So the search begins….

You’ll know when your business is ready for CRM when you are:

  • Spending too much time re-entering information over and over
  • Chasing people for information at the last minute
  • Losing out on enquiries or quotes that never got followed up
  • Failing to track customer complaints and service issues, or not responding quick enough
  • Not keeping on top of customer information and GDPR compliance
  • Storing vital information in people’s head – if someone leaves they take the knowledge with them


Maybe you are the owner of the business, or perhaps you’ve been tasked with selecting the CRM.  In either case you’ll be aware of the pains and challenges you are trying to solve for your business. Choosing a CRM system involves identifying systems that solve as many of these challenges as possible. Remember,  no software will meet your needs 100%, so be prepared to prioritise your ‘must have’ and ‘nice to have’ features.

Current pain points and objectives for CRM may include:

  • Tackling inefficiencies
  • Improving poor communication among your staff
  • Integrating sales and operations for faster order processing
  • Supporting strategic growth plans
  • GDPR Compliance
  • Monitoring and understanding sales activity
  • Improving customer satisfaction
  • Automating manual processes
  • Getting reports and insights into your business performance

We’ll tackle all of these pain points in this article. So, what should you be looking for?


Mapping out your process

Before you begin your research, you need to understand your own process.

With your team, get a whiteboard or some post it notes, and write down the stages of your typical customer journey, from initial enquiry, qualification, quotes, nurturing, decision, order, and ongoing relationship touchpoints. Think about the information you capture (and in many cases duplicate) at each stage. Look for inefficiencies and bottlenecks.

No off-the-shelf system will handle 100% of your requirements or processes. Once you have a map on your process you can see how different CRM systems can handle your needs. Prioritise your requirements and score these against the systems you are evaluating.

Then, it’s important to think about what outputs and metrics your CRM should give you.  What reports are essential for you to make decisions? Perhaps you want to track how many enquiries turn into closed deals, or forecast your sales for the year?  Think about your “must have” metrics and ensure they’re easily available in any solution you consider.

Understand the Flavours of CRM software

There are many different types of CRM systems, designed to meet the needs of different businesses and circumstances.  We’ve outlined 3 basic tiers below:

  • Basic systems – these typically manage customer contacts, sales pipeline data and help you manage sales and customer service.  These tend to be focused on sales and enquiry management, without much scope to expand into other areas of your business.  Most “free” CRMs are in this bracket.
  • Integrated CRM systems, also called “CRM+”- enable all of the above, but also allow you to add modules for other parts of your business, and integrate with your accounts:  Quoting, Sales Orders, Inventory Management, Dispatch and Service Jobs are all common features of Integrated CRMs. Flowlens is an example of a “CRM+”
  • Sector Specific CRMs – built around the needs of particularly sectors and processes, for example financial services, membership organisations, charities etc. and can have different names.  CRMs used by charities can also be called “Electronic Case Management” systems, for example

Each of these has positives and negatives that are worth weighing up. And depending on the size of your business and your budget, you may find an integrated system meets your needs even though a sector specific system would be ideal, but out of your budget, for example.

Ask colleagues in your sector about the systems they use. Are they effective? Do they require minimal data entry? Do they handle the needs of your sector well?

Tackling Wasted Effort

As most businesses grow, processes spring up to address basic needs. Some aren’t even aware that a process exists.

Typically these consist of basic emails, spreadsheets, documents, bits of paper and verbal communication.

These work fine when you’re a small operation, but they soon crumble as demand grows for your products/services, and as you bring on more staff. What made sense for a small team will fail as you add more customers and more people to your business.

The simple process mapping exercise outlined above is a good way to benchmark your current system.

Perhaps you want to grow faster, and bring on more sales people, or increase revenues from existing customers. How do you know how to do this without reliable reports and an agreed system that handles your processes?

