This post by guest blogger Mark Elliott appears as part of our series Small Business 500.

tips for small businessA Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system is a vital tool for any small business that can envision having more than 10 customers. A CRM tool allows a small business to maintain relationships with its customer base. Many CRM systems offer numerous features and different price points for growing small businesses to choose from according to their individual needs. Here are my top five best practices when implementing a CRM for sales:

1. Learn as a team

Create a few simple best practices documents and perform hands-on training with the employees. I would also suggest having the employees use the system and then organize a sit-down to review any questions and follow up on their progress with the software. The management team can also import its accounts and contacts to make it easy for the sales team to get started.

2. Take advantage of the data

Let the small business team know that they will be expected to use the CRM every day to record and track accounts, contacts, activities, and sales opportunities. Keep a close eye on the data during implementation so you know what's working and what isn't. The data tells you how your team uses the CRM system, so review it daily.

3. Use it for everything

One of the biggest benefits of a CRM system is the simplification of account plans, contact lists, forecasts, and other sales related documents that it allows. These can all be created out of the CRM system using new data. Compiling this data and centralizing it in one location saves sales and marketing tremendous amounts of time.

4. Make sure everyone uses it

The whole small business team including senior leadership must implement and use the CRM tool, not simply those responsible for sales. Senior management can then run reports themselves, instead of continually asking reps for information. This frees up the reps to focus on generating revenue. Using the CRM system in a live forecast review is particularly powerful. Failing to engage the small business leadership in adoption of the CRM system represents the single most common reason for failure.

5. Automate where you can

Many email and marketing automation systems can be integrated with CRM systems. If you can get your tools talking to one another and doing things on their own you'll be liberating yourself to focus on lead and revenue generation. Automation makes it easier for the small business team to use the system and also allows for more up-to-date data to continually enter the system.

A CRM system supports not only sales, but also streamlines many other parts of your small business and positions it well to focus on growth. Following a few of the simple best practices above will make adoption quicker and easier.

small-business-CRMMark Elliott is the co-founder of Venture Accelerator Partners. VA Partners provides B2B Sales, Marketing, and Social Media assistance to start-ups and fast growing organizations. Since 2006, VA Partners has worked with over 50 organizations. Mark is based in Toronto.

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@markeelliott