Small Business Benefits of Using Customer Relationship Management

Small Business Benefits of Using Customer Relationship Management

Wouldn’t it be great to have one tool that can host your customer database, act as a sales funnel for your website, send follow-up customer emails, and aid in structured marketing campaigns for your business? There’s good news: This tool already exists! 

All this marketing can be done under one platform called a CRM, which stands for customer relationship management

In this article, you’ll learn how a CRM tool helps companies manage their interactions with customers at all points during the customer life cycle; keep them engaged from discovery to education, purchase, and post-purchase; and improve the overall customer experience. 

What Is a CRM?

The goal of customer relationship management is to improve business relationships to grow the business. When you hear the term “CRM,” it usually refers to a CRM system, which is a tool that companies use to manage all their relationships and interactions with current, past, and prospective customers. 

A CRM helps companies stay connected to their customers and streamline processes and touchpoints, including providing support and additional services throughout the relationship.

Who Is a CRM For?

There is a CRM system for every business type. A CRM helps organize customer information and stay connected to customers at different milestones before, during, and after your sales or purchase process. 

If you’re a product-based business, you’ll want to pick a CRM that’s specific to product sales, and service-based businesses should choose one specific to services. There are also CRMs that are specifically designed for industries, so you’ll want to do your research upfront. 

Having a CRM system gives your sales, customer service, business development, recruiting, marketing, and other roles in your company a better way to manage the external interactions and relationships that drive your business’s success.

CRM systems allow you to see how customers have interacted with your company, milestones in their journey, what they purchased, when they last bought from you, how much they’ve spent, and so on. 

It also stores their contact information, which helps you identify sales opportunities and manage marketing campaigns more effectively, while also making this data accessible to anyone else in your company when they need it.

The right CRM can help companies of all sizes drive growth, but it can be especially beneficial to a small business that must find ways to do more with a much lower budget.

How Does a CRM Add Value to Your Small Business?

Implementing a CRM system for your business offers a lot of value. Below are some of the benefits that a CRM solution can provide your small business:

  • Improved customer service: Customers don’t have to repeat their stories over and over each time they contact your company. With a CRM system, you can address issues more quickly and effectively, leading to better customer support. 
  • Increased sales: Using CRM to improve and streamline the sales process, build a sales pipeline, automate tasks, and analyze sales data leads to more sales. A CRM allows you to have all your customer-facing voice, chat, and email touchpoints accessible in one place and deliver the right message on the right channel at the right time in the sales life cycle.
  • More customer retention: CRM tools can show you when customer churn happens, which is when customers stop using your company’s product or service or stop subscribing, so you can identify and address those pain points.
  • Analytics you can use: CRM tools make your data accessible, understandable, and relevant to your business needs. All your sales data, finance data, and marketing data flow into the CRM to become metrics that help you make sense of everything and use it to your business’s benefit for customer acquisition and retention.
  • Better business efficiency: Having all your day-to-day business functions in one place creates a better workflow, improved project management, and enhanced team member collaboration. CRM automates tasks to eliminate menial, repetitive work. 
  • Improved knowledge sharing and transparency: Collaborative CRM tools help you build a knowledge base, establish best-practice workflows, and facilitate frictionless communication among team members. A CRM platform allows everyone in your organization to gain visibility on your business processes, fostering better collaboration. 

Types of CRM Systems

CRM software compiles customer information in one place. Having this data handy helps your employees interact with customers, anticipate their needs, record customer updates, and track sales performance goals.

CRM solutions can be categorized into three primary types: collaborative, operational, and analytical.

1. Collaborative CRMs

Collaborative CRMs, also referred to as strategic CRMs, centralize customer data where your marketing, sales, and service professionals can all access it. 

They provide visibility into all customer communications, purchase history, service requests, notes, and other details, so customer support reps are better prepared to solve customers’ problems. Collaborative CRMs can also act on this information automatically to expedite service.

As this data is shared across the organization, each department can act on it as needed. For example, at a car dealership, the service department can use sales data, like when a car was sold, to automatically contact the customer to schedule their service appointments.

2. Operational CRMs

With sales and marketing, operational CRMs automate processes related to identifying prospects, keeping tabs on customer interactions, forecasting sales, evaluating marketing campaigns’ performance, and more.

This way, your sales team can spend more time cultivating relationships with customers, while your marketing team can target specific audiences with personalized messaging.

3. Analytical CRMs

Analytical CRMs aggregate customer information from various sources to identify patterns relating to customer trends and behavior. 

These insights can be used to generate and convert more leads, develop smarter marketing campaigns, and enhance customer service. They can also help with sales forecasting, budgeting, and reporting.

What Is the Best Free Small Business CRM Software?

Many CRM services offer free plans hoping that you’ll eventually upgrade to a paid plan.

