What is CRM?

A comprehensive guide to CRM software and what CRM means

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This complete guide to CRM explains the meaning of CRM and examines the benefits and importance of CRM software. It continues to show how to select the best CRM system for your organization and the features to look out for. Here’s what’s included:

CRM Definition
What is CRM Software?
History of CRM
Importance of CRM
Benefits of CRM
Who uses a CRM?
How to select a CRM
CRM Features to look for

A Definition of CRM

CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management and refers to business systems designed to manage your customer and prospect interactions. The aim is to help your business develop longer lasting relationships with customers, drive business growth and increase customer loyalty.

Most commonly used by sales and marketing professionals, a CRM system helps companies streamline their business workflow using Sales Force Automation (SFA), improving efficiency and productivity.

Increasingly, CRM software is used by customer service and support teams to manage their post-sales service.

What is a CRM System? CRM Software Explained

A CRM system provides a centralized hub that holds all the data for your business contacts. This might be your customers, prospects, suppliers, press and colleagues. Over time, the system will build up a history of your interactions with each contact. This might include emails, calls, meetings notes and sales. The beauty of this is that everything you need is in one place, giving you clear visibility of your sales pipeline.

CRM software can also include integrations to other apps and channels, such as your website, digital marketing and accounting software. This lets you create automated workflows, replacing any routine manual processes in your business.

For example, you might use CRM software to capture a new inquiry from your website which initiates an automated sales process. The inquiry would trigger the creation of a new account in the CRM, create a task for sales to follow up, and send the contact a welcome message.

What is CRM? CRM Software Explained

History of CRM

The term CRM was first coined in the 1990’s to describe a system whereby every contact with a customer could be recorded and analysed. A CRM system was the must-have product at the height of the internet bubble in 2000/2001.

However, the peak was followed by a few years of disillusionment as expensive systems failed to deliver the results and meet the raised expectations of the users. This pattern follows the Gartner Group Hype Cycle graph for emerging technologies, showing the traditional pattern of a slow start, followed by unjustified euphoria, down to disillusionment and back to a level of realisable sanity. Which is where we are today!

Originally, all CRM systems were in-house applications, hosted on physical servers within the organisation. Nowadays, CRM systems are cloud-based, meaning the app and data are accessed via an internet browser. Cloud CRM is also known as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) CRM, online CRM and Web CRM.

As new technology is launched the Hype Cycle begins over. Gartner’s update for 2018 suggests two key areas of technology where sales leaders can improve their sales execution – Machine Learning and Integration

Why is CRM important?

For many businesses, their CRM isn’t just important – it’s essential!

To maximise the benefit, you need to build your CRM into your business strategy. A CRM will create structure and organization for your company that will foster increased efficiency, productivity and profitability.

Although, originally designed for sales teams, the benefits of using a CRM across your whole organization can be immeasurable. However, it’s become increasingly important for marketers and for customer service teams managing post-sales communications.

A CRM system gives greater insight of how your business is performing, using the actual sales data to take the guesswork out of business decisions. It provides a complete overview of your customers and their activity, letting you create a truly customer centric focus that will shape your customer experience strategy.

What are the benefits of CRM?

Having worked hard to collect information about a prospect or customer, sales people can end up with their information held across multiple sources, from sticky notes to call logs. Using a CRM helps brings it all together in a centralized hub. A CRM will facilitate team collaboration and create efficiency. So there’s no duplication of effort, lost messages or forgotten call backs. This leads to more timely communication, enhanced relationships and, essentially, more sales.

The workflow automation looks after much of the manual processes of selling so there’s less data input and admin. You can also use automation to prioritise your leads, bringing together your data insights from across your business activity.

A good CRM will also help you manage your teams, control your data security and support your compliance with data privacy regulations.

  • Enhances contact management
  • Improves customer retention and satisfaction
  • Advances sales management
  • Increases efficiency and productivity
  • Creates organization and team collaboration
  • Facilitates accuracy of reporting and sales forecasting
  • Heightens data insight for marketing and product development
  • Increases lead to sales metrics
  • Boots business growth

What is CRM software? A comprehensive guide

What does a CRM system do?

