What makes the difference? Why do some small businesses take off while others languish or die? This is obviously a huge question and there are plenty of small business gurus who make a great deal of money selling all kinds of answers. But there is one part of the answer that is simple and clear: in order to succeed, a small business must have an effective system of contact management.
Why Small Businesses Need a Contact Management System
It’s surprising how many small business operators are trying to manage their contacts—with clients, suppliers, sub-contractors, team members, and more—with little more than the Contacts function on their smart phone and the In Box of their email server. In fact, some are trying to get by with nothing more than a wallet bursting with business cards they’ve collected and a good old fashioned day/date book. If you are blessed with a very good memory, this kind of “system” may suffice to just barely keep your business afloat. But it is obviously inadequate for any business that hopes to grow and thrive. Most office suites do come with a few standard contact management tools, which are often pre-installed. At the same time, most email systems also include a few contact management basics. But are these routine default systems adequate for a small business? Usually not. They do have some marginal utility for tracking names and addresses, but the lack of integration with other systems is problematic. A full-featured contact management system is essential for a small business.
To see why, think about a few of these kinds of scenarios.
- You come across a name and some contact information, but you can’t for the life of you recall who the person is or what kind of business, if any, you did with them.
- You would like to engage in up-selling or cross-selling to some of your existing clients but you have to riffle through old records to recall what products or services they have already purchased.
- Every time you need to compile a grouping of your contacts—by area in which they live, products or services they have purchased, services they offer, companies for which they work, etc.—you have to manually make your way through your entire contact list (and you’re very likely to miss someone).
- You would like to send targeted promotional materials or announcements of special opportunities to some of your clients, but you have no simple way of generating a list of only those clients for whom the materials are relevant. So you either don’t send the materials at all, or you incur unnecessary costs sending them to all of your contacts.
These are just a few of the kinds of problems that confront a small business operator who is trying to get by without an adequate contact management system. And it’s easy to see how these kinds of problems can seriously hobble a small business. They result in lost opportunities to generate new clients, lost opportunities for sales to existing clients, and tremendous drains on time and resources.
Most Important Features of an Effective Contact Management System
It is clear, then, that any small business that aims to succeed will need more of a contact management system than a simple list of names followed by addresses and phone numbers. An effective contact management system for a small business should possess the following basic features.
Clear Presentation of all Relevant Information:
Yes, the name, phone numbers, and addresses of all contacts are essential. But they are only the beginning of the relevant information that a small business will need. In regard to customers of the small business, the types of additional information that are likely to be most relevant include: detailed records of all products or services purchased, further products or services the customer may appreciate, notes and information on transactions or projects with the customer (both those that are currently in progress and those that have been completed), names of the team member(s) who are directly dealing with the customer, notes on any feedback the customer provided or any special needs or preferences the client has expressed, and the like. In regard to individuals or companies that are actual or potential suppliers or partners of a small business, the types of additional information are likely to be most relevant include: the specific services provided, the cost of those services, any notes on the transaction or points of importance for future transactions, and the like.
In addition to providing a format for gathering, recording, and viewing all of this type of relevant information about business contacts, an effective contact management system will also, of course, make it easy to edit and augment information as needed. After all, information about your business contacts is of little value unless it is kept up to date.
Grouping and Filtering Capacity:
Once all of the most relevant types of information about your business contacts have been recorded, you need to be able to access that information easily and to employ it intelligently. An effective contact management system makes this easy by allowing you to group information according to important categories and also to search that information using different filters.
Here is where small businesses will really begin to see the benefits of a first class contact management system, for it effectively eliminates all of the problem-scenarios that we considered earlier. For example, when you are able to group all of the customers who purchased a specific product, it is easy to customize your efforts at cross-selling or up-selling as well as to target promotional material.
But the benefits of easy grouping and filtered searching are not limited to dealing with customers. They apply equally to dealing with suppliers, subcontractors, and the like. Suppose, for example, that your business has a printing project it needs completed. A well designed contact management system will allow you to bring together all of the printing companies with whom you have done business, to review your notes on their performance and the record of the cost, and then to use this information to decide who you will use for the current assignment.
Installed Contact Managers vs. Software-as-a-Service
Once the vital importance of an effective contact management system has been established, the next question to consider is what type of system to select. Should you purchase a product to be installed on your company’s computer system or should you select a hosted, software-as-a-service option?
We regard the SaaS option as far superior, and here are just a few of the most important reasons why.
- The cost of entry is always lower.
- The total cost of ownership is generally either lower or very comparable when you include all of the costs associated with an installed software product (costs for hardware, time and man-power for installation, maintenance, upgrades, etc.).
- With the SaaS option your contact management system can be up and running immediately.
- All of your contact information, and all of your power to manipulate that information, is available from any computer anywhere—all you need is an internet connection.
- You don’t need to worry about losing your contact information if you lose your computer or if your system crashes. All of your information is safely and securely stored, and backed-up, on the SaaS provider’s network.
- With an SaaS provider, you are always able to receive help and service should you need it.
The Advantages of Skylight
Skylight has taken software-as-a-service to an unmatched level by offering a full-spectrum suite of utilities for small business. The suite includes all the tools a small business requires for managing projects, scheduling resources, all types of accounting task including generating invoices, quotes, and purchase orders, and utilities for managing all aspects of customer relations.
Skylight’s contact management tools are just one part of this all-encompassing package. Skylight helps you to gather all of the most relevant information about all of your contacts including contacts social network data and then makes it easy to keep track of the projects, bookings, and tasks connected with them. It helps you to create the most useful tags for grouping items of information, and it lets you search your contact data using the most helpful and relevant filters. You can organize, and re-organize, your contacts in whatever way is most useful to you—e.g., by skills, groups, or most recent activity. Skylight even allows you to share controlled access to your account with clients, team members, and contractors, to create relationships between contacts, and to contact your clients using Skype.
In today’s highly competitive economy, an effective contact management system is essential. The set of tools provided by Skylight is setting the standard for what any high-performing small businesses demand.