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CRM Software for Small Businesses: Features and Functionality

Interview with Steve Ireland, Founder of

CRM (Customer Relationship Management) for small businesses goes far beyond a simple contact list with notes. Today's software options offer small business owners a way to see track the sales process with incredible detail and also offers an easy way to view the history of purchases and payments. Especially useful in a tough economy, CRM software can help you sell more of your product or service by targeting your most profitable customers. In this episode, the Small Business Podcast talks with Steve Ireland of about what small business owners should look for in a CRM software package and how to use it effectively.

Small Business Podcast: Hello, everybody. Welcome back to the Small Business Podcast. Thanks for joining us for another show this week. As usual, the idea of all these interviews is to give entrepreneurs and small business owners a way to maybe increase efficiency in their businesses, have a better easier time making a profit because that's what's it's all about especially in these difficult economic environments that we're in right now, and today's topic we're going to talk about is CRM, Customer Relationship Management software, and ways that small business owners can keep track of customers and really use the software to try and make more sales and make sure you have pipeline full of sales. A lot of small business owners don't get into this part of it. They kind of keep maybe customer list in Outlook or just in Excel spreadsheets, but there's a whole world of things you can do beyond that to try and keep track of things and make your life a whole lot easier and hopefully, increase sales at the same time, so that's the whole idea. Our guest is Steve Ireland. He's the founder and president of JobBlogs which is a CRM software as well. We're going to talk to him about why small business owners should really look into this and maybe get a more robust system for their CRM software. So, Steve, thanks very much for joining us in the show today.

Steve Ireland: You're welcome. I'm happy to be here.

Small Business Podcast: Well, so, let's just ask the basic questions right off. Why do small business owners need CRM software?

Steve Ireland: Well, take a little step back here to kind of look what's happening in the market place. CRM is the fastest growing software segment. In fact, right now, it's probably the only growing software segment so that's kind of an indication as there is something good that's coming out of that. Most small businesses don't actually have a common system that they can share information amongst their staff, and CRM is basically an effective system to organize the front office activities. By definition, it's using technology to find, captivate and keep good customers and streamline your work process. So, if you're, like you said, you're still working in Excel and Outlook, there's a big benefit to look in this.

Small Business Podcast: So, let's talk about some of the basic features that people should be looking for in a CRM software package. Obviously, that you can do it on-line or there's stuff that you can load on your own servers. Maybe, we should start there.

Steve Ireland: Yeah. Actually, that's a great way to begin because there are essentially two different types of software that you can purchase. The first is traditional on-site where you buy the software, you install it on your server, configure it, integrate it, and support it. And what's emerged over the last five to ten years is an area we refer to as software as a service or SaaS. It's often referred to as On-Demand, and one of the big differences between the two, ignoring things that anyone can figure out in terms of price and support and that sort of thing, is CRM is inherently about coworking and collaborating and centralizing information and integrating that information into other applications in work processes and that's, almost by definition, very difficult to do with an on-site installation of software. That's one of the motivating factors behind software as a service.

Small Business Podcast: Do you have an issue, too, which is people being able to work on the same file at the same time, basically?

Steve Ireland: Yes. And working from different locations, one of the characteristics of small business is they often don't have the team of IT staff that do nothing but keep systems running. And when you're installing software locally, that's typically what's required. There are benefits to having your software installed locally. Typically, the applications are more feature-rich and this sort of thing and can be customized faster, but it's a serious trade off in terms of keeping those systems running and the cost related to it. In the on-line world, you basically point your browser at a website and you have access to that application and all its features, data sharing with other members of your team and, typically, the team behind the scene that's doing all the IT work, doing the backups and that sort of thing with you. So, when you're out there shopping, there's really no commitment. You just point your browser at different websites and you could be trying a number of different applications and find out which one is best for you instead of going through the cycle of installing a package finding out it didn't work for you and then continuing on. There's also another dimension here that we should probably touch on is, not only are there two ways to purchase a software, but there are also fundamentally two different types of CRM system, and this is actually quite an exciting area to talk about. You see, the CRM is not a new concept. It's been around for over a decade, and in the first decade there, what companies focus on was the transactional side of their business, basically, dealing with orders, shipments, ticket management, performance report, that sort of thing.

Small Business Podcast: Right, kind of building that pipeline following along the sales process and kind of knowing where every customer is in that process.

