Skip to Content

What is CRM – A Holistic Approach to Customer Relationship Management

What is CRM - A Holistic Approach to Customer Relationship Management

Sales, marketing, and customer service professionals love referring to CRM as a technology solution—and with good reason. Average improvements among Sales force customers reflect favourable returns: a 36 percent increase in sales productivity, a 25 percent increase in sales pipeline, a 26 percent

Sales, marketing, and customer service professionals love referring to CRM as a technology solution—and with good reason. Average improvements among Sales force customers reflect favourable returns: a 36 percent increase in sales productivity, a 25 percent increase in sales pipeline, a 26 percent increase in sales win rate, a 30 percent increase in revenue, and a 45 percent increase in forecast accuracy. Not too shabby.


A Google search of the term “CRM” produces a number of software results. Of the top 50 search results, 76 percent return information about CRM software systems. CRM is often synonymous with software because the acronym was born of and proliferated parallel to the 1990s advances in business technology. Database software was the earliest revolution of managing customer contacts, spurred by the customer-centric banking and telecommunications industries.

CRM software is a critical component of any company’s success, but a ship is only as good as its crew. A company can have the best CRM system in the world, but has the team formalized a process? How about identifying its people and stakeholders? How do those people and processes interact to drive an organization to achieve its goals?

Now is the time to talk about the big picture of CRM as a holistic system to help drive success.

What Does CRM Stand For?

CRM is short for customer relationship management, but it’s a whole lot more than those three basic words. It’s a combination of methodologies and software systems that help companies build relationships with customers through organization, automation, synchronicity, and—most recently—collaboration. It ties together the customer lifecycle and distributes it across the integrated teams and functions of your business.

CRM helps organizations be more effective and efficient in their day-to-day tasks and assists them in reaching long-term business objectives and goals. However, good process is nearly invisible. CRM must fit the organization’s processes, which are in turn driven by the customer lifecycle.

The Three Pillars of CRM

People, process, and technology are each a critical cornerstone of a successful customer relationship management strategy. Not giving proper attention to each will make those pillars crumble and your structure fall. Don’t fall prey to cognitive bias—the assumption there are no problems because the process already seems to work from your vantage point, or the assumption your people are already aware of the process. Ensure your process is in place and account for the people involved in your organization before selecting the right technology solution.

CRM maturity models can help organizations plan for their CRM roadmap and understand where they are in the process for full CRM mastery. A number of models exist, from the simple to the complex. Here is a simplified version to illustrate how organizations may be tempted to skip the people and process components of CRM strategy and head directly to technology.


Each stage represents a step along the CRM adoption continuum. Stage zero represents no process, while stage five is the highest level of fully integrated organizational actualization, a deep understanding of processes, use, and continuous improvement beyond just using the software.

Don’t get stuck in stage two or three on your organizational path to self-actualization. Understanding the people and processes behind your technology will keep things moving along.


CRM is all about the people—literally. Few other business functions are as focused on people. The origin of the practice is as old as business itself. After all, every business has relationships to manage. It’s just a matter of how technology has altered the speed and ways in which we connect. Businesses would not be investing more than $20 billion annually in CRM if they did not believe in building trust through long-term relationships. This investment is projected to grow to $36 billion by 2017.


The focus of CRM is to develop stronger customer relationships, those lasting ties that help both the business and the customer thrive. It’s essential to understand the customer through profiles, use cases, needs, personas, and individual customer lifecycles. (More about this in a minute.)

But it’s not just about building relationships with customers. CRM systems also help manage relationships with stakeholders—both internal and external—of your organization. These include:

  • Customers
  • Employees
  • Executive leadership
  • Partners
  • Suppliers
  • Media
  • Investors
  • Advisors

The relationships between and among these stakeholders are key. Understanding what information needs to be shared and accessed by each party, as well as how information travels between them, will help guide a plan for CRM software. Consider building an organizational relationship map to identify critical paths in communication.


Process is the structure that liberates your company to grow and evolve, and each process is unique to every organization.

Take your organizational relationship map and understand who will be using a CRM. Know what their natural process is before investing in software. One core process that most business functions revolve around is the customer lifecycle.

CRM Addresses the Customer Lifecycle

Customer relationship management’s primary roles of sales, marketing, and customer service represent functions along the customer lifecycle. Although each has a dominant role, all work to support one another.

Every business’s customer lifecycle is unique, but a general flow is as follows:

Crm-004 So how does each customer relationship management function address these core lifecycle events? Here are a few ways the functions work together and address each step.

  • Sales cold-call leads acquired through various sources, such as referrals.
  • Marketing plans target advertising to generate awareness.
  • Sales coordinates a call between the prospect and a current customer to learn more about a use case.
  • Marketing creates content that addresses the target audience’s pain points.
  • Customer service puts together a knowledge base of frequently asked questions about products and services.
  • Sales walks the prospect through the product and describes key value points.
  • Marketing develops product landing pages where the prospect can gather more information and compare options.
  • Customer service can have a live chat pop-up option on the product page to answer questions.
  • Marketing sends out a thank you note.
  • Customer service checks in to answer additional questions.
  • Sales completes the paperwork.
  • Marketing ensures the purchase experience is smooth and removed of pain points.
  • Customer service follows up with next steps, if necessary.
  • Sales calls customer when special discounts are offered on a favourite product.
  • Marketing sends monthly email newsletters to keep in touch and top of mind.
  • Customer service checks in a few weeks after purchase to learn how satisfied the customer is with the product.
  • Sales sends a thank you note to the customer for referring business.
  • Marketing develops and promotes a referral program with incentives.
  • Customer service answers new questions from new referrals.

