By Mike Richardson, Managing Director, Maximizer Software
As a small business or freelancer you might be tricked into thinking that all your contacts can be managed with the aid of a simple spreadsheet, but this approach won’t take you far from the era of the rolodex and little black book. In the digital age, CRM software is an affordable solution that will allow you to really leverage your contacts and save time on admin, all the while growing as your business grows.
The fashion industry is a fast-paced environment, and you need to stay on the ball at all times. Working in a small team, you might often find yourself constantly multitasking, with your head spinning from information overload. A CRM (Customer Relationship Management) solution can help automate many tedious and time-consuming processes like reporting, as well as ensuring that all the business contacts you hold are up-to-date and instantly available from any location (thus saving you time that can be spent in a more valuable way – maximising your revenue for example, or maybe drinking some good tea over an issue of Vogue).
Most importantly, a CRM platform enables you to connect your marketing and sales endeavours in a closed loop of information. From a marketing perspective, the entire sales cycle can be tracked through your CRM system, providing you with the means to measure the success of your campaigns in real time. All sales, marketing and customer service processes are enhanced, giving you both the time and data needed for the development of long lasting, genuine relationships with your customer or client base.
At this moment you might be thinking that your business isn’t big enough to make this kind of an investment worth the initial outlay. Plus, you probably don’t have an IT department, or the time or knowhow to deal with a complicated deployment process and maintenance; butread the below guide to choosing a CRM system and you might change your mind.
1. When choosing a CRM, the most important step is to determine your company’s requirements. If you were an investment bank, you’d be likely to need a complex, tailor-made solution with customised forms and connectivity with various external systems. Solutions like that are expensive, and there is no need to pay for something you won’t ever use. A simple, out-of-the-box deployment is likely to be more than adequate. Another area to investigate is the possibility of integration with applications already in place, like your email client or accounts software, so that no valuable information slips through the net.
2. CRM systems are available both in the cloud and as an on-premise solution. The latter might be good for businesses willing to pay more upfront in order to avoid greater total cost of ownership later. A start-up without a big budget however, would probably do best opting for the cloud solution, as the initial cost is much lower. The deployment is virtually instantaneous and all the maintenance is dealt with by the CRM provider.
3. It’s important to estimate your expected number of users. A small business is more likely to keep changing its size according to the market situation, or even time of the year (e.g. employing extra staff in the months leading to major shows or busy periods). Scalability, therefore, should be one of the most sought-after features in a CRM system. The cloud allows for such flexibly, with the number of users easily brought up or down with individual licences. It might be wise to opt for a vendor that enables a swift change to an on-premise solution, should the size of your company abruptly grow.
4. Mobility is the buzzword of today and not without a reason. Sometimes, you might be a director, designer, admin assistant and a courier at the same time. Maybe you simply don’t like being tied to your desk, or the extensive volume of direct networking you do means you’re constantly on the move and dipping in and out of meetings. It is essential that all your customer, supplier and prospect data is at your fingertips all the time, and the cloud is the best way to achieve that. Add mobile access, with a user-friendly interface adjusting to your smartphone or tablet screen, and you can stay connected anytime, anywhere.
5. Last but not least, in order to leverage the data in your CRM system as fully as possible, you may also need to integrate it with other sources of information. The fashion industry has long-embraced social media, and you shouldn’t miss out on any opportunity to source data that can engender your sales, inform your direct marketing campaigns and enable you to get to know your clients better than ever before. Connectivity with social media is what every state-of-art CRM solution should offer, so make sure it’s at the top of your list.
By now you probably know that the answer to the question posed in the beginning of this guide is yes, you can benefit from employing a CRM solution regardless the size of your business. But choosing one that will closely reflect the needs of your company is key if you want to boost sales, develop new business and create lasting customer/client relationships. So, whether you’re a supplier to the fashion industry, a freelance professional hoping to maintain ongoing relationships with designers, or a designer trying to sell a collection to a department store, start looking into how a CRM can enhance your business now.