Free CRM systems allow you to try out the platform with your team to see if it provides value that makes sense for your needs—especially if you’re a small business or a startup on a small budget. Since it’s free, there’s really nothing to lose. 

Below is a list of some CRM providers that have tools for product- and service-based businesses. We recommend that you explore these and other CRM services to see which features align best with your company’s CRM goals.

  • Freshworks: Features basic contact and deal management functionality, but remains competitive with in-built calling, webform lead generation, and allowing unlimited users.
  • Zoho CRM: Features workflow automation and can work with Zoho Campaigns to send up to 12,000 bulk emails a month.
  • HubSpot CRM: Offers contact storage of up to 1 million records, custom data fields, website marketing, and up to 2,000 bulk emails a month.
  • Insightly: Has advanced project management tools, including post-deal tracking, as well as customized reporting and bulk email marketing. 
  • Agile CRM: Includes customizable data fields, one workflow automation, and bulk email marketing.

Finding the best CRM solution for your business will require some comparison shopping. But whichever CRM product you choose, your small business will quickly see its advantages, and you may wonder how your company operated without a CRM in place!

Need Assistance?

The Oregon Small Business Development Center Network is committed to building Oregon’s best businesses.

Our 20 regional Centers assist small businesses throughout Oregon with advising, classes, and access to the resources they need to be successful. Each Center is backed by our statewide support network, helping small businesses access the proper assistance wherever they are in Oregon. 

If you have any questions, connect with your local SBDC at OregonSBDC.org.

6 Strategies for Successful Business Planning

6 Strategies for Successful Business Planning

Running a small business is never easy. Whether you’re just starting out or have been running your own company for years, whether you have a few loyal clients or a whole lot, whether your overhead is minimal or substantial, running a successful and profitable business takes a lot of work—rewarding work for sure, but hard work nonetheless.

Luckily, there are some ways to make it easier. While the Oregon Small Business Development Center (SBDC) has loads of resources—some we’ll tell you about here—that can help small-business owners, the best step you can take to improve your odds of success is to plan properly. In this article, we’re outlining six strategies you can implement for successful business planning.

1. Start Planning Early

It’s never too early to start planning. Never. Whether you have an idea you want to turn into a business, you have a business ready to launch, or you already have a successful business and are thinking of what to do next, a strategic plan is crucial.

The Oregon SBDC is here to help with your business planning at any stage. From startup to scaling, our advisers have the tools to help you build a solid foundation for your business. Tools like LivePlan simplify business planning, budgeting, forecasting, and performance tracking for our clients.

GrowthWheel is another tool our advisers use that provides a visual toolbox to help business owners make better decisions and take action in their businesses. Both of these tools are offered free of charge exclusively to Oregon SBDC clients.

2. Set Your Goals

Your strategic business plan needs to include more than just ideas. While the vision of a business is an important component, a key factor to success is setting SMART goals—specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely.

Oftentimes a big goal is tied to several smaller goals you need to achieve along the way. For this reason, some business owners set goals by month or quarter, while others set goals for the year. The right timeline to choose depends on you and your business goals.

3. Identify Your Staffing Needs

When people think about goals for businesses, they typically think about financial targets they want to hit, potential physical expansions, new strategies for upcoming product launches, and the like. But another factor that merits consideration and forward planning is your business’s future staffing needs, especially in today’s climate.

If your business goals include expanding your operations, the number of full-time, part-time, and/or contracted workers will likely change. The cost and time it will take to hire for your staffing needs requires planning.

4. Understand Your Financials

Awareness of your business and personal finances is a vital part of successful business planning. Even if you’re “in the black” and seeing profits, understanding your finances is important when making decisions and planning for the future of your business. And this means knowing more than just what’s in your bank account.

Understanding how much money is coming in and going out each month, product costs, the cost to manufacture, the cost of goods sold, labor costs, fixed and variable costs—these are all numbers you need to know so you can make decisions for your business. Your financial indicators are the drivers of your business, and if you don’t understand them, it can be easy to make a costly mistake.

5. Put Together Your Marketing Plan

A marketing plan may sound like the kind of thing that only big businesses with their own massive internal marketing departments need to do. But small, local businesses need a marketing plan, too. And just like any other part of running a business, your marketing requires a carefully thought out and meticulously detailed plan.

From the channels you will use to the creative you want to deploy to your monthly marketing budget—write it down. Building and implementing a successful marketing plan can help your business grow exposure and revenue.

6. Evaluate the Previous Year

When you’re running a small business, there are times when you’ll need to look back in order to move forward. Looking back can be fun, especially if you’ve experienced growth in your business and can count your wins over the year. It can also be hard, if you’ve experienced a challenging year that didn’t live up to your expectations.

