CRM (Customer Relationship Management) is a software solution (often available as a Software Service), which enables a company to interact with its existing and potential customers. In fact, what a CRM system does, is to manage personal data, sales and flow of customer-related processes, starting long before the sale and continuing after it. Moreover, every company’s goal is not just to find new customers but also to maintain the existing ones, by exploiting new selling opportunities the moment they present themselves.
The CRM term, as described above, might refer to the product, but it is in fact an "umbrella" term that embraces strategy, practices and technology, with the ultimate goal of improving the customer-centric philosophy of the business by focusing on the human factor, whether this is a customer, a user of services, a partner or a vendor.
The ultimate goal is to build strong customer relationships in order to increase business profitability.
A false impression that prevails is that CRM concerns only the sales department of a company. However, the benefits are greater and apply to the business in total. CRM is not just a sales and marketing tool. Instead, it should be fully integrated into the company's daily workflow, from HR and customer support to supply chain management.
This is where a modern CRM solution aims, providing modules and functions that are interconnected with the existing installed applications in a business.
CRM: Historical review
Customer data management functions started in databases and tools for collecting and analyzing marketing information, long before they were developed into standalone products.
1986 - The first CRM
The first CRM made its appearance in the market in 1986 under the name ACT! The product had nothing to do with today's CRM systems, but has paved the way for the so-called "contact management" and "sales automation".
As companies began to monitor the data gathered, they realized that the information needed about their customers, was their spending and buying habits on a regular basis.
For the first time, this information could be combined and useful conclusions could be drawn. The concept of customer service began to get real meaning and companies now had the information needed to send personalized offers and promotional campaigns.
'90s - The birth of a new term
In the '90s, companies began to improve customer relationship management, making it more interactive. Instead of simply collecting data for their own use, they started using them to return to their customers a specific value. This was aimed at improving service and slowly evolved by providing incentives, gifts and other privileges (also known as loyalty schemes).
At that time, CRM was used as a way to passively increase sales. Then, some visionaries developed the contact management software (that was basically the CRM), integrating the sales process into the system (also commonly known as Sales Force Automation - SFA ). What SFA did was to take advantage of many of the database marketing components, automate them and combine them with contact management. This functionality has provided business with even more useful and useful customer information, while automating a range of tasks across departments within a business, such as inventing or tracking the company's interaction with its customers.
By 1995, SFA and Contact Management had evolved to a great extent and were reminiscent to some extent of modern CRM. A new category of software was born. The only thing missing was a name. The term CRM is officially attributed to Gartner, while some mention Thomas Siebel as the father of this term. However, CRM has changed once and for all the way a business treats its customers.
2000 - The "explosion" of CRM
Real customer relationship management began in the beginning of 2000. As software companies began to develop new and more advanced solutions were tailored to all industries, dynamic data usage became possible. Instead of feeding information into a static database for future reference, CRM has become a means of understanding customer needs and behaviors. Integrating information and customized program operations have enabled companies to analyze data in smaller subsets, so they can evaluate not only specific statistics but also information about customer motivations and reactions.
The Internet has provided a great advantage to the development of these databases, allowing the storage of information outside a particular geographical area and the substantial take-off of CRM.
2010 - CRM follows technological trends
From the end of 2010 up today, cloud and SaaS solutions continue to develop and incorporate new features such as social CRM and mobile device support. The increased flexibility of these applications has made the relationship between sales, customer service and marketing less rigid. CRM has allowed the development of new strategies and greatly improved the collaboration of the different departments within the company. The result was increased customer satisfaction from ordering to receipt and use of the final product.
The industries that used this new technology from the beginning were the financial services, insurance companies, high-tech service companies and telecoms.More specifically, the financial sector is closely following the level of customer satisfaction, changes in investment patterns and spending patterns as the economy shifts.
What CRM includes
CRM integrates in one application everything an enterprise needs in order to implement efficient marketing strategies and increase sales and customer satisfaction. A modern CRM system integrates - under a platform - all the channels through which the business communicates with its customers. These include not only traditional means such as telephone, e-mail, contact forms (printed and electronic), but also the most modern ones such as social networks etc. In addition, it offers various automations such as campaign alerts, sales opportunities, communication with customers etc. At the same time, it records all information about the company's communication with customers, giving executives the ability to monitor performance and productivity.
CRM featuresSome of the key features of a modern CRM solution are the following:
Synchronization with all the known applications and office applications cloud services (Microsoft Office, Gmail, Microsoft Office 365) to import contacts, activities and email messages
Managing daily tasks such as phone calls, meetings and emails
Comprehensive management of contacts and accounts
Leads management and converting them into sales opportunities
Full management of sales opportunities
Possibility management for closing a deal
Detailed monitoring of vendors activities
Creating lists of existing and prospective customers
Automatically carrying out of promotional energies
Supporting multiple types of promotional energies
Productivity analysis of sales opportunities and promotional energies
Questionnaire design and answer management
Monitoring customer communication in detail regardless of the channel (phone, fax, email, SMS etc.)
Monitoring quote history and create new bid based on earlier corresponding ones
Flexible monitoring and use of all data for sales opportunity management (sales stages, competition, recommendations, partners, participants, estimated time and revenue, success rate etc.)
Sophisticated CRM Features
Automation of sales promotion: Atomization of repeated tasks for marketing support. For instance, as specific sales perspectives come in, the system can automatically send promotional material, usually via email or via social media platforms in order to make a sales lead into a client.
Automation of Sales: or known as, “Sales Force Automation” or “Sales Force Management”. This function automates various tasks such as warehouse control, sales processing, client interaction monitoring as well as sales forecasts and performance analysis.
