Customer Relationship Management, or short CRM, has been around for as long as businesses have had to manage customers. According to Wikipedia the formal management of relationships with customers emerged in the early 1970s, when businesses sought to better understand their customers and their satisfaction with the business’ products and services. It started out with paper files and when personal computers were introduced, CRM moved into the electronic world.
Organisations looked to track their customers contact details as well as their interactions with those customers using a personal computer.
As software systems became more capable businesses were able to track and manage their sales leads, sales opportunities, sales transactions and even post sales customer support. When sales process became better understood and more sophisticated CRM systems had to change. The entire lifecycle of a sale needed to be managed and, in this process, better sales intelligence became available that could be reported on and analysed in sales funnel reports and dashboards.
The early 1990’s saw CRM software for PCs increasing in power and popularity. However, it was the emergence of the Internet and ever more powerful software development platforms that would truly transform customer relationship management. Pioneers like Salesforce were quick to offer cloud solutions for CRM requirements in the 2000’. Vendors of what previously would have been PC installed customer management software were often slow to respond to the threat of the internet.
In 2022, though, non-cloud solutions have become legacy, as business shift their business systems away from local servers and desktops and into the cloud.
However, many smaller and more traditional businesses still use paper or basic Excel spreadsheets to keep track of their customers, sales and support. It is infinitely more time consuming and error prone and as a result more costly to manage customers in this way.
What can a modern CRM system give you?
Virtually all modern CRM systems allow businesses to:
- Manage individual customer contacts
- Mange the organisations or accounts the contacts work at and link those
- Track all interactions with those contacts and accounts, whether those are emails, calls or meetings
- Manage sales opportunities and actual closed sales
- Manage the post-sales delivery of products and services
- Provide reports that analyse the many sales activities and financial data related to the sales process
- Show how effective individual sales and customer advisors are
- Forecast the revenue that can be expected as a result of sales activities over time
- Customise many aspects of the system, be it by adding data fields to existing data entities or even create entirely new data entities and related them to other records in the system
- Send marketing information to selected contacts and even automate the process of marketing to prospects.
- Etc, etc.
How about the Post Sales Process?
Many companies, however, need more than just a CRM system to manage the sales process. For many it is equally important to manage and track the post sales process. This includes storing and keeping safe the many documents involved in more complex sales transactions and post sales projects. For example, these can be purchase orders, invoices, delivery notes, legal agreements, etc, etc.
In an ideal world, the entire customer life-cycle is managed in a single system. And this is entirely feasible, for all but the most complex of organisations.
Being able to find any and all information and documents relating to a customer in a single place can take your business to another level of productivity and efficiency.
How to make the most out of your chosen CRM system?
All CRM systems on the market are designed to meet the need of more than one organisation and therefore come with generic functionality that can be customised to meet specific needs. In contrast to a completely bespoke solution this is still the best and most cost-effective way to purchase a CRM system.
However, in order to successfully introduce and adopt a new CRM solution it is really important that you first carefully identify what the system is supposed to do for the organisation and the users of the system. Many system implementations fail, and money is wasted if this important step is overlooked.
Document all of your requirements and the way you want to use the system. This should include the main business workflows that underpin your sales process. Peer review that document within your organisation and make sure all stakeholders agree and buy into the new system. Getting end-user buy in right at the start will make rolling a system out much easier later on.
Once you have arrived at a detailed description of your requirements hand this to an external consultancy or your own in-house team capable of identifying and then implementing the most appropriate solution.
Too many customers think that an out of the box solution should just meet all their needs fix all of their problems. This rarely works out well. Time spend upfront will pay dividends later on.
What to look out for when defining your requirements?
- What classes of data do you want to track? These are for example: Contacts, Accounts, Leads, Opportunities, Orders, Support Tickets, Delivery Projects, etc, etc.
- How should those classes of data be linked?
- What sort of information do you need to record for each of those classes of data? For example: Contact Data, General Business Data, Call Logs, Emails, Notes, Tasks, etc.
- If you are going to store related documents in your CRM system, work out what types of documents you need to manage.
- What sort of reporting and analysis of the stored data do you need to make informed decisions at management level?
- Do you require mobile access to the CRM system? Do you require data to be stored on the mobile device for offline use?
- Are there any workflows that your users need to follow when dealing with prospects ad customers?
- Etc, etc.
How much does it cost to implement a CRM system?
Total Cost of Ownership: Always make sure you understand the full cost of ownership (TOC) of a CRM system. The TOC can be made up of:
- Software license costs
- Varying levels of ongoing technical support packages
- Business and Requirements analysis and documentation
- Implementation and configuration
- Any additional charges for exceeding a maximum data storage capacity or usage amounts
- Costs for optional software connectors to integrate a CRM system with your other business systems.
Software Licenses: Entry level systems can be licensed for as little as £10-£20 per user per months. Some, such as HubSpot are free for the most basic features, but once more advanced requirements need to be met costs can quickly rise. Enterprise CRM systems such as Dynamics CRM, Salesforce, etc are more expensive and have more complex licensing arrangements. The costs of add-ons can quickly become unmanageable.
Technical Support: Many SMB CRM systems are bow charged monthly or annually using a SaaS model. SaaS models typically include software licensing and basic technical support. Make sure you understand who the actual developer of the software is and who provides the support. Support can come with different levels of service, with faster response times usually resulting in more expensive contracts.
Implementation and Configuration: If you don’t want to configure your CRM solution with in-house resources, you can ask an external consultancy or service provider to do this for you. Make sure though, you document your expectations carefully and have this accurately reflected in a contract.
Note: Enterprise solutions are inherently more capable but also more complex to configure. For those systems implementation costs can quickly escalate and become crippling. More basic systems tend to be also easier to configure.
Where is your data stored?
Most modern cloud CRM systems store your data in the vendor’s private cloud servers. This is ok for many scenarios. You can typically export records to a spreadsheet if you need access to the raw data.
Microsoft Dynamics 365 also stores all data on their servers, but your system admins have much better access to the data through your Microsoft Office 365 / Azure subscriptions. This allows you to freely access data for reporting and analytics purposes, without relying on proprietary connectors.
Betasoft SharePortals CRM, a solution for small and medium sized businesses stores all data in your own Office 365 SharePoint folders. This, in similar fashion to Dynamics CRM, gives you complete freedom to access data and integrate with other Microsoft services.
Unless you are looking for a niche, industry-specific solution there is a great deal of choice out there at very low monthly costs. Beware of the free options. You’ll soon need features that are paid for and this is where costs can escalate. Even many solutions with a low cost of entry have stiffer license fees once you upgrade to access essentials features. Plan ahead and look into the future and work out where you want to get to, with your implementation and look at the costs for that. Plan and document your requirements thoroughly. If you don’t have in-house IT expertise find a friendly consultancy to help you configure your solution.
Your CRM system will quickly become critical to your business: Make sure you have the right support contact with suitable SLAs in place. Cloud solutions need much less support than on-premise ones. Make sure you have access to a consultant to make changes to the set-up ad-hoc.