If you’re currently trying to grow your customer base, you’re not alone. A recent Gartner survey on the top tech trends for SMBs shows that one of the biggest business goals for 45 percent of small businesses is to grow their custmer base.

The big challenge is knowing how to do it.

From guerrilla marketing to paid advertising, social selling to email blasting, one thing is certain: you won’t grow your customer base without a CRM. No matter which method you’re using to attract more customers, you need a CRM in order to nurture the relationships that you’re building.

A CRM is often described as a company’s digital rolodex for storing customer or contact data, but that description sells it short. A CRM acts as the central nervous system of your company’s sales activities, storing, organizing, and helping to manage your customer base (with lots of bells and whistles to ease the process). Not having a CRM will put your business at a competitive disadvantage, especially in the coming year

A recent Gartner survey carried out with nearly 500 small businesses shows how the external factors and constraints related to achieving business goals– namely, growing a customer base– can be aided by using a CRM.

In this report, I’ll go through:

  • The challenges and constraints currently facing small businesses
  • The role of technology in overcoming these challenges
  • The CRM features that can help you grow your customer base.

Small business challenges and constraints

Every small business has its own unique challenges, but there are external factors which can have a big impact on the overall small business landscape.

Standing out from the crowd

According to Gartner’s survey, the biggest external factor facing 43 percent of small businesses is industry competition.

As small businesses work to make an impact among a myriad of competitors, finding their own unique niche is one of the best ways to stand out. According to the US Small Business Administration:

  • There were almost 30 million small businesses in 2016.
  • The number of startups grew by 234,000 in the second quarter of 2015 alone.

With such a saturation and continued growth of small businesses, competition is a huge factor (and it’s not only with other small businesses— they have to compete with big brands too). Whether it’s a unique twist on a familiar product or a brand new offering, small businesses need to find their own competitive advantage to succeed.

Customer service and customer experience can also be a big differentiator among consumers. As one of the most important factors that a customer will consider during the purchasing process, customer service not only makes people more likely to choose your company, but also to stick with it. According to Microsoft’s 2017 State of Global Customer Service Report:

  • 69 percent of US respondents said that customer service is very important in their choice of and loyalty to a brand.
  • 59 percent of US respondents said that they’ve stopped doing business with a brand because of a poor customer experience.

Using the right technologies

Inside the realm of its own company, small businesses are facing a different type of constraint.

According to Gartner’s survey, 17 percent of small businesses feel that using the right technology is their biggest barrier to achieving their business goals within the next two years. This is second only to hiring the right people, which comes in at 20 percent.

The challenge with technology isn’t just knowing what type of technology to use, but also choosing the right one for your business. Couple this need for technology with the need to outshine competitors, and there’s one thing that small businesses can agree on: the importance of CRM.

The need for a CRM

More than any other piece of software, small businesses need a CRM. According to Gartner’s survey, 73 percent of businesses say that customer relationship management is critical to their business, while 26 percent say that it’s beneficial. This is more than any other technology, including data and information security, website implementation, and app integration.

This reflects itself in the CRM technology adoption rate. According to the survey:

  • 92 percent of businesses are either using, or planning to use CRM within the next two years.
  • 97 percent of small businesses feel that a CRM already has or will have a significant impact on their business within the next two years.

This staggering adoption rate points to the importance that businesses place on nurturing relationships with their customers. As the backbone of a business’ success, maintaining customer relationships remains top of mind as businesses try to grow their customer base and outshine competitors.

A CRM helps nurture relationships by:

  • Helping you connect with customers during different stages of the sales cycle.
  • Moving customers through various stages of the sales cycle.
  • Providing a history of customer interactions for quick recall.
  • Automating the sales process with task lists, follow-ups, and reminders.

How to grow your customer base with a CRM

Aside from maintaining your customer base, a CRM can also work to grow it. With distinct features and functionality, a CRM and its integrations can help carry out the actions and tasks that help build your business. Some of these include:

  • Lead generation and scoring: Lead generation helps you find new leads with things like landing pages and web forms for capturing customer data. Lead scoring helps you identify which leads are most likely to turn into sales. A strong lead scoring functionality helps pinpoint the contacts that are furthest along in the sales pipeline and gives you insight into how to best follow-up.
  • Email marketing: Many CRMs integrate with email marketing software, as well as your email provider, to help you send out email blasts to your customers and contacts. You can also take advantage of these features by scheduling emails for the most opportune times, and by importing contacts from your email marketing software into your CRM (or vice versa).
  • Reporting and forecasting: Knowing the status of your current sales will help you manage expectations and plan for the upcoming year. Reporting helps you see what’s worked in your overall sales strategy so that you can adjust or alter it based on your past performance.
  • Social selling and monitoring: Social selling is one of the most popular ways to source leads and grow your customer base. With a CRM that integrates with social media, you can ensure that your social leads find their way into your CRM seamlessly by automatically connecting profiles to contacts. Some CRMs also allow for social media monitoring to help find people who are following or mentioning your brand.

We used GetApp’s filtering tool for the above features and our Category Leader ranking for CRM software to find some CRM options that can help your grow your customer base.

These include:

  • Salesforce Sales Cloud: Salesforce is a powerhouse in the world of CRM, and its features for finding and scoring leads, social integration, and forecasting are aimed at growing your customer base. It’s newest offering, Salesforce Essentials, is built specifically for small businesses hoping to eventually scale up.
  • Hubspot CRM: As part of the Hubspot family, Hubspot CRM benefits from a close relationship with Hubspot Marketing, which lets you see how your leads have reacted to your marketing campaigns and base your next approach on that information.
  • Zoho CRM: Zoho CRM has both lead management and lead scoring that lets you create landing pages to capture new leads.
  • Teamgate: Among Teamgate’s features for growing a customer base include analytics and reports to get more insight into where you can expand or improve on your sales activities.

Get started with a CRM

Growing a customer base will always be a priority for a small business aiming to move into that sought after “medium-to-large business” category. Given the challenges and constraints that small businesses are set to face in the coming years, a CRM will almost definitively help ease some of the struggles related to growing a customer base.

Without properly managing your customer base, you’ll never be able to grow it.

If you’re ready to start using a CRM to grow your customer base:

  • Check out the CRM scorecard to find the best CRM for your business size and budget.
  • See the top CRM apps in our Category Leader ranking.

Methodology: 

Gartner conducted this survey in April-May 2017 among 499 US-based small businesses, with more than 10 employees and annual revenue of less than $100 million. The survey excluded not-for-profit organizations. The qualified respondents are decision makers, or have significant influence on the decisions related to purchasing technologies for their organization.