Small Businesses and CRMs

Implementing CRM systems (Customer Relationship Management Systems) are  a tricky matter especially for small businesses. Here are some aspects to consider:

Before undertaking the project it is worthwhile researching the support that you will receive. The software itself is not expensive and you will soon discover that the big brand names create products that are just the basic. They then have left a lot to the third-party developers. This is the customization specific to your business.  Look for vendors who have certification and expertise in the specific software. This can run out of budget if not handled carefully. I recommend a 25% add-on to the total costs, just as in any project that involves tradesmen. The other matter one needs to look carefully into is the life cycle of the systems in which the CRM will operate. Your server may need replacement due to the lease running out, or that Microsoft will stop supporting the current version of server operating systems. So if you do decide to implement a CRM, do it after the new servers are installed or upgraded to the new version. The version battle is ongoing, but best not to buy a system that has a new version round the corner every 3 months. The support structure around your business needs to be up to date with technology, which changes very rapidly. Small businesses need to be cautious before entering into customization and implementing systems. It will be better to rely on out of the box systems or stand alone databases with multiple user configurations.

As a rule of thumb, unless the business has a good profit after tax, the system is overkill for less than 10 employees. I will consider this to be 10 users that actively use the system every day.  The use is dependent on training which a key aspect of implementation and customization is.  Most third-party providers are great when it comes to writing code and customizing the system, but not at documentation and training. The training aspect becomes significant when there is staff turnover. In small organizations, this could be a major issue if in-house expertise has not been developed. A go-to person is a must.

Vendors that offer development services invariably rely on one or two key resources within their organization, it pretty much affects your business if you have over customized and the key resource has left the job for better pastures.

Who dictates the process the business or the system?  The system has a huge flexibility and that relates to customization. I will recommend the business process to adapt to the system, and that way costs can be kept to sensible levels. This may not necessarily apply in larger organizations such as banks that invest a lot in developing in-house talent. The idea is not to become a slave to the system, but make it work for you.

CRMs are useless if they do not integrate into accounting systems. This is where the ownership of the process has to be clearly defined. In small organizations this is hard to do as the accounting services are a minor part of the organization, when compared to those at the business development end.  In the case of banks and financial institutions, accounting/finance is the main focus so the ownership is clearly defined.

Vendors of ERPs and CRMs will sell to anyone who wants to buy, but the reality is that the costs of the system become a burden over the years. Almost every package addresses the needs of small businesses because there is a huge market out there, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the systems are right for the kind of business.

The other aspect of databases is that they can store records in the millions depending on the storage capacity. So it will be fair to say that going by mere capacity, there is overkill for small businesses. There is a backup industry developing alongside,  as operating systems, CRMs, and customizations all need larger capacities.

There is a basic CRM in practically every accounting package which can be exploited through multiple users. With cloud technology, users can access from multiple locations.

The other important aspect which is often ignored is communication. This has to be a 360 degree one. People leave jobs when systems fatigue them.Business slows down when there is no communication while implementing systems. The users have to be consulted while implementing new systems as much as the developer, managers, and everyone in the business.

Technology is moving fast to provide real-time business intelligence, but there is cost to it, unless it warrants small businesses are better off doing business the green way.

I have been involved in three projects and have seen the drain on the exchequer, small and big businesses alike. Haven’t you received notices from large organisations such as banks that you own them zero dollars. Or that the bank has over paid by 1000 times, because of a zero error.

Shit happens! User fatigue, system glich whatever ..



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