By now, we’ve all heard enough about customer relationship management (CRM) solutions and how businesses of any size could benefit from them. As a global software vendor, Zoho has always been curious about how this awareness of CRM solutions translates into reality, especially among the small business community. The 2023 State of Customer Operations for U.S. Small Businesses survey, curated by Bigin by Zoho CRM and produced in partnership with the SMB Group, is our attempt to demystify the reasons behind many small business use cases. The study was completed with data from 1,500 US-based small businesses—companies with under 100 employees.
The results demonstrated that companies are inconsistent in their CRM considerations. Despite how long CRMs have been available, 56% of the surveyed small businesses saying they don’t use a CRM solution to manage customer relationships. Unsurprisingly, they all resort to traditional methods of data management. Of those respondents who don’t use a CRM, 39% use a combination of spreadsheets, email, and personal productivity tools, 9% use a combination of siloed applications, and 8% still use manual methods like pen and paper.
Funnily enough, even those who don’t use a CRM are willing to concede how valuable they can be: More than two-thirds of respondents without CRMs think they’d benefit from using one. Below, I’ve highlighted some of the reasons those companies reported as to why they haven’t tried one, including why those excuses may not be framed for technology today.
“Our company was too small to need one.” – 48% of surveyed users
With each passing year, CRMs gain new features and functionality and have evolved into complex organisms. Small businesses can be forgiven if they can’t see themselves using most of the enterprise-level CRMs which are simply too much for them.
The truth is that businesses of any size can benefit from using a CRM tailored to them, starting at the smallest business size of all: solopreneurs. These owners are required to do it all, and then some, whether the business is new or starting to develop into something lasting. There may not be any money in the budget to hire another person right away, so the only way to grow at scale is to redistribute time more efficiently, such as eliminating tasks from the daily grind in order to focus on big-picture concerns.
CRMs specialize in this level of redistribution. A business owner spending lots of time on customer relationships will appreciate that their CRM can invoice automatically and update customer records instantly from within any connected app. CRMs also include the baseline for a sustainable filing system, ensuring businesses spend less time searching for what they need and more time taking action. Thanks to low-code technology, solopreneurs with little-to-no coding experience are able to refine apps and processes as the business experiences growing pains within the market.
It’s also worth considering what small business evolution might look like, and not just in number of employees. Most growth plans can benefit from the use of a CRM, whether it’s for customer operations, employee experience, or, most likely, something a small business owner can’t predict. No matter the upcoming challenge, communication internally needs to remain flawless lest a company risk turning away a potential customer—a valuable commodity for any SMB. With the right CRM in place, all employees gain visibility into what others are doing, ensuring a tight-knit, communicative team culture that lays the foundation for future growth.
“We were satisfied with how we do things today.” – 35% of surveyed users
Just because employees like doing things a certain way doesn’t make it the right way.
Companies who aren’t using a CRM have manufactured all manner of makeshift solutions, as outlined in the introduction: multiple applications across numerous vendors. And, in some cases, the old-fashioned pen-and-paper methods.The scattershot approach has a few minor advantages. It requires little upfront setup or cost and allows business owners to continue operating as they were before launching their venture. But, this approach has an expiration date. All it takes is for one of those programs to go dark or introduce a troublesome update to disrupt business entirely. It also requires training new employees on multiple platforms, increasing the risk of mistakes.
Small businesses need to consider the security implications, as well. When companies operate out of a centralized CRM, individual apps are monitored from a central location, often a remote server via cloud computing. Any suspicious activity within the system, regardless of which app is affected, triggers a consistent and timely response. Plus, any software updates can be pushed simultaneously to every connected program, eliminating the chance of a hacker getting into a system through an outdated app. The cost of implementing a CRM pales to the cost, both monetarily and via the commodity of customer trust, of a data leak.
“People were too resistant to learning how to use new software.” – 17% of surveyed users
“It would take to long for people to learn how to use.” – 17% of surveyed users
Not even the largest investment in the most robust piece of software pays dividends if nobody in the organization uses it. A portion of the survey respondents expressed wariness for this reason: 17% of non-CRM users said they were hesitant to use a CRM because they sensed people within the company would be resistant; 17% worried implementation would take too long.
While it’s true that some employees might arrive with a lack of technical know-how, the general trend, especially in CRMs, is to include automation as a standard feature. Employees can offload their most monotonous tasks to the machine, freeing them up to focus on high impact work. Even the most extreme Luddites can appreciate some extra time, even if it requires some upfront upskilling—much of which can be spent with customization, such as choosing fields and applying helpful labels.
The time commitment might not be substantial, either. Many small business-focused CRMs are able to integrate themselves into existing workflows seamlessly to begin automations immediately. For example, consider a three-person company holding a meeting while one employee is stuck on jury duty. The other two can upload their notes from the meeting to the CRM, at which point the system will ping the third with a list of assigned tasks that feed into the general team pipeline. Even from mobile, employees can quickly check on project statuses and respond to questions that arose during the meeting they missed.
The Bottom Line
Scalable, intuitive CRMs have proven invaluable to companies of all sizes, enabling small businesses to meet the challenges of a competitive landscape and hold their own against larger industry players. Any small business hoping to grow would be wise to consider a CRM sooner rather than later—as mentioned above, employees can be hesitant to try new things. Most importantly, though, is the true danger to small businesses of not using a CRM: They’re forced to play catch-up to other SMBs running on a CRM.
By Yatheesh Raj, Product Marketing Manager, Bigin by Zoho CRM
More in: Customer Satisfaction, Zoho Corporation