There are people who learn to live with a messy desk, and people who insist on a clean desk, but if you’re a small business owner, even the most spotless work area probably has an incredibly cluttered computer sitting on top of it.
More than a dozen browser tabs open at one, pop-up notifications from various software tools, a set of unfinished e-mail drafts — does this sound like what’s facing you right now? If so, hopefully there’s comfort in knowing you’re far from alone.
In fact, according to a recent survey conducted for Salesforce by Harris Poll, 37% of Canadian small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) say they use between two to five different business applications to run their day-to-day operations. Maybe even scarier, though, a full quarter of SMBs in Canada aren’t even sure how many applications they used. This could be because some systems connect to one another, or data is pulled from systems they don’t manage directly.
This situation creates a major issue for SMB owners. Not only do they have to solve all kinds of problems as quickly as possible — solving those problems means taking an uncertain amount of time hunting through several different systems and piecing together the details they need. No wonder this was called out as a pain point in the research. When we asked SMBs to rate how important it is to be able to connect information more easily, for instance, 77% said it was critical at their current business size. A whopping 86%, however, said having a more cohesive look at the information that matters will be an even bigger deal in the future, as their business grows.
Although 32% of respondents said they have used customer relationship management (CRM) tools like Sales Cloud for more than two years, 34% still haven’t even tried them. Let’s look at what most SMBs in Canada are doing instead — and why it could be creating even more headaches than they realize:
59% of Canadian SMBs say they use email to track customer information
There is no real surprise here, of course. Some SMB owners and employees alike would probably describe themselves as “living” in their email inbox because it is the main way they communicate with their team, with customers, business partners and others. It might be where they first learn about new leads that come through downloads of content marketing assets, confirm meetings with new clients or receive urgent questions and complaints from their existing customers.
Here’s a reminder of the main reasons why email is not the ideal place to manage your business:
- Inbox overload: Running a business through email is like working on an assembly line where someone unexpectedly flips it onto a higher speed. As your business grows, more e-mail is likely to follow — and making sure you stay on top of the queue can be nearly impossible. Sure, you can forward e-mail on to team members, but they will just end up in the same situation, where the risk of an urgent e-mail falling through the cracks is high.
- A fragmented picture: Say you’re trying to keep on top of issues related to a particular customer. Chances are, there isn’t one giant e-mail thread that contains everything you’ve learned about them. Even if you create folders in your inbox with all the messages related to a client, you’ll still have a lot of weeding through to do. And you’ll be the only one able to do it.
- No way to measure: Your sales team could e-mail you what a customer spends, but managing your business from your inbox means you can’t really perform an analysis of what you’re spending to acquire every new client, how profitable they are and how those numbers relate to everything else going on in the company.
50% of Canadian small and medium-sized businesses say they use spreadsheets to manage customer information
All those rows and columns in a spreadsheet may keep you feeling organized, especially when you have to share information with the bank, an investor or other stakeholder. The great thing about spreadsheets is that they’re flexible and easy to use. The bad thing about them is that they were never designed to help firms grow their businesses. Consider the following:
- Version control issues: Ask yourself this question: are you looking at the most current spreadsheet about the business or a particular customer? How sure can you be? What about your team — did you send them the latest spreadsheet, or are they working from something earlier? Depending on your answer, what you understand as the “truth” about your business” may be very different from reality.
- Lack of context: Numbers just don’t tell the full story. For instance, a drop in revenue from a particular customer might look bad, but not if you realize that the customer in question is merely putting off a purchase until their budget kicks in the following month. There are myriad details in spreadsheets that may only be in one person’s head — which makes it difficult to make use of those details.
- No forward-thinking: Yes, you can add a column or row that says “projected” to indicate what kind of growth trends you’re seeing, but as with email, there is no inherent predictive capability in a spreadsheet that can turn the numbers into action items for sales, marketing or other members of the team.
SMBs who have started using CRM such as Sales Cloud realize quickly that the more data they put in, two things start happening. First, the information they formally kept locked in e-mail or spreadsheets becomes available to everyone on the team, is always the most current version and contains a lot more background and additional insights. Second, they discover that the information becomes less static but the basis of a strategy to win more business from a customer, more profitability or more business with similar customers.
CRM may not reduce all the clutter in your inbox, and you may still need to use spreadsheets for various tasks, but they become much more manageable and start looking more like what they really are — two of many different inputs that help SMBs understand and lead their companies towards long-term success.