What is CRM - Customer Relationship Management?

10/13/2010 07:40 AM | Sky Stebnicki

The terms "Customer Relationship Management" and its associated, and slightly more popular acronym "CRM", are hot buzzwords in the marketplace as of late. Google trends reveal that new references to "CRM" have more than doubled in the last three years. So why all the buzz? What exactly does "Customer Relationship Management" mean in relation to people and technology? What exactly is CRM?

The truth is that CRM is not new by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, if you have customers and interact with them in some way, chances are good you are already using some sort of CRM solution. Even rudimentary tools such as a Rolodex, a file cabinet, or an excel spreadsheet - however unsophisticated - qualify as CRM tools. At its core, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software is just a tool set designed to help people organize information about, and interact with customers.

However, recent advances in technology, relentless innovation, and healthy competition between countless vendors has dramatically improved the effectiveness of newer software offerings. Below are some standard features that are usually found in most full-featured CRM solutions.

Sales Force Automation (SFA)

Sales Force Automation allows you to break the sales-process into stages and manage it through standardized processes and procedures. The core of SFA is the contact database. Opportunities, lead management, automated workflow, reports and various other tools are aids in the process.

Reporting and Analytics

The ability to extract data from your CRM in a usable format is of utmost value. These reports can be as basic and simple as a pie chart revealing the most productive sales teams, or complex business intelligence analytics. Be sure to look for a product that allows you to customize reports so you can adapt the way you analyze data as your needs evolve.

Customer Service

The customer service features of CRM allow you to create cases/tickets for service and support. Some organizations log every single phone call, others just track "trouble" tickets. The choice is yours, but the key is to find a system with the ability to organize support/service issues and reduce the risk of important matters slipping through the cracks.

Marketing

Unless money and success are of no concern to you, being able to track the effectiveness of and having the ability to execute new marketing campaigns, is of utmost value. Use marketing modules to send/manage surveys, send out promotional emails/newsletters, mailings, build and analyze campaigns, record customer objections and more.

Workflow

Often this functionality is lumped into the SFA description, but automated workflow can and should be used throughout all tools to streamline processes. Managing large amounts of data gets very complex (and messy) quickly. Automated workflow allows you to automate certain tasks based on rules and conditions. For example, if someone inquires about a product that is only available in a specific region, a workflow could be created to automatically route the lead to a qualified sales person in the target region. Or you could create a workflow that will check all new leads 7 days after they were created and email the manager if nobody has opened or responded to the lead. In well designed systems, the automation possibilities are almost limitless. Send happy birthday emails to your customers, establish complex follow-up plans, distribute surveys and so much more.

Those are the core features of any good CRM solution. Of course, the process different tools utilize to accomplish each task varies dramatically. It is a good idea to spend time deciding what your goals are, what you are willing to spend, and then try out as many solutions as you can before making any decisions.

Below are a few common CRM vendors to help get you get started in your search. They all offer a free trial period which should give you ample time to determine if the tool is a good fit for you.

1. Netric CRM
www.netricos.com/crm
The CRM our company has created is designed specifically for small-medium sized businesses that are looking for better ways to manage customers, but are not ready to invest the substantial amounts of money required to get started, that other offerings require. Netric also includes well-designed Groupware (shared calendars, email, personal contacts), project management, knowledge base, online file system/backups and much more.
2. Salesforce.com

www.salesforce.com
Very popular web-based CRM. It's popularity and feature-rich architecture make it particularly attractive for many customers. One major draw-back, like most systems, is it that is it pretty expensive if you get the version that includes the workflow feature, which is one of the most important components of a good CRM. At the time this article was written, you can expect to pay $125/per/user/per month.
3. Microsoft CRM
crm.dynamics.com
Built on the Microsoft Dynamics platform, Microsoft CRM is a very customizable solution. It is a bit more complex to implement than Salesforce, but its native integration into Microsoft Outlook makes up for the complexity in training because most are already familiar with using Outlook. Cost is still a major hurdle as prices are similar to but slightly more competitive than Salesforce for the hosted edition.
4. ACT!
www.act.com
Act is a very popular contact database. It is easy to use and a little easier on the pocket book than most products. Unless you go with the hosted version be aware of hidden costs required for setting up local servers/networks to make the package work in your organization.
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