Let’s begin with a very quick history lesson. In the 1950s there was the Rolodex, the ultimate desk accessory of a million business execs – a rotating file device that was used to store business contact information. Its name is a portmanteau of the words rolling and index.
Then in the 1980s, we moved on to database marketing, a new process at the time which enabled companies to amass and analyse customer information, enabling businesses to create customized communications to attract prospects. Then, with the arrival and mass rollout of PCs and server/client architecture, business moved to contact management software which provided a more robust way collecting and organising customer data.
The early 1990s then spawned sales force automation, which enabled companies to hone their sales processes and boost productivity. This was seen as the first real push towards what we know today as customer relationship management (CRM).
CRM is a term that refers to practices, strategies and technologies that companies use to manage and analyze customer interactions and data throughout the customer lifecycle. The goal of a CRM solution is to improve customer relationships, assist with customer retention and drive sales growth, as the software will record interactions between business, prospects and existing customers.
CRM systems aggregate customer data across different channels such as a company’s website, telephone, live chat, direct mail, marketing materials, events and social media channels. They also provide customer-facing staff with detailed customer information such as purchase history, buying preferences, contracts, customer service issues, historical sales opportunities whether won, omitted or lost etc. So you can think of a CRM system as being your single source of truth, one central repository that houses all the information on your customers, partners and prospects.
In addition, many companies use their CRM system to house sales and marketing materials as well as utilizing additional features, such as inbuilt collaboration tools and internal social networking, for example Salesforce’s Chatter.
By now you’ve probably deduced the main business benefits of a CRM solution, but they go deeper than just functioning as a data repository.
CRM systems are integral to what’s known as interaction tracking, documenting client and prospect conversations (engagements). These interactions can be logged manually, or automated with phone and email system integrations. Depending on the product, some systems can also track interactions on Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms.
Let’s take the scenario that your company has just produced an eBook which can be downloaded via a web page for free in exchange for someone’s name and email address. Upon submitting the form and downloading the eBook the contact details captured are automatically recorded in a campaign created in the CRM system. In turn, the lead can then be assigned to the relevant salesperson to follow up on, if deemed as being a sales-accepted (approved) lead.
As a marketing professional, how much of your day is spent manually undertaking repetitive tasks? Think how much time you could save if many (if not all) of those tasks could be automated.
The term workflow designates a sequence or progression of steps that are necessary in order to complete a business process such recording details of a sales or marketing campaign. Most CRM software solutions can partially or fully automate workflows which standardize business processes – usually through a combination of task lists, calendars, alerts and templates. Once a task is checked off as complete, the system might automatically set a task for the next step in the process.
For example, when someone signs up for your email newsletter, you can have a workflow that automatically sends that person a confirmation, adds them to your mailing list and adds them to a particular campaign.
You could use workflows to develop complex nurture stream marketing campaigns, consisting of numerous emails, sent at specified intervals, with triggers in place to score leads and qualify them. Therefore, the entire process is being automated so you can focus on other things.
You can create workflows to score leads when they take actions such as opening an email or downloading content. You could set a scoring qualification threshold and use workflows to push qualified leads over to sales, and create an alert to inform the relevant sales rep to follow up at a specific time.
From a customer service/support perspective, you could automate the routine administration of incoming support tickets and the process that moves the customer through the entire resolution process.
As you’re fully aware, lead generation is a critical part of keeping your company’s sales pipeline fresh and filled with new prospects. But how are you supplying those leads to your sales team? And are you certain they are acting on those leads in a timely manner?
Enter lead management, a strategy whereby sales leads can be assigned to a salesperson and tracked through a CRM system from the initial contact stage with through to their “conversion” into a sale. But it doesn’t stop there – lead management software also creates a process for how you maintain your relationship with the customer. Hence, the customer becomes a repeat customer, a loyal customer, and in time maybe even an advocate for your product or service.
Analytics in CRM helps companies to make more informed business decisions. Analyzing the customer data within your CRM system will enable you to improve customer satisfaction rates, help create better targeted marketing campaigns, optimize customer engagement, improve the customer journey, and even reveal why certain products are performing better than others. It’s been said that data is the new oil, the most valuable commodity you possess, but only if you’re using it in the right way.
AI in CRM
Artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, such as Salesforce Einstein, have been built into CRM platforms to automate repetitive tasks, identify customer buying patterns and help to predict future customer behaviors.
Want to know how a particular marketing campaign is performing? Want to know how many units of a particular product were sold over a specific period? Here’s where the reporting element of a CRM system comes into play.
You can track performance and productivity based on activities logged, report on sales forecasting, pipeline and customer service issues to name but a few. The possibilities are practically endless when it comes to reporting.