What gets measured gets managed, even in customer relationships. Metrics and key performance indicators can both drive process and be driven by process. Data collection may reveal a new process requirement, and processes deliver these metrics.

Metrics will change from organization to organization. Get ready to step back to the beginning to get it just right. Here are three adoption metrics to look out for:

  1. Usage The first basic indicator of success is login rates. Ensure users are consistently updating data, creating new contacts and/or opportunities. On a weekly basis, keep an eye on the number of users logged in on a weekly basis (as well as those who never logged in). On a monthly basis, focus on new accounts and opportunities created.
  2. Data quality Check that users fill out fields correctly or incorrectly. Look out for accounts missing certain fields, as well as those with all fields populated.
  3. Business performance Make sure users are actually using CRM software to enhance business effectiveness. It’s also a good idea to build analytics that can uncover trends and patterns on performance (and in turn, identify any trouble areas)

Defining these metrics ahead of time based on organizational goals and functions will produce a stronger, clearer vision of the best CRM software for your organization.


CRM technology has made huge strides since the 1990s. The software began on-premise and was cumbersome, underwhelming, and expensive. As technology has improved over the last couple decades and become more accessible (thanks to Internet-based software), businesses now have access to powerful, comprehensive, and affordable CRM systems.

Now that we’ve walked through people and process, it’s time to consider a technology solution. Selecting CRM software comes down to a variety of factors. Here’s what to ask at the start of your search.

  1. Business objectives: What are your core values? What are your business objectives? This drives the intent of your CRM system.
  2. People: Who will need access to the data? What are their requirements?
  3. Process: How does this fit into the larger process among the key functions of sales, marketing, customer service, and beyond?
  4. Budget: How is this solution priced? Is it per seat or a flat monthly fee? What additional services will need to factor into acquiring this new software (training, IT upgrades, warranties, etc.)?
  5. Ease of use: How easily will your team be able to adopt this software?
  6. Compatibility: Is this CRM software compatible with your current IT infrastructure? Can it access the API of third-party systems? Is it compatible with mobile devices? Is it cloud-based or an on-premise implementation?
  7. Growth: Is there opportunity for expansion as your company and needs grow?
  8. Measurement: What do you need to measure and track? How is this data communicated in the software?

The best CRM software turns data and information into actionable insights. Here is a selection of functions your organization may need access to:

  • Customer web tracking: Helps show the cycle and movement of the customer journey
  • Email automation: Sends emails automatically, triggered by a variety of events
  • File management: Sharing among employees in one location
  • Inventory tracking: Not only educates sales on a delivery schedule but helps marketing target which products to promote
  • Knowledge base: Updated by all users as a central repository for knowledge exchange

Protecting One of the Largest Assets: Your Data

Your CRM system is the bank where a vast amount of sensitive information is stored. If the technology isn’t buttoned up it’s easy for information to slip through the cracks due to day-to-day activity.

A recent study reveals that recovery from a data breach costs an average of $14 million per company and $140 per lost customer record. Understanding how specific CRM technology protects against both internal and external security breaches will save an organization money, guard against adverse public relations, and, most importantly, protect your customers.

Don’t Forget Security

External security is often top of mind when news stories break about hackers walking away with a cache of credit card information from major retailers. However, external factors rank very small on the percent of all data leaks. Only 4 percent are due to hacking and a minute 2 percent are attributed to natural disasters such as fires and floods.

It’s important to address those external threats with high-security infrastructure. Consider a multi-layered security approach to significantly reduce the risk of a breach and define your roles and permissions ahead of selecting CRM software.

That being said, cloud-based security is a safe and reliable route to go. Because cloud systems have far more computing power than traditional software, they can examine files nearly instantly, meaning security problems are often resolved faster than traditional software systems. Web security can also create a layered approach, which translates to additional protection overall.

Planning for New Channels

Revisit your customer lifecycle and internal process. Where do your customers access technology? How is this behaviour projected to change in the coming years? How does your internal team prefer to access their data?

According to Software Advice, CRM users still prefer to access their software from laptops (86 percent) and desktop computers (76 percent). The hypothesis is that field sales representatives prefer to access as they travel, which may explain why CRM access from smartphones (48 percent) and tablets (45 percent) is on the rise. CRM industry analyst Brian Vellmure says, “The knowledge worker of today and certainly [of] the future will expect to use, and interact seamlessly on, all of their devices, depending on the context.”


CRM is not just software. It’s a holistic approach to a lasting relationship with your customers. Set your people and process in place before selecting the technology for the right fit. Once your technology is in place, support it and the evolving needs of your people and process.

The most important factor of a customer relationship management practice is human connection. CRM software should enhance individual experiences and personalize touch points, not be a roadblock to creating the emotional bond necessary for long-term loyalty.


Share What is CRM – A Holistic Approach to Customer Relationship Management Infographic On Your Site

About the Author:

Lauren Hall-Stigerts is the owner of Marketing Gal Consulting, a content marketing and social media agency in Seattle. She helps software and digital gaming companies get seen, build trust, and grow their audience. Lauren is also an active musician, gamer, and tea enthusiast. Follow her on Twitter @hallstigerts.

Get timely updates and fresh ideas delivered to your inbox.