South Africans are lucky right now, writes Roger Strain of Liquid Thought. We’re somewhat insulated from the global economic crisis, due partly to good management of our financial system and partly to the fortunate timing of the 2010 World Cup, which will continue to drive a lot of investment for the next 12 months.

We can’t afford to ignore the looming threat, though. We may feel the pinch later than the US and Europe, but we’ll feel it just the same. We have advance warning that things are about to get tough – and we should take advantage of the time we have to prepare.
So what is the best way to prepare? We have to get creative, of course, and work smarter: we need to wring the last bit of value out of every scrap of information we have.
That includes information we have about our customers, which in many firms is spread across multiple spreadsheets and systems, from the sales team’s jealously-guarded contact files to the MD’s Christmas card list.
CRM technology can unlock the value of that information and help to put companies ahead of their competition. Yet only 10% of small to medium enterprises have even tried it, despite its affordability – and the fact that keeping existing customers costs many times less than winning new ones.
Some companies might think they don’t need CRM – but in reality, anybody with customers can benefit. Liquid Thought is a relatively small company, but we have multiple contacts at each of our 60 current customers, and a number of other influencers in the supply chain. Without our CRM system we’d find it much more difficult to deliver optimal service and meet our service level agreements. We also have prospects to manage, and CRM makes the sales process much more transparent and rigorous.
CRM also helps to manage time. If we want to send out a letter to all our customers or prospects, we can get the contact list we need in less than five minutes. In other companies we’ve seen, a couple of people would spend several hours running around collating spreadsheets, digging details out of paper files and begging their colleagues for updated information. If you’re doing that a couple of times a year, you’re wasting a lot of time.
Centralising information also makes it much easier to keep track of the mood among your customers, which is critical to sales and marketing efforts. If everyone who calls a customer has a detailed history of the last five or ten interactions, life is much easier and less risky.
None of these things is expensive to do, nor do they take a lot of extra time and effort. With CRM that integrates directly with Outlook, keeping everything updated is just part of everyone’s daily routine; and hosted solutions mean everything can be delivered for a flexible monthly fee, no upfront investment required.
Of course, adding CRM technology won’t help if your company doesn’t already care about customer service. But if you really want to do it, the IT can help you do it better, faster and more efficiently. That means you can allocate your own scarce resources to work on what really counts: keeping your existing clients, and winning new ones.