CRM tools with marketing automation capabilities can automate repetitive tasks to enhance marketing efforts at different points in the lifecycle. For example, as sales prospects come into the system, it might automatically send the prospects marketing materials, typically via email or social media, with the goal of turning a sales lead into a customer.
Contact Center Automation
Designed to reduce the tedious aspects of a contact center agent’s job, contact center automation might include pre-recorded audio that assists in customer problem-solving and information dissemination. Various software tools that integrate with the agent’s desktop tools can handle customer requests, in order to cut down on the time of calls and simplify customer service processes.
As you can no doubt tell, CRM solutions offer numerous features/functions, all of which are designed to align sales and marketing, manage data, provide insights on customers and prospects, optimize the customer journey, and help to achieve the all-important single customer view.
But where do you start when selecting a CRM solution for your business? It’s a similar scenario to buying a new mobile phone and data plan from a service provider, as there are so many options to choose from.
There are a whole host of CRM solutions on the market – and which one is right for you really depends on the size of your business and what you’re trying to achieve. Different businesses have different needs.
Typically, smaller companies desire a CRM software tool that is easy to learn and offers a wide variety of high-level features. Larger companies often have more customer-facing departments, leading them to seek out a tool that handles more complex use cases and can scale to thousands of users.
A trade-off with some of these systems is that they can take longer to implement and require more training. These tools are often highly customizable, but those customizations take time and developer resources. Enterprise companies typically employ at least one CRM administrator to support questions and needs across teams.
Let’s take a brief look at three well-know, highly regarded CRM solutions beginning with Salesforce.com, the world’s leading CRM platform.
Salesforce CRM is an award-winning solution created by Salesforce as part of its extensive sales and marketing solutions under the Salesforce brand, including separate systems for: Analytics, Marketing, Service, and Community Cloud. Powered by automation, sales representatives can maximize CRM data to highlight top leads and determine the separation between deals lost and won.
As a CRM solution, the software helps you to track all customer information and interactions in one location to follow more leads. The Lead Management, Marketing Automation, Sales Data and Partner Management apps let you follow these leads until they are ready for conversion.
The software can also increase the sales team’s productivity, whether they’re on location, at the office or in cyberspace. It has a mobile app for Android and iOS devices featuring real-time data from dashboards and custom reports, plus a ‘feed first’ feature that lets you see the most important information based on your settings at a glance.
Likewise, you can add more functions and tools from a long list of apps in the AppExchange. Salesforce Sales Cloud also allows you to get insights from varied, real-time customer data. Creating critical reports, sales forecasts and territory models are accomplished with ease in the platform.
To give you more flexibility, Salesforce Sales Cloud integrates with external business solutions, such as: Desk.com, TeamSupport, LeadExec, FinancialForce ERP, Ambassador, Zuora, Zendesk, and other major CRM, sales and accounting solutions.
Ultimately, Salesforce CRM is built to grow accounts, close deals and find customers more quickly.
Free and simple, HubSpot CRM is built as a platform that allows sales teams to get started quickly without making much of a change to their existing workflow. It is a solution ideal for companies that are still starting to recognize the value of CRM and want to try it out, or for enterprises that are not using their existing CRM systems to their fullest potential.
HubSpot will help you easily create contact and company profiles, as it can neatly organize every single detail from your customers’ communication with you. It effectively assigns and tracks your deals, controls the performance of your agents, and offers a single, detailed dashboard where all team members can keep track of the company’s activities. If you are already a HubSpot Sales user, you can also use HubSpot CRM for more effective inbound sales.
Zoho CRM is an award-winning web-based CRM solution designed to attract, retain and satisfy customers to grow your business.
The core of Zoho CRM’s functionality is lead and contact management, but also sales pipeline management and purchase control. The solution is geared towards businesses of all sizes.
As expected, the software can automate daily business activities, track sales and engage customers in different platforms. Likewise, its mobile platform lets you take CRM on location so can get updates fast and in real-time, and close more deals even when on the go.
You can also extend the CRM’s functionality by integrating it with popular applications, including the main Zoho productivity products, but also: Microsoft Outlook, MailChimp, QuickBooks, ConstantConnect and Google Apps, as well as cloud-based connectors like OneSaas and CloudWork.
So, it’s clear to see that virtually no business today can survive without the aid of a CRM solution. Putting the customer at the heart of your business strategy is the key to success and a CRM solution allows you to do just that.
It allows you the time and freedom to concentrate on other activities and areas of your business, safe in the knowledge that an automated system is keeping your sales, marketing, customer service and management team (to name but a few) up-to-date and fully aware of your clients and prospects needs.