By Jen Neumann | Tech Column

Excel spreadsheets, handwritten notes, emailing yourself details about a customer’s preferences — these are ways that we input and track information about leads, prospects and customers. Then there’s the encyclopedic knowledge you and your team members have in their heads, that no one has access to. But what happens if you or a point of contact in your company gets hit by the proverbial bus?

When you lack a formal system, such as a Customer Relationship Manager (CRM) program, for tracking customer data, you lose data points along the way. When you integrate a CRM into your email, your sales and customer service, you begin to accumulate data points that can give you predictive data and insights that help you, or others, close a deal.

When your company uses a CRM correctly, anyone should be able to see where a customer or lead is in the process, at any point in time, including prior purchases and potentially online behavior. That allows others in your company to serve that person as well as anyone else.

Implementing a CRM can be a big undertaking and once upon a time CRMs were only for big companies with big budgets. Multiple companies now offer a variety of systems that can meet nearly every budget and feature simple interfaces that allow you to track customer interactions and information points, to full integrations with your website/marketing, point of sale, inventory systems and shipping.

Like any new system, it is difficult to bring in a new process when the old process is (perceived to be) working fine. But let’s be clear: complacency isn’t your friend, nor is it a forward-thinking approach. Complacency won’t take you to the next level. When you are considering the implementation of a CRM system, here are things to consider:

Budget

It’s not just the monthly subscription or software fees, but the implementation costs, the cost of training staff and potentially unforeseen IT costs needed to make sure the system works with your other systems. Also consider the savings of not needing or using other programs. Look for a CRM that replaces at least a few of your processes and collapses them into one.

Timeline

Adopting a new system takes time. In moving to an all-encompassing project management system at de Novo, we were told to “give it a year.” When someone tells you that, listen. It will take that long. Remind yourself — and your team — of this throughout the transition. Almost every program out there is going to take a lot of work to become fully integrated. Make sure you account for the full timeline.

Research the system

Talk to others in your industry and beyond about what they are using and read reviews on G2 Crowd and other objective sites. Understand your goals and evaluate each platform for its ability to help you achieve them, collect better data and be able to access and gain actionable insights.

Involve your team

Buy in works better when people feel heard. Listen to their concerns and find out what the pain points may be, but also explain how this program solves them and how it will help the company meet its goals. Run internal demos, and once you decide on a system, bring the whole team up to speed on the process, the training timeline and the end goal, and enlist their support. Build in milestones and celebrations around the launch and adoption of the new software. And listen when they express their frustration but be firm in the expectations around use of the program.

In today’s world, there’s no reason to not use a CRM. Products range from free (or nearly free) to large enterprise level and industry-specific programs. They can work with your production systems and provide a full marketing platform to track and report on all your touchpoints with prospects, leads and customers. Start with your company goals in mind, thoroughly research your options and start collecting and using the data you own. •

Jen Neumann is a partner with de Novo Marketing in Cedar Rapids.