Inefficiencies take many forms, it could be:

  • Rekeying of data between systems
  • Losing information that is stored in people’s heads
  • Losing paper
  • Information stuck in emails that you can no longer find or access
  • Unclear capture of customer requirements leading to poor handover between your sales and operations functions
  • Limited or no ability to get reports from your information
  • Errors in spreadsheets
  • The list goes on

A good CRM will let you streamline these inefficiencies and should at minimum replace the vast majority of these pain points.


Improving Communication

Confusion and misunderstandings are the most common cause of inefficiencies inside a business, and customer dissatisfaction. Many business have developed ‘silos’ around the main functions of sales, marketing, finance, operations and service.

This causes different teams to think inwardly, instead of collaboratively, which doesn’t serve the best needs of the customer.

A basic CRM will improve the communication of management and sales and enquiry teams while an integrated CRM allows the whole business to store data on a shared platform, for example.

Not only does this mean that you reduce the amount of rekeying of information, and potential for errors, you also get one ‘single version of the truth’ for your business. All customers, order, product and service information is in one place.

If you plan beyond the basics of capturing and storing customer data before choosing a CRM you might be able to see how systems can streamline your overall business process.

This will save your time and money in the long run, and make it easy to onboard new team members as your business grows.


Strategic Growth & Sales Tracking

You want to grow your business, but how can you develop your business plan without data?

CRM system can help you quantify your sales cycle, giving you valuable data to obtain funding/loans for your business, and justify spending money on sales and marketing.

If growth is a key concern you’ll want your CRM to include

  • Tracking of inbound enquiries, sources and conversions
  • Tracking of sales cycle
  • Customer service / retention
  • Customer repeat sales

Manual systems and disjointed spreadsheets make it difficult to capture and analyse this information. With the right CRM you can quantify how much it costs to get new prospects, how long it takes to convert them into customers and how long they stay.


GDPR Compliance

All businesses have a duty to protect sensitive customer and personal information. The GDPR regulations are providing additional impetus for businesses to develop compliant policies and systems to track the information they store.

If you handle personal information about customers, it is important that you’ve gained their consent to store relevant information. For communication purposes who also need to know if they’ve consented to receive emails, phone calls, etc, and for what purpose.

Similarly, individuals have the ‘right to be forgotten’ meaning upon request you must delete personally identifiable data/information stored about them.

When choosing a CRM system, look at it’s features for handling GDPRs, and ensure it aligns with your company policy for data and privacy.


Controlling Sales Activity

Do you know how effective your sales process, and your people are? Do you rely on the gut instinct of your sales people and their memory for quotes, dates and promises made to produce a sales forecast?

Sales-focused CRM systems offer a range of features to help you take the guess-work out of sales, and at the same time give your team tools to help them, and you, make more money!

Many CRMs support the concept of Marketing and Sales Pipelines, structuring your sales process around the key stages of your buyer journey.

If you sell bigger ticket items, or have a long sales cycle, Sales Pipeline management tools will help you stay on top of the process, and monitor sales team activities to ensure it is optimised for success.

For businesses who buy and supply materials, products or services with a shorter and more repetitive sales cycle, you need to consider a CRM that offers integrated sales quotes and order processing. This will keep all your customer enquiries, quotes and orders in one place, and reduce delays in serving customers.


Improving Customer Satisfaction

You may have heard the rule of thumb that its seven times easier to sell to existing customers than to acquire new customers. So how can a CRM help you enhance your existing customer relationships.

Making it easier for customers to do business with you is paramount. Look at your current ‘after sales’ interactions with customers and figure out what information requests and processes are being followed. Is it simply handling calls, or do you need to provide service or maintenance support? These will be important factors in choosing a system, as it should help you capture customer information, respond quickly to requests, and handle service-related processes to their conclusion.

Capturing data about your response times can also provide a useful internal benchmark and powerful marketing tool. Do you know how quickly you respond to customers? How quickly you address their problem? Most companies don’t monitor this information, but it can be powerful competitive tool when winning new customers and keeping existing ones.


Getting Reports and Insights

Most business start looking for a CRM out of frustration around reporting. It’s natural to assume a CRM system will help you get better reports, because it captures structured information.

