By Ronald L. Burgess – Originally published March 2001
Small Company Delivers Big – With Technology (in 2001)
It used to be that an entrepreneur knew the name and the names of all of the children of each customer who walked through his door. As his business grew, he might have jotted those names down in a small book he could carry in his vest pocket, just to jog his memory. As the business expanded with more clients and employees, that notebook expanded into files that expanded into rooms of filing cabinets and forests of paper. Finally, the art of remembering all of those clients’ names was christened with its own name, CRM.
CRM, Customer Relationship Management is the organized and purposeful management of the relationship of an organization’s customers, clients and contributors. In its mature form, the communications among many customers are accomplished in a way that is specific to the customer. Rogers and Pepper called this One-To-One Marketing in their best selling book of the same name.
Very small companies sometimes scratch their head on this one; they deal with customers one to one every day! But larger companies that have customer service, sales, and accounting departments, generally lose the direct touch that allowed their growth to the department level of organization.
It’s one thing for a small company to add the database and have the desire for more specific communications with customers; and another, probably daunting experience, to maintain a database that easily interfaces with communications in the typical MS Office environment. Generally, accomplishing all the necessary tasks requires a large system, with big-company budgets to afford the technical people to keep it taped and wired together.
Until recently, the small company has been left out of the huge rush to CRM, based on the scale and cost of systems such as Sibel Systems or PeopleSoft. These systems are built for the large enterprise and can require months or years to deploy.
The smaller business has been forced to rely on software built for the PC under the general category of PIM or Personal Information Managers, such as ACT or Goldmine. These systems use databases to organize information useful to many of the contact needs of CRM; but each seems to be focused on a particular function such as sales.
One smaller business, The Henehan Company, has solved the dilemma with an application called Commence. This unique application is like a spreadsheet for CRM. It has the flexibility to be modified to any business, yet does not require any programming. As a result a company can install the template package and start adding contact information the same day! When the level of understanding about how to implement CRM in your business is realized, the system can easily be modified to add many fields, automated tasks, and multiple desktops for different levels of need or department functions. While using an experienced Commence consultant makes sense in many cases, users with the inclination (just like with a spreadsheet) can learn most of the functionality.
Seeing that cost effective solutions are actually available “gets the creative juices pumping.” Then new processes and people in place can really change the way communication is done, service is implemented and products are delivered.
The Henehan Company is a case is point. An Inland Empire benefits and executive compensation insurance agency, Joe Henehan has used Commence to completely change the way his company collects, stores and uses client information. “We are able to attach all products and policies to the client, and all of their employees to all three,” state Henehan. “Notes, memos and comments can be attached to any number of relevant data. The information can, in turn, be used to report to clients, deliver faster service and capture all the transactions with clients; something that was previously so time-consuming to record and file.”
The result? Much better client service at a lower cost. “We can assist with Cobra and carrier billing issues that can just kill a company without a full time benefits manager. Commence, and our custom configuration, brings us up to speed with the largest agencies in technology. Now our small company has the same (or better) technology as larger companies, enabling us to service even fortune 500 companies,” states Henehan. “We tried doing this with two specialized insurance packages and a full time IT guy for two years, and never got there.” Surprisingly, Henehan has found that his customized Commence system has allowed his company to act as a corporate memory bank, offering history and continuity to his larger Fortune 500 and publicly traded clients who experience frequent employee turnover.
Henehan has experienced a renewed level of creative thinking about how to accomplish what he used to do as a single agent, with a few clients, 20 years ago. The Henehan Company can continue to grow and know that the quality of its customer service will not be compromised.
The Henehan Company represents one small company, in an industry with large players, that will be able to survive and prosper based on increased service provided at the same cost to the client. Today some database programs are cost effective to most small businesses, and in a few years other CRM solutions will exist on the Internet also.
It must be noted that no application is the magic bullet required to really accomplish CRM. The database (tailored for CRM) is the starting point, combined with coaching from CRM experts, changes in office procedures and continued employee training. The Henehan Company is an example of how technology and Customer Relationship Management are used as a strategic tool, to grow business.
Customer Relationship Management is a new name for an old idea, an idea that seems to work well when the costs are controlled. In a world where big companies are using CRM to act intimately like a small company, the small companies can’t forget that this is their primary weapon against larger competitors. Small companies must respond with the sophistication of large companies, or they lose their advantage.
Ron L. Burgess is President of Burgess Management Consultants, a small business consultancy, specializing in marketing resource management and technology.