What Exactly Is CRM?
Many people associate Customer Relationship Management with software, but it is actually more comprehensive than that. CRM is a strategy designed to increase profits by retaining existing customers, attracting new ones, and bringing former customers back into the fold.
The goal is to create a holistic view of each customer so that customer-facing employees (like those in sales, marketing, and customer support) can make smart decisions about things like targeted marketing, cross-selling, and up-selling.
Benefits of CRM
A solid CRM program provides several advantages:
- Improved efficiency
- Better product quality
- Lower costs
- Higher profitability
As increasing numbers of companies use CRM, the role of CRM software developers has gained in importance. Companies and customers now seek intuitive, easy-to-use software for managing customer satisfaction. CRM software is expanding to cover broader functions like deal tracking and sales pipeline operation.
The CRM process is a client-centered way of doing business, and it is helped immensely by technological solutions that consolidate and distribute information about clients, sales, marketing, and trends in the marketplace. Each business must determine which types of client information are most relevant and what is the best way to use that information.
CRM and Technology
When evaluating available CRM technology, companies must choose solutions that mesh with the company's strategies and goals. Technology should deliver the right data to the appropriate employees and should be user-friendly. Choosing the best CRM application may take several weeks or months, but for the greatest chances of adopting a successful CRM solution, options should be carefully evaluated before committing to a CRM provider.
We recently spoke with Brent Leary, co-founder and partner with CRM Essentials, LLC, a management consulting/advisory firm focused on implementing strategies and technologies affecting profitability through customer relationship management. Here is what he had to say about the direction CRM is heading.
Q. How is widespread use of social media sites like Facebook affecting CRM?
A. Social tools and technologies have impacted pretty much every aspect of human behavior today, and that includes the way companies engage and interact with customers and prospects. And because so much of people's time is spent engaging trusted friends and colleagues on Facebook and other social sites, it is having a dramatic impact on how companies look to create ongoing, continuously-connected relationships today. With so many things vying for the attention of those we're trying to reach, it's become important to integrate these networks into opportunities to understand what's important to the people they're hoping to build extended customer relationships with.
Q. As for CRM software, are you seeing companies shifting to cloud-based solutions?
A. Absolutely. While it seems like this transition has happened overnight, this really begun with Salesforce.com, NetSuite and RightNow over a decade ago. But over the last few years, the pace has quickened dramatically, thanks in part to the injection of social into processes of finding, catching and keeping good customers.
Q. Tell us a bit about your efforts to reach out to minority-owned businesses with CRM solutions to improve profitability.
A. I think it's important, now more than ever, that everyone in business today understands how CRM is a must-have, and no longer a nice-to-have. And with social/mobile/cloud technologies being more accessible and affordable than ever, they offer small businesses with little resources a chance to really compete. In my opinion, minority businesses in general have been slower to adopt CRM technologies in the past, partly because of the expense involved in buying and implementing it, but also because much of the educational content about the benefits of CRM were not embedded in their traditional communication networks.
My goal was to make sure that I shared some of my experiences and information I've gained over the years working with companies like Microsoft, Salesforce.com, RIM and others with minority businesses so they can see what's available to them, and how it could help them compete, thrive and survive in today's business climate.
Q. How does good CRM augment existing advertising and marketing efforts?
A. One of the pillars of CRM is marketing automation. And marketing automation is probably the hottest area in CRM today. As social networks provide platforms for people to share images and videos (which lead to a huge number of collaborative interactions), they also provides companies with the opportunity to tap into the conversations taking place in order to meaningfully connect with customers and prospects. Social media monitoring tools like Radian6 became popular because they helped companies understand what was being said on social networks, who was saying it, who they were saying it to, and what they felt about it.
All this information coming directly from a small business' target audience needs to be understood in order to respond quickly and appropriately to optimize relationship-building opportunities. This is where automation tools like HubSpot, Marketo and others help automate processes like lead generation, lead scoring and lead nurturing.
Q. How can CRM be adapted to serve a population of consumers who are increasingly using mobile devices in their everyday lives?
A. Over the last couple of years, it's become pretty obvious that people love their mobile devices, and really can't operate without them. So if a company wants to have customers and prospects eating out of the palm of their hands, they must show up in the palm of their target audience's hand first -- meaning they better have a strategy that includes having a content-rich presence that looks great in smartphones and tablet devices. Most people take in information first through a mobile device, and that's not going to change anytime soon. So building a mobile engagement strategy should really be the starting point today.
Photo credit: SuperFantastic