Steve Ireland: Exactly, and automating that, and we got really excited about that, but we're also interested in how those systems help in managing your staff. They weren't necessarily about things customers really cared about. So, as you mentioned, when the economy gets tough and it's competitor developed there, what has to be in front of the mind is what's important to your customers. How do you engage them, how do you keep those conversations going with them and how do you close them, how do you understand what their needs are, how do you get them invested in you. And so, what's happening here is there's a new wave or a new type of CRM that's emerging in the market place. It's being coined CRM 2.0. Hopefully, that term is not being overuse too much but in this context, it actually means something because CRM 1.0 was about the transactional side of things, the pipeline, just automating some processes and centralizing your data, but the trap there is typically its inward-looking process. In CRM 2.0, it's about your customers, basically evolving the process, accepting that you can achieve internal efficiency. But, a simple way to look at this is CRM 1.0 didn't help salespeople sell that much more. It was a better spreadsheet for them and it helped them get a report to their manager so that their manager knew what to expect next week. CRM 2.0 is about tools that help that salesperson sell more to have more engaging and more timely conversations with their customers.

Small Business Podcast: OK. So, let's talk about what those features are as well because it sounds like this is almost something where the customer participates in it as well.

Steve Ireland: Absolutely, absolutely. We call this conversations and, essentially, it's about kind of recognizing a best practice about sales and, essentially, what we're trying to do here is match the behavior of your company with the prospect's buying pattern, and I'll give you an example of that, actually, a couple of examples. We all know that it takes many interactions to convert a prospect to a customer. A generation that goes probably three, now it's 12, sometimes even more.

Small Business Podcast: Phone calls, emails. It takes a lot.

Steve Ireland: Absolutely. So, how ironic is this? Ninety percent of all salespeople stop after four interactions with a customer, but 80% of the sales happen after the fourth interaction.

Small Business Podcast: So, if they would just stick with it a little bit longer, they'd probably sell a whole lot more.

Steve Ireland: Absolutely. If 50% of all the leads result in a sale for somebody somewhere, and when they're ignored they go to a competitor. So, essentially, what we're talking about here is how can you scale up in the number of conversations that you can maintain. This is difficult because we're just human, right?

Small Business Podcast: Well, it is also balanced, too. You don't want to...I know if I got 12 calls from a salesperson for something that is truly I'm not interested in and I'd become annoyed.

Steve Ireland: Absolutely. Yeah.

Small Business Podcast: So, how do you balance making all those touch points get to the point of the sale without annoying your prospect?

Steve Ireland: Well, that's actually a good point because what we are not talking about here is advertising. It's not a one way harassment or you're sending out information or just sending out emails on some sort of your program. These are personal conversations, and what's required to support those is a journal of activity, basically, recording what's happening, what your customer was asking for and having an audit, semi-automated process for following up and delegating that within your business. So, CRM 2.0 is about maintaining a journal and a plan with every prospect and getting it out there in a simple list so that you don't have to keep in your head or on, you know, on a pad of paper beside your screen. So,basically, you can engage in multiple conversations without having to remember all of the details of it. It's an effective way of managing the leads as they come in to your system, qualifying them, establishing some type of pattern and classifications, you know, which ones to focus on; and when you're focusing on those to track the conversations that are occurring, the questions that were asked, the areas of interest to keep qualify them, adding information about them and keep segmenting them into list so that you know what at frequency, what their needs are. These customers, they want a personal conversation with you. They don't want just an email message.

Small Business Podcast: So, how's that different from the CRM 1.0 where I would add a note about what we talked about for each phone call, things, questions they asked, how was it different from that?

Steve Ireland: Well, there are common aspects between the two systems as you mentioned, basically just recording, making some recording of that. But, one of the differences here in CRM 2.0 is the coworking aspect of it. Basically, we call it getting your customer vested in you right from the beginning at the start of the process in terms of documenting what their needs are, what some of the potential solutions are, what a proposal might look like even after the proposal in terms of provisioning and support so some of the systems allow you to basically share of that information outside of your little walled garden in your small business. It's kind of like a worm if you will and you can start to share information and cowork with these customers in a way that they''s a bit refreshing because it's not just phone calls and email messages. There's a little bit of anonymity here because they kind of take a peek of what you have to offer without actually engaging in long conversations with you as well. So, it's a new way of working with people.

