September 14, 2023

Recession, Legacy Systems, Spreadsheets – It’s Time For a Smart CRM


Ivor Whibley, Principal Consultant in Microsoft Dynamics 365


Many years ago, I was dealing with an organisation that sold diggers and bulldozers. The market was crazy, and they never had enough equipment to sell. They turned down my offer of a CRM system. A couple of years later, when the country was in the grip of a downturn in the building and mining industry, I received a phone call from the sales manager - his sales team had not hit budget, and most had resigned.

Because they had no CRM system, the organisation had no pertinent information about any prospects these salespeople had been calling on. They didn't know critical information, such as when equipment was coming up for replacement and the optimal time to contact customers for renewal. As a result, they lost out to competitors who saw their opportunity to win over their customers.

Although we see a much higher rate of CRM use today, with some organisations even enforcing rules and bonuses based on its use, many organisations still operate from locally stored spreadsheets and basic, unsecured CRM systems, which the organisation has now outgrown and lacks the capabilities of modern CRM solutions.

Aside from the significant security concerns linked to these approaches for storing customer data, during economic downturns such as the ongoing technical recession, the absence of a robust CRM system or an insufficient one reduces your ability to chase business in a tough market. No matter what you're selling, having good, accurate customer and prospect information readily available is vitally important. With the increasing smarts, like GenAI, being rolled out to these systems, they’re becoming extremely powerful. Having said that, even a basic CRM application with Accounts, Contacts, Leads, and Opportunities is better than personal emails, Excel and Outlook. Or nothing.

Here are some more specific ways today’s smart CRM systems can help your organisation during tough market conditions:

1. Identify warm/hot prospects

One has to ask: How much time and energy will you spend on any prospects with whom you have not yet conducted any business? This answer must be quantifiable, and your CRM system should record the effort involved to win this business.

This includes everything! And yes, I mean everything.

You should be able to pass this lead or prospect to another salesperson who can jump in with a full context of the opportunity. More importantly, you should have sufficient information to decide whether to concentrate on other prospects, leads and opportunities.

2. Record key activities

If you don't know who your sales team are talking to, which opportunities they are chasing, and key follow-up dates, you could miss out on a deal you didn't even know about. It's never too late to start recording these details.

Your CRM system should also have the key information about your customers, e.g. what they buy, when they buy it, what causes them to buy, and who the stakeholders are, plus all activity and a record of communications. It's cheaper and easier to sell to existing customers than new ones, so recording this information is even more valid in a recession.

Using built-in dashboards and other tools such as Power BI can give you even richer insights into your customers, ensuring you and your stakeholders have a high-level overview of trends and performance across the business. In the very near future, this will likely be a GenAI ‘personal assistant’, e.g. Microsoft Copilot, who can quickly find these answers for you.

Ideally, you have a good relationship with your customer and know all the nuances and how the recession affects their business. Having an open conversation that they won't be ordering the new widget in the next six months is important information. This communication may steer you to focus effort elsewhere. However, you also have the tools and information to keep in contact as things improve.

3. Feed marketing tools with good, clean data = boost sales

Your CRM data feeds your marketing tools. As well as recording key lead/customer profile info (name/email address, job title, company, location), it should be the repository for other activities and information. This may include a timeline of activity: events attended, past purchases/deals, webpages visited, forms submitted, etc. Ideally, you should also be able to identify specific areas of interest for your leads and contacts.

Maintaining a comprehensive CRM system means your marketing team can identify who should receive what communications and when, enabling them to use this information for other purposes, including custom audiences for advertising, peak times to carry out marketing activities, targeted offers. What does this mean? More sales!

4. Use AI tools to maximise efficiency

The new AI tools (Copilot) in Microsoft products, including CRM, are an exciting evolution. They offer benefits like automatic data entry, personalised customer interactions, and improved reporting – in essence, a ‘smart CRM’. All of these can support your business to be more efficient, make better decisions and thrive –however challenging the market conditions are.

If you’re on the fence about whether it’s time to shift to a decent CRM system – I can tell you from experience that the time is now. I've been in the CRM business for over 40 years and have seen my fair share of downturns in the various economies and countries I have lived in. One thing that never changes is the need for a CRM system when you're chasing business in a diminishing market. The imminent release of AI tools like Copilot will also trigger many businesses to shift. Is it time to bite the bullet and move away from spreadsheets? How about the legacy system you’re on?

Another old saying you probably know: When the going gets tough, the tough get going. If this article resonates, hopefully, you can make your way to the local CRM store, dust off your existing CRM and start using it correctly or at least investigate the possibilities. Whatever your starting point, you can ask our friendly CRM team for help.

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