Aug. 28 2018 03:09 PM

There was a time when only big corporations could afford CRM (customer relationship management) software. Not anymore. New cloud-based apps make CRM affordable even for the smallest business. CRM software tracks customers and prospects, records interactions and forecasts future business activity. It’s a valuable tool that can help you:

  • get all of your sales data in one useful place (eliminating lost notes and fuzzy memories);
  • leverage your investment in salespeople by pointing them to the most valuable opportunities;
  • close more sales by precisely tracking each opportunity from lead to sale;
  • increase customer retention by maintaining regular contact;
  • cross-sell additional products and services to existing clients; and • personalize and customize service experiences.

CRM can be a very wise marketing investment. But like all software products, if it doesn’t get started right, it can be a big waste of time and money.

Studies show that CRM often fails to live up to management’s expectations. Software industry statistics say 30 percent to 70 percent of CRM implementations are deemed failures.

In our industry, I consistently see CRM projects that have “run out of gas.” After an initial burst of activity, lackluster follow-through and low energy doom them. Money and time are wasted on what ends up being a glorified address book.

Want to get more out of a planned or existing CRM system? Don’t skip these things:

Define how the system will make your company a stronger competitor. What changes will be visible in the organization? How will data be collected and leveraged more efficiently? What improvement in results is expected? Also consider the system’s impact on different types of users. How will it make each of them more effective in what they do?

Define your sales best practices first, then select a system that will support them. Never assume a system’s exciting “off-the-shelf ” capabilities will match your process (or bring one that’ll fit your business).

If your salespeople are misdirected, ineffective or lazy, throwing a CRM system into the mix isn’t going to coach them into excellence. But if you have a welltuned sales process and defined rules, CRM software can make your sales and marketing programs sing. Take time to map out how you forge customer relationships, then make sure the system you select reinforces your best practices. It should make some things effortless and automatic.

Never select a CRM software without comparison shopping. Never decide based on rosy demonstrations alone; use a requirements guide/checklist to evaluate. Never automatically accept the system the consultant is pushing. (The unethical ones get commissions from the software companies.)

Clean and improve your data continuously. Many systems launch with bad data. Before migrating old data into the system, clean it. Then start working on data gaps until they are corrected. This requires a commitment of months or even years, not days. For example, if you have email addresses for only a fraction of your clients, your system will be feeble at best.

Build a winning CRM team. Don’t expect an overworked sales or marketing manager to carry the burden of a successful CRM implementation. It should be led by a business analyst who understands the company’s needs and can translate them into the setup. Someone will need to act as a project manager to keep the tasks on a timeline and push through the rough spots. Subject matter experts from each department impacted by the system should participate.

Make sure the system gets people the information they need. Yes, that seems obvious. But too often systems demand daily care and feeding but give back little in return to help salespeople. Insist on regular, meaningful, data-rich reports that spotlight customer insights and opportunities for both salespeople and their managers.

Jeff Carowitz advises landscape industry firms on marketing and business strategy. He can be reached at