Small Business Podcast: So, is this I actually giving a prospect or a customer access to my CRM system? Do they actually log in and take a look at these conversations that we've had?

Steve Ireland: Well, in our system for example, yes, that would be the case, and many systems are approaching this in different ways. Some of them are reaching out into social networks to collect information and produce information and that helps conversations in automated way. So, this is kind of reaching out to customers in new ways. But, yes. You can basically publish information out there to your prospect where they know nothing about the CRM system. It just looks like a very personalized effort that you've put force or to capture the requirements, to document your understanding and to take it to the next step in terms of qualifying a potential solution and a proposal for them.

Small Business Podcast: So, how do I keep this out of my hands?. I mean, this sounds like pretty valuable information. How do I keep a competitor from following me and following exactly what I'm offering to prospects and customers that he might be able to say, "Well, look. They're offering this. I'll offer this on top of that."

Steve Ireland: Well, the first thing is that people buy from people who they like working with and trust. Cost always plays a factor in these things, but the more vested a customer or prospect is with you, the less likely they're going to do business with anyone else. The information that you're providing or sharing in this way is also secured. These are private pages and private web work spaces, if you will. It's not like you're, you know, a blog or a website where it's just open. This is a link that is provided to your customer and a good metaphor is like a war room, you know, where you basically gather all of the intel that's required for a particular initiative or requirement, and there's a little bit of collaboration that occurs here in terms of your customer being able to comment on your reaction or understanding of what they're looking for. So, basically, your customers are kind of helping you do your job. But because of the conversation and their involvement, their shields come down a lot because they actually see a solution developing here. It's not a sales call. It's a conversation.

Small Business Podcast: And I guess, this will also help. If I'm not in the office, you know, we've had the instance where you call and the sales rep is not there and then nobody else can help you except that person. The CRM hopes to change that. I mean, obviously, that's a big benefit of it as well.

Steve Ireland: Yeah. Well, that's actually...that area is pretty fundamental to small business because CRM 1.0 was typically targeted at larger organizations where just having a singular customer profile was quite a significant improvement in stepping their processes. So, we can basically bank that one, right? The CRM system allows that. But, what's different in the small business is they typically do a lot of role sharing. That same person is responsible for generating and capturing leads but also sales, provisioning, support, the whole thing. So, what you're saying in the CRM 2.0 area is that the scope of functionality and the level of integration with other systems is much higher than in the CRM 1.0 days where it was about recording information and reports. This is truly about let's get our work done no matter who you are. Let's have a consistent view of the customer not only from the sales side of things but also from the provisioning and support side of things.

Small Business Podcast: One of the common things I hear about CRM software is that getting employees even if you have one or two of them that are sales reps to use it and use it correctly is can sometimes be a battle. They don't want to update it. They'd rather be on the phone call. They don't see the value of it. How do I sell the value and, you know, better convince them of the value of this to the business and to them as one way to generate more income for them?

Steve Ireland: What I see is the system has to actually be easier than writing on paper. CRM and systems, in general, have their reputation for creating more work for people. If you find yourself at the end of the day updating your CRM system, it's probably not a good sign that users are going to continue to use it. It has to be seen as providing more value to them. It has to be seen as something that they can work with in real time on the telephone as they're talking to somebody. It has to seem like paper. You know what I mean is applications have this kind of system feel to it, rows and columns, takes a long time to update data, update page, wait, and this sort of thing. A lot of the new systems that are available now are benefiting from the innovation that Web 2.0 provided on the web where things are much easier to use. They're actually very friendly. Some might argue, enjoyable. This is the era of Facebook defining what application should look like and how they should behave. So, the traditional barrier and concern that existed is being mitigated by a lot of new vendors that are providing these services now. So, getting back to one of your comments about how do you shop for this. You probably want keep an eye open for that. Is the product that you're using recognizing these trends and opportunities? Or is it from the old school?

Small Business Podcast: Well, you've been kind enough to kind of remain objective in terms of talking about what are the features of the CRM, and I appreciate that. Our listeners do, too. But, I know you've got a product that does this. And as a thanks for doing the interview with us, we should probably talk about that for a second, too. So, it's at will link to it in the show notes. What is the system like yours cost, Steve?

