If you’re in business, it’s because you have customers. And if you have customers, you need a way to look after them as well as you possibly can.
Enter customer relationship management (CRM) tools, a class of software that has become a must-have for many businesses. Even if your customer-tracking system is still based on index cards, don’t worry: thanks to a host of new online offerings, it’s easier than ever to give your employees access to advanced CRM capabilities that can handle contact management, marketing campaigns, customer service, and more.
Keeping track of all these elements has become too hard to manage using the spreadsheets and written diaries of the past, but today’s CRM systems are much more than just electronic Rolodexes.
Keep track of customer contacts
At the very least, they’re a way to track contacts with customers, including sales calls, support requests, repairs, phone calls, and other interactions, both online and off. But with cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS) CRM platforms like Salesforce.com offering the ability to add in all kinds of other functionality, like connections with business systems, communications services, invoicing, and data-analytics tools, today’s CRM systems are the go-to place to learn anything and everything about your customers.
SaaS tools have quickly come to dominate the $23 billion CRM market, with Gartner attributing 47 percent of revenue last year to cloud-based SaaS tools. Meanwhile, the overall market is growing at more than 13 percent per year.
That’s a strong rate of adoption, and it’s only going to continue as businesses use SaaS tools to tie together customer service capabilities from across the organization. To be most effective, however, CRM tools must be regularly used by staff at every level—from field sales and technical support to marketing and the executive boardroom. This can be trickier than you think, since many salespeople and other staff often have entrenched habits about how they manage their customer relationships.
Such holdouts are going to meet any new system with a degree of skepticism. Plan to focus on user education and training, particularly for those who are averse to change.
Choosing a CRM that aligns with your needs and objectives
Today’s CRM systems come in all sizes and feature a range of functionality. At the high end, for example, SAP CRM, Oracle CRM and Microsoft Dynamics CRM are tightly integrated with the other business administration systems in wide use among large businesses.
Salesforce.com, Zoho CRM, SugarCRM, and other tools deliver mass-market CRM with a cloud-based system that can be accessed from mobile devices and conventional computers alike. Netsuite offers CRM as part of a cloud-based business administration suite that also includes back-end financial, inventory, and other tools. Finally, Hubspot offers an easy-to-use, cloud-based CRM that is absolutely free.
Survey the market carefully and you’re sure to find a package that offers a user-friendly CRM environment, with supporting services that can quickly give you access to marketing tools you never thought you needed. No matter how much you think you know about managing customers, odds are that the right tools and services can still teach you a thing or two.