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CRM platforms have been around since the 90s, and have evolved over the last decade to include artificial intelligence, machine learning and improved functionality. That said, just what is a CRM platform, what is its primary purpose, and how is it used to increase sales and turn leads into customers? In this article we will answer those questions and tell you why the martech stack should include a full-featured, unified CRM platform.

What Are CRMs Used For?

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platforms are most often used by sales, marketing professionals, and customer service staff to manage and refine a brand’s relationships and interactions with prospective leads and current customers. CRMs are able to manage the relationships that a brand has with its customers through the entire customer lifetime. While many brands are using Customer Data Platforms (CDP) to unify customer data across all channels, CRMs are still in use by the majority of enterprise businesses. A recent report from Stellaxius revealed that 91% of businesses with over 11 employees use a CRM.

As brands grow and become more sophisticated, their use of a CRM grows with them to take on more duties, said Tony Kavanagh, CMO at Insightly. “CRM has an increasingly broader remit which goes beyond sales to include marketing, service & support, field service, ecommerce and analytics,” he said. “Customer experience by definition relates to every interaction a customer has with your company from unknown website visitor to full happy customer for life. CRM should be looked upon as the technical backbone to help manage this entire journey,” he said.

Older CRMs had the problem of siloed customer data, which resulted in a highly fragmented view of customers, which negatively affects a brand’s ability to consistently engage customers in a timely manner. “The way to address this is to consider moving to a unified CRM platform so that all customers’ data sits in one secure place, and on which all the required CRM applications of sales, marketing and customer service & support. This will ensure that all customer-facing teams are looking at the exact same set of the most recent customer data, resulting in higher rates of responsiveness from both sales and customer service reps and higher customer satisfaction and retention rates,” suggested Kavanagh.

CRMs are also used to provide customer service professionals with instant access to each and every interaction that a customer has had with a brand, including chat history, purchase history, and customer service tickets. Access to this information allows customer service personnel to provide well informed, immediate responses that leave customers feeling satisfied.

The 3 Types of CRMs

There are three different types of CRMs: operational, analytical, and collaborative. Although all CRMs share some core functionality, the primary roles of each are different:

  • Operational CRMs: These streamline and automate sales, marketing, and service processes, and are used to generate leads and convert them into contacts, while at the same time capturing all details. They also help to provide service throughout the entire customer lifecycle.
  • Analytical CRMs: These are used for the analysis of customer data which has been collected from various touchpoints in the customer journey. They enable brands to make more informed decisions, enable marketers to evaluate the effectiveness of their campaigns, sales professionals to increase sales, and customer service agents to improve the quality and efficiency of support.
  • Collaborative CRMs: These enable a brand to share its customer information between departments (sales, HR, marketing, IT, customer service, and others). They also enable all of a brand’s departments to share the same goal, which is to improve customer service, increase customer loyalty, and acquire new customers.

Sridhar Jayaraman, VP of Engineering at Qentelli, views a CRM as a “one stop platform” that is used to capture all of the conversation with or about a brand’s customers, including those that occur during and after the sales cycle. “Every professional involved in these conversations — including Lead Generation Specialists, Inside Sales and Field Sales reps, Sales Engineers, Account Managers, Customer Support reps — all capture the information in the CRM, so it becomes the single source of truth!” said Jayaraman.

CRM Core Functionality

Although the three types of CRMs have different uses, there are three functions that are common to all CRM platforms: contact management, interaction tracking, and lead management. Contact management is used to store customers’ contact information in a searchable database, including names, phone numbers, addresses, email addresses, and social media accounts. Interaction tracking is used to input notes and track customer interaction history, which is used to document conversations with specific customers. Lead management allows businesses to manage the process of converting prospects into leads (potential customers) by identifying, scoring, and moving them through the sales funnel.

Additional functionality that many CRMs provide may include:

  • Email marketing integration and templates
  • AI-based decisioning
  • Workflow automation
  • 3rd party integration support
  • Reporting/dashboard and analytics
  • Sales forecasting
  • Live chat
  • Conversational AI chatbot
  • Call centre integration
  • Document management
  • Sales pipeline management
  • Mobile CRM functionality
  • Quote and proposal management
  • REST API support
  • Social media management

Additionally, some CRMs have the ability to send automated emails to customers, for example, after a specified number of days since the customer’s last purchase from a brand. This allows a business to remain in contact with a customer through personalized emails which deliver relevant content, coupons, offers, incentives, and seasonal promotions.

