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Typically when organizations believe they want to implement a CRM system, the needs they are trying to address are to have a central database for contacts and leads and to be able to track opportunities. Other basic requirements include pipeline and activity reporting. CRM systems can have much more broad-ranging impact than simply creating a database to track and manage this information. When thinking about a new CRM system, a new definition of CRM might help to create a perspective for selecting a platform that will truly address the needs of an organization.
Is CRM "Customer Relationship Management"? Or is it this?
A business strategy that aims to understand, anticipate and manage the needs of a company’s current and potential customers.
The creation, development and enhancement of individualized customer relationships resulting in maximizing their total life-time value.
Systems that provide insight into and improve the company/customer relationship by combining all views of customer interaction into one picture.
When you bring a business strategy to improve individualized customer relationships into your evaluation of CRM systems, the features to consider expand well beyond having a central database and tracking opportunities. Here are some of the questions to ask and features to consider when evaluating CRM systems.
What features do you need in your CRM system that will enhance communication with prospects and clients?
When you are addressing this question, there are some very basic features and some more advanced features to consider when you are selecting a CRM system. At the very basic level, email and calendar integration with your CRM system are key. Most everyone spends the majority of their time communicating with prospects and clients within their Outlook or Gmail inbox. And unless your CRM system has this integration, communications are isolated in each individual's inbox and never become part of the historical record of the interactions with clients. Another important fundamental communication channel is interactions your prospects and clients have on your web site. Lead capture directly into your CRM system will streamline and speed up the sales process and customer service.
At a more sophisticated level, marketing automation that is integrated into your CRM system and possibly your web site can significantly improve communication with your prospects. And to improve customer communications, integration into your customer service or production systems can trigger emails and actions from your staff. Marketing automation can keep your product or service top of mind with potential customers and help to move them further along the sales cycle in a consistent and effective manner.
Social media integration gives your team another perspective on prospects and clients and also provides another way to communicate with them. When your company's message is also visibile on the social networks of your prospects, their perception of your offerings can be top-of-mind when a decision needs to be made.
What information do you want to get from your CRM system that will help you make strategic decisions about your sales and marketing efforts?
Most CRM systems will provide standard reports on your pipeline, accounts and contacts. Usually you can export this information so if you need to load email addresses into your email provider's database or to create mailings, the data is easily accessible. This data is even more valuable when you can segment the database with characteristics that identify contacts based upon their real preferences. Your messaging and the way you communicate with the contacts in your database can make the difference between having your email marked as spam and having it opened and getting click-throughs on it. And then advanced activity and pipeline conversion reports that provide breakdowns based upon segmentation and your marketing campaigns can help deterime new strategies for accelerating sales. These are advanced reporting options that aren't available in all CRM systems.
The ability to look at this data historically can also be extremely valuable. When you can discover trends and you are able to evaluate performace based upon the sales and marketing activities that have occurred, you can manage your sales and marketing efforts much more effectively. This information will also allow you to forecast and set new goals for your sales team so that you can challenge them to new levels.
How will your CRM system become an integral part of your entire organization?
Your CRM system should become the foundation for all of the interactions you have with your prospects and clients if it is going to provide a 360 view of your customers and your business. And in order to have that view in one central place, all of the interactions need to be visible from one place. Your CRM system should show you all of your customer orders and invoices, customer service requests and inquiries for assistance. The only way that this is possible is for everyone who creates a transaction or has an interaction with a customer is using the CRM system.
This doesn't necessarily mean that all of these individuals need to enter their activities into the CRM system. It means that whatever system they are using on a daily basis to do their job is integrated in a meaningful way. If orders are being entered into a production system, those orders should show up in the CRM. Invoices created in your accounting system and the payments that are posted could be visible in the CRM system as well. When there are seamless integrations between all of your production system and your CRM system, the visibility that is created in a central database and the institutional knowledge that is captured can be invaluable.
When evaluating the need to implement a new CRM system and trying to determine which CRM system would be best, develop a long term strategy that takes some of these ideas into consideration so that you are able to select a platform that becomes an integral part of how you are able to market, sell, service and retain customers. This holistic approach will pay dividends as you are able to adopt standard practices and develop a robust database that is leveraged for both managing daily activities and for long-term decision making.