Once upon a time, businesses could get away with keeping track of contacts by using a spreadsheet. All you needed was a place to store names and contact information. But such methods have gone the way of payphones and taxis — somewhat useful, yet so limited, sticking with it would be impractical.
So what’s a business to do? Thankfully, technology has once again saved the day. Customer relationship management (CRM) software can work wonders for employees and your contacts. So much so that once you get the right platform for your company, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.
In addition to a place where you can store contacts and customers’ basic information, a CRM does a lot more. It gathers data about each of them — such as how often they visit your website, the pages where they spend the most time, previous interactions with your company, purchases, downloads, support tickets, etc….
This enables you to have a complete profile for each of them. As a result you’re better able to serve them by providing them with targeted lead nurturing emails, smart content, and other marketing materials. And this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re pushing to make a purchase. You can craft content based on where they are on their buyer’s journey.
By providing relevant and helpful content, you are slowly but surely establishing yourself as an industry expert. You’re also solving some of their minor pain points by providing them with useful information.
As if that weren’t enough, since all contact data is kept in one centralized location, everyone in your marketing, sales, and support teams are able to get a complete picture. This has a significant impact on the customer experience, as they no longer have to be placed on hold or shuffled from one department to another.
There are two types of CRM platforms: on-premises and cloud-based. Which one would work best for you depends on your current needs and long-term business goals.
On Premises CRM
Just as with servers, on-premises CRMs require physical space within your office to house hardware and software. When you choose this option, you have to take into account considerations such as your scaling goals, in-house IT professionals, emergency procedures, and disaster recovery. You fully own it, and are in charge of maintenance.
You’ll also want to make sure that an on-site CRM is compatible with your existing hardware. One of its main benefits is that the on-premise versions are fully customizable to your business needs.
Cloud Based CRM
A cloud CRM is web-based, meaning you and your entire team have access to it regardless of where they’re located. It’s also accessible from any of the technologies you may use to get your work done — desktop, laptops, tablets, and mobile phones.
The software is stored in the vendors’ servers, and as such, they take care of installing updates and providing customer support. And while it’s not fully customizable as on-premise CRMs, they do come with many different features and tiers that often meet a wide array of business needs.
On the macro, CRM systems are beneficial to pretty much anyone who runs a business. Regardless of whether you’re a solopreneur or run a Fortune 500 company, if you have a list of contacts, you want to keep them organized. You also stand to benefit from offering more tailored experiences.
On the micro, the team members who would benefit the most from having access to CRM data are those in your marketing, sales, and customer service teams:
Marketing CRM Use Cases
CRM software provides your marketing department with enough information to craft personalized marketing emails. Each of these communications can also be automatically triggered based on specific user behavior, such as subscribing to your blog, downloading a lead magnet, or spending a certain amount of time on one of your web pages.
Sales CRM Use Cases
A CRM can identify cross sell and upsell opportunities that may have otherwise been missed from your team. This is because instead of taking each data point in a silos, it takes all of them within context. So when your sales team brings them up to customers, they’ll have all the information they need to make a convincing case as to why the purchase makes sense.
Customer Service CRM Use Cases
CRM platforms keep track of customer support service information, such as support tickets, how long it’s taken to resolve them, and all communications regarding the issue. This gives your service team all the tools they need to provide a seamless experience — no need to ask the customer to repeat their story, or reach out to other team members to piece together everything that has happened.
Ok. So now you have a baseline overview of the benefits of CRM software. However, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Additional advantages include:
Better Contacts Management
A CRM provides categories in which to save your contacts. Generally, these include standard objects, such as contacts, companies, deals, and tickets. However, often, prospects, customers, and everyone else on your Rolodex don’t fit neatly into those categories. Therefore, some CRM platforms also enable you to create custom objects so that you can organize more complex data.
Since a CRM keeps all contacts data in one centralized location, it’s easier for your teams to access it easily. Some platforms — such as HubSpot CRM — lets you tag team members so that they can be notified of anything pertaining to their job roles. They can also leave feedback between departments so that they can be better aligned.
All data is readily available, available, and complete. There’s no need to go back and forth between employees or browsing through old emails to figure out how to best provide service to a customer or approach a prospect. Everyone saves time and avoids getting frustrated.
Since a CRM gathers data from prospects as well as everyone else in your contacts database, it provides you with a good overview of sales qualified leads. You can then use this information for your marketing team to fine tune content to them, and for your sales team to follow up with them.
