Note from Lionel: Rhonda Abrams is the Small Business and Entrepreneurship columnist for USA Today, the author of the bestselling business plan guide in the US – Successful Business Plan: Secrets and Strategies and more than 15 other books for entrepreneurs. Her books are used in 22 of the top 25 entrepreneurship programs in the US and been translated into more than 30 languages. She is the President of PlanningShop, creator of content for entrepreneurs.
Register for her free business tips newsletter at www.PlanningShop.com, “like” PlanningShop's Facebook page, or follow her on Twitter @RhondaAbrams, Below is the second of three guest posts from Rhonda:
Thinking about moving business operations to the cloud? You’re not alone. For growing businesses, 2012 is destined to be the Year of the Cloud, when they look to complement business functions currently on desktops or servers with the power of Internet-based applications. In my last post, we resolved to tackle the cloud in 2012but it can be daunting to figure out which functions to move to the cloud first. Let me make a suggestion: put customer relationship management (CRM) at the top of your list. After all, nothing is more central to your company than your customers.
Because customers are at the heart of every business, virtually every company has some form of contact management system. It might be a primitive, patchwork system – names and contact info stored in a program like Outlook or Gmail or on a phone (gulp!!). Perhaps they’ve squirreled away some Excel spreadsheets with names gathered at a trade show. Not a good recipe for growth!
While there is traditional CRM software installed on servers or desktops they are often inefficient with version control problems, or operation system incompatibility with each new computer or employee introduced to the software. In my own business, a few years ago, we bought one of those. In addition to version / operating system problems, we had expensive service upgrades and IT services costs to help weather the mess. and called our IT consultant However, the worst aspect of our system was that the, data was basically inaccessible whenever we were on the road.
Let’s look at a few of the benefits of choosing a CRM option early in your transition to the cloud:
- Meets the needs of your mobile work force. Your sales team is probably the most mobile of all your employees. They frequently interact with customers whether it be through trade shows, check-in with customers via phone, take clients to lunch. Having access to data at their fingertips wherever they are enables them to be more successful, and it makes it easier for them to capture critical follow-up info in real time.
- Protects vital business assets. Few things are as precious to your business as the names and contact info of your customers, prospects, and leads. Do you really want that data to walk out the door if a salesperson quits? With cloud-based CRM, you keep control of critical customer data includingwho can access it and when. Moreover, since it is stored in the cloud, on secure servers, you’ve got a built-in offsite backup system, providing you a level of disaster protection.
- Gives you greater insight into your business. Right now, do you know which prospects are in your sales pipeline and how far they are from being closed? Which current customers are likely prospects for future sales and when you need to get back in touch with them? CRM enables you to know what’s really going on with ease and in an instant.
- Greater visibility across teams and functions. When CRM data is stored in the cloud, it’s far easier for cross-functional teams such as sales and services to share info, helping you to serve customers better. And when you choose to integrate applications, this data can be crunched together to give you real-time info that helps you make more informed business decisions.
- CRM isn’t just about sales – it’s about service. With better data, more easily accessible, you can ensure you respond to accounts in an informed and timely manner and get a complete view of how a customer has interacted with your entire company over time.
To reap the greatest benefits of CRM in the cloud, examine options that enable you to easily integrate your customer data with other functions. For example, Dell’s foray into the world of cloud – Dell Cloud Business Applications– offers growing companies a turnkey platform for a company transitioning to the cloud. Customers get a single source of support from an advisor they trust, access to integration with both on-premise and other cloud applications, and a growing suite of cloud services that have been vetted by Dell.
The core of your business is based on your ability to attract, serve, and retain your clients. Without them, you just don’t have a business. That’s why CRM should be one of the first applications you consider as you move to the cloud.
To learn more, get a free copy of my newest book, Bringing the Cloud Down to Earth. It’s available in bookstores in April, but thanks to DCBA, you can get your free download of the complete book now. Just go to http://dellcloudapplications.com/crm-resources/ebook-bringing-cloud-down-earth