CRM grew out of contact management software that was first made popular in the 1990s. In the early 2000s, CRM software emerged with more sophisticated tools for managing and nurturing client relationships. These solutions not only helped businesses manage their leads and customers, but offered collaborative platforms so that internal teams like sales and marketing could align their strategies.
In the beginning, the enterprise was the one segment that enjoyed these new feature-rich CRM apps which required vast server storage space and deep pockets. But as the concept of storing leads and contacts in the cloud became more popular, the ability to introduce CRM capabilities to all size businesses became a reality.
Now any business, large or small, can have access to affordable and reliable CRM tools.
What Is A Cloud-based CRM Application?
The “software-as-a-service” (SaaS) model – which means that the services are hosted in the cloud and accessed via the Internet with a password – has enabled a new generation of CRM products that have been developed specifically for the needs of the small to midsized business market (SMB).
What Is The Difference Between CRM And Social CRM?
The latest evolution of web-based CRM applications is the Social CRM space, which helps businesses manage customer relationships via social media channels. While traditional CRM Apps target prospective leads through email or phone campaigns, Social CRM is an outbound marketing strategy where companies engage in public conversations with their customers.
What Is The Best CRM Solution For You?
Trying to pinpoint an online CRM application that best meets with the needs of your business can be a bit overwhelming. However understanding the needs of your business and defining your CRM goals will put you on the right path.
Here are some questions to help you narrow the search for your perfect online CRM application:
Is the CRM scalable? Choose a product that specializes in businesses of your size – scalability is important from both a budget and implementation standpoint. Small businesses with two to 20 employees might be overwhelmed with a mid-market or enterprise-level solution (not to mention the budget implications.)
What is your budget? Find a solution that will not hurt your bottom line. Sure, CRM software is an investment, but start slowly and test out a few of the widgets first before locking into an expensive subscription — you can always upgrade later.
Do you have the basics? Do you have a website? Do you currently have a client database? If you need to start from scratch, look at solutions that cater to smaller businesses and start-ups.
Are you comfortable with your current level of customer interaction? If you want to know more about how to up the level your customer communication strategies, look for a solution that enables you to analyze your customer behavior as well as offers strategic guidance on how to improve your customer relationships.
Do you know where your customers are coming from? Have you analyzed your online traffic so that your marketing and sales strategies are targeted? Then look for a CRM apps that have customer or business intelligence analytical tools.
When choosing a CRM software, you must first consider your unique needs and then research for the following:
- Functions, features, pricing model, flexibility of the solution, integration capabilities with other software and vendor reputation are the main topics that you want to check.
- Scalability is an other important subject. If you think that your business is likely to grow in the future then going for a cloud-based solution instead of an on the premises one will make you benefit from the inherent scalability benefit of cloud computing.
- Ease of use is another critical aspect. Starting using, or changing to, a new CRM tool in a business will take a significant amount of efforts in order to make sure it achieves the efficiency benefits you were looking for and a good adoption from the targeted users in your organization.
What key functions a CRM software should perform?
Key functions typically provided by CRM apps are:
- Enabling your marketing and sales departments to identify and target their best customers
- Managing efficient marketing campaigns and generate quality leads for the sales team
- Making the sales process more efficient,with a strong contact management to track all aspects of the sales process. Sales force automation (SFA) will make your sales representatives more efficient
- Optimizing information shared by multiple employees, and streamlining existing customers related processes for a better collaboration
- Developing individualized relationships with customers, with the aim of improving customer satisfaction and maximizing profits
- Knowing better customer needs and effectively build relationships between the company, its customer base and third parties involved
- Getting better analytics from business information in order to segment, analyze, and serve customers in the most efficient way
- Optimizing sales channels management ensuring that depending on which channel customers interact with your company, they will be handled respectively
- Offering better customer service in order to build customer loyalty, customer retention and increase customer profits
What Features You Should Be Looking At?
Basic features of CRM Apps:
At the most basic level, any CRM application will allow you to create a comprehensive customer database and update with notes, meeting schedules, documents and other pertinent information so that you can better manage your customer communication.
- A searchable customer database via categories (meaning you can tag your customers by the likelihood they will continue to use your service or product; what company they are from; prior interactions; demographics and more).
- Email and social media marketing campaigns that will help you ascertain a customer’s interest in your product. For example, once a client receives your promotional email, you can determine their interest by their actions: Did they sign up for the white paper or the free trial? Did they un-subscribe and opt out?
Other features that should be considered:
Features to analyze sales
- A dashboard that offers a unique view of the data you want to analyze, in order to help you in your decision-making.
- Reporting capabilities to allow you to build analytical reports about sales and share within your organization.
- Sales forecasting tools to enable you to predict the potential outcome of any opportunity in your sales funnel.
Features to manage sales channels
- Channels specific forms, templates and fields: Allows you to request specific information depending on the different distribution channels you use in order to identify buying patterns and needs.
- Multi-language and multi-currency support
Features to provide customer service
- Call center support
- Customer support issues racking
- Social media channels support
Integration to connect your CRM software to different platforms and applications is a critical decision making factor. As examples, check if the web-based CRM application you are considering integrates with:
- Online Accounting Software for creating quotes, invoicing, billing and keeping track of customer sales
- email marketing software to build inbound marketing campaigns and social media platforms for outbound marketing
More Resources To Help You Choose The Right CRM For Your Company
An exhaustive list of popular CRM applications where you can discovery, compare and read user s and journalists reviews
An infographic about the most Important CRM and Social CRM apps
Another article on what is online CRM software for small business
A round-up with 4 useful resources to make your CRM software choice
A list of advice from industry experts on how to Select CRM Software
Access to a large number of CRM related Q&A
Users feedback on what is a good replacement to Salesforce.com