How Small Businesses Use CRM to Increase Sales

Side view of person working on laptop using many applications.

For many businesses, their customers are counted by the hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands. Managing those relationships—not to mention prospects—can be a herculean feat, particularly for small businesses.

The good news: Customer relationship management technology, or CRM, has made it easier for companies of all sizes to interact more effectively with customers. That's helped pave the way for productivity improvements in other areas and more data-driven decisions that can impact the entire organization. In fact, return on better customer service can be profound, returning an average of $8.71 of every dollar spent, according to Nucleus Research.

With CRM, it's possible to prioritize customers with sales lead scoring; identify potential clients who have expressed interest in similar products on social media; use phone integration to reduce call times and automatically record key data from a call; and email thousands of clients or potential clients with one-click.

The better news: As the industry has evolved, a slew of new, affordable and highly-targeted CRM products have come to market in recent years, making it possible for smaller firms to get on board without the upfront costs of traditional platforms.

Here’s what small businesses should consider when sizing up CRM.

Don't Lose Sight of the Goal

The primary goal of CRM technology is to facilitate the sales process and increase sales revenue, but how this plays out will differ depending on a company's business model and industry. To that end, niche CRM platforms may be a better fit than mainstream products, but the tradeoff may be more glitches and less integration.

For this reason, it makes sense to prioritize the most important features and measure different providers against those areas.

Overall, new CRM models are now available via affordable, and even free, basic packages that can get companies started along the path to a more efficient sales process. After that, CRM companies that cater to smaller firms sell premium packages at different service levels with prices typically ranging from $45 to $75 per user, per month. But be careful to compare the relevant features from one platform to the next, and to assess the number of users and price breaks for additional users.

Turn Browsers Into Customers

Sales don’t just land in your lap. Increasingly, company officers know that if they are not marketing their products well, they could be losing ground to their competitors.

A key feature of many new CRMs is the ability to identify who is visiting your website, what they are looking at on your site, and how long they remain on your site. This insight can help the sales team qualify new clients, see which existing clients are more engaged, and time their follow-ups. For example, say someone on your sales team has just made a new proposal to a client, but the client seems on the fence. Then the sales team member receives notice through the CRM interface that that client subsequently visited a relevant page on the company website. The salesperson now knows that the client is interested in the offer and may only need a nudge to make the decision.

Email marketing tools have also had a powerful impact for businesses of all sizes. In a recent study by DMA, a British digital marketing company, email marketing brought an enormous return of $42 for every dollar spent. Alone, email marketing tools can cost as much as CRM platforms that include email marketing apps.

Automated marketing tools take this to the next level. They make it possible for companies to create a series of marketing campaigns triggered by different recipient responses.

Connect Better With Existing Customers

Bringing in new business is just one way to increase sales. Making more personalized connections with the customers you already have—and doing so efficiently—is also key. While automated marketing helps bring new clients farther into the sales funnel, automated workflows make it possible for sales professionals to automate repetitive tasks, manage accounts more efficiently and, ultimately, spend more time on higher-value-added activities.

In a study conducted by Forrester Research, companies that automated workflow saw a 176% return on investment, and an 8% to 12% increase in user productivity for automated workflow adopters.

CRMs also make it easier to manage marketing and sales teams. For example, a sales manager could design a workflow that reminds team members to follow up with clients who have been idle in the system for more than 20 days. Likewise, managers can design automatic notes of appreciation for each completed client contract, as well as messaging around future events and product upgrades and releases.

When used effectively, CRM technology doesn't replace human interaction. Rather, by spotting patterns, automating low-value tasks and highlighting promising leads, it frees up small businesses to focus their efforts where it matters most.

The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of Fifth Third Bank, National Association, and are solely the opinions of the author. This article is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute the rendering of legal, accounting, or other professional services by Fifth Third Bank, National Association or any of their subsidiaries or affiliates, and are provided without any warranty whatsoever. Deposit and credit products provided by Fifth Third Bank, Member FDIC.