What Is a CRM and how Can it Benefit Your Business?

by Denise Hazime on July 27, 2013

UpCurve Cloud serves over 3,000 businesses and through daily conversations, we’ve found that even though CRM usage is growing, in 2013 it’s still not uncommon to be operating a business without a CRM. Software is never a silver bullet (as much as we might fantasize that our issues can be solved at the click of a button), but certain software has proven to be exceptionally important. Customer Relationship Management, or CRM for short, is one of those cases.

If you’re new to the CRM concept or if you’re familiar but want to learn more, this post will serve as an orientation and will explore the relevant factors and potential benefits of adopting a CRM system.

What Is CRM?

What is CRM

The first thing to note about CRM is that its definition and scope of features is ever evolving. The term first emerged in the 1990s, but this category of software began in the late 1980s with ACT! and Goldmine as early pioneers. CRM, like other business software, has transitioned from solely on-premise to now largely cloud-based with popular solutions like SalesForce and Zoho.

The concept started with contact management---a digital Rolodex---where you store contact info about your prospects and customers. Over time, CRM has broadened to incorporate most “front office” functions, including sales, marketing & customer service. Improved integration between systems has also made CRM the default “hub” between your systems. This trend is helping provide powerful new functions & metrics and also save a lot of time in the process--more on this later.

Typical Functions

  • Emailing: CRM’s typically allow you to connect your email account and email straight from the CRM. This can be convenient for those living out of the CRM - sales, billing, customer service. Email templates & mass emailing to multiple contacts at once (though not an email marketing solution with analytics) are also common features as well as using merge fields (a code placed on email templates to automatically insert info like first names).
  • Appointments/Calendar: Keep track of events and link them to the contacts or accounts you’re working with. Recurring events and alerts are available as well.
  • Task Management: Create tasks associated with various records for to-do items. You can create tasks and review their progress for others as well. Various notification arrangements can also be configured.
  • Customer Support/Ticketing: More and more CRMs are now offering customer support functionality. This includes ticket tracking, statuses, alerts, and solution documentation. This can vary widely from solution to solution. (For more robust functionality, many businesses choose to use 3rd party help desk tools like Zen Desk or Zoho Support.)
  • Invoicing: Gives the ability to create items and compile them for invoices attached to customer accounts. Some systems offer online payment gateways.
  • Analytics Tools: Many systems come with standard reports and dashboards out of the box to measure and understand things like sales performance. Dashboards are visual representations of the reports to give you a more intuitive snapshot.

Basic Uses & Benefits

Basic Uses and Benefits

Marketing

In the early stages of the customer lifecycle, lead generation efforts produce leads. Leads can come from a variety of sources and need to be stored, qualified and nudged along in the buying process. Much of this information and activity takes place in CRM.

There are 3 main categories of information that marketing cares about:

1) Contact Details
Name, phone, email, etc. This is the bare minimum of info that needs to be acquired. If you have this, marketing can nurture the lead and/or sales can follow up, depending on your process.
2) Lead Profile
This is information such as: age, gender, role, years of experience, company size, industry, etc. This is super valuable info because it allows marketers to tailor their promotional activities to specific groups, segmented by key dimensions---say by industry or level of interest. This makes communications more relevant to the needs and interests of the buyer, which substantially increases the effectiveness of your efforts.
3) Lead Source
Documenting where your leads come and where they go gives you needed intelligence on your marketing efforts. You can measure raw numbers on what tactics/channels produce the most leads. CRM allows you to go beyond this by tracking what happens after they come into your system. Answering questions like: what lead sources have the highest close rates or produce the most valuable customers? You then have the ability to change what you do to optimize for what’s working.

The lead source can also tell you about the lead’s level of interest. For instance a lead sourced through a downloaded informational guide might be more in the “awareness” phase and a lead generated via a commercial intent keyword (say asking for a trial) might indicate they are further along the buying process. Knowing this information allows you to tailor the way you treat leads to the stage they’re in. It’s no use wasting your salespeople’s time with leads with leads that are far from being ready to buy.

Marketers also want to access CRM analytics tools to track revenue generation and calculate ROI, among other useful metrics. Tying sales events to marketing channels is super important in evaluating what's working.

Sales

Once marketers produce leads, sales people can start qualifying them to see which ones are worth pursuing. CRM’s offer the ability to filter records into different lists to help them sort these new leads from follow ups. Through this process they can track what they do---log calls, make notes, change statuses, schedule follow up appointments---for both their own workflow and management oversight.

Once a lead has been qualified they can convert the record into a sales opportunity. Some companies have different roles for each of these steps. They might have “Appointment Setters” who deal with lead response and qualification, and then “Closers” who manage qualified opportunities all the way to a closed customer. Sales opportunity records help sales reps keep track of all the parties involved, what stage they are in the sales process (i.e. “negotiations” or “proposal sent”), how big the deal is, the probability of closing, and what the next the next step is.

Sales reps and managers can then use CRM’s analytics tools to gain insights to improve performance. A sales rep can run a report to see if the number of follow ups or the type of follow ups correlate to better close rates. Managers can forecast future sales, see who’s performing best, track activities, and tune the sales process based on what’s working.