Happy customers are returning customers. Since a CRM provides you with all the tools you need to provide contextual content, anticipate a customer’s need, based recommendations on their needs and preferences, and identify opportunities to continuously delight them, you’re setting the stage for them to stay with you long-term.
You can set up customized dashboards on your CRM to track the KPIs that matter to you on your quest to meet quarterly goals: open rates, clickthrough rates, website traffic, conversion rates, customer retention, etc… This allows you to see if you’re on track or if it’s time to pivot and take a different approach.
While every business is different and you may have unique needs and requirements, there are several CRM features that are beneficial to all businesses across the board. These include:
1. Contacts Segmentation
Segmenting contacts based on their categories means you are better able to cater to them — and thus improve their experience with your company. Some examples of categories to achieve this include the name of their company, their industry, demographics, interests, and whether they have previously made a purchase from you.
2. Third Party Integrations
You want your CRM to integrate well with your existing tech stack — Gmail, Salesforce, Slack, MailChimp, Google Calendar, and whatever else you’re using. This way, the CRM is able to gather the data it needs for you to optimize your services.
3. Email Integration
An email, by itself, gives you a glimpse of a conversation. A contact’s entire email history with your company puts everything into context. And if several departments communicate with clients, it’s good to have a shared inbox where everyone can see what’s going on. Look for a CRM with such capabilities.
4. Live Chat
Different people have different preferences when it comes to communicating with entities they’re doing business with. While emails and phone calls can be enough for some of them, live chat provides the opportunity to get answers in real time for quick questions.
5. Workflow Automation
Every job has mundane tasks and more complex ones. A CRM takes the former off your plate so that your team can work more effectively. For example, data entry, deploying certain emails, such as a Welcome or a Thank You page; or sending abandoned cart reminders or customer reengagement communications.
6. Sales Analytics
The only way to know whether a campaign or strategy is working is to track metrics. If you notice something isn’t working as expected, CRM dashboards reflect it so that you can switch gears. For example, low website traffic may mean your site needs to be optimized either for content or user experience (UX). A low open rate means you either need to scrub your email list or come up with more effective subject lines.
7. Sales Forecasting
Since all of a contact’s data is gathered in the same location, it becomes significantly easier to identify their likely next moves. This enables your marketing department to come up with targeted lead generation strategies.
Alright. So you know you need a CRM. Before you make an investment in one, make a list of questions to run by vendors. Some of the most important ones are:
Is the software scalable?
Even if you think you’re set for now, you want to have the peace of mind that when the time comes to add users and/or features, you’d be able to easily do so. Most vendors offer tiered services, so this should be a simple enough solution.
What are your customer support options?
Even platforms that are user-friendly come with a learning curve. Plus, you don’t know what you don’t know, so it’s good to have a good amount of hand holding until you get a hang of it. Ask whether there’s an onboarding process, what it entails, how long it is, and what options your team has to communicate with the vendor should additional questions arise.
Do you support data migration?
If you’re currently keeping your database elsewhere, you’ll want an effective method of transferring all information to your CRM. Ask about the length of the process, common challenges, how they resolve them, and back up practices to ensure your data doesn't risk getting lost.
What are your data security practices?
Not only do you want to ensure your contacts’ information is secure, you also want to verify whether the vendor complies with privacy regulations wherever you conduct business, such as the CAN-SPAM Act, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).
What are the third-party integrations?
You can look up this information on each vendor’s website. However, when in doubt, ask their representatives whether their CRM will work well with all of the applications you’re currently using. If they don’t, don’t try to fit a square peg into a round hole. It’ll only make things more difficult for your team.
How long will the onboarding process take?
Depending on your specific business needs, this may take several weeks. Ask about the timeline for your company, and which features you’ll be able to start using even while you’re still going through the onboarding process.
Will I always work with the same account manager/onboarding specialist?
Sometimes, this issue is out of their control — such as when someone is out due to sickness, vacation, or parental leave. However, you want to ensure consistency and continuity as much as possible. One or two points of contact throughout the entire onboarding period will make the process go as efficiently and seamless as possible.
What if I need to upgrade/downgrade?
In addition to tiered pricing, you’ll want to know whether you can add one or two features, or extra capacity for users and/or contacts. Inquire as to whether this is possible without upgrading a full tier. By the same token, you may later realize you need less space than you additionally anticipated.
Having a CRM is a game changer for all types of businesses — especially for B2B companies, where the sales cycle is longer and more complex. But choosing the right CRM is what will ensure that you are managing customer relationships as effectively as possible.