If by now you’re thinking this all sounds well and good, but what does a CRM system actually do and what is it used for? Here’s a simplified list:

Creates a customer centric focus

  • Helps you find every customer, contact and communication instantly
  • Improves post-sales service and support
  • Increases customer loyalty and retention

Increases sales and profitability

  • Categorizes and prioritizes leads
  • Tracks your leads from end to end
  • Automates your sales process
  • Manages your tasks and appointments

Creates a centralized hub where everything is in one place

  • Creates total visibility that puts an end to duplication
  • Enhances team and cross-team collaboration
  • Facilitates remote workforces
  • Streamlines your processes by integrating the other systems you use

Provides Insights and Reporting

  • Accurate, detailed reports and forecasts
  • Customer activity insight
  • Management of marketing ROI

Everyone in your organization can see all the interactions with a contact in the CRM including their communications, what they purchased and when, what they paid, plus much, much more. Unless, of course, you want to limit who sees what with user permission levels!

Who needs CRM Software?

Customer relationship management software is relevant across many business functions and industries. CRM software is most commonly used in the sales, marketing and service desk functions. However, use across other teams and management may also be relevant.

Sales Team

Your sales people will be able to use the CRM to monitor new leads in their pipeline, log the calls and meeting notes, set tasks to follow up with customers, create and send quotations and invoices. Running reports and forecasts, sales managers will have real-time visibility of their team’s performance against their targets.

Marketing Team

Marketers can integrate your website forms with the CRM to automatically capture new leads and pass them to your sales team to follow up. They can send automated emails to welcome new customers and monitor their responses.

Running marketing campaigns from a CRM means all the customers’ activity is recorded back to the CRM. This provides insight to their behaviour and ROI analysis.

Service Team

A CRM with an integrated helpdesk system means you can also monitor your customers’ post-sales interactions. Any support tickets raised will be captured back to the customer account so your sales team can be alerted of any potential issues.

Organizations that operate business to business (B2B) are generally the target audience for CRM vendors, but the software can also make a difference for other markets too. Some vendors target business to consumer (B2C) and some offer CRM systems for specific industry sectors, like real-estate, recruitment and even club memberships.

If you’re not sure if you need a crm, our blog Do I need a CRM will help.

Who is a CRM for? Find out who needs CRM software

How do I select a CRM?

In selecting a CRM be realistic about your IT competence and your needs, as well as how much you want to spend. There’ll be a trade-off between the CRM’s ease of use and the features included.

Generally, price is determined by how many users you have, you number of customer records, your storage requirements, and complexity of features. Even if you can afford the best CRM and would like all the features, you don’t need to commit all at once.

Most vendors offer a free CRM trial so you can see how the system will work for you and discover how their customer support shapes up!

Your selection should reflect your strategy and objectives for the CRM. These might be to

  • Help sales people manage and close more opportunities
  • Give sales managers a complete view of the pipeline, and to automate sales forecasting
  • Safeguard ownership of the sales pipeline, a key company asset
  • Make sure that your organization has a full picture of every sales process
  • Provide a complete picture of every customer to those that need it within your organization
  • Run and track the effectiveness of marketing campaigns
  • Provide better service for your customers

If you’re addressing certain pain-points in your organization make sure you know what success will look like so you can measure the value of your CRM.

For more help, you might like to download our CRM Buyers Guide “10 Critical Factors in Choosing a CRM System”.

When’s the right time to get a CRM?

The right time to invest in a CRM will vary according to your business and industry. As a rule-of-thumb, if you’re handling more prospects that you can remember, you need a CRM system.

In some industry sectors you may be managing thousands of customers with a short sales cycle or multiple repeat sales. With others, you may have just a few hundred contacts but with a lengthy sales cycle that needs careful tracking. In both cases a CRM system will help you track your interactions and monitor customer behaviour, letting you manage the frequency of your interactions to maximise your sales.