Customer Service

Customer service greatly benefits from a CRM for 2 primary reasons:

1) Keeps You Better Informed

CRMs help you collect and organize information about your customers and this keeps your customer service people better informed. This can allow you to anticipate issues and personalize service. For example, if a customers recurring order contract is about to expire, you can proactively alert them to this fact so that there is no interruption of service. CRMs often even allow you to set rules that will automatically send a personalized email template of your choosing when an event such as a contract expiration occurs.

2) Feedback on Your Products and Services

As you can see, this notion of smarter decisions based on data is a common theme with CRM. Because you’re tracking how your customers are reacting to your products and services, you can tease out trends and optimize your offering. If for instance you make blenders and you keep hearing from your customers that a plastic piece on the bottom of the carafe keeps cracking, you can think about changing this piece to a metal. The same goes for snags in your service offering. If you find that customer education is an issue for customer retention, you might want to include mandatory training as part of your service package.

Connecting the Dots

Connecting the Dots

Generally speaking, it can be hard to efficiently get a picture (or get a picture at all) of what has happened and what is happening within your business. How many times has a prospect visited your website? What products are they most interested in? Has one of your customers attended a recent webinar? What lead channels produce the most sales of a particular item? To go beyond the anecdotal requires data and since data is often stored in separate systems, the process of producing meaningful answers requires your systems to talk to each other. Beyond important metrics, integration allows you to do things that would otherwise be too time consuming to be justified. Getting a well integrated system can happen in one of 2 ways: either purchasing a CRM that already has a lot of out-of-the-box integrations or doing some custom development with an integration partner. Here is a list of the primary integration areas to look out for: (Note: Some of these systems come baked into various CRMs, but some businesses require more feature rich 3rd party applications and these need to be integrated)

  • Email Marketing: You don’t want to have deal with manual imports, exports, duplicates, etc by having your CRM and Email data siloed. Having these systems talk also allows you to track what actions your campaign triggered (i.e. A prospect clicked on an email link and signed up for a free trial).
  • Web Forms: You don’t want to just get an email with the details of a new lead, it’s much more efficient to have the lead submission go directly into your CRM. This also allows for a quick automatic email to alert your sales rep and a confirmation message to the prospect.
  • Telephony: Logging a call manually in your CRM is time consuming and compliance among sales teams tends to be low. If you have an integrated system, you can have inbound and outbound calls automatically logged. This helps with efficiency as well as helping you monitor your sales and activity and collaborate more effectively. Another productivity boost can come from “Click to Call” functionality. With this set up your phone numbers in CRM are links that initiate a call between your hard phone or softphone and your contact, automatically.

  • Email & Calendar: This allows you to sync your contacts, emails, and calendar entries with your CRM (A good example is Zoho CRM & Google Apps). This can also trickle down to your mobile device. This is important for the workflow of many end users.
  • Invoicing: Connecting data from these 2 systems is key for ROI calculations on promotions, measuring channel effectiveness, and tracking buying patterns. You also don’t want to have to manually create or delete contacts in your invoicing solution every time there is a change in your CRM---headaches to say the least.
  • Customer Support: Getting analytics on where your product goes right or goes wrong allows you to optimize what you do. As we saw with the example of the blender listed above, identifying trends allows you to make a change that better satisfies your customers. Beyond product and service design, having better information about your customers allows you to personalize your interactions and anticipate issues.

The Cloud & Mobile

The Cloud & Mobile

Modern CRMs have been greatly influenced by the recent trends in mobile and cloud software. SalesForce really pioneered these efforts starting in the mid-2000s.

The main benefit you get is increased connectivity. You can access all your business data outside the office and even in the field with customers. Some providers have also been playing with the unique capabilities of mobile devices, offering GPS based features like the ability to look up contacts based upon your current location.

Mobile access can be a big benefit for companies that do a lot of outside sales. Tablets have become popular in this space because it lets you give sales presentations and document your sales activity and even place calls all from the same device.

Implementing a CRM

Key to successfully adopting a CRM is finding a good implementation partner. This is doubly true if you’re moving from one system to another. Just releasing the CRM in the wild can do more harm than good.

Here are the critical things you need to have covered:

  • Customization. You need to make sure the fields are customized to your sales & marketing process. You also need any email templates, reports/dashboards, security settings, and automated rules set up and ready to go.
  • Data Import. Your data needs to be imported and accurate. This can be a nightmare of mismatched names, emails, invoices and the like if done improperly.
  • Integration. Your other systems mentioned above need to be connected to CRM either through configuring pre-built integrations or through custom development.
  • Training. Can’t stress this one enough. Success in using a CRM really hinges on this. You can have a neatly organized system of inaccurate and partially entered data if people don’t understand how and what they are supposed to do in the new system.
  • Support. You can do a lot of fancy things with a CRM and if you don’t have the internal expertise, you’ll need to have someone to go to when you need help or want to implement a new feature.

This is the basics of CRM. It’s our opinion that CRM’s should now be encouraged with even the smallest of businesses. Collaborating on a spreadsheet can work but it really curtails what you can do. Since the costs have come down so much in recent years, there aren’t too many downsides. This is relevant for larger businesses as well. There are still many ITs at larger companies (500 + employees) battling with a patchwork of documents and offline notes. Keep some of these considerations in mind when you’re contemplating your front office strategy and considering if a CRM is right for your business.

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Denise Hazime
VP of Alliances at UpCurve Cloud
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