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What is CRM Software?

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software is a platform for streamlining tasks to sustain and develop a company’s relationships with customers throughout the entire customer lifecycle. CRM platforms provide communication tools, contact management, task management, and other functions that consolidate customer correspondence and insights; some go further with tools for sales automation, marketing automation, email templates and advanced analytics reports.

CRM software used to be the province of large, enterprise-level organizations; cloud computing and Software-as-a-Service subscriptions made scalable CRM solutions available to small and midsized businesses as well. Today, CRM providers offer tiered service levels – some of them free – to businesses of all sizes and industries. CRM functions fall generally into three categories: operational, analytical and collaborative. Understanding these categories and evaluating which CRM functions your company need most are essential when considering the right solution.

Key Benefits & Features of CRM Software:

CRM software can produce workflow benefits for employees whose job description involves customer interaction, even tangentially; the improved speed and efficiency with which a properly implemented CRM enables them to perform their jobs will ripple throughout the company. Moreover, certain CRMs provide tailored functions for specific industries; there are CRMs that cater to retail, nonprofits, real estate, and banks. Some CRMs target businesses by size – for example, freelancers or small to midsize businesses – while others boast a massive library of official integrations that would appeal to an enterprise-level corporation that would need its CRM to work with its existing systems.

However, the essential role of CRM software is to provide a comprehensive view of vital customer intelligence that might otherwise be spread among multiple employees over different locations, websites, applications and devices. Each CRM will offer its own approach, but generally they share a few basic functions.

  1. Manage contact information. The phone numbers, email addresses, and websites of colleagues, professional networks and clients can be stored in one place. CRMs offer cloud storage which expands with larger subscription plans.
  2. Track customer interactions. CRMs can track phone calls and their durations, email correspondence, a customer’s profile including purchase history, value, and past concerns. Some CRMs are able to scan emails and automatically extract this data and others require manual input. Either way, a CRM will track customer correspondence and consolidate their relevant data in one location.
  3. Qualify leads. Many CRMs now offer marketing features. Lead qualification is based on tracking website activity to determine which visitors are interested in which products. Based on where they came from, the links they click, how long they linger, what they put in their shopping cart, and more, the CRM is able to determine their level of interest and readiness for contact by a sales rep.
  4. Segment customers into demographics. Customer data is widely available from social media and online activity. Segmenting customers into demographic groups based on age, gender, region, profession and so on allows for granular insights into shopper behavior, highly specific reports and tailored marketing campaigns.
  5. Transfer qualified leads to a sales team. Many CRMs feature lead scoring, which qualifies a lead according to weighted values determined by the business. Some CRMs can be configured so that when leads are qualified with a certain score, they are automatically transferred to a sales team for direct contact.
  6. Targeted marketing campaigns. Most CRMs with marketing features also offer email template for marketing campaigns. These templates are customizable to varying degrees and can triggered by events; for example, once a visitor clicks a certain number of website links, or reaches a dollar threshold of purchases, a personalized email – perhaps including a promotional offer – can automatically be sent to their email address.
  7. Enable customizable sales pitches and marketing campaigns. Customer segmentation data based on social media and online behavior enables marketing campaigns tailored to customer tastes. Some CRMs go a step further and enable automatically customized landing pages featuring individual customers’ preferred products greeting them when they visit your website.
  8. Lower departmental boundaries. An effective CRM enables colleagues across departments and in different locations to share information easily within the platform. This lowers boundaries to collaboration and enables company reps to better provide relevant solutions to individual clients.
  9. Make upselling and cross-selling easier. The increased potential for collaboration combined with collected customer insights allows for highly specific promotions, discounts or suggestions to encourage more purchases.
What to Look for in a CRM Software Solution:

There are a lot of CRMs out there. Choosing the right solution depends on your company size, your industry and your budget. Credible solutions share common features which you should keep in mind as you compare.

