(Yesterday I attended Salesforce.com’s annual Dreamforce conference in San Francisco; so Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is hot on my mind. The event was quite the popular attraction, drawing 80,000 attendees. As part of the event, they closed off an entire block in downtown San Francisco to create a Dreamforce Plaza complete with a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert and a flash mob!)

Out with pen and paper and spreadsheets! The adoption of cloud business applications are on the rise among small businesses with customer relationship management (CRM) systems leading the way.  A study of small and midsize businesses earlier this year by Dell Cloud Business Applications and Techaisle found that CRM has the highest penetration of any cloud application at up to 55 percent, an increase of up to 34 percent from 2010. 

Today’s affordable cloud based CRM systems are enabling small businesses to take advantage of the same powerful applications used by large companies to track customer interactions. You can centrally store information on everyone who is important to your small business and track all interactions whether phone calls, emails or web and video conferences. Depending on your needs, you can choose a system to help track inventory, marketing campaigns and ongoing customer support in addition to managing leads and prospects.

As you evaluate different CRM solutions, here are some things to keep in mind:

User friendly: Usability matters so consider the experience. Choose a system that makes the job easier. To this end, intuitive navigation and easy search capabilities are important. A solution rich with features may be nice but won’t matter if your team can’t or won’t use them.

Suitable for your needs: Your CRM system needs to model your company’s workflow not the other way around. Whatever system you choose make sure it matches your internal processes for managing customers and sales.

Good integration: Consider what services you want to integrate with your CRM such as invoicing, marketing or help desk. Your CRM system should support the services you currently use that you want integrated into one place to support your sales process.

Uptime and data loss prevention: Find out how your data will be protected and how data is backed up to prevent loss.

As with any cloud based system you employ, conduct due diligence on the vendor. Make sure the company is financially sound so that it will be around down the road to offer support and upgrades if you need them. You also want to know how the vendor provides support. How quickly will you be able to get help when you need it; is there telephone access or do you need to submit a help desk ticket; are there knowledge databases you can reference?

Considering the importance of CRM to your business, take the time to evaluate several solutions; some companies offer a free trial. Choose a solution that helps take your business to the next level.

Are you using a cloud based CRM system? How has it helped your business better track and manage customer interactions?