Customizable email templates can be triggered to be sent based on events, including purchases (“thank you for your order”), product inquiries (“you asked about this product”), shopping cart abandonment (“we noticed you left several items in your cart”), and customer service calls (“we hope we were able to solve your problem”) among others.

Other CRMs use AI and process automation to identify customer sentiment through analytics, and rapidly respond to customer service inquiries and social media posts.In fact there are some CRM platforms that are able to intercept problems and complaints on social media that could potentially threaten a brand’s reputation by using social listening. Businesses are able to respond instantly to customer complaints before they can cause damage to the businesses’ reputation.

Many brands use a CRM as a way to gain a deeper understanding of the effectiveness of specific marketing campaigns. “Marketing professionals use the CRM platform to create and track campaigns, gain insights into which campaigns are working and channel energies to drive many such campaigns. This will generate quality MQLs that can be sent to the Sales teams,” said Jayaraman. The CRM is also useful for contract management and forecasting. “As the sales process involves efforts from multiple resources, while identifying the probability of a particular opportunity, a CRM platform can offer visibility to the sales leadership with a monthly or quarterly review of best- and worst-case scenarios.”

Non-Traditional Uses of a CRM Platform

While a CRM is valuable for its traditional functionality, there are many non-traditional uses for a CRM. The cross-department transparency that a CRM provides ensures that every salesperson can see the interactions that each customer has had with the brand. This means that customers will not be overwhelmed with multiple sales calls, and department leads can easily see the effectiveness of their sales and marketing department. The CRM also makes it easier to determine which marketing channels are most effective.

Other uses include historical market and sales analysis, which enables brands to be able to anticipate the needs and spending habits of their customers, increase the efficiency of marketing campaigns, and identify and capitalize on trends.

Many brands use a CRM to keep their customers up to date as they go through the stages of the sales funnel, much like Amazon.com does. Once the customer places an order, they will receive an email letting them know that the order has been received. Once the order has been packaged and shipped, the customer receives another email that tells them their order is on the way, and typically includes a tracking number. When the order is delivered, the customer receives an email letting them know that their order has arrived. Finally, a follow-up email is sent asking the customer if they would be willing to write a review or provide feedback about their order. Also included in the follow-up email are offers for related products or services that the customer may be interested in, based on their personal shopping history with the brand. This is a great way to keep the customer engaged, emotionally satisfied, and loyal to the brand.

Final Thoughts

The Customer Relationship Management platform is an extremely useful tool for marketers, sales professionals, and customer service representatives. CRMs enable brands to manage and build stronger relationships with prospective leads and customers, enhance customer service, increase transparency between departments, and eliminate departmental data silos.

Feature Image Credit: Daniel Cheung

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Sourced from CMS WiRE

By Oliver Rist.

Making the most out of your social media interactions with customers has become a key feature in today’s CRMs. Make sure your CRM strategy incorporates this important new capability in 2021.

Customer relationship management (CRM) continues to be a popular solution for helping a swamped sales staff stay ahead of deals and customer issues. But it’s also evolving to become the heartbeat of your business’ marketing and outreach as well as a key source and destination point for sales data. A key factor in that evolution has been social media.

Social media is an important customer touchpoint. It’s where customers talk about what what they care about, how they feel, and their opinions on your business. If a customer has a problem with your product or service, they can now let all of their friends and family know about it instantly. Thus, social customer relationship management (social CRM) is crucial for keeping your enterprise or small to midsize business (SMB) accessible, informed, and proactive in engaging with and learning about your customers.

Get the Most From Both Customer Touchpoints

The combination of social media and CRM spells lots of new opportunities for sales personnel looking to connect or marketing professionals seeking to inform. And all of it can happen through your CRM system as long as your social CRM strategy is on target. It’s a key factor of what’s been fueling CRM’s steady growth over the past half decade as this chart from market research firm Statista clearly shows:

CRM Market Revenue, 2016-2021 (in Billions USD)

Social media should be a core component of your business’s CRM plan, but a successful social CRM strategy is about more than racking up likes and followers to drive site traffic. Once you’ve gotten the audience, these seven tips will help your business make the most of the tools it’s using and the data it’s gathering, while turning the immediacy of social media into an asset rather than a liability.