  • Cloud functionality – All major CRM providers offer solutions through the cloud. Some complement their software with on-premises hardware or native desktop clients. Modern business is increasingly on the go – employees need access to their productivity platforms when working remotely. Cloud-based platforms improve the potential for collaboration within the office, reduce strain on internal IT departments, and allow for minimized loss of productivity for remote workers. Cloud functionality is a requisite for modern CRMs.
  • Friendly user interface – Ideally, your CRM will be used by employees at all levels of your organization and in all departments. An easy-to-use, attractive, and intuitive user interface will promote adoption and ensure everyone gets the most out of the software without the need for extensive training.
  • Scalability – Certain providers cater to small to midsized businesses. Most providers offer tiered plans with increased storage space and greater features for larger, more expensive plans. As your company grows, you’ll want your CRM to grow with it.
  • Customization – Smaller companies that may primarily need a central platform for communications and contact management may be satisfied with a standalone, out of the box solution. As a company’s business becomes more nuanced, it may become necessary to adapt the CRM solution to their particular needs. For example, having a wide variety of email marketing templates with a high degree of customization ensures you can have a personalized message automatically sent for nearly any situation. Another example is a dashboard that individual users can adapt to their preferences while retaining access to relevant customer information. Customizable CRMs enable users to adapt the platform for maximum usability.
  • Social media integration – Important conversations and brand interactions increasingly happen on social media. Besides the customer data acquired through these platforms, and the promotions particular to them, social media offers the potential for enhanced customer service. A good CRM will flag negative feedback in real time and notify someone who can deal with it as it happens. This feature can also help to amplify praise.
  • Detailed and meaningful reports – Collecting and tracking customer data is a primary function of CRM software, but modern CRMs also offer a wide range of analytics and reporting tools. Advanced reporting can yield highly granular KPI reports on sales, customer activity, trends, segmentation, and much more. For a company in a position to fine-tune its digital sales and marketing, these reports can be invaluable.
  • Services and support – An ideal provider will be as much a partner as they are a vendor. While virtually all CRM providers offer some form of support, from an online library of instruction manuals to email support to live web chat, some providers go above and beyond to ensure proper deployment, onboarding, training and implementation. Moreover, ongoing support and cooperation from a provider can be invaluable as a company’s needs evolve.
What to Look for When Comparing CRM Providers:
  • Functionality – Determine your company’s needs. If your company makes a lot of phone calls, consider a solution with integrated telecommunication features. If you’re interested in expanding your digital marketing outreach, a CRM with diverse email templates will appeal to you. If you have a lot of employees whose roles don’t emphasize an IT element, you may favor a CRM that ranks highly for its intuitive interface to reduce resistance to its adoption.
  • Scalability It’s important to ensure your provider has the functionality and resources to grow with your business, whether it’s in sales automation, marketing automation, advanced reports or official integrations. If a provider can’t manage a significant expansion, you may find yourself dealing with the inconvenience, expense, and lost productivity of switching systems midstream. Similarly, scalability allows a company to be mindful of features they don’t need – there’s no reason to pay for an expensive monthly plan now when you can always upgrade later if needed.
  • Integrations – Some companies work well with the out of the box features of their CRM, but many companies require some additional development to adapt the platform to their specific processes. Many CRMs provide the development API so an IT department can integrate it with internal applications. CRMs with a long list of official integrations can assure their customers of more seamless interoperability between their CRM and their existing software.
  • Customization – One size does not fit all, and neither does one style; when it comes to email templates, the user interface, or ability to configure automated processes, the ability to custom-fit the software to your business needs should factor into your CRM decision.
  • Price – CRMs often bill per user per month. Some CRMs have package rates for a set number of users. Determine your needs and weigh them against your budget. While some companies tend towards premium solutions, there may be smaller players in the CRM space who cut out unnecessary features for a lower price, and may offer more dedicated support as well.
  • Support – Many CRM providers have a searchable online directory of how-to articles and FAQs. Others go further with email support and live web chat. Some providers will also include direct phone support for customers buying their larger plans. Consider your familiarity with software and whether your business would need (or prefer) in-depth consultation with the provider when it comes to implementing and maintaining your CRM. Certain providers provide dedicated account executives and even small business consultation, but this type of coaching will cost a premium.
Why You May Need a CRM Administrator:

A CRM is ideally adopted universally across departments. This requires retraining and coordination. A small company may have the close-knit culture and direct communication to achieve this, but a CRM requires implementation for sales, marketing, and other business processes; a fully-featured solution is deployed, implemented, and maintained best with a dedicated administrator.

An effective CRM administrator would be able to understand how to implement business processes into the CRM software. They should have a strong IT background, a concept of marketing practices and effective diplomatic skills, in order to teach new users how to use the system, explain to familiar users how to adapt to changes, and troubleshoot the software when needed.

Of course, hiring a dedicated CRM administrator is an expense on top of the CRM software itself. If existing staff are able to handle CRM responsibilities – maintaining data security, creating email templates, managing staff training and inquiries – then a small company may be able to put off hiring an administrator. However, CRM systems tend to grow beyond the capability or attention of an employee working in a dual capacity. At this point, the employee’s role could be spun into administrating the CRM full-time – and sent for certification if feasible – or the role should be filled by a dedicated administrator who can handle these tasks across departments.

For a larger company, there isn’t really a choice; the greater need for security management, configuring complex automations, management of individual and group permissions and integration of Enterprise Resource Planning software necessitates the hiring of a dedicated CRM administrator.

Some Final Thoughts to CRM Shoppers:

Before making a decision on which CRM solution is right for your business, you must evaluate your company size, business needs and budget. Analyze which features produce the most value for your business – look at the processes and tools you and your team currently use the most. The ability to consolidate these functions in one place, sometimes automating them entirely, and the ability to integrate existing solutions into a platform may play a large role in your decision. You may also be able to make a more cost-effective purchase by passing on extraneous features.

Next, understand how your hardware will affect your choice of CRM. The ability to seamlessly access the software across platforms will be central to its performance. This is where cloud accessibility comes into play, and whether the software has a mobile app; some solutions can function both within browsers and as native apps. That flexibility may be crucial for teams with employees in different locations or who require mobility.

Your CRM is only as good as your adoption rate, so listen to your employees about the factors that are most important to them. Keep these opinions in mind – they may guide you towards the most appropriate vendor, and improve your CRM software’s ROI by encouraging universal usage.

CRM Solutions - Additional Resources