CRM 201: Become a Contact Relationship Management super user

Keys to CRM success: Think about people (who are using it), personas (who you want to track), product (what you are selling)

Last month we shared some tips on how to get started with CRM (contact relationship management) tools, including how to plan for success and some of our favorite tools (get caught up with that post here). Mission accomplished – productivity, organization and huge sales await, right?

Well, not quite. Many entrepreneurs, small businesses and growing enterprises that get started with CRM systems are ultimately not as successful as they hope to be.

In fact, a type of project McNary Marketing and Design regularly takes on is to work with businesses that have applied a CRM tool, aren’t using it very well, but after a few years it’s become part of their business. Of course, trying to clean up and retrofit a system can be more difficult than setting it up with some logic from the start.

As we’ve said before, it takes planning, execution and commitment to really make your new CRM work for you. On the other hand, if you try to apply a CRM tool to a big hairy list of business problems, and just magically think it’s going to fix things, you probably are going to create more problems for yourself in the long run.

Read on for some common mistakes to avoid and tips to make the most of any CRM system:

Why do businesses fail at using CRM?

There are two main failure points to avoid:

First, if the person who sets it up needs to come into it with a sense of that logic or strategy. Like many things in business, getting started with a new tool requires advocacy from a leadership level to be successful, in addition to input from the front line users who will be working with the tool every day.

Second, it has to be someone’s job administer the CRM over time. I’ve seen an element of wishful thinking that you’ll be able to set it and forget it, but it doesn’t work that way. CRM systems need someone “minding the store” essentially, or else you’ll get dirty data. And these platforms are always changing, so you need to adapt with them. Like most any tool these days, it’s not brain surgery, but it does take consistency.

How can you set a CRM system up for success?

First, spend some time researching tools – I have my suggestions, but there are many many CRM tools out there, and new ones coming all the time. There are even vertical specific-ones like just for real estate or just for construction. So do some searching to understand what is possible for your business. Many of them have free trials – so even if you’re not committed to using it day to day, you can explore it and try out some of the features.

Second, as you’re exploring, think through how you (or the people who will be using the tool) will be using it. It might be a personal preference, or it might be something like it needs to be mobile friendly, or have certain features like email integration – think about those usability factors. If you don’t, and it’s difficult to work with the system, that’s going to be a problem down the line.

One caveat, though, is to avoid setting up features you don’t really need. For example, some CRM tools have built-in task lists and reminders. But in many cases, it might make more sense to keep overall to-do lists separate from the CRM tool, to make sure they don’t become siloed from the rest of the operation.

Finally, consider how you will handle data input. For example, one of my favorite features is the ability to have a secret BCC address you can forward messages to. Some have easy ways to add notes from your desktop taskbar or create a meeting request. These are things to think about. These tools are meant to centralize information and give you the ability to draw conclusions out of it, and if you’re not getting good data in, it’s hard to get good decisions out.

What does long-term success look like?

Put a process around it – figure out who is going to be the admin of it. Then decide: every quarter, we’re going to do a data cleanse. Twice a year, we’re going to review the new features of the CRM. Once a year, we’re going to review our other tools and how they work together. Whatever it is, just putting it on a schedule so you’re continually improving the system. If you can make yourself accountable to some sort of system, you’re going to be way ahead of the game, even if you don’t hit it every quarter. Most people never get to that point – it’s important but not urgent work, which is why it often gets pushed aside.

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