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Look for Flexibility in a Small Business CRM System

CRM systems offer a dazzling array of features, from compelling user interfaces to customizable data fields to concise reporting functions. However, for a small business CRM system, perhaps the most important feature is more conceptual than tangible. Given the rapid change and unpredictability typical of small businesses, fundamentally the most important thing a CRM application can offer is flexibility.

Not only do small businesses need flexibility because they are in the rapid growth phase of the company life cycle, but also because they must be prepared for the unknown as the business goes through its first economic cycle. A brand-new business has not yet experienced the impact it will feel from the transition of economic expansion to recession and back to expansion. Choosing CRM software that provides ample flexibility will help a small business ride those waves more smoothly. Also, a small business needs to be alert to changing trends in sales traction and profitability, so it can find the most productive niche and concentrate resources on it. The right use of CRM software can also help guide this kind of management flexibility.

Indeed, basing business systems like CRM applications on flexibility may be a good precedent to continue even once the company gets past the small business phase. After all, the vagaries of the business cycle can require adjustments by even the largest companies. Also, one way any company can keep growing is to remain agile enough to quickly spot and exploit new market niches.

Five Elements of Small Business CRM Flexibility
With all this in mind, here are five ways a small business should use CRM software to enhance organizational flexibility:

1. Use hosted applications. Hosted CRM applications lower the start-up investment in software and IT infrastructure, and are more easily adapted to changes in user numbers. This allows an organization to make use of CRM applications early on, and then right-size those applications as the company goes through changes.
2. Look for an intuitive user experience. One of the things that can bog down a fast-growing organization is training new employees. The CRM training cycle can be compressed if a company chooses a system with intuitive applications that new users can pick up quickly.
3. Create dashboard reporting for management. One of the toughest transitions for entrepreneurs is the move from doing to managing. To stay in touch day-to-day without getting entangled in too many details, small business owners should look for CRM software that can provide concise, dashboard-type reporting.
4. Coordinate with operational areas. Reporting via the CRM system does not have to be purely vertical. Horizontal reporting, so that operational areas can get a feel for the sales pipeline, will enable more efficient inventory control.
5. Cross-train employees. Small organizations need to be able to deploy resources to the area of immediate opportunity. CRM applications which provide procedural prompts and instant information can help an organization deploy staff flexibly.

A flexible CRM system promotes the freedom and agility that entrepreneurs seek in starting a small business in the first place. It is also consistent with business principles that allow success to continue beyond the small business phase of the company life cycle.


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