CRM for the SME Market: More than Just Technology

Are your customers at the centre of your organisation? Are you confident that you can optimize your CRM strategy to maximize value from your CRM technology investments? This White Paper by ROCC outlines just some of the principles of implementing CRM strategies within SMEs and touches upon the role technology plays.

CRM is no longer the domain of large corporates. The dramatic rise in sales of CRM technology to SMEs indicates a sea-change in the market. This change is driven by the realization that CRM can deliver ROI in unexpected ways, such as, cost reduction, increasing customer profitability as well increasing advocacy (‘would you recommend us’). But SMEs are falling foul of the ‘cart before the horse’ rule believing that purchasing a CRM package will ensure a customer focus. It is the same pitfall that the large corporates suffered in the 1990s. It is vital to set your strategic objectives regarding CRM before you evaluate a software solution – the software is only one of a number of tools to support your strategy, it should not dictate your strategy. CRM is a management philosophy that places the customer firmly at the centre of a business. Technology is the enabler which should support the business process to deliver the appropriate level of service keeping the customer happy, loyal and, above all, profitable.

What is CRM?

CRM is not just about technology, it is a combination of well designed business processes supported by suitable technology that is used by trained and loyal employees. Successful CRM is always lead by the business strategy, which drives change in the organization. This change might be enabled by technology or enabled by processes re-engineering or cultural development. The key to success lies in the ability to develop and execute a business strategy that meets the needs of your customer (and other stakeholders), develop a true customer-centric philosophy embraced by every person in the organisation, and develop effective and efficient customer focused business processes that deliver competitive advantage.

The heralded failures of companies that implemented CRM technology in the 1990s can be largely attributed to the absence of a coherent customer centric strategy. Missing at the outset was a clear understanding of the strategic objectives and business processes to be enabled by the technology in the first place. Strategic vision, therefore, is critical. It provides the compelling motivation for change and guides operational actions that companies need to execute to achieve their business objectives.

Why bother with CRM at all?

Although at the start of CRM projects the primary stated aims are usually “increasing customer loyalty”, “increasing sales revenue” and “increasing customer retention” Gartner research into the measured outcomes of implementing CRM highlighted that the biggest pay back was improved operational efficiency followed by improved operational effectiveness
“The tangible benefits that most firms report are related to cost reduction areas. In many cases, benefits may be less tangible but no less critical. Once organisations begin to ‘inject the voice of the customer’ into their decision-making processes you make better decisions that are in keeping with the needs and demands of your customer base.” (Gartner 2005)

The research indicated that CRM programmes do lead to increased customer loyalty and increasing revenues but that cost reduction through the streamlining of business processes – as well as higher ‘advocacy’ (“would you recommend us to someone”) – are the main outcomes of CRM initiatives.
These gains in operational efficiency are usually the result of a ‘unified view of the customer’. In essence this means that at every ‘touch point’ every staff member can access the same information about that customer – when last invoiced, purchase history, complaint letters, feedback forms, personal details, etc. Such a unified view leads to less duplication of effort, faster reaction times, speedier decision making and ‘seamless’ interactions with the customer.


Before starting any CRM project, careful consideration needs to be made of the specific business benefits that will be sought. These should be documented in a company’s benefits register of project investments, and continuously monitored to ensure they are delivering what is effectively determining the future value of the company.

ROI from CRM typically comes in two forms. The first is cost reductions from increasing efficiency. For example, when customer data helps a sales team maintain productivity levels with fewer resources, cost reductions result. When sales agents in the field need to spend less time manually entering data into slow legacy systems, companies save time and money. When access to customer data helps service representatives resolve inbound calls more quickly, savings roll up.

The second form of ROI is revenue enhancements, which also come in many forms. Complete purchase and service histories of top clients help sales teams make the right offer at the right time across the right channel. Timely access to valuable information increases “selling time,” shortens sales cycles, improves closure rates and keeps sales resources focused on valuable customers. Marketing teams send more targeted campaigns to customers more likely to make a purchase, while avoiding irrelevant contacts that breed dissatisfaction. Accurate customer data allows service representatives to recognize and confidently act on cross-sell and up-sell opportunities.

How do you ‘manage’ your customers?

No one customer is the same. No one customer segment is the same. To ‘treat different customers differently’ in order to maximize their experience is at the heart of a good CRM strategy. A ‘high customer value experience’ leads to repeat business and advocacy – which is a cost effective and much under used lead generator!