Automation of contact center It has been designed to reduce the contact center employee workload. The automation may include pre-recorded answers that solve customer problems, while the various tools at the disposal of the employee can be used to automatically handle client requests, reduce call duration and simplify customer service procedures.
Geolocation: Some CRM systems include location-based services to create promotional energies based on clients’ geographical location. A number of times these campaigns can be coupled with popular navigation apps and GPS. The same technology can be used in finding sales opportunities based on location.
Key benefits of the CRM software
The CRM software uses advanced data analytics tools and creates reports to carry out strategic decision-making. Detecting patterns and inclinations of the customers and the market provides greater control in the interaction between the customers and the company, and thus the latter proceeds in a more efficient way.
By making good use of the CRM technology, a company can:
respond to its customers needs
deploy information to make quick and appropriate decisions
process any operation in a more flexible way
optimize sales efficiently.
Automation and monitoring of everyday tasksIn today’s competitive business environment, keeping deadlines proves to be crucial. Integrating information and automation of tasks e.g. organizing meeting or communicating with clients, improves efficiency and how customers value the company. Many platforms keep important data up-to-date using a simple calendar to get tasks reminders or deadlines. The CRM software will alert its user about a scheduled meeting with an important client (through a predefined option, an email or a phone call etc). It can also alert its user on an upcoming important life event of a customer (e.g. a birthday) so they could send wishes or a special offer (sales coupon etc). Today’s technological tools offer the possibility to send automated text messages to numerous platforms such as Facebook or Instagram, SMS, emails etc. Simple tools that help enhance interaction with a client.
Sales ManagementEvery business networking group should keep data on the sales progress and be aware at any time how the sales team manages leads effectively and converts them into actual clients. The CRM software provides the sales team manager with thorough data and reports on each member of the team, such as the average time he interacts with a potential client, how much time he needs to complete his tasks and his conversion rate. Having these elements at his disposal, the sales manager can reward the best sales representatives and help those in need.
Clients’ DataA well designed and implemented CRM keeps clients data streamlined and well-organized, regardless of the amount of clients. The user can search, within his clients’ database, any information he needs at any moment and in no time, without having to proceed into a time-consuming research through folders, files or documents. New databases can integrate metadata and thus researching based on a different framework than a flat file structure. Researching and analyzing results is crucial, since it determines useful patterns regarding clients’ behavioral web habits. This is a new market on its own, leading to business intelligence solution and data analytics that can communicate through any CRM system and provide feedback through reports, assessments, scenarios etc.
More Sales OpportunitiesThe accumulation of clients’ data rising constantly, new sales opportunities come up. Following-up the behavioral pattern of a client can determine what interests him the most. That kind of information can be useful when launching a product that fits the client’s needs, inform him via newsletter, posts on Facebook etc. and thus improving sales without the constant need of advertising to find new clients. The use of the existing clients’ database provided by CRM ensures more recurrent sales, which could increase the number of satisfied clients.
Social Media MarketingAnother benefit offered by a CRM platform is networking through popular social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Pinterest. Thus, a company can monitor every aspect of a social network campaign. It can specify which RSS leads to higher traffic, what do followers comment on a company or a product etc.
How to choose the right CRM
It is extremely important for every business to have a clear idea of what they want to achieve, before they kick off market research. The selected product must fully meet business needs. It should also be easily adaptable, as the business enters new markets or grows, whether geographically, introducing new products or new services etc. Every CRM starts with contact management in a common database. Later, sales monitoring possibilities follow as well as the integrated function of client servicing.
The first concern of every company should be how to pair the CRM system with its goals.
Flexibility and Cloud
Apart from short-term needs, it is also important to take long-term needs into account for future growth. This is why it is useful to have a modular CRM system. Ideally, we should have a cloud based platform, so that it can seamlessly host data and contacts and perform any upgrades in an automated way. Moreover, the cloud approach offers maximum safety and control, automatic backup and advanced data retrieval, naturally available from anywhere through any smart device.
Finally, the operation model is more flexible as the system is available by means of subscription (usually an annual one) depending on vacancies while it can be adapted to future needs by purchasing additional modules.
Briefly, the CRM offers:
Adaptability in needs
Ability to work from any place and from any device
Increased collaboration possibilities
Support of third market solutionsAn important concern to every business is to select a CRM system which will be compatible with all the software and services already in use. If for example, the company uses Excel, Outlook or even Gmail to communicate with its clients and client data is stored in these platforms, the CRM should be able to provide a seamless connection with these apps.
Mobile functionsIn the modern business world, mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets have become the norm for many businesses. Coupled with cloud, they offer the ability to easily respond to new opportunities and to come close to existing and prospective clients at any time via any mobile device.
Support/ stabilitySince the CRM includes many modules, databases etc, the question of system support is extremely important. A sales opportunity may come up at any time and must not be lost because the vendor cannot access the CRM system via his/her tablet. There is a number of available solutions in the market, both from Greek companies and from international manufacturers so the selection of the right CRM provider is of crucial importance. The more time a provider is in business and the more installations applied by him, the better it is. Every interested business should look for a solution, read reports and get feedback to select the choice that will meet both present and future needs and will contribute to the growth of his business
Mobile: The CRM of a new era
Traditionally, it has been the responsibility of sales and marketing departments as well of communication officers to import data into the CRM system. They are the ones who provide the leads and keep the system up to date with information throughout the lifecycle of customers. Communication managers collect data and update client history files by entering information such as phone calls and technical support.
The proliferation of mobile devices has led CRM manufacturers to upgrade their solutions to include the new possibilities that service the clients who use these technologies.