5 Steps for Small Businesses to Get Started with Hosted CRM

Updated: April 30, 2009

If you're a small-business owner, setting up your CRM using a SaaS (Software as a Service) vendor makes sense. You don't have to worry about maintenance, updates, server capacity or any of the other headaches you would experience in-house . But once you make your decision on a vendor, what are the next steps to using CRM technology effectively? Follow these five tips to get started with your hosted-CRM solution.

1. Figure out the business processes you want to manage with CRM. You first need to determine what you want to do with your CRM software, and that means figuring out what business processes you want to manage . Clarence So, CMO at Salesforce.com Inc. , said you have to develop a few high-level questions to help you use CRM technology. "There are a variety of processes you need to be clear on," he said, "and you need to decide what information you want to keep track of and report on at some point."

2. Import existing information sources. Gather a list of your existing data sources such as Microsoft Outlook , Excel or FileMaker . Frank Lee, president of Workopia, Inc. and a Microsoft Dynamics MVP who works exclusively with small businesses, said the data-conversion task is very common for most CRM projects. His company has developed a structured process to deal with this conversion. "We first identify the sources of current customer information, then analyze and design how it translates and maps into the new system. Finally, we [select] the appropriate data-migration tools to import the data."

So added that you need to decide if you want to do this yourself or hire a third-party consultant . Salesforce.com, he said, offers a service to analyze your data set and import it for you. Once you import the data, you can begin to work with it to manage the processes you identified.

3. Take some time to learn the basics. Before you can implement CRM effectively, you have to get comfortable using the software. So said for small businesses, that usually means the president of the company has to sit down for a few hours and get familiar with basic functionality.

Lee suggested the easiest way to get started is with contact and account management and work your way from there. So also advised taking advantage of help resources such as the online tutorials at Salesforce.com.

4. Learn best practices for a small business. According to Lee, building best practices is key to the success of any CRM project. Best practices have to be practical and sustainable for the given industry and size, and have to integrate seamlessly into the CRM program. He pointed out that small businesses have unique requirements. "Best practices that work for a large company may not fit for a small business in the same industry," he said.

So suggested joining Salesforce.com user groups to learn about best practices. Seeing how other people use CRM successfully can help small business owners build a viable CRM. "When you have seen what a mature system looks like, it gives you a driving vision you want to iterate towards," So said.

5. Learn to use reports to measure success. Once you have your system in place, you need a way to measure its success . Features like reports or dashboards should help you track success however you choose to measure it. This could be the top 50 customers, the most profitable customers or the ones who spent the most money. So said this is where small-business owners really see the value in the technology. "Once business owners see [these reports], they will say, ‘That is really what I'm looking for,' and that's enough vision to get value out of the technology."

Hosted CRM gives small business access to the same services as big businesses at an affordable price and without hassle. Whatever vendor you ultimately choose, keep these five steps in mind to help you with implementation. As Lee pointed out, in today's global economy , small businesses need the boost in sales and marketing that hosted CRM can provide. And that's what any small business wants.

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