If you’re a small business with limited IT support and a limited budget, there are simple CRMs at affordable prices that will fit your needs. Then, as your business grows, you can upgrade to add more features and users. If you’re a new business start-up, you’ll find there’s a few free CRM systems available that will include all the features you need to get started.

What CRM features should I look out for?

The CRM features you need will vary according to your business and, remember, not all CRMs are the same. There are different levels of features from the very basic to those with all the bells and whistles. Price is likely to be a key factor but it’s also worth considering which features you really need. A CRM packed with features that you never actually use will be more complicated, more expensive, and is likely to limit user adoption – one of the most sited reasons for CRM failure.

Basic CRM Sales Features

A basic CRM will include contact management and opportunity management, letting you find your customers and past communications instantly and track your sales leads. There are many little extras that can make all the difference to how you use the CRM. Look for one that you can customize with your own fields and settings to reflect your sales process.

Email Sync

Ideally, you’ll want email integration included. This will automatically capture your emails to and from your contacts, giving a full history of your communication.

Reports

Surprisingly, many small business CRM systems don’t include much in the way of CRM reports, if any. The best CRMs will include a Sales Forecast report writer as well as a Listing Report writer for ad-hoc activity. If you are unable to unlock the insights of your CRM it becomes nothing more than a contact management system.

Automation

In today’s market, even for small businesses, CRM automation is becoming a must have. Automation helps create efficiency and increases productivity by automating your manual processes. Your various actions in the CRM will trigger workflows to complete a task according to a set of rules that you define. This might mean triggering the billing process when a sale closes or an email reminder when a warranty date expires.

You can also use crm automation and integration to pass data between the different systems you use, updating and synchronizing your customer information. Here you can use a native integration via the CRM API or you might use an integration platform like Zapier.

Marketing Integration

A CRM with integrated marketing lets you run email campaigns directly from your CRM and record your contacts’ interaction back to their account. Over time, you’ll build up valuable information on their behaviour and interests that lets you better meet their needs in the future.

What CRM features do you need? CRM Integration

Advantages of Cloud CRM

As cloud CRM software is hosted and maintained by the CRM vendor, there’s no capital costs and no maintenance for the customer. By running thousands of customers’ CRM systems, the provider can create great economies of scale. These factors make a cloud-based CRM very affordable with options to pay monthly or yearly, so there’s low financial risk.

The other big advantage is that CRM users can access the system from anywhere via their internet browser. This might be at home, their office, or on the go from their phone.

What is Really Simple Systems CRM?

Really Simple Systems is a powerful small business crm, designed for growing teams working B2B. It includes everything needed to run a small business at a very affordable price. It’s cloud-based, super-easy to set up and simple to use.

Really Simple Systems is available as a stand-alone CRM or as an all-in-one solution with integrated Marketing and Service Desk modules.

Our CRM includes all the features you’d expect to find, along with a level of service you might only hope for! Particualrly popular are our in-product Help Drawers with links to a wealth of support resources. These included tutorial videos and step-by-step guides for all the CRM features. And if you need further help you can contact us using Online Chat, email or telephone.

Take a 14 day CRM trial of Really Simple Systems.

How Really Simple Systems has solved customers’ problems

Frequently, new customers come to us looking for their first CRM. This is often triggered by the appointment of a new staff member who has used a CRM previously or where business growth has meant spreadsheets and notes are no longer viable. Read our case study for Amityre Corporation.

Another typical scenario is where a new customer has been using a more expensive CRM system, like Salesforce, and is looking for a cheaper alternative. Having previously been tied into a lengthy contract they like the flexibility we offer and the value for money. Read our case study for Cybertech Digital.

Moving to a CRM can be a major, time-consuming project. At Really Simple Systems we work with you to understand your needs. We often help new clients customize their CRM set-up, and with the training and roll-out to their teams.

Read what our customers say about us

At Really Simple Systems we’re proud of our customers’ success and encourage them to post CRM reviews to help new customers make their selection.

Find out more by checking our CRM reviews at Capterrra, G2 Crowd and FinancesOnline.

About the Author

Helen Armour

Helen Armour

Helen is the Marketing Manager at Really Simple Systems, a Member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and Chartered Marketer.