The "Big Three" Issues for SMEs:
Issue #1 - Lack of Centralised Data

  • The Big Three Issues for SMEs: Issue #1 - Lack of Centralised Data

    The "Big Three" Issues for SMEs: Issue #1 - Lack of Centralised Data

    No two businesses are the same, but over the years there is a core set of underlying "issues" that I have encountered while migrating small and medium sized businesses to Dynamics CRM (now Dynamics 365). As your business grows it is these sorts of issues that destroy your efficiency and ultimately constrain your ability to grow. In this series of three posts I will elaborate on the "Big Three", namely:


    1. Lack of centralised data/information storage


    2. Struggling to keep up with the Customer Journey


    3. Managing and tracking activities


    Issue #1: The Lack of Centralised Data/Information Storage


    If we look at the average small and medium sized business (an SME in the UK, an SMB in other countries) without a modern CRM system, there will be a lot of similarities in the way they handle and use data day-to-day. Having grown from a very small business, where those who needed the data created and used it where they saw fit, many will start to experience growing pains when they get larger, with more and more staff needing access to the same data. However, instead of storing everything centrally, business data is often spread out, stored in multiple different locations, systems and software programmes. For example, an average small or medium (and often even larger) business will have business data stored across:


    • Spreadsheets – Every business has at least one "critical" Excel spreadsheet, without which the business would stand still. I’ve regularly come across £1M+ businesses run entirely using a set of spreadsheets. Whether used to store client data, the sales pipeline, client orders, or work in progress, wherever there’s a business, there’s a spreadsheet full of data.


    • Emails – Incoming customer service enquiries, helpdesk emails, website enquiries and online orders will often be stored and managed in the email mailbox they were sent to. In some cases, shared mailboxes (or public folders) will be used to enable the sharing of these emails between team members.


    • A cloud-based email marketing system – SME/SMB’s will often manage their email marketing lists within a cloud-based email marking system, such as MailChimp. Usually there is no integration in place between the email marketing system and the company's other business systems. Information, such as marketing list membership, email opens and click through rates, are often copied manually between the systems.


    • Databases – Transactional data, customer lists and historical purchase information are often stored in custom built databases. It is not too uncommon to find that the SME/SMB has lost contact with the original developer of the system, leaving them without support and any option for further developing the system as their business grows.


    • Website 'Back Office' – If you are using your website to take orders, these will often need to be downloaded from the website’s 'Back Office' in order to be processed internally. Invariably these end up in yet another set of Excel spreadsheets.


    • A 'niche' CRM system – There are many (what I call) 'niche’ CRM systems out there, which are designed to do just one thing, and nothing more. For example, if you are using a sales pipeline tool, there is often very limited scope to customise it for other workloads, such as customer service and operations. Many of these systems have limited export capabilities and/or external programmatic access, thus making it difficult to get your data out of them and into another system.


    Problems This Brings


    The problem with these separate data stores isn’t that they don’t work – they do. The problem is, that when your business gets past a certain size, they are an incredibly inefficient way of storing and accessing data. Staff will often have to access multiple systems to get their work done; manually copying data between systems on an ad-hoc basis, or 'running’ the daily spreadsheet export/import process.


    Where a consolidated view across data stored in multiple systems is required, such as for day-to-day tracking of marketing activities and sales opportunities, the data will often be manually consolidated into a spreadsheet (sometimes taking hours), before the analysis can be carried out. This is highly inefficient and can often leave you dependant on the one or two members of staff that know how to carry out this process.


    Employees have no singular way of measuring their own performance, tracking leads or getting a general overview of what they need to be doing without consulting several different systems for information. This is particularly prevalent in sales teams, who will need to utilise the data from email marketing campaigns, assess the lead quality and move them through the sales pipeline – all of which will need to be done manually. As you can imagine, this time intensive process opens the door to errors that could reflect poorly on the business’s customer service and sales capability.


    Not only does it mean that teams find it challenging to locate the data they need, it also causes management problems with performance monitoring and forecasting. For example, if a manager wanted to create a performance report on sales for a certain period, the model we used above would mean that managers would need to manually export data from the email marketing system, website back office, their niche sales CRM and maybe even several sales spreadsheets. They would then need to manually process this data to create a single report.


    How Will A CRM Help?


    One of the things a modern CRM system is great at is consolidating data from multiple sources into a single location, creating a centralised repository for your business data. A modern CRM system (like Microsoft Dynamics 365) will be able to replace many of the systems above, or work with things like your website to receive the data directly and add it to the records in CRM . With everything in one place, employees will now be able to consult a single source of truth, safe in the knowledge that it is the most up to date information available. Likewise, management reports can be generated at the click of a button directly from the data in CRM. A wide range of stock reports can be produced, allowing business owners and managers to get an accurate view of how their business/department is running at all times. Sales reports, marketing analysis, financial forecasts, pipeline estimates – all of it can be created using one system, saving time and money.



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    At Solutions Shared we specialise in creating tailored CRM business solutions for SME/SMB’s using Microsoft Dynamics 365. With its immense library of features and seamless integration, SME/SMB’s can use Dynamics as a platform to dramatically improve the way their business runs moving forward, unlocking business efficiency and growth.




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