The unified view of the customer enables more efficient and effective customer management in part due to a better insight into customer behaviour (buying patterns, lifetime value, churn likelihood). It is also possible, though challenging, to measure the profitability per customer. Here, much depends on cost allocation methods. The promise of this approach lies in developing a deep understanding of the actual and potential value of customers by measuring their individual contributions to the organisation. Actual value is a measure of a customer’s lifetime value – or the stream of future contribution if the customer’s relationship with you does not change. By contrast, potential value represents unrealized opportunity – a measure of how much more business might be generated if treatment of a particular customer is modified.

A better appreciation of customer behaviour should lead to ‘relationship marketing’ which, in essence, prioritizes the lasting, profitable customer relationship as opposed to the short-sighted view of selling as a single-step process. The tools of relationship marketing include the utilisation of the media, mailings and newsletters, maintaining and evaluating databases and, of course, evaluating customer data via CRM systems.

Leadership and organisational change in CRM

Regardless of company size, CRM initiatives depend on the endorsement and support of influential leaders to be effective. Such efforts define the culture and commitment of a customer-driven enterprise. Success demands consistent, visible communication and reinforcement by senior management and key influencers. Employees look to their leaders for signals of what is important and what is not. If a CRM initiative is given scant attention by company leaders, there is far greater likelihood that people will continue to follow old habits and work processes, thereby avoiding the challenge (and promise) of business change. Thus the absence of commitment from the top sets the stage for suboptimal CRM performance and diminished ROI.

Cultural change is vital to achieving strategic objectives and rolling out a CRM initiative. When organisations overlook the importance of cultural change, they increase the likelihood of CRM failure. To overcome this challenge, companies must be prepared to lead, communicate, train, motivate and support employees to ensure they engage in the desired customer-focused behavior. Employees must clearly understand the objectives of the initiative and be rewarded for utilizing new customer-focused processes and technologies. A significant factor influencing the support of users in using new processes and technology is the perceived personal benefits they gain from any proposed change.

The Technology

Strategy and technology must work hand in hand to bring a customer-focused plan to fruition. “Software does not give you a CRM strategy,” says David Thacher, General Manager of CRM at Microsoft Business Solutions. “It automates your existing strategy, thereby making that strategy actionable.” The challenge is selecting the technology best suited to meet your strategic objectives and business needs. To make the right investment, important questions must be answered: Which technology partner complements my CRM goals? Can I capture cost reductions from efficiencies and top-line revenue growth? Which functionalities are required to support my newly established CRM processes? These and other questions must be addressed in order to properly invest in the right CRM technology and maximize return on that investment.

After you have defined your CRM strategy the next step is likely to be to select a suitable CRM technology, adherence to the following step-by-step approach will ensure success:
Define technology needs at the outset: Draw upon the knowledge and experience of both IT and business professionals within the organisation to compile a user and technical requirements report taking into account both current and future needs of the business.

Select the correct IT partner: Credibility and experience is everything – not just in technology but the market that you operate in and in understanding the business processes to be impacted by the change.

Integration: CRM software used in isolation will be less effective than software that can integrate with your financial accounts, email and other ERP packages

Scalability: Can your existing IT infrastructure cope with a growing CRM system, for example, can it be accessed remotely with mobile employees? Ensure that the ‘IT roadmap’ aligns with business expansion plans

Flexibility: consider ways to optimise your CRM solution, including such as, scanning, eforms, imaging, telephony and workflow

User acceptability: Ensure ‘buy-in’ with a system that is familiar and intuitive


As CRM has matured it has become clear that the benefits of customer relationships are no longer reserved for large companies with equally large budgets. The small to mid market business case for CRM initiatives is compelling and concentrates on cost reduction as much as customer profitability and loyalty. Leadership is a vital success factor as is cultural change that reflects a customer centric philosophy. Technology is, as ever, the enabler and great care must be taken in defining objectives, matching processes to technology and managing the implementation.
According to Gartner, a CRM initiative is six times more likely to be successful if an organisation uses an external consultant to manage it and designates CRM ‘champions’ within the organisation to ‘sponsor’ change!

ROCC have partnered up with strategy consultancy Vantage Strategies, specialists in CRM, to offer you a free CRM workshop to support you in delving deeper into how CRM can benefit your business and support you in putting together an action plan for a successful CRM implementation. Whether you have already implemented CRM or are still considering its benefits and impact to your organization, this short half day review will provide the clarity required to optimize the benefits that CRM can bring.

Leave a Reply