Many Organizations use relationship management (CRM) software to enable sales teams to track customer information and manage active deals. But customer relationships start long before the sales cycle begins, and they continue long after it ends. There are other relationships to manage in the business too – what about key suppliers and ongoing activities with them? The accessibility of customer information among internal teams, including interactions and status, shouldn’t be ignored either.
Nurturing developing relationships
When businesses ask me about CRM, they often focus on sales and tracking active deals. But where do the deals come from? Increasingly, businesses are employing digital marketing to “fill the funnel” and are becoming more focused on tracking social media and website visitor behaviour. Consider the possibilities if this information were directly accessible to the entire organization in your CRM system. This is possible today.
Going a step further, strategic long-term relationships are often being nurtured; these may be potential customers, key partners, or influencers as a business expands its reach. In business-to-business focused organizations, these relationships are often built over several years before they result in a qualified sales cycle. Ineffectively managed, these contacts quietly become lost opportunities.
So why not track them in your CRM system? If you track sales stages (e.g., qualification, presentation, proposal,negotiation, close), then why not add a nurturing stage to the start of the process and track your long-term relationships there? Schedule reminders, notes about interactions, and so on as you would in a typical sales cycle. Doing so will allow you to be more disciplined as you build these long-term relationships that can become extremely important to the long-term growth of the business.
Fully managing the sales cycle
When considering a CRM system, businesses often think of it as a standalone software purchase and miss the benefits of leveraging a CRM system that is fully integrated with the corporate enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution. An integrated CRM system will not only make customer and sales data more widely accessible to others in the organization, but will also allow access to more complete business data that enables better decision making. Imagine your sales team having direct access to invoice aging when a tardy customer asks for another discount.
Corporate-wide visibility of the sales pipeline also opens other opportunities, such as combining sales forecasts with ongoing work-in-hand revenue forecasts and budgets, making management reporting much more proactive and effective. With CRM tied into operations, the data immediately becomes more broadly useful.
Customer account management
When a prospect becomes a customer, the way you engage with them changes, but you can still leverage CRM to manage the ongoing relationship beyond sales activities. The most basic example is centralizing customer data and eliminating duplication, thus moving you toward a single source of truth. This allows you to more easily coordinate mass communications without missing someone and minimizes islands of customer data.
As the business grows, more and more revenue can be derived from the existing customer base. And yet organizations usually don’t track these upcoming purchases and projects as sales opportunities. Why not? These events can be as valuable as an initial sale, so track them as part of your sales pipeline even if the potential revenue is identified by someone outside your sales team. CRM is for everyone.
The overall health of your customer base is critical, too, and is an important part of managing the relationship. Various departments in your organization may have different interactions with customers and different contacts. What if sales, accounting, operations, service, and management could all be up to speed on the status of a given customer at any point?
In our business, we track customer temperature – a simple traffic light system (red, yellow, and green) – so the entire organization can be proactively aware of problems. Red customers, monitored daily, may have been escalated because of a problem created either by them or us, or they may have a collections or other issue that our management team considers material. Yellow customers are in a “caution” state and are monitored weekly.
They could move to either red or green depending on the situation, but need to be considered with additional care. Regardless of status, any key member of any team can recommend that a customer be downgraded or escalated – this accessibility provides valuable information to the entire organization that other departments otherwise may not have been aware of. After all, isn’t understanding the health of the relationship one of the most important parts of CRM?
Your organization will have better visibility of the overall health of all your key business partner relationships.
Going beyond customer temperature, consider the role of CRM when following up on overdue accounts. What if your system automatically notified your finance team of customers with invoices that are 10 days or more overdue so that staff could call the customers proactively rather than waiting until month-end? And what if these same accounting personnel could record the activity in the CRM system when they call the customer, and remind themselves when to expect payment based on what the customer tells them? Simple CRM processes like this can shorten invoice aging dramatically and also allow others in the organization to be more aware of customer behaviours and trends. But this really works only if CRM is tightly linked with your ERP – integration is key.
If everyone in your organization tracks customer interactions in one place, no matter what department you’re in you’ll have comprehensive, up-to-date information about every aspect of the customer relationship. A word of advice, though: it’s easy to get carried away with expecting too much customer data from your team. Start with small steps and understand who the owner of each data element will be. Otherwise you may end up with some great ideas that don’t really gain traction among your users.
Vendor relationships are important too
Vendors aren’t customers, but our relationships with them can be equally important. Businesses often have vendors they consider strategic partners. Someone may be managing these relationships, but the interactions are likely not tracked as they are with customers. Why not? Every key business relationship should be managed, just as customers are. With vendors, this could be as simple as holding them accountable to commitments, or a more extended negotiation of a key purchasing contract. Many CRM platforms allow you to track these relationships, even for suppliers. And if it’s integrated with your ERP, it gets even better.
What happens when a supplier shorts an order or doesn’t deliver by the promised date? And what happens if this becomes a pattern? Tracking CRM activities against a purchase order, blanket agreement, or the vendor itself can allow you to better hold vendors to their commitments and manage their performance more effectively. Track average shipment lead times and backorder frequency as key performance indicators. Regardless of how you interact with your vendors, consider CRM as your tool for holding them accountable.
And guess what? Your organization will have even better visibility of the overall health of all your key business partner relationships.
The key take -away
To consider CRM as only a sales tool is missing a huge opportunity. You need to manage all your business partner relationships. No matter what part of the organization you look at, relationships are being built and nurtured. Your team will be more effective if these relationships are managed using the same tools, and it will be a real win if it’s an integrated part of your overall ERP solution.
First published in the March 2019 edition of The Business Advisor.