What is a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system?
If you’re a freight broker agent or performing any sales or customer service role, you’re already managing customer relationships. You set expectations with your customer and make every effort to meet and exceed that expectation. Every chance you get, you do everything you can to maximize your sales to that customer, whether that includes calling, emailing, visiting, or otherwise engaging with them. You almost certainly have some kind of routine to help you do that, whether that’s a paper notebook or calendar, reminders set into your phone, sticky notes, or Outlook meeting invites. That’s what a CRM is, but in the form of a software system designed for that purpose. Think of it like an assistant, it organizes your notes, keeps track of your meetings, and helps you turn your long-term goals into daily tasks.
Since CRM systems are designed with a single purpose in mind, they can offer a range of purpose-driven tools that other systems just aren’t designed to offer. While calendar and email programs are designed to be versatile, CRM systems have one reason to exist: to help you serve and sell to your customers.
Why do I need a CRM system?
Small businesses that are just starting out might not need a CRM system. You might be the only employee, with a couple of customers whose needs you understand almost as well as they do. However, you’re probably planning to grow and attract new customers. Before long, managing that process with spreadsheets, calendars, and emails will be overwhelming.
CRM software, depending on the version and level of service that you have, is likely to have task management and reporting features organized into a dashboard that gives you the most up to date, important information for your business. If you’re not using CRM software now, you probably put that information in a spreadsheet or something similar to keep track of it. That process takes up valuable time and means you’re always looking at data that’s at least a little bit behind. If you have a good CRM system and are using it regularly, you can spend less time managing data and more time growing your business. You’ll get better, more recent information, and you’ll get it a whole lot faster.
What factors should I consider when choosing a CRM?
Price. We’ll discuss price more in the next section, when we look at a few examples of CRM systems, but you should be aware that there are free CRM systems available. Even if none of those suit your needs, there are cloud-based CRM software packages billed monthly. Years ago, installing a CRM system might have meant thousands of dollars in software purchases, a major installation, and possibly even a server. Now that most CRM systems are Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) models, it’s a monthly subscription fee if the free version doesn’t work for you. While migrating a long-established business to a new CRM system can be a time consuming and expensive project, small businesses can get started relatively easily.
Number of users. If you’re working alone, any CRM will have you covered here. However, if you have any partners or employees, it’s important to make sure that your CRM allows enough seats for every relevant person in your agency to use it. CRM can be a very effective communication tool for your agency to move everything related to a specific client from one employee to another, or to assign tasks between employees. There are several factors to consider, but if a CRM can’t support each user in your office, it’s probably not the right one for you.
Number of contacts or records. Most cloud-based CRM systems, especially the inexpensive and free services that work best for small offices, restrict the number of contacts or other records you’re allowed to upload into them. This makes sense, since if you are managing huge amounts of data or sales contacts, you’re probably not a small business. You’ll want to make sure that you’re not only able to upload enough data into the system for your current contacts and records, but that you have room to grow. You won’t need an exact number, just a good sense of the scale you’re dealing with. If one day you find yourself with so many accounts or sales prospects that you have no choice but to upgrade to a paid version of your CRM, well… you’ll probably be pretty happy about that.
Ease of use. Most of the time when a business implements a new system unsuccessfully, it’s because users found the system too complicated or confusing to use. Surprisingly, this is one of the hardest factors to judge, since every system has a learning curve and it’s hard to know if a system is showing you what you want to see until you get your own data into it. Check for user reviews online, and make sure the software comes with plenty of documentation and support. Free services are not likely to offer live phone or chat support, but they may have pretty active message boards. YouTube can also be a more valuable resource than you might think, since the company may have an official YouTube account or there may be experts in the software who create “How to” videos.
System integration. Think about the software you’re already using that has your contacts in it, especially if it’s been important to your success or if you just don’t want to give it up. It’s important to make sure any software you consider isn’t outright incompatible with what you’re already using, but it’s also worth reviewing whether there’s a CRM system that is specifically designed to work with your preferred program. If you’re using something common like Outlook or Gmail, the answer is almost certainly yes.
What are some available CRM systems?
Unfortunately, no one can tell you which system is best for your needs, but we decided to take a look at a few examples of CRM software. LDI offers our agents a CRM system as part of our proprietary software package, but there are other options as well. Naturally, these companies make updates to their policies and technology frequently, so it’s important to review what’s posted on their websites. We’ll place the current links to their download/purchase pages and support below for your review.
HubSpot’s solution hits a lot of the points we discussed above. HubSpot’s site says the free version of their system is available to unlimited users, can hold up to 1,000,000 contacts, and integrates with Gmail and many versions of Outlook. One nice feature here is that you can have both paid and free users, so if some of your employees need advanced features, you can still have employees on the free tier.
Zoho is another popular and helpful CRM system that offers a free tier of service for up to three users. Their system also comes with reporting options and offers compatibility with many well-known business tools. As we discussed earlier, Zoho, HubSpot, and most other free services also offer a paid tier, so you shouldn’t need to worry too much about outgrowing your CRM system.
Salesforce. Salesforce does not offer a free tier of service, and starts at $25 per user, per month. Salesforce is a very well-known company and software, however, and in addition to the peace of mind that may offer you, there are a lot of Salesforce resources and experts available.
HubSpot signup page: https://www.hubspot.com/products/get-started
HubSpot support: https://help.hubspot.com/
Zoho free version signup page: https://www.zoho.com/crm/free-crm.html
Zoho support: https://www.zoho.com/crm/resources/
Salesforce pricing and purchase page: https://www.salesforce.com/editions-pricing/sales-cloud/
Salesforce support: https://help.salesforce.com/home