Small business CRM lessons to be learned from real customers

A while ago, I came across a message on one of the CRM forums I read; a message from a small business owner who needed a CRM system. Here’s a rough description of the problem, as described by the small business owner:

Hi, I have a beauty parlor and I have a lot of customers (around 1000). I use an Excel spreadsheet at the moment, but my biggest problem is that I know nothing about marketing and it was suggested to get a computer to do it for me.
I want to ring or email people to get them booked for another appointment. Is there a system that tells me what to do for my business?
All the CRM ones I have seen want me to tell them what to do and I’m not sure what to actually do. It’s all too complicated.
Any help would be appreciated!

Some of you might be smirking now and some of you might even feel a bit patronizing after reading the above, but the reality is … these are the problems small business users face and the reasons they cannot easily connect with CRM are hidden within this message above.
There are so many lessons to be learn from this one single message. Now, let’s see.

Lesson 1: Why small businesses need CRM

This is such a basic thing, yet, many technical people, who see themselves mostly as problem solvers (which implies the problem is felt, understood, defined) and even some sales people, forget the simple reasons small businesses get to the conclusion they need CRM. This message spells out some of those reasons:

Small businesses reach out a critical mass of customers where maintaining customers in Excel is no longer manageable
Small businesses need a more controlled way of interacting with customers for sales (booking appointments) and for marketing, customer retention etc. (ring or email customers)

This is a very important lesson because small businesses do not just go out and buy CRM systems because they can or because you and I think it’s a good idea for them to do so. They buy it because they have a problem managing their customers and because they realize they have a problem.

Lesson 2: Small businesses is a market that needs to be educated

It is clear from this message that this one business owner is not very IT savvy.
The first clue is that she is looking for answers on a free forum and the second clue is in the way she defines her problem and asks the question (“it was suggested to get a computer to do it for me”). It is clear the business need is there, the problem is understood, but the solution is not clear.
She wants to learn how to solve her problem.
It is also clear that she wants to solve her problem cheaply or low cost, otherwise she would go to a specialized IT company for answers.
This is true for a lot of the small businesses out there.
CRM solutions focusing on small businesses need to educate the customers, not just sell to them.
At Clevertim, we’re fulfilling this duty by writing a meaningful blog, full of free and useful advice for small businesses.

Lesson 3: Word of mouth and social media is how small business owners educate themselves

This is the same idea as in Lesson 2, but it needs to be spelled out explicitly.
Small businesses will get word of mouth advice first, from friends, colleagues, other business owners. It is obvious this has happened in this case: “it was suggested to get a computer to do it for me”.
Word of mouth will be the first bit of advice they will get and the advice they will trust the most, because it comes from people they know and trust already.
But if word of mouth cannot provide a full solution, the next stop is social media, and this small business owner is already making use of it by posting questions, asking for help on a social media forum. It is clear she wants to learn, she wants to reach out to people who can help her learn and help her solve her problem.
The fact that she mentions the use of some CRM systems in her message suggests this might not be her first message on social media. She has already tried a few CRM systems and she’s hitting a few limitations …

Lesson 4: CRMs are generic solutions

One of the limitation she hit is the fact that most CRM solution out there are not targetted at her particular business or at beauty parlors in general. They require the user to “tell them what to do”. In other words, they require quite a bit of customization before they can be used to solve real world problems.
This customization is too expensive for small businesses.
Another point is that the user’s expectations were out of sync with what CRM systems can do. She expected the CRM software to be able to tell her how to run her business, maybe provide some business models, or templates of marketing models.

Lesson 5: CRMs require business processes

Yes, this user realized that a CRM on its own will not solve her problems. A CRM system is just a tool to support and automate some of your business processes – in other words, the way you work. You have to “tell it what to do” through your business processes (the way you do things) and then CRM can act like an intelligence bank on your customers, your interactions with your customers, and so on.
Although the term “business process” might sound a bit scary or too abstract, it is really “the way you do things” and that’s best illustrated with an example. Let’s describe a few rules that this small business owner could implement (or most likely she already implements them but doesn’t call them business processes):

Rule 1: After every appointment, enter a note in the CRM system, for that customer. Enter a small description of how the session went, comments, suggestions, complaints from the customer, your impressions on the customer and on the session, any bit of extra information you can extract on the customer e.g.: does she have siblings, children, a spouse, when is her birthday, etc. You can later on use this information to target the customer better, maybe get extra customers (e.g. her spouse) or send them a Happy Birthday note.

Rule 2: After every appointment, add a task to follow up with the customer in 1 week/1 month/a few months, depending on the length of your sales cycle. The CRM system will them automatically notify you when it’s time to pick up the phone or fire an email to follow up and ask your customers if they want another appointment.

Rule 3: When you get reminders from the CRM system, pick up the phone and talk to your customers

Rule 4: After the phone call, enter a note on how the call went, any extra information you extracted

Rule 5: After the phone call, enter another appointment in the CRM system or another task to follow up in 1 week/1 month time if the customer hasn’t booked yet. Do not give up, always follow up.

Above we have 5 simple rules for running a small beauty parlor with the help of a CRM system. It doesn’t need a lot of work, it’ll get the small business owner much more organized and selling more (because she always follows up now) and it’ll not cost a fortune – web based CRM systems are very affordable these days.

Conclusion: Just listen to your customers and potential customers and you will be amazed how much you can learn. Learning about your customers means you can help your customers better, which in turns means they are more likely to buy and stay with you.