Skip to main content

Like too many small business owners, Henry Faber's customer relationship management software used to be the generic contact-list software that came with his computer.

But as a partner at Bento Box, a Web-development and business-development company, as well as a manager of a co-working space his company runs in Toronto, Mr. Faber found the contacts he had to manage started to pile up – along with the projects associated with them.

"I wanted to process a lot of people and relationships to tell which one might be our next partner," he says.

Story continues below advertisement

Not only was he trying to keep track of prospective clients, contractors and tenants, but also the practicalities of running a shared space and projects meant staying on top of running correspondences with contractors like plumbers and electricians, and the tasks that needed to be accomplished to keep the space running.

Was this a job for CRM?

Customer relationship management software won't stay in its box. The category was a once a staple of fields like sales and fundraising. Electronic databases proved a perfect tool to keep track of leads, customers, clients and donors, keeping on top of everything from their sales histories to the names of their kids.

In the last decade, as computing has moved online, CRM has led the way into the cloud. Storing this kind of data online is a natural fit for the market, and big players like SalesForce were among the first cloud services to make it big.

Today, however, CRM for small business has exploded. It's not just a tool for big business, but for any small operation that's outgrowing its Rolodex. Not only is the marketplace for small-business CRM busy to the point of fragmentation, but the category has evolved to encompass both the social networks that dominate the Web as well as new ways of working.

In a busy marketplace, here are three ways that cloud-based CRM is pushing forward:

Connect to other services

Story continues below advertisement

Both you and your customers have spent years assembling contact lists online; why start from scratch? Modern CRM products like Connected [www.connectedhq.com]/note> are adept at sucking in contact lists from all sources, starting with your personal contact books (Outlook, Mac Mail, Gmail), and then with your social contacts: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, for starters. (In fact, LinkedIn bought Connected and now maintains it as a free service.)

The upshot is a service that pre-loads all of your contacts on day one, filtering out duplicates as it goes. Because it talks to these different services, it keeps itself automatically updated, promising an end to manual data entry.

CRM software can connect to other online services to spit out data as well as bring it in: Mr. Faber's software of choice, a suite called Hirise [http://highrisehq.com/]/note>, connects to MailChimp [mailchimp.com]/note>, a popular mailing-list service, allowing him to send group e-mails to selected groups within his contacts.

Track correspondence

CRM doesn't just keep track of who people are, it tracks the relationship you have with them as it progresses. – when the last contact was made, what was agreed upon, and where the correspondence left off.

CRM software either integrates directly with your e-mail software, or can be looped in by bcc'ing e-mails to a drop-box address run by the CRM company, which will automatically sort and archive them. Once e-mails are available to a CRM, they're freed from the constraints of your own inbox, and can be viewed by anyone on a team with access to the project.

Story continues below advertisement

Manage more than relationships

CRM is also pushing past people and into projects. While project-management software is a specialized category unto itself, Mr. Faber found that Hirise worked well at keeping tasks on track.

During the process of adding a new kitchen to its office space, the same software that stored his teams' potential client lists also kept track of running correspondence with contractors, from electricians to the guy who installed the shelves. Because the e-mails were stored centrally and everyone on his small team had access to them, anyone could act as a point of contact for the contractors, should the regular one be out of the office.

"I can keep my team informed about what I'm doing really easily," he says. "It's a highly simple, flexible idea."

Special to The Globe and Mail

Other stories can be found on the Web Strategy section of the Report on Small Business website .

Story continues below advertisement

Join The Globe's Small Business LinkedIn group to network with other entrepreneurs and to discuss topical issues.

Our free weekly small-business newsletter is now available. Every Friday a team of editors selects the top picks from our blog posts, features, multimedia and columnists, and delivers them to your inbox. If you have registered for The Globe's website, you can sign up here. Click on the Small Business Briefing checkbox and hit 'save changes.' If you need to register for the site, click here.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter
To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies