In last week’s post we looked at the five types of data a business should collect about their customers and potential customers. While your business may lack a sophisticated sales process that includes actions for recording and acting on this information, it points to a larger goal in technology that small business owners rarely understand.
A common theme in the enterprise world is that information tends to be gathered in silos – a farming analogy describing a storage unit that holds a particular crop, such as corn or wheat. This practice occurs very frequently in large organisations with separate departments sometimes operating in different buildings, with different agendas and lines of responsibility.
One of the big goals of enterprise applications was to give employees throughout a large company the ability to view or use information stored in other parts of the business.
This could be a sales person looking up delivery information for a customer to see whether goods sold had been delivered. (The sales call is likely to go much better if the customer isn’t still waiting for stock from the previous sale.)
But the silo problem exists for small businesses too. Instead of silos by department, information tends to be siloed by application. A subscriber database for an email newsletter might be stored in a dedicated marketing program. The list of attendees from the last customer event might be kept in a binder behind the receptionist.
More often than not, businesses hold contacts from different sources on stacks of Microsoft Excel spreadsheets which are rarely updated, full of duplicates, dead contacts and errors, and are often filed and forgotten.
What businesses of any size need is one central list that is updated automatically from multiple sources – a super-silo, in effect.
Cloud applications work very well in this context because they more easily connect to a business website collecting leads or newsletter subscribers; to registration apps on an iPad gathering details at a tradeshow; or to email programs with incoming customer requests.
Moving to a central database for all your contacts isn’t just a good idea for centralising data. It solves another critical problem created by silos – universal access.
Your best sales employee may be writing down detailed notes about every customer they have spoken with that week – very valuable information to other salespeople or the business owner. But if those notes are in a Word document or in their Outlook email client then sharing that crucial customer information is a little complicated.
There are workarounds – cloud-hosted documents can be viewed by multiple people simultaneously – but they’re usually clunky and unreliable. A centralised customer database can hold all the contact details as well as notes, quotes and other documents for any authorised employee to view.
Think about how many silos there are in your business and how you can break out the information held within them. In the digital world, information = money. If you limit one you will limit them both.