Client Relationship Management (or CRM for short) has been around since the first commercial transactions. Merchants have consistently been working to find better ways to serve their customers and hence increase their profits. Nothing much has changed since those times, yet a lot has changed.

Technology advancements and the growth of organisations in size and complexity mean that businesses have slowly lost physical contact with their customers. Yet above all this, one thing remains the same; merchants consistently yearn for information that enables them to better serve their customers by knowing them better.

So, what is CRM? Is it a software package, or a business strategy?

When many businesses decide they need (or want) to install a CRM system, usually the first thing they do is run to the software shop, purchase a piece of CRM software, and then wonder why they are not seeing the results they were expecting.

To gain the greatest benefits from CRM, firstly you need to start thinking of “CRM” as a business philosophy, and not merely as a piece of software you install on your computer.

CRM is a strategy that helps your business manage it’s customer-facing activities in a way that maximises value for your business and for your customers.

In other words, CRM is a strategy which places the customer at the heart of your business’ activities and culture. CRM software applications are merely the tools which allow you to implement that strategy.

Before you make a purchase for something such as a car, you usually embark on a basic requirements analysis of your current situation and a projection of your estimated future requirements. You would normally look at things such as; the size of your family, age of children, lifestyle, image etc. After you have determined your requirements, you then purchase your car.

CRM is no different. We recommend you undertake the following steps to assess your business CRM requirements:

– Identify your key business drivers needed for success and survival. (It is profit growth? Revenue growth? Employee productivity?)

– Review your current client relationship management programs (your CRM initiatives, not software applications!) and develop ideas for new programs that will positively affect your key business drivers.

– Identify the tactics that are needed to execute the programs (i.e. software, ways to roll-out your programs) .

So, as you see, the CRM software selection comes in the last phase of the CRM planning process. There is no point rushing out to buy a two-seater sports car if you want to go camping and accommodate the children. CRM software is one part of a complete planning process.

Now that you have identified your key business drivers, reviewed your current CRM initiatives and developed new ones, and implemented the CRM software application that exactly fits your needs, don’t think that the process stops there! As long as you have customers, the CRM process will never be over.

And because CRM is an ongoing strategy, you can start with small and simple programs (using spreadsheets or simple databases to manage your information) and progressively move to more complex initiatives that might require more sophisticated software.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew. You can achieve great success with comprehensive planning and using simple, manageable tools. The cost of software is not necessarily proportional to the level of success of your CRM programs!

The most important lesson here is not to rush out and buy CRM software without first clarifying what the important drivers of your business are, and planning your CRM initiatives accordingly.

You might find yourself trading in the brand new sports car for a family wagon.

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