At its core Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is a business strategy and under that strategy is a number of CRM software applications, including marketing and customer service. Companies use these applications to make their customer management more efficient, more customer centric to satisfy their customers' service requirements. What form the business strategy takes can be different depending on the type of organization and the objectives to be achieved. Typically, CRM is used extensively by sales, marketing and customer service teams.
Historically, CRM started as a contact management application, a repository to hold customer details and some activities such as telephone calls, meeting times and a rudimentary record of notes. Linking people within companies was also an important step in the evolution of CRM. Sales force automation though realized the value of putting actual sales information into the database to establish sales management activities such as sales pipelines and forecasting opportunities.
Today, CRM has migrated itself to being a relationship management tool. It is very different to what was the traditional use of CRM with access to customer details through a customer database. In fact, Microsoft now refers to CRM as xRM – "anything relationship management" with corporate processes automated through workflow management. Microsoft CRM software, like most CRM now has become more specialized, more vertical by addressing real niche areas.
There are many examples of CRM extending its value in niche areas:
- CRM is used by event management companies to manage event registrations, manage bookings and to market regularly with people who sign up for regular contact.
- It is used by superannuation (pension) fund companies for their membership. These companies manage the communication with fund members, send out marketing information, manage email communications, manage direct marketing campaigns, manage regulatory and compliance information against each of the super fund members such as tax compliance. Importantly, each communication to each member is recorded so that the superannuation company has a record of its obligations to its members and regulatory obligations.
- Relationships on a mine site can be managed. There might be a need to manage the process around the environmental management of that mine site. Certain processes may need to be followed, monitored and recorded to ensure compliancy around occupational health and safety issues for staff and suppliers.
To maximize your investment in your CRM system, your business must be clear in its objectives as to why such a system will be deployed. Is it just for sales automation? Will it be used by marketing to communicate with clients or as a lead generation tool? What requirements does customer service have with each client?
Mapping your business processes is a key goal, understanding the primary interactions that each division of your company has with clients. Having this knowledge will enable workflow to be developed and processes to be automated as much as possible. By doing this you will understand how to integrate each of sales, marketing and customer service to get real value from CRM.
Whether you choose a web based or an in-house CRM software solution will depend on your requirements. If you are a small company with limited budget, starting out with a web based, pay per user solution will give you a great start in managing your relationships. Larger companies can justify the cost of specific configurations and customization that can be gained from an in-house solution.
Regardless of the solution you choose you will need to understand your business strategy and how better managing your relationships will give you a return on investment. The real benefit out of any CRM software solution is meeting the goals and objectives defined before you start.