Buyers Guide

Our Guide To CRM Software

Customer relationship management (CRM) software refers to computer programs used by business to track, manage and analyse their customer interactions, and customer related data. CRM software allows companies to enhance their customer relationships through streamlining their customer facing activities throughout the customer lifecycle. It provides a platform for which to account for points of contact between a business and its customers, across various communications channels. It also acts as a valuable information resource to customer service representatives, account managers, and other customer-facing personnel, offering personal information and purchasing behaviour such as buying preferences.

CRM can benefit any type of commercial organisation with a customer facing element, as well as those whose primary focus is stakeholder communication.

Key/common features

If you are in the market for CRM software, there are some typical features which it will help to be aware of when browsing through various packages. You may not need all of the following features, but it is wise to familiarise yourself with the kind of functions possessed by the current generation of CRM software:

- Integration

CRM software is typically designed to integrate with other software which companies use on a daily basis. This allows information to be automatically uploaded to a new system, and on an ongoing basis. Integrated software often includes Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel and various accounting programs.

- Mobile access

In the age of the smartphone, an increasing number of CRM software packages offer mobile access through smartphones and tablets. This means customer information can be easily accessed on the move. This comes in handy for busy accountants or sales reps who work on the move and need quick access.

- Remote access

Remote access means that CRM software is not office bound, and can be used on computers, and mobile devices, from a number of locations. For work teams who occasionally work from home, on the move, or at live events such as trade shows, this is an essential feature for the lean, modern day company which wants to enjoy the most return on investment from their CRM software package.

- Analytics

For companies with a large number of existing or prospective customers, the ability to analyse their customer interactions 'en masse' is a valued feature of some CRM software packages. This adds up to more intelligent campaigns, more specific targeting in terms of demographics and different buying patterns, and decisions based on a holistic view of performance.

- Campaign management

Some CRM software packages have a big marketing slant, allowing customer campaigns to be run directly from the platform. This could mean a direct marketing campaign via email, where marketing shots are sent from the CRM software, or using it via one of the integrated software packages. Responses can then be managed through the platform, and further actions taken.

- Customisation

It's not only different software packages which can be integrated within a CRM platform. There are multiple elements which can offer companies the opportunity to customise their CRM software, from the dashboard which they navigate from, to the different information inputs they can use.

Benefits

So what is it about CRM software packages which provides companies with value from their investments? Let's take a look at some of the main benefits:

- Access to information

Having all the information you need in one place, rather than in disparate programs, is a huge advantage offered by CRM software. Not only that, but all the vital info can be accessed by customer representatives and account managers from a wide range of locations, and, crucially, can also be updated at any given time.

- Enhanced customer service

Having all the 'need to knows' on a customer in a digestible format, at the click of a mouse, doesn't only make a company's operations smoother, it all goes towards better customer service. Managing relationships based on communication history and buying preferences, while being able to time the frequency of communications more effectively, allows companies to interact more intelligently with their customers.

- Improved time management

The ability for teams to sync their calendars, and for individual team members to schedule their customer interactions, allows sales and marketing teams to manage their time much more effectively. Some CRM software is even capable of sending out task reports each day, updating team members on their schedules over the coming hours.

- Refined lead management

Anybody who has ever been involved in sales knows that patience, and excellent timing, are both virtues. CRM software allows the lead management process to be fine tuned, with prospects being carefully nurtured and communications scheduled with to-the-minute precision. This can lead to increased conversions as a result.

Web-based vs on-premises

One typical buying conundrum thrown up by modern day CRM is whether to opt for a software-as-a-service (SaaS) CRM software package which is cloud based, or a package which is operated and managed on site. While Cloud CRM tends to be cheaper, offers more opportunities for remote access, and typically does not require maintenance, on-premises CRM can allow an organisation to take complete control of their system, hold a firmer grip on their data and circumnavigate any connectivity issues which might see Cloud software grind to a halt. For these reasons, the decision of whether to opt for Cloud or on site is likely to come down to the identity of an organisation and its priorities.

Current trends

As with many forms of prevalent software, CRM is developing at a rapid rate. Among the CRM software trends to come to the fore in 2017 is increased integration, which means that more technologies than ever are converged. There has also been a focus on behavioural insights which use more qualitative data from marketing campaigns and social media in order to provide a deeper analysis. Increased automation has given some packages a larger number of functions, such as scheduling service visits and issuing tickets. Industry-specific CRM has begun to emerge, with add-ons tailored to specific sectors, offering features designed to appeal to these verticals.