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Why CRM systems are key to the growth of South African SMEs

Article provided by Salesforce

For small business owners, there’s no such thing as an easy year – but 2020 will take some beating for the title of ‘most challenging’. 

SMEs were forced to rapidly reshape their business operations in order to survive – and to do so while balancing cost-saving in the face of widespread economic uncertainty with the need to cater for elevated customer expectations around the digital capabilities of businesses.

In our Small & Medium Business Trends – Emerging Markets report, we surveyed over 500 business owners and leaders to discover what impact the COVID-19 crisis has had on their operations. That impact has been considerable – for many SMEs, radical. And the findings are especially relevant to the South African market.

We found that 37% of SME leaders expected their business to operate in a slightly modified fashion once COVID-19 has subsided, with 18% expecting to have an entirely new structure.

For an overview of the main factors driving this restructuring – and of the tactics South African SME leaders are responding with – you’ll want to read our blog post on ‘How South African SMEs are preparing for future growth during COVID-19’.

In this article, we’ll be focusing on one of the key trends we’ve identified in particular: the increased adoption by South African SMEs of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems.

It’s all about the main ways that a CRM can help businesses like yours deal with the challenges thrown up by the pandemic – so you can grow, both through and beyond the crisis.

For a more in-depth dive into the value CRM has for small businesses, and for advice on how to pick the right CRM for your business, check out our eBook: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Finding the Right CRM.

The rise of SME CRMs in South Africa

Our Small & Medium Business trends report revealed that over half (51%) of SMEs in South Africa now have a CRM solution – but that only 9% have been using a CRM for two years or more.

It wouldn’t be surprising if many of these SMEs adopted a CRM as a direct response to the pandemic. For some, this would have been an emergency measure – they needed to stay open while operating remotely, and a CRM was essential for them to remain connected, both with their customers and employees.

But adopting a CRM has the potential to offer SMEs something much more valuable than a lifeboat in a storm.

In a world where new financial constraints demand a higher level of efficiency, and in which customers expect slick, seamless digital experiences from even the smallest businesses, operating on a CRM is key to unlocking long-term success.

CRMs are for all businesses (great and small)

It’s easy for small business owners to assume that their business is simply too small to warrant implementing a CRM. With relatively few employees to coordinate and a customer list that fits comfortably into an Excel spreadsheet, a CRM might seem a needless expense – especially at a time when budgets need to be carefully managed.

But, as the report shows, a CRM can benefit even the smallest of companies. Even with a relatively small customer base, you’ll struggle to record every interaction you’ve had (and still need to have) with each customer – information that can prove crucial for gaining insight into your customers and the processes that can improve customer experiences.

And remember: if your small company is successful it isn’t going to remain small for long. It makes sense to lay the groundwork for growth now.

A range of technological advances are accelerating business growth, particularly for smaller businesses. In this digital-first era, SMEs have an advantage over large enterprises in terms of agility and flexibility and can become large enterprises themselves in no time at all.

A CRM will help you fuel that growth – and will also provide you with a scalable, easily accessible system of record as your customer list expands exponentially. (Unlike an Excel spreadsheet.)

CRMs are good for your finances

Last year saw South Africa’s economy suffer its biggest contraction in a century – and SMEs inevitably felt the pinch. Our report found that over half of SME leaders in South Africa (55%) have considered applying for financial assistance over the last year.

While the economy looks to be recovering, the damage has been done – and financial constraints will undoubtedly continue to preoccupy SME leaders going forward. A full 48% of the SME leaders we surveyed cited reduced revenue as the key obstacle to future growth.

Having a CRM in place can help SME leaders to overcome financial obstacles – improving the efficiency of their internal operations and helping sales teams to bring in more new business. 

As a baseline, a CRM puts all of your account and contact information in one central accessible place. This alone leads to faster, more streamlined internal processes. But a really good CRM can do even more for your internal efficiency, letting you automate time-consuming processes and free your people to concentrate on serving customers and generating revenue.

And you won’t just save money with a great CRM – you’ll make more too. The best CRMs will give your sales team all the tools they need to close more deals.

They’ll help you gather data on prospects (including their past interactions with your business), forecast your future pipeline, route leads directly to the most appropriate sales rep, integrate with mobile devices to make communication and collaboration between salespeople easy, wherever they are – and much, much more.

The bottom line? The right CRM will make your SMEs bottom line look better.

CRMs are good for your customers

The right CRM will also prove vital in helping your business meet soaring customer expectations around digital customer experiences.

In 2020, safety measures forced customers to engage more than ever before with businesses through digital channels. The most seamlessly connected, efficient and personalised of the experiences they encountered set a bar for all businesses, SMEs included.

To deliver the joined-up, empathetic customer journeys that customers now expect, SMEs need a complete and consistent view of their customers that cuts across all channels and platforms. And no prizes for guessing what they need to deliver that.

A complete CRM solution will track your customers not just through the sales process, but through their entire customer lifecycle – monitoring their response to your marketing campaigns, for example, and recording every interaction they have with your customer service agents. 

This will create a comprehensive, 360-degree view of your customers, a view that will help your now highly-informed salespeople, marketers and service agents deliver personalised service to customers.

A superior CRM will let you access insights from this 360-degree view in real time, through user-friendly reports and dashboards, so you can identify trends in customer behaviour and continuously optimise your customer experience. 

This is the way business is going: 49% of the South African SME leaders and owners we surveyed said they’re prioritising customer relationships over one-time transactions. A CRM is an indispensable tool for building, sustaining and improving those relationships in a digital-first world.

Your SME (probably) needs a CRM – but which one?

Hopefully, this article has shown the value that a CRM can bring to South African SMEs as they look to negotiate their way through (and beyond) the pandemic.

It also should be clear that picking the right CRM for your business makes a big difference to how much of that value you capture. And there is no shortage of options out there.

For guidance on how to pick the CRM that will create the most value for your SME, including checklists of essential features, read The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Finding the Right CRM.

Salesforce is a proud Partner of the NSBC