My small business’s customer relationship management (CRM) application is called Zoho CRM. Our CRM is our mission-critical system, a database that holds information about everyone — customers, prospects, partners, vendors, connections — that comes in contact with my business. You don’t have to use Zoho — there are many great options on the market like Insightly, Nimble, Salesforce.

Here are five ways I use my customer relationship management system to run my small business:

It’s not just my CRM, it’s my email application too.

I never understood why people use email outside of the CRM system if their system supports email, as Zoho CRM does. Zoho’s email looks like Gmail. I have four email accounts configured there and use the included mobile app, too. All of my inbound and outbound email goes directly into my CRM system. If there’s an email address in the system, the email is automatically connected to the client’s history, which also rolls up to the account or company level. If the email address isn’t there, all emails automatically connect to the contact once I enter the address. No syncing. No other applications. It’s all in the same place.

All of my team’s activities go through our CRM.

Getting work done is all about completing tasks. My company is big on tasks. We schedule tasks for each other. We share calendars. We do it all through Zoho CRM. I have a custom activity list that displays when I log in to Zoho CRM, which shows me my required calls, emails and other follow-ups that need to happen that day. The activities don’t disappear until I complete them. I create sub-lists so I can laser-focus on certain types of clients (i.e. those interested in a particular service) or actions (i.e. overdue emails). Throughout the week, I work on completing tasks and rescheduling new ones. Zoho CRM’s mobile app integrates with my Google calendar so I’ve got information for calls, tasks and appointments wherever I am. As each activity is completed, I’m building up a critical history for each contact, account and company of all of our communications and engagement. If a client calls, I can see who engaged with them last and what’s scheduled next.

Our CRM talks to my website.

We’ve got Zoho CRM integrated with our website so that whenever anyone requests a whitepaper, signs up for an event or requests information, I get their name and email address automatically downloaded as a lead. Each lead is tagged with the source “website” and includes notes based on what they requested. I get an email alert every time a lead is created. We’ve created a workflow that emails the prospect a reply and schedules a task for me to follow-up with them. I convert leads into contacts, and continue my sales and marketing activities. I also get a report of leads generated each month to see how my marketing is doing. Because we use an add-on called SalesIQ, I can also monitor who’s on my website at any time and chat with them — through Zoho CRM.

I’ve created a quote template.

We don’t do as many quotes as I’d like, but I’m sure every business owner shares that complaint. When we do, we use our CRM to generate our quotes. We sell five products. We have a single quote form that automatically brings in data from the contact record and has open fields for me to add product and pricing information. After I save a quote, I generate a custom PDF based on the products we sell. I email the PDF to the prospect and a task is automatically scheduled in Zoho CRM for follow-up. All quotes are on my task list and my daily dashboard, which appears every time I login into Zoho. Email alerts remind me of older quotes. I frequently look at my quote list, which is my pipeline, to see where opportunities are and who’s following up on what. I know of clients who have lost jobs because they forgot to follow-up on a quote. I can’t imagine that happening with Zoho CRM.

Finally, I sell, sell, sell.

Every day I’m selling. My activity list has leads, customer follow-ups and warmed-up prospects who need attention. I have calls to make and emails to send. I group dozens of contacts at a time based on their product interest and then use our CRM to send a personalized email to each of them individually, but in bulk. I send larger lists to our email service, Constant Contact, using its Zoho CRM integration, to send newsletters and mass mailings. This year, I’m focusing on expanding sales for certain product lines, and have created three marketing campaigns in our CRM to track targets, emails, notes and activities. In my business, I have to be on top of every opportunity or a competitor will steal it away from me. That’s why I’m driven by the follow-up tasks generated by our CRM.

There are lots of great CRM applications besides Zoho CRM. Every business, regardless of size, should have one. I’m not sure how those without them survive.

Join writer and small business owner Gene Marks each Wednesday on the Small Biz Ahead podcast. You can also submit a question for Gene to answer on the podcast.

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