Thursday, November 8, 2012

CRM / ERP Options for Customer Management in the LED Sign Industry

- Scott Hofheins

Whether its cave drawings, paper files, or high tech data centers, record keeping has been important for society and business in any age. Today we can electronically store more information and records than ever before, but the transition from hard copy to soft copy is still difficult for many businesses. The sign industry has some unique challenges when it comes to record keeping, and I would like to talk about some good options and techniques that can hopefully make it easier.

Good record keeping is essential to the long term success and growth of a business. Organized electronic records improve your ability to see sales trends, support customers, and focus marketing resources, among a host of other benefits. It is truly worth the time and investment to make sure you have a dynamic, accurate, and scalable system in place. If you don’t have a good one yet, the sooner you do this the easier it will be in the long run.

The systems that businesses use to keep track of sales and customer records are typically called CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems. A more robust and “all inclusive” system is called an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning). However, the line between a CRM and an ERP has become much less distinct in the last couple of years, with more CRM programs offering traditional ERP features like inventory, product, and accounting options. Although there are some CRMs that can be used on a local server, most systems are now in “the cloud” (located on the internet) so I will be focusing on this approach.

An internet search for CRM will provide a host of options like Salesforce, SugarCRM, Zoho, vTiger, and others. Many of them integrate with Google Apps (of which I am a big fan). Most sign companies probably won’t need to invest in a large ERP; a CRM with some good customizable features will usually work just fine. Some things to look for are:

Lead/Sales Tracking and Integration
Your sales team should be able to track the status of every lead from initial call to closing the sale. The system should be able to accept leads from your website with minimal setup and have the ability to generate useful reports on sales history, status, and trends.

Customizable “modules” and Fields
Every business is different. The ability to add custom fields that relate directly to your specific needs is important. Most sign companies don’t sell a lot of “inventory” items like a retail store. The products tend to be more custom by nature and the CRM should be able to support this.

Scalable and Supported
Your CRM should be able to grow with you. Many systems give you the ability to enable certain features as you need them, and disable ones you don’t need. The CRM should be well tended too with a good support community and timely updates and improvements.

Support Tickets
A ticket system for support will allow you to support customers more fully in the long run. You may not need this feature immediately, but as you get more and more product in the field this system will become more important.

Export Options
The ability to export your data into a standardized format like a CSV or spreadsheet has many benefits including the ability to use your data with third party applications, custom reports, and will be helpful if you decide to move your data to another provider.

Try Before You Buy
Most providers offer a trial period where you can use their system for a certain amount of time. This is very beneficial so don’t be scared to try a couple different options. It costs you nothing, and you can really get a good idea of what provider will work best for you

When using a CRM it is important to keep your processes balanced. Technology is exciting but it can sometimes be easy to over do it. For a successful system to work, there has to be a good balance between the physical process and the electronic process. It is ok to have a mixture of both. Every single document doesn’t need to be scanned or entered into the system, and every full length conversation doesn’t need to be transcribed into the CRM notes. Focus on the purpose of the CRM: to make you a more effective and streamlined business.
Once the CRM is in place it’s up to you to use it. Old habits can be hard to break, but the effort is worth it in the long run. When used correctly, technology can allow you to do more, support your sales staff, your customers, and ultimately grow the business


I hope this post has been informative and helpful. As usual, I welcome ALL constructive comments. Please feel free to comment and add anything I’ve missed, or additional tips you may have regarding this topic. Please visit for many other resources, white papers, and of course: Great looking LED Signs!

**All posts/thoughts/writings are strictly the viewpoint of me and me alone and do not reflect nor speak for Vantage LED’s beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, etc. unless specifically stated.

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