3 Keys to CRM success for small businesses

The goals of CRM companies are often at odds with those of small businesses, but that doesn't mean the right partnership for your business doesn't exist.
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Note: This post was originally published in Business Insider.

With the market for customer relationship management software projected to reach $82 billion by 2025, businesses are increasingly relying on CRM software to improve their sales, marketing, support and retention efforts.

There are a vast array of products to choose from when looking to bolster their customer relationships. But in the case of small business CRM, more isn't always more. Sometimes, small businesses get caught up in the search for a CRM with all the bells and whistles to "compete with the big guys" or automate more areas of their business. But overly complex software can actually hurt a small business's chance at a successful CRM installation.

Why? It's really quite simple: If CRM software is too complex or difficult to use, you (and your team) won’t use it, and if you don't regularly update your CRM, you won't reap any of the benefits of owning the software. In fact, poor user adoption kills nearly 70 percent of CRM projects, and a whopping 42 percent of CRM licenses go unused.

Poor setup, ineffective training, overly complex features, lack of managerial oversight — all of this leads to inadequate or incorrect data entry by staff members, which quickly results in fewer users engaging with the software overall. Without consistent data entry and user engagement, all you have is outdated reports and unreliable account history. Without accurate data, your CRM system is merely running on empty.

Unfortunately, the goals of CRM companies are often at odds with those of small businesses. Truth be told, CRM developers get more bang for their buck when they work with large organizations that will utilize their staggering slew of features. This doesn't mean the right partnership for your small business isn't out there. It just means it's all the more important to work with a CRM provider that offers the simple software solutions you need — and will ultimately use. Follow these steps to set your CRM implementation up for success.

1. Always take the test drive.

Most CRMs offer free trial periods. Don't sign a deal without one. And during that test drive, pay close attention to the features that will matter most after you've settled into the driver's seat. How's the workflow on everyday tasks? Do you like the look and feel of the system?

Remember, you're making a major commitment that will require quite a bit of front-end effort. Can you imagine working with this system every day for five years or more? Take your time and be thorough. Many CRM companies will even extend your trial if you ask.

2. Try out the customer service.

Once you've tested a few systems, see if you can get a full demo from your top two or three choices. A demo will offer you the opportunity to work directly with a customer service rep, which is a window into your potential future with that company.

This interaction may afford you an opportunity to see how knowledgeable the rep is about your company and its CRM needs. Ask the rep what he or she will do to effectively translate your current sales and marketing efforts into the software. Probe into what kind of help you and your team will be getting during implementation. This relationship will be much more important than the one with your sales agent, so it's better to determine whether it's a good fit before you sign the contract.

3. Involve your team.

User adoption is ultimately about the user experience. If your team members don't like using the software, then they won't. So why wait until you've purchased the CRM system to find out that everyone on your team hates it?

Instead, choose a representative or two from every department that will be using the software regularly, and include each representative in the trial and demo sessions. Give him or her an opportunity to explore what daily tasks would feel like in the system. Do the reps find it easy to use? Does it meet the specific needs of their respective departments? If not, keep looking.

Although many CRMs come with bells and whistles that are far beyond the basic needs of small businesses, there are still CRM options that can help you maintain and expand your customer relationships. You might just need to focus a little more on implementation. With greater awareness of your needs — and how these systems can best be used to meet them — you can smooth the path to successfully implementing a CRM solution.

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