Some CRM systems include basic reporting as standard, for others it’s an expensive upgrade, whilst some system will let you integrate with your preferred reporting tool.

Before you start, consider the key metrics that are essential for managing your business growth. These could include:

  • New Sales pipeline growth
  • Customer Repeat Orders
  • Margin
  • Marketing Channel Effectiveness
  • Service Response Time
  • Sales Team Activity and Effectiveness

Handling Your Existing Process

Your team will be very familiar with the current manual process they follow to manage your customers currently, as well as the terminology used. In most cases there is nothing wrong with this process, its simply the manual steps, paperwork, unnecessary repetition and errors that are not sustainable.

Basic CRMs will generally aim to improve the sales or enquiry management process.

Integrated CRMs (CRM+) can also offer modules to streamline and integrate other parts of your business your stock management, purchase order and after sales processes too.

Most businesses struggle with communication between the sales and operations functions. If this is a concern for you, consider a CRM+, which can offer Stock Management, Order Processing, Purchasing, Manufacturing and After-sales Service features.

No system will perfectly mimic your processes, unless you’re prepared to invest in bespoke software, so its important to first understand your process, and then to find a good match in a CRM.


Justifying CRM investment / Budgeting for CRM

If you’ve never had a system, budgeting for CRM can be tricky, however its is the return on investment that will truly help you justify the spend.

Your existing, clunky, error prone manual processes cost your business money. Count the minutes and hours needed to manage the process to estimate the savings a system will bring your business.

For example, if you process 50 sales orders a month, how long in admin time does it take to take a sales order from enquiry all the way to despatch?  If the average wage (in the UK, at least) is £14/hour, how much does each sales order cost you in salary alone? If you could cut that time in half, by improving processes, you’re instantly saving money.

In most cases the level of duplicated effort and time wasted copying between spreadsheets, document and emails alone will justify the investment. The CRM system can make your team more productive by giving time back to find and nurture more customers, or build better relationships with existing ones.

One important thing to remember:  most CRM systems are priced on a ‘per user’ basis, unless you buy a license outright. It can be tempting to pay for only the bare minimum users on a new system. However, consider the effect this has on team morale for those who haven’t been given access. Anyone customer facing has a justification to use your CRM, provided your goal is to enhance your customer satisfaction.


Getting Buy-in for your CRM Project.

For most SMEs, software is a natural place to go when faced with mounting paper work and duplicating effort. The monotony of paperwork, endless spreadsheets and copying and pasting, not to mention the missed and forgotten opportunities are all a great motivator to change.

As a leader in your business, how can you ensure the success of this investment in time and software? Firstly, ask yourself a few questions…

Does your SME have the capacity to adopt a new system while keeping the wheels turning? Have you considered the habits that will need to change to adopt new software into the business? Are your people ready for this change? Are you prepared to lead from the top and demonstrate how the new software will support the business strategy and achievement of its vision?

Start with the goal in mind: What goal will unite your team on the need for change?

Ask your team to identify the activities that slow them down the most. Ask customers what frustrates them the most. Share the pain points that unite you, your team and your customers and you’ve got your shared vision.

This vision provides the catalyst for change, and team buy-in for adopting software to make things better. But remember, adopting CRM or any other system is a both a strategic and cultural decision. And culture drives from the top.


Complexity versus simplicity – making the change successfully

Implementing a new system is a challenge for any business. Many CRM systems are offered on an arm’s-length basis with training and support resources provided via the company website. Others provide professional assistance to help you plan, configure and implement their software.

If you have had no experience with implementing changes, consider that you have the resources and buy-in to ensure success. If you’re confident with software, and learning new systems, you’ll be happy to learn and configure off the shelf systems.

In either case, the process will require engagement and buy-in from the rest of your team, and will be a distraction from normal business activities.

