As part of our continuing to document our own strategy implementation process as a startup company, the following post focuses on our CRM strategy, which is an action item within the strategic element we called operational systems implementation.
For many early stage companies CRM activities can creep up on them simply because CRM is not only about the first sale, which is easy to recognize, CRM includes many firsts:
- First potential leads
- First potential partners
- First customers
- First customer service requests
- First customer feedback and suggestions
- First invoicing and payments
Of course it’s great when it happens but I have seen it catch many people off guard, causing them to rush around implementing bandaid solutions. I too have been quilty of implementing bandaid solutions in the past, which have included:
- Keeping track of customers in Outlook or Gmail only, unable to manage the lead to sale process with any degree of efficiency
- Keeping track of invoices on a spreadsheet and then having to back track months later applying payments and updating accounts
- Sending emails around when a customer has a service issue then trying to track down whether or not we solved their problem.
Determined not to invoke any of this stop-gap measures of the past, we added as part of our strategic plan a strategic element called “Define/Implement Operational Systems” and added a “Action Item” called “Trial and implement CRM solution”
The purpose of making the CRM a strategic process in our startup company was that we knew we had to get this correct sooner rather than later and opted for the sooner option. In effect reducing our own stress and creating the best customer experience possible even as a startup company.
Luckily we had experience with a range of CRM solutions over the years in other companies, everything from desktop contact managers of the early 90’s to the range of Software as a Service products such as Highrise and Salesforce.com that have grown popular over the last decade, so we felt fairly confident that we could get this sorted out pretty quickly.
The first step was establishing the overall strategy for what we wanted:
- We needed to do something that would work for at least a 1 year window so we wouldn’t have to revisit it again until we had some traction with the business and could determine just how successful we might become and how many features we really needed and were using
- We needed to make it very efficient all within the one system. We had experiences in the past of putting together 2-3 separate CRM components and while they were successful, the time and effort it takes when you really are looking for basic capabilities was just not what we wanted to do
- We knew it had to be online so we could all collaborate and we knew the system had to be low cost because we had very defined operational costs as we moved forward.
In the end these are some pretty standard criteria especially for a startup company so there are no surprises here. The point is that we wrote down the criteria and agreed to a set of actions that ensured that we didn’t spend any more time then necessary on this task but that we got what we wanted in advance of it becoming a critical need.
Our specific actions were as follows:
- The first thing we did was took a look at some systems that we were already familiar with just to see how they had advanced over the years
- Next we made a quick outline of what we thought the lead to sale process looked like as well as the long-term lead nuturing requirements so that we could test each product in a dry run
- Finally we tried 3 products out to see what it was like to run through the process
In the end we chose a product called Zoho CRM because it met our specific criteria; good enough to get started with and certainly enough capabilities to get us through the first year, low cost (3 users free, pay monthly at 4th user) and obviously online so it was easy to collaborate. I only plugged them in this post because it was what we chose but I would suggest that the others that we mentioned are also quite good and would work well for other people.
So, what will we do in 1 year? – Well, the first thing we have done is put in another Action Item to begin the CRM review process in about 10 months so that we don’t forget or let it slip our minds.
Further to that we will most likely look at some more intergrated capabilities including: connection to outside lead sources such as Zoominfo or Demandbase, and connections to mobile devices. We will also be looking at how we are using the CRM to our strategic advantage and whether or not we are making the most of CRM as a core operational activity.
For the moment though we have successfully knocked another action item off of our overall strategic plan!