  1. Invest in the Right Social Tool: Before even incorporating a Social CRM strategy, your business should be managing its social media efforts through a social media analytics tool. The platform you choose will serve as the focal point for scheduling social posts across all active presences, monitoring who’s saying what and to how many people, and interacting with customers. You need a Social CRM tool that can do all of those things (for a price that fits your business) as well as integrate with whatever existing CRM tool you may have. Sprout Social Premium is a great option for advanced analytics capabilities.
  2. Invest in the Right CRM: Your social media management tool should focus on how your marketing campaigns are doing across your social platform engagements. However, your CRM should have not only the appropriate integration hooks to these social media management platforms, but also CRM-specific social media tools as well, including dashboard, reporting, and clean data collection. Many CRMs, even those designed specifically for small businesses, now have easy-to-use, customer-centric social media tools embedded directly into the CRM. Good examples are HubSpot CRM and our Editors’ Choice winner, Salesforce Essentials.
  3. Target Relevant Networks: Don’t waste time churning out posts and engaging with followers on a social media platform that’s not core to your business. An e-commerce site might be well-served to post glossy photos of its products on Instagram or Pinterest and interact with customers there whereas an enterprise software company’s customers are more likely to be localized in the traditional trifecta of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. If more and more of your customers are gravitating toward a new social network, that network may be worth monitoring. But your social media manager shouldn’t take hours to respond to a Twitter question because he or she was busy messing around with the Snapchat account your business decided to launch.
  4. Monitor Interactions and Mentions: Your Social CRM platform should have the ability to set up feeds and streams for each social network and specific parameters within them. In addition to one tracking customers’ direct tweets, comments, and likes, with your presences, set up streams that can monitor keywords such as your company’s name and the primary words associated with what your business does. The moment your company is mentioned or a social network user asks a question about an area of expertise, your business can quickly respond with a helpful answer that could turn a user into a customer or a lukewarm customer into a loyal one.
  5. Analytics are Your Friend: Once you’ve identified a particular customer, analytics can help you learn more about them. What was the reach of the tweet this user sent out about your product? Have they recently mentioned any competing products and in what context? Send a user’s profile and specific data about them through the CRM pipeline to a marketing or sales representative at your company and analytics could be the key to a customer conversion.
  6. Group Customers Into Target Audiences: A Social CRM strategy should leverage all of the existing capabilities social networks have to offer. For example, Facebook and LinkedIn have groups while Twitter has lists. This functionality can help you group customers into segments naturally and within the context of the social network that is better suited for targeted interactions about a specific product or products. Social CRM is about using the individuality of a customer’s social persona to tailor smarter business interactions with him or her.
  7. Social Media Managers Are Real-Time Customer Service Reps: The team who manages your business’s social media presences is your first line of customer service and the ambassadors of your company’s brand. Representatives should respond to a customer’s question on social media within an hour and the conversation should be a genuine interaction rather than a transaction. Don’t be afraid to give out your first name just as a traditional customer service rep would. Depending on the type of business, integrating your social media and customer service teams into a cohesive department could improve both the speed and quality of responses.
  8. Use Social Incentives to Foster Brand Loyalty: The most loyal, vocal, and active of your company’s social media followers are assets. Building a relationship with these loyal customers and those with the widest social influence can help turn your online presences into communities. Run a hashtag-driven event on Twitter around a particular promotion. Give a @shoutout to the customer who’s been most active in your community this week. Send out discount offers or promotional codes to reward engaged customers. Social media gives businesses more immediate access to a wider array of customers than ever before, and Social CRM is how your business can tap into and make the most out of those connections.
  9. Don’t Delete Negative Comments: Even if your company’s offerings and customer service are both impeccable, there are sure to be times when customers will have nasty things to say on social media. Some complaints may have more merit than others. With that in mind, the optics of deleting a negative comment can be far more harmful than the comment itself (with the exception, of course, of posts that are highly inappropriate or offensive). If your customers see that you are deleting unpleasant feedback, it could be perceived by them that your company cares more about its online image than helping customers. When it comes to combating negative feedback, always maintain a proactive, professional demeanour.

By Oliver Rist

Sourced from PC

By Gene Marks.