Therefore it’s important to have

  • Team alignment on expectations from the system
    • Benefits and outcome for the company
    • Benefits for individuals and how it will make them more efficient
  • Leadership buy-in for the system and why its important
  • Staged approach to configuration and roll-out
  • Plan to run alongside and then phase out existing manual processes or older systems
  • Regular review and reporting of results to reinforce the benefits


Take the first, small step.

As we’ve outlined above, any new system change can be daunting, so it’s important to have an ‘early win’ to demonstrate which the change is worth the effort.

CRM systems offer many starting points, whether its tracking enquiries, sales or service requests. One successful technique worth considering can be the management of inbound Enquiries. This is logical as Enquiries typically happen at the start of the sales process and engagement with a new customer.

Most CRM systems will let you capture website enquiries directly. This has two benefits. Most company enquiry forms simply send an email to the sales or marketing manager. This is risky as emails could get overlooked on a busy day. By capturing the Enquiry in your CRM, you’re changing the behaviour to monitor enquiries and track that follow-ups happen promptly.

This simple approaches means that you team start to use the system, and learn how it works whilst actually completing a valuable task. After qualifying the Enquiry the next natural steps is to move to the next stages of the sales process, and again this can happen in the CRM.

It takes the average person 3 weeks of consistent effort to make a new habit. Many people will complain about the extra effort needed whilst still doing the day job. So it’s important to show the value to them, and the company.

However you choose to implement your CRM, make sure you’ve thought about the best way to help your team build this important new habit.


There can be a lot to consider when choosing a new CRM. There are many flavours, offering different features, payment and training options.

The first step is to understand what your business really needs from the system and look for the best fit.

As you’ve seen above the cost of NOT using a CRM can easily justify the investment. It is therefore essential to make sure you are investing in the right product, and have the right plan in place to implement it.

As leaders of growing businesses we’ve all been there, sleepless night after sleepless night, your mind racing with niggles that you’ve pushed out of the way during the day. There are so many things to juggle in business, however one theme stands above the rest.

I speak to business owners and management teams every day about management software for their businesses, and the common theme of those sleepless nights is the feeling of control, or lack of it!

Where do you feel most out of control?

Sales forecast – do you have enough properly qualified opportunities in the pipeline?

Inventory – what’s the current value of my stock?

Data Accuracy – as we transfer data manually from one step to another, what has been mistyped or just missed?

Stock Accuracy – are we back-flushing our bill of materials to accurately adjust stock?

Pricing and Quoting – are we ensuring quoted product matches the customer needs and is actually feasible to produce?

Margins – are you making enough money on each sale?

Purchasing – how much cash is committed, and to which suppliers?

Goods Receivable – when can you expect support deliveries to ensure you meet customer/manufacturing demand?

Job Profitability – you know what you quoted, but did the actual costs exceed budget?

Customer Satisfaction – struggling to answer questions about orders and historic activity, and responding quickly enough to customer requests?

GDPR – have you got consent to communicate with customers, and for what purpose?

Serial Number Register – what products are out there, who do I stay on top of asset service history, components?

Sales Activity Tracking – what are people doing, how are they planning their time and tasks to meet customer expectations?

Daily Reports – laborious and inaccurate collation of data to get basic management information, or waiting till you get end of month or quarterly accounts to see if you’ve made a profit?

If any of these questions rings a bell with you, Flowlens small business management software has the answer. Here’s a quick video showing the product in action. If you think Flowlens can help, call us on 028 90998597.

Flowlens is designed to make day-to-day life simpler for small business.

Spending hours searching for information, or collating spreadsheets, isn’t anyone’s idea of fun. That’s why we’ve made Flowlens easy to use, and easy to capture and find information of different kinds.

The following tools can be found throughout these Flowlens features to easily and consistently find information, and get your job done faster.

Reporting and Exporting Data

Most features (e.g. Enquiries, Leads, Quotes, Orders, Parts) in Flowlens offer a range of ad hoc filters, which enable data to be searched quickly. Headline stats are also displayed for the selected data set. Get a quick report on your data, or if you want to do more analysis, at the bottom of each page you’ll find an option ‘Download as CSV’ and in some cases also ‘Download as PDF’ making it easy to extract or print data for offline use.

