result in a sale of one or two small ticket items, or it may turn into a large order with frequent repeat business. The only way you will know which it is going to be is if you contact them and keep talking to them.

The prospective client who never hears from you again will never be a customer. As a small business you cannot afford this potential loss of business. This is where SFA can help you. By getting all of your customers and prospects onto a database you can begin to manage the contacts. By automatically allocating prospects to your sales force, you ensure that customers receive sale-generating service levels.

Order Tracking

What is it? Order tracking for the uninitiated

In most retail type businesses, customers pick items from a shelf, or from an online display, and pay for them. This is the most basic form of transaction and the order itself does not need to be tracked. However, if the order was an online purchase, it has to be shipped to the customer and either management and/or the customer may want to know the status of the order at any given point.

If you are in the sort of business where all your customers come into your shop, pick items from your shelves, and pay for them as they leave, you probably do not need order tracking. However, there are multiple reasons for an order tracking module. For example, where the goods ordered need to be assembled before being delivered, order tracking is a must have. If your primary product is a service that has to be carried out on a future date at a specific address, order tracking is more than useful. Depending on the type of business you run, delivery on an order could take anything from a couple of days to a few months. Apart from the customer, salespeople, shipping clerks, and production managers also want to know the order status.

Why order tracking is important for you

If your company manufactures or assembles products to order, you would benefit from an order tracking module. Not only does it help keep the customer informed, which is an important enough reason on its own, but it also helps you manage aspects of the business that can have an impact on your cash flow and liquidity. As a manufacturer, having multiple orders in various stages of completion, all of which require raw material inputs, to say nothing of labor and machine maintenance costs, can be a drain on the resources of a small business. Having an order tracking system helps you keep up to date with order progress and manage the material requirements and your cash flow.

If you have a high inventory turnover, and are constantly having to replenish your inventory, knowing what orders are waiting to be filled and what items are still needed to fill those orders is important. If you provide services, such as landscaping, plumbing or painting, rather than products, you would also benefit from an order tracking module. This is particularly valuable if you have multiple teams out in the field, as order tracking allows you to see at a glance what teams are tied up in which areas and how close any particular job is to completion.

Marketing and Lead Analysis

Marketing and lead analysis for the uninitiated

Marketing analysis will tell you which form of marketing is generating the most leads. It could also tell you which form of marketing is generating the best qualified leads, and this is vital information for the small business. Sometimes, when you do business with a company for the first time, you get asked, ‘How did you hear about us?’ The question may be asked by the person with whom you deal, or it may be asked in a questionnaire. Both are a form of marketing analysis. The company in question is trying to establish which of their various marketing efforts is giving them the best returns on their marketing spend.

You may be marketing yourself through sponsorships, through trade fairs and exhibitions, through extensive advertising in newspapers, radio and TV, or through a knock-and-drop pamphlet campaign. Whatever form your marketing takes, you need to know if it is effective so you can either intensify your efforts through a particular channel or terminate marketing through that channel. You also need to know that you are reaching your target market. For example, if your product is aimed at the DIY market, it is pointless advertising on a radio program targeted at adolescents.

Why lead analysis is important for you

Can you answer any of these questions about your business?

How many customer contacts do you have every month through each channel? How much does it cost to supply an order through each channel? Which channel is most profitable? How much unused volume do you have in each channel? How much revenue can you drive through each channel? (Geoff Ables, 2004)

A marketing and lead analysis module in your CRM will put the answers to these, and similar questions, at your fingertips. It will allow you to analyze each marketing campaign and shift your marketing spend to those which are generating the most business.

This, combined with modules such as sales force automation and/or order tracking, provide important insights into how healthy your business is. These are vital management tools that will help you refine cash flow projections, plan strategy, and prepare for cyclical highs and lows in your business.