As the General Manager of a small business, I have to wear
many hats – some of which I love to do an others that consistently fall to the
bottom of the pile. One the things I
enjoy talking with customers and partners discussing how they can improve their
business and hopefully our company can help them. What I don’t enjoy is documenting the jest of
our conversations. However, if I don’t
take the time to do this the problem I run into is obvious – remembering what
we discussed and with whom I had the discussion.
Besides sales activities, I’m responsible for managing
operations, cash, vendors, and product enhancements. All these activities coupled with the fact
that I talk to prospects and customers once or twice a month, it is difficult
to keep everything straight. The last
thing anyone wants to during the sales process is reference a conversation that
you had with another customer or partner.
Not that it is impossible to recover from a blunder like that, but why
put your self in that position. I’ve
made this mistake and it wasn’t the end of the world but it was embarrassing.
I’m not saying record every conversation/e-mail you have
with a prospect or existing customers.
During the “courting” process, it is very important to keep track of
conversations with those businesses that are interested in buying your product
or service. This is especially important
if more than one person from your company is contacting a prospect or the lead
person is out of the office (vacation, sick, business travel, etc.) and a
colleague needs to keep things moving.
Most businesses use spreadsheets to track their pipeline
which is effective if you are managing from a 10,000 foot level. But a spreadsheet is a terrible tool for
tracking interactions with a prospect.
There are several contact management or customer relationship management
(CRM) tools available that can help you better manage the sales process without
overloading you or your sales team with unnecessary data entry.
I’ve used a very expensive system that cost several million
to implement and a system that was $10/month.
In my experience, expensive systems have great reporting capabilities
but they are a pain to use and your sales team is unlikely to put good
information in the system. These systems
are just too time consuming. The
$10/month solution is bare bones, but it does the basics well and is much
easier to use than the multi-million dollar system.
What are some good tools?
I’m a big fan of on-demand software so I’ll focus on those types of
tools. Salesforce.com is the most widely
known tool with an entry price of $65/person/month. I used this tool several years ago and it is
very easy to setup and use. I’m
currently using a CRM (customer relationship management) database within Web
Office and it works just fine and only costs $10/month. There are numerous tools out there (just
Google “CRM” and you’ll find dozens to choose from). The beauty of on-demand software is the 30
day free trial most companies offer to get you to try the service.