A CRM system helps businesses keep customer contact details up to date, track every customer interaction, and manage customer accounts. It is designed to help businesses improve customer relationships and also Customer Lifetime Value (CLV). This is vital because of the vast amount of such data businesses generate daily.
The issue of customer data raises a challenge which CRM systems exist to address. Every time someone picks up the phone and talks to a customer, goes out to meet a new sales prospect, or follows up a promising lead, they learn something new and potentially valuable. Traditionally, all this data went into analogue or unconnected media such as notebooks or laptops, or even just stayed in people’s heads.
A customer relationship management system aims to address challenges like these. It takes customer data and turns it into useful, actionable insight that can transform a business. It helps everyone in a business to easily update records and to get access to the latest information. If the system is cloud-based, they can do this wherever they are, on any connected device.
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A CRM system essentially provides a central place where businesses can store customer and prospect data, track customer interactions, and share this information with colleagues. It allows businesses to manage relationships with customers, helping the business to grow.
With a CRM system in place, every question, every service request, every preference and every past contact detail about every customer is instantly available, which means that every new interaction with them should always be personalised, relevant and up to date.
As well as tracking every phone call, email sent, meeting held and presentation delivered, CRM systems can also be used to add notes, schedule follow-ups and organise the next steps that need to be taken. This ensures that opportunities to close deals or grow customer accounts won’t be missed.
The key features of a CRM system typically include contact management functionality, dashboard-style presentation of information, and reports that analyse pipeline activity, along with communication tools such as integrated email and internal instant messaging:
- Contact management
- Lead management
- Sales forecasting
- Instant messaging between employees
- Email tracking and integration with Outlook and Gmail
- File and content sharing
- Dashboard-based analytics
When evaluating and comparing CRM systems, there are three types to consider: desktop, server, and cloud. A desktop system is really only for a single user who just needs an electronic version of a Rolodex for simple customer contact management, so for most businesses the key question to answer is: server or cloud?
The three key types of CRM system include:
- Desktop systems that run on a single computer
- Client/server system that have a central database stored on a server, usually self-hosted with software installed on each user’s PC or laptop to access it
- Cloud-based systems that are supplied and hosted online by a third-party provider, and accessible anywhere via a connected device
Some CRM systems such as Salesforce now offer mobile CRM capabilities, which allow salespeople to access key information wherever they are, and update that information straight after a meeting while they are still in the field, so colleagues can follow up with the very latest information before the competition.
With mobile CRM it’s possible to run a whole business from a phone – closing deals, servicing customers and even delivering 1:1 marketing campaigns without being tied to a desk. This functionality can also support homeworking, and even allow organisations to reduce the amount of office space needed.
CRM platforms today can help businesses make the most of social media as a source of new leads, intelligence on prospects and information for customer service agents. All these new streams of social data are integrated with the rest of the available data about a customer, to deliver the fullest ever picture and a host of new actionable insights.
Some CRM systems can use artificial intelligence (AI) to learn from available data in order to make recommendations based on company processes. In this way, the system constantly and automatically improves, becoming smarter and more targeted to the needs of customers.