Strong customer relationships are critical for any growing business. But as a company expands, it becomes more challenging to keep track of information about clients and prospects. That data is often scattered across financial systems, spreadsheets, emails and even handwritten notes, making it hard to get a complete picture of critical metrics from churn to customer acquisition cost to lifetime value.
Customer relationship management (CRM) technology is designed to solve that problem. It provides a single source of information that helps salespeople, marketers and customer service groups drive more revenue, increase productivity, keep track of the health of the business and, most importantly, build lasting customer relationships.
What Is CRM?
A modern CRM system encapsulates information about current, former and prospective customers, such as orders, returns, service requests and interactions including marketing campaigns and sales calls.
Ideally, a CRM should be connected to a company’s ERP system, which handles business functions like finance and inventory management. This integration enables the business to build a complete view of customers throughout their entire relationship.
Sales, marketing and customer service groups can use a CRM to better target outreach, track customer activity, spot clients at risk of churning, increase efficiency via automation and improve the customer experience overall.
Who Is CRM For?
A CRM system is valuable for almost any business that has grown to the point where the owner doesn’t know everything about every customer. The CRM tracks and retains client data even as employees come and go — if your top salesperson leaves, for example, you don’t also lose information about their hottest prospects and pending deals. The CRM also improves efficiency by automating key tasks and eliminating the need to switch between multiple applications to view customer data.
Sales, marketing and customer service groups are the primary CRM users. But many others within the organization, including finance and ecommerce teams, also benefit.
CRM helps marketers create and track campaigns that deliver relevant information to new leads and current customers. A CRM system typically provides tools, such as customizable email templates, that help automate campaign generation. Some CRMs provide the ability to segment customers based on their preferences and previous buying behavior, so you can create targeted campaigns. For example, you could search for people who have bought a specific product and target them with an email campaign offering discounts for useful add-on items.
A CRM system also helps marketers better track and compare the performance of different campaigns. They can compare key metrics, such as response rates and costs for email, phone and online outreach channels, from within a single platform. CRMs that are integrated with ERP or financial applications offer the key additional benefit of enabling companies to directly measure the revenue generated by each campaign based on sales data managed by the ERP system.
For many companies, sales force automation (SFA) is the most pressing reason for implementing a CRM, and it provides the biggest immediate payback. The CRM tracks opportunities at every step of the pipeline, from lead to quote to completed sale, and records customer interactions at each stage. It helps sales specialists capitalize on opportunities, organize their time via reminders about meetings and upcoming tasks and monitor progress toward sales quotas. Especially when integrated with an ERP system, the CRM can help sales representatives gain a fuller picture of each customer by examining their previous orders, whether they pay promptly and any service issues.
Sales managers can use the CRM to track the performance of individual team members and the sales team overall. CRM systems help companies produce more-accurate sales forecasts based on the current pipeline and other factors, such as the estimated probability and value of each sale. Leading CRM systems also automate time-consuming and complex tasks, such as calculating compensation and commissions for the company’s salespeople and for partners that facilitate sales activities.
Superb service can be a decisive factor in building long-lasting, positive client relationships. With a CRM system, all customer service agents have access to each customer's full history. They don’t need to go through the painful process of repeatedly gathering the same information each time the customer contacts the company, and they can immediately view any pending cases as well as previous service requests and orders. A CRM automates the creation, assignment and tracking of cases in response to service requests received via different channels, such as phone and email.
Some CRM systems also provide self-service capabilities, such as customer portals that let customers submit requests online, track the progress of cases and view their order histories. These capabilities can reduce the customer service team’s workload and improve the experience for customers who prefer to interact with the company online.
Integration between ecommerce platforms and CRM systems benefits the ecommerce team — and the rest of the company. Many businesses sell through third-party ecommerce websites and cloud-based platforms, but that often means the company needs to manage inventory in multiple unconnected systems.
An additional problem is that other groups within the business may not have visibility into customers’ purchases on those platforms. Because people may buy and interact via multiple channels, including ecommerce, phone, and in store, a lack of visibility into ecommerce sales can prevent companies from gaining a full understanding of customer activity.
CRM systems that integrate with ecommerce platforms can simplify inventory management and increase accuracy by updating inventory in real time across all sales channels. This integration also provides sales, marketing and customer service with a full picture of customer activity, including online purchases and returns.
The company’s leaders and top financial managers may not directly use most of the capabilities of the CRM system on a day-to-day basis. But the information in the CRM is critical to helping them understand and predict business performance. Combining data from financial and CRM applications into easy-to-digest reports helps finance and the CEO analyze key business metrics, including the return on investment (ROI) from the company’s marketing and sales efforts.
Notably, finance can use the sales forecasts produced by leading CRMs to generate accurate revenue forecasts more quickly and easily.
The ROI of CRM
A CRM can deliver ROI in many different ways, from helping to boost revenue to reducing costs by enabling sales, marketing and customer service to work more efficiently.
Here are a few of the most common benefits.
- Increased revenue and profit: Over time, a CRM system can help generate greater sales for your company, resulting in higher profits. Companies that don’t have CRM technology in place typically lack visibility into the sales pipeline across the business — and if you don’t have complete visibility into your pipeline, you’re losing sales you don’t even know about. A CRM helps ensure the sales team tracks and follows up on every promising lead. Automation also makes sales teams more productive, so they can pursue more opportunities. And, the insights into customer behavior provided by a CRM enable more cross-selling and upselling.