How to Write a Business Plan for Your Oregon Startup

How to Write a Business Plan for Your Oregon Startup

If you’re not sure how to write a business plan for your Oregon startup, it’s pretty simple once you know the general structure it should have. As for why you should take the time to write a business plan, well, think of it as a framework to guide you through the stages of beginning and operating your business.

Plus, a business plan shows people that you’re prepared with a plan for the future of your business, and that’s important for everyone from potential investors to employees to partners.

A well-written business plan is just one tool for building a successful business, but it’s a really important one for the foundation of your business.

There’s no right way or wrong way to write a business plan for your Oregon startup. The most important thing is to craft a document that meets your needs and the needs of your business. Here are some things you might consider including in your plan.

Executive Summary

An executive summary is an eagle’s eye view of the company—think of it as the CliffsNotes version of your business plan. It should include:

  • An outline of the company’s goals
  • An outline of the company’s goals
  • A summary of the products and services the company offers
  • A brief description of the market the company serves
  • A projection of the company’s potential growth
  • Basic info about your leadership team and employees, as well as the business’s owners
  • Any plans related to asking for financing or pitching the company to investors

Overview of Company and Objectives

Now, it’s time to dive in and talk about the problem your company solves. Who do you serve and how do you meet their needs? What advantages do you have that will make you a success? It’s time to boast about your strengths and what makes your company a valuable addition to the business landscape.

If you’re already in operation, it’s a little easier to talk about what you do and how you do it. If not, summarize what you hope to accomplish and how you’ll get it done. This is where you should talk about goals, listing milestones with specific steps you’ll be taking in the future.

Market Analysis

Here’s where you let all that market research shine to show you understand what businesses similar to yours are doing. What are their strengths, and why do their businesses work? What are you doing better, and what are you bringing to the market that doesn’t already exist?

Summarize your market demographics and talk about how those demographics fit into what your business sells. Give an overview of your target market’s purchasing habits, buying cycles, and willingness to adopt new products and services. What is the trajectory of your target market—is it growing, stable, or in decline? Quantify your market with as many details as you can.

Ideally, you’re focusing on segments that can support the growth of your business. It’s much easier to serve a market you can define than to have nothing but a vague idea of who your market is.

Company Organization

Describe your type of business—are you a sole proprietorship, a partnership, a corporation, or a limited liability company? Mention your registered agent here, as well (if you have one).

Next, create an organizational chart that shows who holds each position in the company and how their experiences are a key part of the business. If you want, you could include resumes or key stats for each member of your team (this could be helpful if you are presenting the business plan to a possible investor).

It’s also helpful to include a breakdown of what each member of the team does—a basic job description works well here.

Overview of Services or Products

What is your service or product? What is the lifecycle of that service or product? Discuss how what you sell benefits your customers. How is it different from what’s already on the market? If no market for your product or service currently exists, define the opportunity for entering the market and explain why you believe people want what you will sell.

Do you have any research or development in progress? If you’re planning to offer new products or services, give an overview of the timeline and implementation needed to make that happen.

Last, list any trademarks, patents, or copyrights the company owns.

Marketing and Sales Strategy

Your business’s marketing and sales strategy will evolve to fit the needs of your business and your offerings as you grow and as marketing trends change, but it’s good to have a starting point. This section should discuss how you’ll attract customers, retain them, and upsell them. Here are some important talking points when discussing a marketing and sales strategy:

  • What’s your budget for marketing?
  • How will you know if your marketing is successful and how will you adapt if it isn’t successful?
  • What platforms will you be on and how are they relevant to your audience?
  • What will you do for advertising and how will you get the word out?
  • How will you measure return on investment (ROI)?
  • Do you need people to promote your products? How will you form these partnerships?

Logistics and Operations

Provide an overview of the workflows you need to run your business smoothly. Cover all the components you think you need for your planned business operations (or document them, if you’re already in operation), including things like:

Facilities: Where will you work? Do you have actual retail space, and where is it?
Suppliers: For products, where do you get the materials you need for production (if you produce them yourself)?
Production: How are your products produced? How will you handle spikes in demand?
Equipment: What equipment do you need to run your business?
Inventory: Do you have an inventory management system?
Shipping: Do you have a fulfillment process for shipping products to customers?

This section of your business plan shows that you have a solid understanding of your supply chain and have a plan in the event of any spikes in business or sudden growth.

Financial Projections

Here’s where you talk about the projected financial success of your business. If you’re already up and running, include income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow documents. You may also want to include any relevant information about capital expenditures.

If you’re just getting started and don’t have historical information, you may want to get more specific with your projections. You could project quarterly or even monthly information for your first year after starting the business.

