Customer Management Articles

What Is Online CRM for Small Businesses – Discover Cloud Applications

by Michele Nachum
Published on 20 July 2011's purpose is to help small businesses discover the right business applications for their specific needs. A lot of small businesses do not have large IT departments and as such, require solutions that are easy to implement and manage , safe, and will ultimately deliver ROI for their business.

We are publishing a series of educational tools for entrepreneurs and small businesses to discover how to leverage the latest cloud applications as a way to grow their business. You might have heard the terms CRM, Project Management, Help Desk, Small Business Suites or Time Tracking - but what do these software solutions actually offer? How do they help a small business become more profitable? And frankly, why should anyone care?

This article is about CRM and here we showcase why CRM is important, how CRM apps can help grow your business and how it has evolved over the years. We will outline the major components of CRM, and offer specifics on what to look for when choosing a web-based CRM application.

What is CRM

Customer Relationship Management software or CRM has revolutionized the way businesses today approach lead generation and customer lifecycle management. CRM grew out of contact management software that was first made popular in the 1990s. In the early 2000s, CRM software emerged with more sophisticated tools for managing and nurturing client relationships. These solutions not only helped businesses manage their leads and customers, but offered collaborative platforms so that internal teams like sales and marketing could align their strategies.

In the beginning, the enterprise was the one segment that enjoyed these new feature-rich CRM apps which required vast server storage space and deep pockets. But as the concept of storing leads and contacts in the cloud became more popular, the ability to introduce CRM capabilities to all size businesses became a reality. Now any business, large or small, can have access to affordable and reliable CRM apps.

The "software-as-a-service" (SaaS) model - which means services accessed via the Internet with a password - has enabled a new generation of CRM apps that have been developed specifically for the needs of the small to midsized business market (SMB).

The latest evolution of CRM is Social CRM, which helps businesses manage customer relationships via social media channels. While traditional web-based CRM applications targets prospective leads through email or phone campaigns, Social CRM is an outbound marketing strategy where companies engage in public conversations with their customers.

Why Should You Care About CRM

In today's world people are bombarded with messages and sales pitches daily. So that said, why should anyone pay attention to your message and consider your service or product?

That is where a CRM or SCRM solution can benefit your outreach strategy. Many CRM apps have intelligence tools to help you target and recognize your customers' behaviors and needs. With this understanding comes the ability to create more strategic and thoughtful outreach campaigns that will help you break through the clutter of messages that customers receive daily.

Of course once a lead turns into a customer, how do you ensure that customer stays loyal? CRM apps are designed to automate your customer management system and make it easy for you to stay in touch with your customers on a regular basis. If your customer list is bursting with thousands of contacts, CRM solutions will help you target and segment your customer outreach so that clients are receiving only pertinent information about your products or services.

What features to consider?

At the most basic level, any decent web-based CRM application will allow you to create a comprehensive customer database and update it with notes, meetings schedules, documents and other pertinent information so that you can better manage your customer communications.

Additional features you should look at when deciding on a CRM cloud-based program :

  • Database management tools:

    • Tools for tracking and scheduling meetings with customers
  • Automatic reminders for customer follow-ups

  • Lead generation tools including email marketing and internet marketing campaigns:

    • Analytic tools that will provide critical customer and lead intelligence
    • Lead scoring features to determine which leads are worth a follow-up call or email
    • Dashboards that offer an overview of your CRM activities and marketing campaigns
  • Integration with popular accounting or financial software for creating quotes, invoicing, billing and keeping track of customer sales

  • Integration with email marketing software to build inbound marketing campaigns and social media platforms for outbound marketing

Review and Compare CRM software

The "Discover Cloud Applications Series" consist of a set of evaluation tools for small businesses. For the main solution categories such as CRM, Project Management, Time Tracking, Help Desk, Accouting… we share practical tips and guides as well as direct you to products that are affordable, scalable to almost any size business.