A Beginner's Guide to CRM Systems


A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system helps manage customer data. It supports sales management, delivers actionable insights, integrates with social media and facilitates team communication. Cloud-based CRM systems offer complete mobility and access to an ecosystem of bespoke apps.


Why have a CRM system?

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.

With no CRM...

These methods make it all too easy for details to get lost or forgotten, or for a meeting or phone conversation not to be followed up on as promised. Choosing which leads or prospects to focus on can be a matter of guesswork rather than a rigorous exercise based on fact. Worse still, if an individual holding access to key customer information were to leave, then all their knowledge could walk out of the door with them.

A CRM helps ensure accuracy and efficiency

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.

Let’s start with the basics of CRM.

Use our learning platform to grasp the fundamentals behind CRM software, how businesses use it, and benefits it brings.

What does a CRM system do?

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.

By understanding customers better, cross-selling and upselling opportunities become clearer too, giving organisations a much better chance to win new business from existing customers.

Key features of a CRM system

The key features of a CRM system typically include:
Contact management
All the latest information about customers — from contact details to service conversations — is easily available to access and update.
Lead Management
The system enables users to track pipeline activities, tasks and targets, all the way from prospect through to conversion.
Sales forecasting
Forecasting reports enable salespeople to get better visibility over their pipelines, qualify leads more accurately, and see how close they are to hitting their targets. Sales managers can use reports to motivate and manage their people.
Instant messaging between employees
Real-time instant messaging functionality makes it easier for coworkers to ask and answer each other’s queries, for instance in support of a live sales opp or service interaction. Managers can check in on staff in the field, and employees can ask for instant feedback or support as needed.
Email tracking and integration with Outlook and Gmail
Syncing email clients instantly with the CRM system allows businesspeople to get a complete view of their customers and leads without having to log in and out of different systems. Calendars and contacts can be viewed across every device, and emails can be created and managed from within a single workflow.
File and content sharing
Team members can upload information to a centrally stored location, and share easily and instantly with coworkers.
Dashboard-based analytics
Information is aggregated and presented in intuitive, meaningful dashboard displays that can be customised based on each individual’s priorities.
Advanced cloud-based CRM platforms, like Salesforce, go much further than this basic functionality, integrating with marketing automation and customer service systems to provide a complete, cloud-based ecosystem for customer data.

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Evaluating and comparing types of CRM systems

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

Client/server systems vs. online cloud-based CRM systems

Capital startup costs including server purchase and installation time.
Minimal capital investment, no startup delay and a simple monthly fee.
Security and maintenance
Business is responsible for its own IT security (or finding a data centre supplier to do it).
CRM supplier maintains the servers and keeps security up to date as part of a monthly fee.
Adding new features or functions to keep up with technological advances can be expensive and complex, needing considerable in-house expertise.
New features and functions can be switched on and off remotely, and are immediately available to all users.
Relies on an installed base of client PCs. Mobile use can be limited to laptops with necessary level of security and is limited by availability of secure VPN.
Secure access from any internet-connected device: at home, in the office, or while traveling.
Disaster recovery
Customer data needs to be included in any backup and disaster recovery plans.
Disaster recovery handled by vendor as part of monthly service fee.

CRM systems for a changing world

As technology evolves, the way in which we work and connect with customers evolves too. Advanced systems go beyond obvious CRM functionality to respond to developments such as remote working and artificial intelligence. Cloud-based CRM systems excel here as they can be updated as new technology becomes the standard.

Mobile-capable CRM for remote working

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.

Social media integration

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

Harnessing artificial intelligence

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.

What is Salesforce?

Learn more about how Salesforce CRM can help you and your business.

Why choose Salesforce?

Salesforce offers the world’s leading cloud-based CRM software, offering a range of innovative and far-reaching CRM solutions that can be effectively customised to the requirements of businesses of all sizes, from global enterprises to start-up micro-enterprises. Key reasons for choosing Salesforce include:

  1. All based in the cloud
  2. Scalable
  3. Easy to use
  4. Easy to customise
  5. A platform for growth
  6. Automatic updates and upgrades
  7. Mobile
  8. Integration options
  9. Track record of innovation

All based in the cloud

Because Salesforce runs entirely in the cloud on its own sophisticated, secure infrastructure, there’s no need to spend precious time maintaining hardware and software. Plus, setup is fast and inexpensive.


With Salesforce, pricing is based on the number of users -- a business just pays for what it actually needs. Additional users and applications can be added as a business expands, so the CRM system grows with the organisation.

Easy to use

Salesforce is as easy to use as the websites we use every day. It’s easy to log in from anywhere, view and update customer data, and work with colleagues, at any time.

Easy to customise

Whenever a user wants to add modules or fields, create sale processes or change workflows, it’s all just a click away.

A platform for growth

Businesses can use Salesforce to smartly manage and harmonise many key functions of their operation, including sales, marketing, customer service, supplier management, HR, ecommerce and more.

Automatic updates and upgrades

Users benefit from automatic, simultaneous software updates of the best new features across the platform, while keeping their data secure.


The Salesforce app is available for smartphones and tablets, and to add the exact functionality needed in a business, there are over 2,000 apps accessible from the Salesforce AppXchange ecosystem – plus, of course, the opportunity to write bespoke apps.

Integration options

Salesforce’s rigorous open API makes it possible to integrate the platform with almost any other software.

Track record of innovation

Salesforce has a proud record of innovation that reassures businesses that their systems and services are future-proof.

That’s a lot of info!

Here’s what you should take away from this article:

  • Why use a CRM system? Using a CRM system helps businesses become more efficient, improve relationships with their customers and boost their CLV (Customer Lifetime Value).
  • What does a CRM system do? A CRM system stores important customer and prospect data, enabling businesses to better manage their key relationships.
  • What are some key features of a CRM system? Important features of a CRM system include contact and lead management, sales forecasting and dashboard-based analytics.
  • What’s the best place to start when evaluating CRM systems? When evaluating and comparing CRM systems, it’s important for an organisation to first decide what best fits their needs: a cloud-based CRM or client/server CRM.
  • How can CRM systems help keep up with a changing world? CRM systems are flexible and scalable. Businesses can leverage AI, integrate social media and go mobile – anywhere, and at any time.
  • Why choose Salesforce? Salesforce offers innovative, cloud-based CRM that’s scalable and customisable, so every business can create their ideal solution.

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