Find Everything In One Place

Store details about the people and organisations you do business with. These might be suppliers, customers, partners, or indeed competitors. Everything is easily accessible via the organisation/customer dashboard:

Nearly all information created by or in Flowlens links back to a company. For example you’ll find Contacts, Addresses, Enquiries, Sales Leads, Orders, Purchase Orders (if it’s a Supplier) and Asset Register for after-sales service. You’ll also see that Companies have tabs for Emails, Comments, Uploads and Interactions.

Manage Your Tasks

Tasks are another important feature that you’ll find throughout Flowlens. Always ensure that objects you’re working on have the ‘next task’ set, so you won’t forget critical activity when it is due. This is very handy for Sales Leads where timelines may be several weeks or months, making it difficult to stay on top of everything.

Your My Tasks page is a handy way to keep on top of tasks. You can also get a feed of your Tasks in your Outlook, Google or other Calendar application.

You can create Tasks for yourself, or assign them to other users, making delegation easier.

Tracking Sales/Operations Customer Email Communications

Keep relevant communications within Flowlens for ease of reference in the future.  To send a new email, start typing the name of a contact to select a recipient, followed by your subject and message. You can also attach files that have been uploaded against that feature. If the contact replies to an email you have sent from Flowlens, you will receive the reply in your normal inbox, and in Flowlens.

You can also store external emails for future reference. Within the Emails tab you’ll find an email address such as:

You can use this email address to copy emails sent from your existing email client to software. You can either CC this email, or Forward emails to it. Emails will then appear in the relevant Email tab listing for future reference.

File Uploads

Store and find/download relevant files against a feature, by clicking ‘Choose Files’ and selecting the file(s), or drag and drop on to the page.

Store Comments

You never know when you might want to refer to notes about customers, suppliers, projects or service tasks. To make a note for future reference, use the Comments tab. This simple tool can be handy for storing meeting notes against a Sales Lead, or details of issues raised against an Order or a Part.

Stop Searching, Start Finding, Grow Faster

Many businesses waste time on the basics. These features can get your team joined-up and working faster.

As an integrated system, Flowlens can help you manage all aspects of your business process, including Stock, Sales Orders, Enquiries, Customers, Production, Purchasing, After-sales Service and Marketing Campaigns. (It also integrates with your Accounts package). Unlike most systems, you don’t need to buy all the features, only the ones you need.

Book a demo call to learn about our CRM, CRM Plus and ERP Pro packages, or watch our client testimonials.

We’ll be exhibiting at SubCon/Advanced Manufacturing, 6-8th June at the NEC, visit us at Stand B47 where we’ll be demonstrating the latest version of our powerful, user-friendly Product Configuration and Quotation tool, which links BOM data directly to stock and production job cards.

Visit the website to register:

How to eat the software elephant in your business.

Considering a new software solution for your business? Across our team, we’ve worked on countless software implementations across SME and large companies. In every case the more you prepare, the better the outcome. Prepare and plan your procurement and project implementation with these lessons in mind.


Keep your team on board

Cultivate your peopleDifferent people and different departments will have a different outlook on changing systems in your business. You might be ready to drive change and achieve efficiencies, but is the business behind you?

Without team buy-in, short term patience and long term adoption will suffer. The change must be something that is worthwhile in the day to day work that each person carries out.

Some people may not understand how software can enhance their own effectiveness and help the company achieve its goals, but they will be aware of how their own work could be made more efficient. Most people will happily engage in a project that will give them more time for value-added activity, and reduce repetitive chores.

With most people working within a defined function, it can be difficult for them to understand the impact their work as on others. They may even begrudge change that doesn’t impact them, but has huge benefits for customers and profitability.

Get feedback and ideas from across the team and you’ll see greater buy-in.


Keep it simple

reduced-complexityMost of us drive cars that are sold in various standard configurations. This standardisation makes it easier for the manufacturer to make, so it costs you less. It’s also cheaper to maintain, as your service mechanic will be familiar with the car.

