A recent study from Capterra, a business software buying resource and Gartner subsidiary, reveals that customer relationship management (CRM) applications are fast becoming an essential part of the small business technology toolkit.
Just over half (56 percent) of the 699 people surveyed for the study, 499 of whom worked at a small business, use a CRM tool or plan to do so in the next year or two. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of those currently using the technology or in the planning or evaluation phase said CRM was critical for conducting business.
How does a small business go about selecting a suitable CRM solution?
First, it helps to determine what a CRM can and cannot do and how it fits into a company's sales and marketing operations.
How to select a CRM application
"CRM is not synonymous with sales force automation (SFA), sometimes called sales pipeline automation (SPA). SMBs [small and midsized businesses] should know that adopting a new CRM will improve the quality of the leads dropping into the sales funnel, but not complete the sale for them," said Tirena Dingeldein, senior analyst and content manager at Capterra. "They'll need a CRM with a built-in SFA/SPA for that."
Another factor to consider is how well a prospective CRM tool helps unlock business-boosting insights. "SMBs should look for an option with a built-in reporting feature so they don't have to deal with messy data exports," added Dingeldein.
Finally, the best CRM tools help bring small business sales and marketing teams into tighter alignment.
"To get the most bang for their buck, SMBs should look for an option that has marketing automation or some sort of marketing tool integration," Dingeldein said. "Small business owners know that sales and marketing work best when one hand knows what the other is doing. It's crucial to look for a CRM that can help both teams."
In fact, the study recommends that a robust CRM solution should be an SMB's next technology investment, after data and information security.
Cybersecurity a top priority
Compared to all other categories of software, security was the most-used (68 percent) among survey takers.
Businesses of all sizes are being besieged by cybersecurity threats. The possibility of a data breach, increasingly caused by point-of-sale and pretexting scams, is enough to keep security-conscious small business owners up at night.
Capterra's study puts it in blunt terms, advising small businesses that it's "well past time to invest" in technologies that help safeguard customer and employee data if they haven't already.
Other top tech priorities for businesses, in terms of what they are currently using or soon will, include cloud computing and website implementation or enhancement solutions (59 percent each). And the allure is obvious.
Cloud computing puts the power of enterprise-grade IT services and applications in the hands of entrepreneurs, often with affordable, pay-as-you-go pricing. Meanwhile, the popularity of website building services and products underscores the need to establish and maintain a strong online presence.
Other high-ranking categories include human resources (HR) software (55 percent) and mobile business applications (49 percent).