- Shorter sales cycles: A CRM can shorten the time between initially contacting a customer and closing the deal, eliminating delays and bottlenecks in the sales process through better collaboration and greater automation.
- Increased productivity through automation: Automation of time-consuming sales, marketing and customer service processes is also key to increasing daily productivity. For sales teams, CRMs automatically track opportunities at each stage in the pipeline and prompt account reps when action is needed. CRMs help marketers automate campaign generation and analyze the success of phone, email and multichannel campaigns within a single system. They can automatically generate cases in response to customer service requests and help companies track them to resolution.
- Better collaboration: By providing a single, comprehensive source of customer information that everyone can use, a CRM system facilitates better collaboration among departments and individuals. Leads are passed more efficiently from marketing to sales, sales teams can better assign leads and collaborate and customer service can cross-sell when customers contact the company with service requests.
- Improved customer satisfaction: Excellent support is a key element in improving the overall customer experience. With a CRM system, service representatives can respond more quickly and intelligently to customer requests because they can view at a glance each customer's entire history, including current and past issues, sales orders and other information. The system tracks cases from creation to resolution, helping ensure that no customer issue is overlooked or left hanging.
- Better analytics and accountability: CRM systems support detailed performance tracking and analytics. Sales team members can measure performance against their goals, while sales managers can analyze team performance in detail. The CRM can track key marketing metrics, such as lead generation and conversion, as well as cost and revenue per lead. The company can monitor key customer service metrics, such as call volumes, resolution times and customer satisfaction.
Choosing the Right CRM
A CRM system will play an integral role in your business, so it’s important to find one that meets the needs of all groups that will use it. It needs to fit within your budget, too. Key considerations when choosing a CRM include:
Buy-in from key stakeholders. Bring together representatives from the groups that will benefit from the CRM system so that you get a clear idea of the features you’ll need. The list typically includes the heads of sales, marketing and customer service; top-performing salespeople; the CFO; an IT representative or your service provider; and an operations expert.
A comprehensive requirements list. Based on input from stakeholders, create a list of must-have requirements. Stay focused on these requirements as you evaluate vendors’ offerings; CRMs can include a bewildering variety of features, and it's easy to get sidetracked into discussions of capabilities that your business doesn't really need.
Most CRMs include basic features for sales force and marketing automation, but if you sell via partners or joint ventures, you may also benefit from a system that automatically manages partner relationships, including joint marketing, lead management and partner commissions.
How you interact with customers. If a top priority is to ensure sales reps don’t miss follow-up calls or appointments while on the road, strong SFA capabilities including mobile access are important. If you’re fielding a large volume of support requests via phone and email, customer support capabilities are critical.
Your future needs. Your CRM should grow with your business. Think about your expansion plans. Will you need to support global sales, ecommerce, international partner relationships and/or multiple currencies?
Evaluating implementation cost and effort. CRM systems can be cloud-based or on-premises. Cloud-based CRM systems involve less implementation and maintenance effort and have a lower initial cost. You access the software over the internet and pay for it with a monthly subscription. With on-premises systems, you'll need to buy hardware and software licenses, and you’ll need IT expertise to install and manage the system. In addition to implementation concerns, you should also consider security and maintenance for on-premises tools. All CRMs will require some user training.
Integration. Think about how the CRM needs to mesh with your business's other software. NetSuite CRM is part of an integrated suite of ERP applications, which means employees using the CRM have a complete picture of all business information related to the customer, including sales orders and payments. NetSuite software also integrates closely with widely used ecommerce platforms, simplifying inventory management and enabling companies to track customers' activity across all channels.
A CRM system is an important tool for remaining competitive in almost any industry. It helps companies build strong customer relationships that ultimately drive increased sales and profitability. A CRM system also helps sales, marketing and customer service better track customer-related activities, automate time-consuming tasks, increase overall productivity and create superb customer experiences.
In The Cloud
What is CRM in simple words?
A customer relationship management (CRM) system collects all customer-related information into a single system that different groups within the company can use. The primary users of a CRM are typically sales, marketing and customer service groups.
What is CRM and how does it work?
A CRM provides companies with a complete picture of customer activity. It tracks all customer information, including customer orders, service requests and interactions via email, phone or other channels. Some of this information is obtained through integration with ERP systems, ecommerce platforms or other applications. The CRM also automates sales, marketing and customer service activities, helping each department work more productively.
What are CRM skills?
As more companies implement customer relationship management systems, there is a growing demand for CRM marketing specialists and others with CRM skills. These people need to understand how to apply CRM technology to optimize marketing, sales and other functions. Specific skills may include building automated workflows, creating analytic dashboards and reports, analyzing CRM data and training others to use the system.
What are the 5 steps in the CRM process?
The customer relationship life cycle is often broken down into five major stages: initial contact and marketing, lead acquisition, lead conversion to sales, customer retention and loyalty, as evidenced by actions such as additional purchases. A CRM system can help with all stages in this process by supporting a company's marketing, sales and customer support services.