Steve Ireland: Actually, for proprietors and people who just want to try it out and see if these new systems are as good as they hoped them to be, they can start out with free plans. And as soon as you start loading more data and adding more users on it then the fees are usually two or three different plans, and ours starts out at $30 a month which is less than a lunch kind of thing. And for larger or medium-sized company, it goes up to $150 a month. The interesting thing there that's the software, that's the upgrade, and that's the IT support behind it. So, if you think about it, that's normally less than an hour of somebody's time and you're getting it all, so it's quite cost effective.

Small Business Podcast: Now, of course, you have to have Internet access to have access to this which is not unusual but a consideration, right? If you're traveling a lot, you want to make sure you have Internet access to use a system like this.

Steve Ireland: Yes, yes, and that's actually one of the few trends that are occurring in our industry. Mobility is a big part of this particularly as I characterize CRM 2.0. It's about collaboration, coworking and conversations, and a lot of that happens outside the office, so mobility is a big component. To kind of take you up on your offer there, JobBlogs is basically developed by our firm which started with Productivity software about 10 years ago, and so we learned a lot by working with small businesses, about how they work with standard productivity tools, contact databases, calendars, email file, that sort of thing. And we found some patterns that emerged, and we basically test those requirements into a new product called JobBlogs which introduces some interesting concepts around how teams can work in a very simple manner. So, it's a bit different. It's very refreshing from the standard productivity suite that you might be familiar with to more of a true Web 2.0 coworking. Let's keep it simple. Remember what the system is intended to do and the value that we expect from it.

Small Business Podcast: And one last question, you think of CRM in terms of a traditional sales where there's, you know, maybe a financial planner who uses it to track their customers and clients, insurance salesman who uses it to track customers, prospects, what about, you know, businesses that typically don't track their customers data such as like a retail store or even a restaurant? I mean, do you see any trend of those kinds of companies, those kinds of small businesses using CRM as well?

Steve Ireland: Yeah, I do, and I think the trend here is CRM 1.0 was helping good spaced industries work more effectively. That's pretty much as a predominant pattern, and CRM 2.0 is addressing the service side of those industries, right? Dealing more with people and less with automation. And so, even in the restaurant business, there are service components to that. We actually have customers that are in the hospitality industry and I enjoy listening to their conversations about how they operate their businesses, and it's quite interesting. For example, in one case, they manage a side of their business which is around weddings and that sort of thing. So, they have a need to collect and manage a lot of dynamic information that really has nothing to do with collecting information about the invoice that will be produced. They already have systems in place to do that. It may work well. But, where they fall down, where they need help was collecting the information and managing the relationship with their clients to understand the requirements. So, that gets back to capturing the lead, nurturing by providing information and proposals and then actually providing the service. It could be as simple as managing a wedding at a hotel. You can imagine the different steps that goes through as they try to understand what the solution is going to look like for them.

Small Business Podcast: And going back to this fact that in small business, if you have a sales person who'll leave or the owner wants to take some time off which is tough for small businesses to do because a lot of it is in their head. They know where things are but to really get that out kind of download that out of their brain and to get it into a central thing so that anybody can come in and take over and make a life of a small business sort of is so much, you know, easier. They don't feel like they have to be there 12 hours, 14 hours a day.

Steve Ireland: Well, it's really the only hope they have to scale, and I don't mean become a 100- or 200-person organization. I mean, if you're three people now, to be able to scale to six or eight, you can get away with sharing notes and yelling across the desks when you're two or three people. When you get to be five, six, seven, eight, now you have some management issues that you have to deal with some serious efficiency and control issues and you need a system to allow you to kind of grow into that. So, you're absolutely right. In less than a check, you're business is in a Microsoft Outlook file in a notebook. You have absolutely no control over. We all know what happens in those situations, you know, a staff could go and work for a competitor. Notebooks get stolen. You have some obligations to your customers to protect the information about them. Centralizing it in a hosted crm system like this, makes it absolutely easy. Something happens to your computer, you just switch to another computer. You go to a library. There's nothing on your computer that really is confidential or useful.

Small Business Podcast: Well, Steve, this has been a great introduction. Of course, listeners will link to Steve's company's website, JobBlogs, and it's a great introduction if you're looking for CRM software, to find out what is great for you. So, Steve, thanks for your time.

Steve Ireland: Well, thank you for the opportunity.