We accept this simplicity in buying cars, so why not our business systems?

When considering software, we’re tempted to ask for special customisation and changes that suit particular processes that have grown up with the business? These changes cost money to define, build and maintain, and they also impact standard parts of the software, potentially preventing access to improvements the developer is making.

Consider examining your processes to reduce complexity and variability. Then figure out how the streamlined versions could be supported by existing software workflows.

This will have two benefits:

1. The software can be delivered faster ‘out of the box’, so you get a return quicker.
2. Enjoy your faster, leaner processes! (And hassle free updates to your software in the future.)


Keep it bite-sized

Measure small stepsCan you eat an elephant in one bite? I thought not, then why would you try implement a new software system in one go?

It’s hard enough to make a change in business whilst keeping customers happy, and orders fulfilled.

Where are the most obvious weaknesses or inefficiencies in your business? Can you implement change here first, and reduce the risk, and free up time to tackle further challenges?

Often companies do not have strong purchasing and stock management processes. This function is relatively easy to bring into a new system, iron out the kinks in parts/materials coding, supplier lists, purchasing practices and goods received.

Another area is sales order processing. Getting orders out faster, means faster time to cash, but in many businesses this involves excessive paperwork. Making it easier for your sales team to secure orders, and you’ve got a clear success story to engage the rest of the business.


Keep your accounting package

You’ve probably invested heavily in your current accounting software and infrastructure, yet most software vendors have their own version built into their product.

Automate repetitive tasksWhether it’s a better option or not, you’ve no choice but to force upheaval on the Finance team as well as your Sales and Ops.

Modern cloud solutions are ready and able to integrate with existing software, whether it’s for accounting, marketing or any other purpose.

So now you can keep what is working, and tackle the core challenges that are really holding you back.


Keep your data clean

Single version of the truthYour data is the lifeblood of the business. Readiness for a new software system relies on having good data to start. Look at your business KPIs and understand what data is essential to you. Most companies are spending time and money recording data that is no longer relevant or useful. Many also maintain multiple versions of the same data in different business silos.

When you think about your processes, how much legacy data collection and duplication can you remove?

Clean, consistent and relevant parts, customer, products and asset data will make your investment in software more powerful.


Keep the customer in mind

What will make your customer happy? Probably clear communication, fast delivery, fair pricing and a quality product.

Are your current processes optimised around your customer goals?

sales-quotation-builderFor example, think about capturing customer requirements in the sales process. Waste and cost often creep in because inaccurate requirements have made it all the way through to production. Worst case, you don’t find out until the wrong configuration has been delivered!

Help your Sales and Operations teams to define available products, options and upgrades. Quote only what you can deliver. Process orders based on an agreed bill of materials. Build only what has been signed off by the customer.


In Summary

Start small, solve critical problems and bottlenecks: typically sales order processing, stock management and purchasing involve lots of manual effort. Address these inefficiencies and create time to address wider issues.

Focus on the targetDon’t throw everything out and start again. Modern software can and should talk to each other. Make your existing investments work alongside new functionality.

Standard work makes money – how can you take variability out of your business and actually serve your customers better?

Keep your team on board, focus on the vision and how you will get there together.

Download our free eBook “6 Steps to Smarter Business Operations” to get more practical guidance or book a demo of Flowlens.

Working smarter, not harder: Automate your purchase, receipt and pay processes.

Or do you spend hours pushing emails, spreadsheets and documents to manage  Purchasing, GRNs and payments? Are you fed up of having to juggle paper or spreadsheets to find the information you need? 

If so, then sign up for our webinar on the 23rd September at 10:00 BST where we can show you how joined up CRM & ERP software can automate these manual processes, meaning you have more time to spend on value added tasks.

In the webinar you will learn about:

  • Joined-up workflow between stock purchase, receipt and pay activities.
  • How to get useful reporting information.
  • How to remove wasted effort and duplication.

Sign up now, simply click here and fill in your details.