A Final Note

Know that although a business plan is an important map, it isn’t meant to be perfect or permanent. It’s designed to be reviewed and adjusted regularly so you can stay on track. Without this baseline, it will be much more difficult to adjust and have a historical reference for making decisions. A business plan shows you where you’re going and where you’ve already been, and that’s key for building a successful business.

If you have any questions about how to write a business plan for your Oregon startup, get in touch with your local SBDC at OregonSBDC.org.

Small Business Tips for 4th Quarter Planning

Small Business Tips for 4th Quarter Planning

Time flies when you’re running a business—it’s hard to believe we’re heading into the 4th quarter! To ensure business success through the end of the year, NOW is the time to prepare if you’re a small business owner. Here are some small business tips for 4th quarter planning:

  • Check in on your inventory and operations.
  • Organize your 4th quarter marketing strategies.
  • Plan your year-end client and customer appreciation.
  • Review your year-to-date goals.
  • Get your financials in order for tax planning.

Check on Your Inventory and Operations

Small business owners should ask themselves these questions NOW to build their 4th quarter plan and to save time and money in the long run:

  • Do you have the inventory you need?
    Supply chain issues are causing delays across the board, regardless of industry, so it’s important to plan ahead for your inventory needs.

  • Is your online store ready?
    Review your website and ensure the user experience is simple and in working order. Having an online store is one way to pandemic-proof your business as we move into the winter season.

  • Have you factored in your staffing needs?
    Many industries in Oregon are experiencing labor shortages at the moment, making it important to think ahead about your labor needs.

Organize Your 4th Quarter Marketing Strategies

The holiday season offers many opportunities for small businesses to amp up their promotions. Planning your marketing strategies ahead of time will help business owners make the most of 4th quarter sales.

Some specific days small business owners should consider taking advantage of in the 4th quarter include:

Black Friday, November 26, 2021
Black Friday is one of the busiest shopping days of the year. Last year, consumers reportedly spent $9 billion on this day alone! Plan ahead, and be prepared for an influx of business.

Small Business Saturday, November 27, 2021
Small Business Saturday is a day to celebrate and support small businesses and all they do for their communities. Think about how you can participate and encourage your community (and beyond!) to support your small business.

Cyber Monday, November 29, 2021
Consumers are increasingly going online to shop for items big and small, and Cyber Monday has gained popularity over the years for online sales. If you have an online store, think about ways your small business can participate on this day.

Ideally, your holiday marketing strategies should encompass all of your communication channels, including your website, social media, and public/media relations.

If you have an email marketing list, think about how you might nurture your current and potential customer relationships through holiday messaging as part of your marketing strategy. If community engagement is a focus, consider partnering with a local charity to spread the holiday cheer! Just be sure to plan ahead, as these types of initiatives can take time.

It’s always a good idea to map out your marketing strategies in advance.

Plan Year-End Employee and Customer Appreciation

Speaking of the holidays, the 4th quarter is a great time for small business owners to show employees and customers your appreciation for their support throughout the year.

If you’re planning to give holiday gifts, set up a holiday function, or provide bonuses, be sure to plan well in advance so that any gesture of appreciation is well thought out and doesn’t feel rushed to the recipient.

As mentioned earlier, inventory is being impacted and delays can be expected, so if you’re planning to give physical gifts, it’s especially important this year to order these gifts ahead of time.

Evaluate Your Year-to-Date 2021 Business Goals

Small business tips for 4th quarter planning wouldn’t be complete without checking in on where your business stands:

  • Have you met your goals?
  • Does something need to shift to stay on track?
  • Set aside some focused time on your calendar to review your business plan and check in on your goals year-to-date.

This is the time for small business owners to finish up any business projects in progress. You might be in the middle of redesigning your website, or maybe you’re integrating a new point of sale system.

Whatever the task, this is a great time to wrap up any projects that may be lingering in the background so that you can take time in the 4th quarter to focus on setting yourself up for business success in 2022.

Get Your Financials in Order for Tax Planning

Tax planning takes place year-round, but it’s especially important in the 4th quarter if you plan to make investments in your small business before the year ends.

Here are some small business tips related to tax planning:

  • Be organized
    It’s key that your receipts and all important documentation you’ve collected throughout the year are neatly organized for tax season. It’s a good idea to use accounting software (e.g., QuickBooks) to track your finances.

  • Be ethical
    Report all income and business expenses. Do not mix your personal expenses with business expenses.

  • Plan ahead
    Learn of any recent tax code changes, and find out how these changes will impact you and your business. Now is the time to get your finances in order and set an appointment with your trusted bookkeeper, accountant, or CPA.

Following these small business tips for 4th quarter planning will help you finish the year strong and set yourself up for business success in 2022.

The Oregon SBDC Network is here to help small business owners plan for success throughout the year. Find the SBDC closest to you to access the resources you need for your Oregon small business to grow and thrive by visiting OregonSBDC.org.