It’s very easy to buy software today – gone are the times when you needed to go out and buy a disk and install something. Now you go online looking for a CRM system and, within minutes, you are using one on a free trial, and it works on your desktop, laptop, tablet, phone – anywhere you need it.
This ease of access has a couple of effects: first, it’s easy to sign up for something without fully understanding the functionality on offer and, second, there are a lot of people after your monthly subscription, so there is a variable quality of product on offer.
In short, it’s a bit of a minefield.
Smaller businesses who are not willing or able to implement a modular enterprise system like SAP, Microsoft Dynamics, or one of the larger Sage products, for example, are potentially left with numerous different solutions. These may cover accounting, CRM, e-commerce, order-processing, inventory management, and other specialised business functions.
It’s important to consider your full set of requirements before embarking on software selection and implementation. Bear in mind especially your customer data – you want to try and avoid having these details in more than one place, so it makes sense to try and combine accounting, CRM and order processing into one solution, if possible.
Remember that if a customer moves, or a contact changes, you will need to update multiple databases if you don’t have an integrated solution. In practice, this won’t happen, and you will quickly be in a position where you can’t tell which system has the most up-to-date information in it!
Also, having data in several places makes reporting difficult, and this decreases the visibility you have of your business performance.
I often see businesses take orders from their website, and rekey them into another system for processing or invoicing. This may not matter when you have a handful of orders on a daily basis, but it will quickly become onerous as the business grows.
Rekeying of data is very common, and is something that should always be avoided if possible. Apart from the time it takes, it’s easy to introduce errors that will impact on your customer service.
There are answers to many of these problems that don’t necessarily involve a high level of investment in a modular or integrated system. In general, it is possible to create routines using standard office software that will either help you to collate and group data into one place, or will assist with the process of transferring information automatically from one system to another.
Every business is different, of course, but many will face the same issues when it comes to data and management information. You need to understand your business data, and formulate a plan for how it will be stored, processed and analysed – then you will be in a position to select the software itself, and create the processes that will keep your business running smoothly, and support its growth.