A CRM, or customer relationship management tool, is a crucial piece of software for businesses of all sizes.

Capturing and actioning your customer data, a CRM allows you to manage your business relationships and interactions with customers and potential customers. It can be used for sales, marketing, customer care, productivity, business insights, and process automation.

No matter the size of your operations, your customer data and management should be top of your agenda.

We sat down with Reckon’s resident CRM Administrator, Michael Cai, to shed some light on the importance of CRMs – and why they’re so useful for small businesses.

So, Michael, what is it that you do here at Reckon?

“My official job title is CRM administrator. So, I customise, support and maintain our CRM system, which is built on Microsoft Dynamics 365.

Although firmly in the marketing team, I work quite extensively with various teams from sales to support. As customer data and reporting are so essential to modern marketing operations, I primarily work with our digital marketing manager. I also administer and build business intelligence reports via Microsoft Power BI, our internal data visualisation tool.”

How has CRM technology changed since you first started working with it?

“One of the standout changes has been the emergence of many smaller, often niche, CRM players in the market. You can now find a CRM that matches your specific business needs as opposed to just generic, ‘clean slate’ CRMs like Dynamics or Salesforce.

With these larger tools, you must spend time and resources customising it to your business requirements, but they will also yield more powerful functionality. However, for most smaller businesses, a smaller niche system is ideal.

Another notable change is the emergence of low code or no code CRM applications that use middleware tools like Power Automate and Zapier – this is great news for SMEs who lack in-house coding or technical skillsets.

We’re also seeing ‘plug and play’ AI models hitting the market, which offer powerful functions like language and sentiment detection and the ability to extract text from images and data from forms

There are even AI-based subscription tools that automatically write marketing copy and generate art.”

Which CRM software tools and programs are your favourites to use and why?

“Dynamics is my favourite. I’m a little biased as I’m a Dynamics 365 CRM admin, but it’s slowly starting to pivot from being a standalone CRM to an application that’s part of a much bigger and interconnected ecosystem with tools like Power BI and Power Automate.

My favourite tool is Power BI, which is used for data visualisation, and to an extent, data transformation. It was one of the first of its kind on the market, and to this day, Power BI continues to be recognised by Gartner as the leader in BI analytics.

I also love middleware integrations and workflow tools like Power Automate and Zapier. These tools give me more power to perform automation, which would otherwise require a developer.”

How important is a CRM for even small businesses?

“A CRM is crucial in both managing your customers and the broader business.

Imagine managing your customer list, including their marketing preferences, sales lead and opportunity data, on a spreadsheet. That would get extremely messy very quickly!

But with a good CRM, you can connect it with your payment systems, discover more about your customers for marketing purposes and understand your customers. You can segment them, look at their purchase history, and essentially see a complete lifecycle view of a customer.

With sound CRM management, you can track a customer from the time they become a lead, to their first purchase, and then on to (hopefully) becoming a longstanding client.

A CRM becomes even more important as your customer base grows and channels increase. By then customer management becomes near impossible without a customer management tool. Because of this, I recommend that every small business implements at least a basic CRM as soon after launching as possible.

Luckily, the emergence of smaller CRM players means the entry cost is significantly less today than a few years ago.”

What can you do with a CRM that people may not know about?

“A CRM is not just for sales. You can also use it for case management and to enrich marketing automation tools with crucial segmentation data. You can even use your CRM to automatically trigger customer journeys and remarket to your existing base.

Always remember, a CRM is designed to provide a 365 view of the customer.”

Where would a small business owner start if they wanted to build a CRM?

“What business are you in? That’s the primary question.

There may be a niche CRM for your business that’s more tailored and customised to your needs than a blank slate style of CRM. There are CRMs out there for retail, eCommerce, and a range of industries, with tailored functions.

You should also ask yourself ‘what other internal tools do I use?’ For example, marketing automation or attribution tools, or eCommerce and payment collection tools. You’ll then need to look for a CRM that integrates with these solutions.

However, integration and customisation can be expensive and time-consuming, so if you don’t have development resources internally to create custom integrations, look to simpler tools with basic integrations. Some of the bigger players like Salesforce, Dynamics, and SAP are very expensive to implement and tailor.”

When it comes to working with customer data, are there any rules or tips you could share?

“Cleanliness of data is crucial, and it needs to start at the source otherwise you’ll find yourself having to massage and transform the data extensively for reports. In these circumstances, the reports must be clean at the source.”

Data should be transformed as far upstream as possible, and as far downstream as necessary.” – Roche’s Maxim of Data Transformation

Michael Cai – CRM Administrator