Customer relationship management getting easier for all

Do you consider your business to be small? Do you feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle to remain competitive with the so-called big boys of the business world? If you answered yes to both of these questions, you’ll likely be pleased to learn what’s being done with technology to level the playing field in terms of customer relationship management.

The 2011 class of companies, schools, educators and business leaders have been announced as winners of TechPoint’s Mira Awards program — Indiana’s top annual honors for technology achievement and excellence.

Since I first joined TechPoint in 2003, we have had the unique opportunity to review hundreds of detailed nominations and interview close to 500 company executives for this awards program. What struck me during the competition this year is just how many robust customer relationship management solutions are now available to small business owners.

The chasm of advantage separating big from small businesses is solidly bridged through technology, and in some cases, small businesses now have the advantage. As we saw this year and in years past during the Mira Awards, Indiana firms are leading the way both in developing these new technologies and using them to their own advantage.

The best part is some of the customer relationship management technologies used by these award winners could be put to use immediately in just about any business, large or small.

Seize opportunity

In today’s fast-paced, information-based business environment, managing customer relationships is a top priority. The costs associated with traditional customer relationship management software are pretty expensive and may be out of reach for many small businesses.

Don’t get me wrong, traditional CRM software is a great value for many enterprises. However, it may be viewed as unwieldy for small businesses that operate with just a few salespeople. CRM software is often complex and may require extensive training and regular upgrades. This causes some small businesses to be priced out of utilizing many of the most popular CRM packages, but managing customer relationships is no less important to their bottom line.

In this year’s Mira Awards competition, we recognized a few firms that have seized upon this marketplace need and developed software-as-a-service solutions that are specifically designed for small businesses and nonprofits and cost as little as $10 per month at the entry level.

Indianapolis-based startup AddressTwo markets what it calls “simple CRM,” a system for managing small business relationships. Fellow Indy startup TinderBox makes it possible to create, manage, deliver and track web-based business proposals. And finally, WebLink International Inc., which is also based in Indianapolis, provides member management software and website services to chambers of commerce, trade associations and tourism communities.

Firms like AddressTwo, TinderBox, WebLink and others offering simplified relationship management solutions are helping small businesses to enhance their services and compete at a higher level.

Keep your eyes open

The fact is, however, that companies both big and small are collecting enormous amounts of information about their customers. Larger organizations have departments focused on gathering and analyzing customer information and then using it to market to specific customer segments. Small business owners are likely doing this on their own and could benefit from some of the service providers who are cooperating with one another.

Online forms have made it easy to create customer profiles, surveys and other means of collecting data that can be incorporated into website and landing pages through simple embed codes. But putting this data to good use is where many organizations struggle.

Many providers are now working together to integrate their databases so that information collected can be immediately, and automatically, incorporated into direct digital marketing campaigns. Indianapolis-based Formstack LLC, for example, offers the ability to seamlessly transfer customer contact information and preferences to e-mail and interactive marketing provider ExactTarget. This allows the user to activate relationships with new or potential customers without delay and without multiple data entry.

This is, of course, just one example of the many providers who are offering software solutions that level the playing field and allow small businesses to manage customer relationships much like larger companies do but at a lower cost and greater efficiency than was previously available.

Small business owners (and large business owners, for that matter) who are frustrated with their current customer relationship management operations should look into the promising new small business CRM options and data collection software providers — especially the startups in Indiana.

James L. Jay is president and CEO of TechPoint, Indiana’s technology industry and entrepreneurship growth initiative. Jay also serves as president and CEO of TechPoint Ventures, which has invested more than $16 million in early-stage capital in twelve Indiana-based technology companies through HALO Capital Group since 2009. An Indianapolis native, Jay has a successful track record as an entrepreneur, business leader and public servant. To learn more about the 2011 TechPoint Mira Awards, visit