Many of my clients who are looking for a customer relationship management system ask me: is there a specific offering that works with Gmail? To answer that question, you have to define what “works” means.

Gmail is really two things. It’s a web-based mail client (or application) that you can use from any device in a stand-alone manner. It’s also, when you subscribe to G Suite, an email server, not unlike Microsoft Exchange, where you can connect other email applications to it, including email applications that come with some CRMs.

There are three types of CRMs that work with Gmail. Some – like Zoho (which my company sells), SugarInsightly and GoldMine (which my company also sells) – have their own, built-in email clients that can connect to Gmail’s server to send and receive messages. Others – such as Salesforce – will just quickly integrate with Gmail right out of the box via a plug-in and then synchronize messages back and forth. And then there are a few – like Copper and Streak – that work right inside of Gmail.

In the end we all want the same thing: a simple way to send and receive messages so that all of our email communications are stored in the history for each contact and account in our CRM systems and can be shared (with permissions) with others in our group. That way when a customer or prospect reaches out the team’s got their entire email history at their fingertips.

So what’s the best option for integrating Gmail with your CRM? The first thing you need to do, in order to get the most out of your Gmail integration, without any limitations, is to subscribe to Google’s G Suite of business applications. Once you do that, there are essentially two roads you can take.

Going Inside of Gmail

If you want your CRM system to be imbedded inside of Gmail I recommend looking at either Copper or Streak. These applications “super-charge” your Gmail in-box and give you a Google experience on hyper-drive. They enable you to manage your prospects, leads, customers and pipeline right from inside of Gmail, and assuming you’re a G Suite user, your data will not only be synchronized with your Google contacts and calendar but with most of G Suite’s apps including Slides, Sheets and Meet.

Both Copper and Streak’s most popular versions come with mobile apps that will work on iPhones and Android devices and cost about $50 per month per user. They include workflows, automation and reporting. They also integrate with other popular small business applications like QuickBooksXeroHubSpot and MailChimp. Copper has a growing number of implementation partners that can help with your setup and training. Streak has robust capabilities for mass emails. Both applications have been around for a while (Copper, formerly known as ProsperWorks was founded in 2014 and Streak launched in 2011) and both have received mostly positive reviews for their interface and support.

When I speak to clients that use these products I generally get good feedback. However, the biggest limitations I hear is that both applications’ functionality are mostly for lead management and sales pipelines. That’s fine if you’re a small business and need a simple, yet robust sales tool inside of Gmail. But what if you need more?  That brings me to the second road you can take.

Integrating With Gmail

Some companies want to use their CRM for more than just lead management or to track sales. My company integrates our CRM with our website. We do quotes. We track service issues and run relatively advanced campaigns from within our CRM, which is Zoho.

However, because Zoho comes with its own built-in email application, we use Gmail as our company’s email server, so our need is less to be inside of Gmail but to integrate with Gmail. Zoho does that well. Although it does integrate with Google’s contacts and calendar, because Zoho isn’t built into Gmail like Copper or Streak, it doesn’t integrate with as many Google applications. Also, we’re forced to use the capabilities of Zoho’s email functionality, including spam filtering, which is not as robust as Gmail’s. But on the other hand we have more features and applications available to us – like accounting, projects and campaigns – as part of Zoho’s business suite than if we were just using Copper and Streak.

As mentioned above, some CRM applications – Salesforce being the most prominent – forgo their own email application and just give their users the ability to quickly integrate with other popular email apps like Outlook and Gmail via a plugin. This way if you want to send or check your email, the application literally calls up a Gmail window and you do the work through there. All messages sent or received will be saved inside of your CRM application. If that capability isn’t available out of the box, it’s likely that you can use a connector like Zapier or Workato, to accomplish this. Google publishes a large list of CRMs and connectors that have integration capabilities on its G Suite Marketplace.

The bottom line is that just because you use Gmail doesn’t necessarily mean you have to get a CRM that’s built into Gmail. That’s nice, as long as you’re willing to work within their limitations. But most, good CRMs today will easily synchronize with Gmail and, although not perfect, the synchronization tends to work well.

Feature Image Credit: (Photo Illustration by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images) NURPHOTO VIA GETTY IMAGES

By Gene Marks

I write about technology developments for small business owners.

Sourced from Forbes