Every customer interaction is an opportunity to build a stronger relationship that leads to increased sales and loyalty. Collectively, data from these interactions can be analyzed to optimize operations and create competitive advantages. But unless you have a standard procedure and platform for collecting and recording information from these interactions, opportunities will be missed and analysis will be impossible. If you have to scramble to find information on some combination of Excel spreadsheets, email platforms, mobile apps, sticky notes, and the backs of business cards, you’re asking for trouble.

A customer relationship management (CRM) system makes it possible for organizations of any size to manage customer interactions and related data more effectively. Every time your organization has contact with a customer, regardless of the communication channel, information is entered into CRM software and automatically integrated and organized with existing CRM data. This data, which typically comes through marketing, sales, customer service and operations, is accessible through a single platform.

Technically, CRM falls into the broad category of “enterprise software,” which includes technology solutions for enterprise resource planning, supply chain management, inventory management and other business disciplines. Truth be told, CRM and other business applications were originally developed for the largest enterprises that had millions of customers, big budgets, and the in-house expertise to implement and maintain a CRM. This begs the question … does a small business need a CRM?

Yes. In fact, one could argue that a CRM is capable of delivering more business value to a smaller company than a large enterprise. People expect to have closer relationships with a small business, but if you don’t have a CRM to help you manage those relationships, you could lose the trust and confidence of your customers. Also, today’s cloud-based, Software-as-a-Service CRM systems reduce upfront costs and deployment times and enable users to enter and access CRM data from any location and device.

Human beings and human memory are not perfect. It’s impossible for a small business owner or employee who wears multiple hats to remember or save every important piece of information from every customer interaction. A CRM system allows you to enter and update all pertinent data in the moment so important details aren’t lost or forgotten.

Because all CRM data is centrally stored and standardized, it can easily be shared, accessed and reported upon. This improves collaboration, productivity and customer service. With a CRM, meetings are less likely to be missed, sales leads can be pursued quickly, and organizations can be more responsive to customer inquiries. A CRM solution, when properly configured, can deliver valuable insights into business operations, customer behavior, sales trends and marketing ROI. Because a CRM is a single, centrally managed platform, data is easier to back up and there’s less of a risk of data loss.

In the next post, we’ll discuss the factors to consider when choosing and implementing a CRM platform, and how to take advantage of new technologies such as artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things to enhance your CRM system.