The history of contact management stretches back to Rolodex and Filofax systems, developing into desktop-based standalone software and email clients with built-in contact management functionality.
Despite these significant technical advances, many businesses find that their contact management systems fundamentally amount to little more than a simple database containing names, phone numbers and notes.
In recent years, the categories of sales management and contact management software have grown closer together, as enterprises increasingly realise that a more unified system, capable of capturing a wider range of business data, is key. By combining the tracking of contacts, their engagements with your business, the products they buy, the ones they don’t and the challenges they face, you can create one, single unified view of the customer. That’s vital data not only for a successful sales team, but also in the delivery of excellent customer service.
What’s needed is a fundamental move beyond a sophisticated contact book, and towards systems that track the entire customer journey from start to end – and then connect those to products.
Free contact management software, or packages that came bundled with other business utilities, made it easy to store and retrieve contact information, enabling search by name, company, job title or industry.
But advanced sales contact management systems go far beyond this type of basic electronic contact book functionality. That's because making a list of customers and potential customers achieves very little: tracking your relationship with them is everything.
What does that entail? Ideally, you want to track every interaction you have with a contact – presentations, phone conversations, emails, notes of what was said, what action was agreed or should be taken – and connect this to actions and reminders for follow-ups. Anything, in fact, to help ensure that deals are closed and sales are made.
And, of course, contact management systems are more valuable when the information they contain is instantly available to others. Why? Because when a full, up-to-the-minute history of all the conversations, communications and meetings with a customer are available to all, it can be used throughout your organisation. Managers can monitor the effectiveness of individual sales people or entire sales teams, and marketers can measure the effectiveness of their campaigns. And having a single, shareable database cuts confusion and keeps everyone in sync, automatically.
These two evolutionary steps – from focusing on contact details to looking at relationships, and from individual desktop databases to shared information across a whole business – meant that contact management systems were replaced by systems aimed at customer relationship management, or CRM.
What has happened over the last few years these contact management systems have evolved into powerful customer relationship management systems that help track everything from customers and sales leads to marketing campaigns and sales team performance.
There's no getting away from the fact that traditional, desktop-based CRM systems– even the most sophisticated ones – have their limitations (New to CRM systems? Check out our Beginner's Guide to CRM Systems).
First, however sophisticated the data analysis tools, information is only available to employees when they have access to a workstation with the software installed – which may be in a remote office, and almost certainly isn’t on a train or a client site. When they are at a customer's office, or travelling to or from a meeting, they’re reliant on snapshots of a database which, because it’s not automatically synchronised, could well be out of date.
Cloud-based CRM software has the potential to change all this. With contact and customer relationship management based in the cloud, employees can update the system with the very latest information about a contact wherever they are – from a smartphone, a tablet or any other web-enabled device. That data is then immediately accessible to anyone else in the organisation who needs it, giving real-time access to the latest data.
When your customer is at the centre of a cloud-based contact management system you're not limited to data you’ve gathered yourself. Connected to other cloud-based data sources such as Data.com, your contact management system can automatically fill in the blanks in your customer information.
Perhaps, more importantly, you can take advantage of the cloud to analyse the social interactions and conversations that your contacts are having on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other networks. Is there a problem that a customer is having with your product that they are discussing with others? A connected contact management system lets you get a real-time view of all those interactions and proactively find a solution.
But social networking goes far beyond handling support issues and dealing with problems your contacts may encounter. By integrating social networking into your contact management system you can track who your contacts' contacts are, who they are talking to, who the key players are that you should be in contact with, and who can provide you with introductions to them.
Contact management is more powerful when you can share data with your colleagues. But it's more revolutionary still when they can be part of the way you manage your relationship with your contacts.
Cloud-based CRM systems are online and accessible from anywhere. This means that your colleagues can collaborate using internal social networks like Chatter, schedule meetings in a team calendar, and involve other departments including customer service, HR and internal communications . You can achieve all of this using the very latest information, updated live from across your organisation. As a result your customer remains where they should be – at the centre of your business.