The below is a guest blog by Gene Marks, a CPA, author, columnist, and owner of The Marks Group. Gene writes every day on small business for the Washington Post; twice a week for Forbes and weekly for Inc, & Entrepreneur.
When people ask me what customer relationship management (CRM) system to buy I always recommend that, whatever the choice, the application should be cloud-based. Why? It’s because cloud-based applications integrate much better with each other. Changes can be made in one place, rather than in hundreds of thousands of separate installations. Updates are quicker. The tools are more consistent. Programmers can more easily access data. Support is faster. The best CRM systems, like Zoho CRM, offer applications and tools so that third parties can build custom solutions and connect their systems in order to provide a more powerful experience for their users.
Because of this, most of my CRM clients use one or two third-party add-ons, and the best CRM platforms provide many choices. So what are some of the most popular types of add-ons? Here are the top four.
When a customer calls, you want to make sure you have everything about them at your fingertips. A good CRM will always be tracking activities, emails, and notes. But what about order history? Open invoices? Products bought? As an accountant myself, I want to be clear that a CRM system is not an accounting system. It lacks the internal and audit controls necessary for a strong financial database. That’s why so many of my clients prefer to integrate their CRM systems with their accounting systems. A good add-on will allow you to synchronize contact information and view a history of transactions. Some even let you create orders or invoices in the CRM system and then port it over to the accounting database. You’ll do less double entry and you’ll have all the information you need about a customer in real time.
If you’re in the habit of sending a few hundred emails at a time, then your CRM system should be capable of handling that. But if you’re like me, and you send thousands of emails regularly to various opt-in lists, then you’ll need to connect your CRM system to an email marketing service. Why? For starters, your local internet service provider may shut you down if you don’t. However, that won’t happen with a good email marketing service because it’s their job to deliver the email. A good email service will put you through some due diligence to make sure you’re not sending spam or inappropriate messages. Once you’ve passed those tests, the service should be able to handle tens of thousands of emails at a go and bring the results of those campaigns back into your CRM system. Remember: Your CRM database is where all of your marketing and communications begin. An e-mail service is a tool that should use this data to help you get your message out there to the masses, and then track that message with good analytics.
Wouldn’t it be nice if when you get a call, the person’s record automatically pops up on your screen with all their history of prior interactions with anyone in your company? How productive could you be if you had the ability to start an outgoing call with just a click of the button on a contact record? Or be able to record the call and have the audio file connected to your contact’s record for future listening? You can have all that if you integrate your CRM system with your phone system. Many of today’s phone systems are cloud-based, which has made this type of integration much easier. With a few minutes of simple setup you’ll be able to make calls faster and keep better track of your company’s calling activity.
Sometimes a specific add-in doesn’t exist. It’s usually because you’re using an accounting, inventory, point of sale, order entry or some other type system that’s a niche product, or specific to your industry, or has been highly customized to suit the intricacies of your business. Back in the day, that would’ve been a problem. Today… not so much. There are now powerful tools that you can use that are automatically configured to read the tables of your CRM system, and which can then enable you to read and write data in and out of both systems. Even if some of these out of the box tools can’t cut it then don’t worry; good systems provide application programming interfaces, or APIs, that will enable a good programmer to accomplish these objectives. Today’s data integration tools can accomplish just about anything.
In the end, your CRM system is just a database. But it’s a critical database that’s storing information about everyone that comes in touch with your business. My best clients use powerful add-ons like the ones I’ve described above to leverage this data. You should too!
– Gene Marks
CPA | Author | Columnist | Owner of The Marks Group