Currently, I’m working with a client on reviewing customer databases, a.k.a. CRM (customer relationship management) systems. Right now, we’re investigating Sugar CRM. They offered me a 30-day trial of the software (a terrific idea to offer potential customers–a trial of your product or service) to poke around and see how this product would fit my client’s needs.

Any type of customer database system has many big advantages, but most importantly, it keeps customer data in one place. This eliminates the need for multiple spreadsheets, plus an accounting system where you have duplicate data entry efforts, plus a contact management system, plus Outlook. This means no more data all over the place and no more double data entry from system to system. It’s all in one place.

What data am I talking about?

In a customer database you have contact information, purchase history, preferences, contracts, payments, marketing efforts sent, referral sources, important notes and whatever else is relevant to your clients and industry.

What does the CRM database give you?

One place to find everything. No more checking four spreadsheets to find what you need.

It also means you can better communicate and market to your customers, because you can see in aggregate everything about them. For example, no more looking at purchase history without repeat customer data.

The best way to find patterns is by looking at multiple pieces of information at a time. And you want to find patterns to try to replicate them, or find new customers that fit into the patterns of success you’ve already identified. For example, a pattern you could find when viewing all your data at once might be a sale of a particular service to a Marketing Director two months before the end of every year. Another pattern would be a great response from Operations Managers in February when promoting a particular product bundled with your support services. Until you have all your data in one place, you can’t learn as much and you can’t market as well and you can’t retain customers as successfully.

As you can tell, I’m a huge fan of central customer databases. Yes, it can take time to get into a new system and enter all of your data, but it’s easier than you think. And it will save you time in the long run.

Many companies are selling their software and services as CRM systems; don’t just assume a company is what they say they are. Many people are using this term incorrectly just because it’s a popular term. A CRM system needs to include whatever will help you make better business decisions from marketing to business development/recruiting new business. Take the time to check out what the system does and doesn’t do before you leap into something new. Find out about the reports and how you can look at the data once it’s been imported. If you can’t get a good report out, there is no point in putting the data in.

If you want to know more about choosing the right CRM system, check out these 7 steps.