Rolodex, a hand-flipped business card holder, was the Customer Relationship Management system of its time. Then, Blackberry put a CRM in the pocket of every salesperson and traveling rep. With even more people in the field and more working remotely, top-shelf CRM solutions are now at the center of every growing business.
With a CRM system, you no longer must remember phone numbers. That free space in your brain and on your devices’ memory, space that allows more important related information. There is room for innumerable contacts and extensive detail about their business, personality, and sales profile.
A quality CRM puts a package database in your hands on a phone, tablet, laptop, or any device with Internet access. The systems are core performance tools for staff inside and out of the business office. But, considering the diversity of business needs and goals, there remains a challenge in choosing a CRM provided by external consultants or one created in-house.
The nature of CRM
Forbes notes, “At its core, customer relationship management (CRM) is all of the activities, strategies, and technologies that companies use to manage their interactions with their current and potential customers.”
CRM systems have helped businesses improve their customer service and understand how improved customer relationships increases profits. This is especially true where all business functions have transparent access to the same core data.
Customer relationship management has become so much more than a digital phone directory. It optimizes technology to integrate anything that has to do with customer contacts. Good CRM software will bundle and unbundle customer purchasing habits, analyzing demographic profiles, and offer data for innovation and productivity.
As it helps you understand why, when, and how customers shop, spend, and purchase, the CRM engages, secures, and sustains customer interest and loyalty.
The shape of CRM
Several types of CRM systems serve the needs of specific businesses. The best of them pull these types together into one system, but knowing their specifics you help to grasp the whole:
- Strategic CRM gathers, sorts, and prioritizes customer data to understand where customers find value. It helps the business form a unique sales proposition for that customer. The strategy lies in letting the customer rule rather than lose market share.
- Operational CRM channels the customer-centric data to all the business’s process centers. It assumes everyone in the business affects customers. It then interacts with sales and marketing of course. But, it also shares its content and analysis with customer service, shipping, returns, engineering, accounting, and operations.
- Analytical CRM builds the database so it includes all transactions relevant to the business’ success. For example, a business may or may not use barcodes or billing hours. It may integrate the data with other operational and marketing strategies like sales campaigns, direct mail, social media, and more.
- Collaborative CRM coordinates collaborative transactions between partnering businesses, organization silos, and supply chain information. Participants can share product development, research, and B2B management.
The decision on CRM
The demands of contemporary business will not let one person hold everything they need for customer relationship management. Those demands have long passed the stage of notes, stick-ons, and desktop phone books. Still, few businesses are the same so you must consider several things before choosing how you will go forward:
- Type of business: A business may make, sell, and deliver products. Another business may do any one of those processes. And, yet other businesses market services. Each type of business should have strategic plans that shape its customer information needs.
- Information needs: The type and size of the business will affect its needs. Some have manufacturing, distribution, logistics, or service at the core. Bigger organizations will have more complex and higher volume systems than smaller ones. Bigger businesses tend to have larger and more diversified customer bases than smaller business. They each need systems with a different scope.
- Budget rules: No business should overbuy when shopping for a CRM system. They need what best serves their contextual situation. But, they should also know what scalability the offered system offers. They must understand the cost of expanding their CRM with company growth.
Where to go for CRM
As Entrepreneur says, “Entrepreneurs see CRM as a cure-all for their sales efforts, and they can’t buy it fast enough.” You can build or buy CRM systems. They sell as off-the-shelf software which might work for the smallest enterprise. But, as your organizational systems multiply in number and complexity, you must look at other options.
In-house: If you reach the stage where the business includes an internal IT department, they should initiate a base which they can and will expand later. Internal technicians will save money. However, doing this in-house presents some concerns.
- This is not a helpdesk issue. IT technicians may be engineers and hardware specialists. That does not make them CRM specialists in customer relationship software, the necessary coding, and channel migration. The business can not afford to have them learn on the job.
- This is a security issue. In-house development is security-vulnerable and slow to return on investment. And, it tends to be present problem-focused without future flexibility and scalability.
- This requires strategy. Building the CRM in-house puts engineers and technicians in charge. Their disciplines are rarely strategic or creative. They do great work mechanically but promise little in terms of integrated thinking.
External consultant: When resources are still the growing business’ problem, it may opt for the creation and implementation of CRM with an external partner.
- Third parties calm rough waters. An outside facilitator will shape and drive the internal team processes. They manage egos and special interests toward collaborative solutions.
- Outside consultants can drive insiders to understand and articulate their needs better. They will direct them to identify and implement metrics for the CRM success.
- Outsiders use best practices customizing and configuring the business’s specific CRM needs. They will train and support internal performers to use and develop their CRM experience.
What to do
Your business needs a CRM system to automate online marketing, find and qualify leads, make sales, and manage customer relations. You want a robust platform, behavior-based communications, helpful dashboards, dynamic visual reports, and bells and whistles that serve your business well. You want the Internet input to select a leading CRM provider to compare with Act-On software, Hubspot, and other prominent SaaS providers.