In the broadest sense, customer relationship management or CRM refers to how a company approaches its interactions with customers. A customer relationship management system is a software solution that helps facilitate customer interactions by gathering, linking, and analyzing customer data, including contact information, purchase history, service request records, and past quotes or proposals.
But while a CRM system plays a major role in the sales process, effectively managing relationships with customers requires much more than a software license. In this article, we’ll outline how to build an overarching customer relationship management strategy, including key considerations to set you up for success, core strategic components, and how to select a CRM system that can help bring that strategy to life. First, let’s take a quick detour to explore why it’s so important to have a CRM strategy—and what’s at risk if you don’t.
The nature of customer relationships has changed drastically. Years back, brands were the overall authority on their products. They were often the only source of information. In the days before social media and the internet, third-party product reviews were hard for consumers to find.
Brands controlled the narrative around what customers thought they needed and the best products/solutions to address those needs. And because they controlled the narrative, they had a great deal of influence over the decision-making process.
Those days are gone.
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Today, customers have access to almost limitless information. With just a few clicks, taps, or swipes, they can find public information on brands and products, including other people’s reviews and perspectives.
And thanks to social media, individuals can command audiences of their own, so one person’s negative experience can have an outsized influence on broader brand perception. Which makes it easier for customers to form independent opinions of your company—and you really have no say about it.
Not only do customers have the tools to make their own decisions about what to buy, they’ve never had more options of who to buy from. And thanks to an accelerated, worldwide digital transformation during 2020 to 2021, switching to another brand has never been easier.
40% of consumers say they switched brands during the pandemic, citing price, value, and offer relevance as leading reasons.
—McKinsey & Company, August 2020
The balance of power has shifted from brands to customers. While there was a time when it was acceptable for a company to be anything other than customer-centric, that’s no longer the case.
Against this backdrop of empowered customers and increased competition, the importance of customer relationships can’t be overstated. Cultivating and nurturing relationships with customers—relationships built on more than just the products or services you sell—is critical. Success in this market requires a robust CRM strategy. Let’s explore what that looks like.
The overarching goal of your CRM strategy should be to help you become a customer-centric business. Here are three components of a successful CRM strategy to help set up your organization for success in a more competitive marketplace.
“C” is the most important letter in CRM. Customers should always be the priority in any element of your CRM strategy. To find out, ask yourself the following questions:
Understanding the answers to questions such as these will help you build a strategy that keeps customers at the center.
Next, consider your unique offering and how the CRM strategy you build should help support it.
Details such as these will help you get a sense for how much influence your products or services have on customer perceptions, and how your strategy can help you improve those perceptions.
Customers are the source of revenue that keeps your business running, so your CRM strategy should be framed around your revenue engine.
Your CRM strategy should be structured according to how your revenue functions operate.
Does your CRM leave money on the table?
Put your customer relationship management strategy in context by considering the nature of your industry.
Think through the nuances you’ll need to account for in your approach to customer relationships.
Ask yourself which departments and executives will you need to cooperate with to put your strategy into action?
Your marketing, sales, and customer service teams will be closest to the CRM process, but they won’t be the only ones impacted. Think about the leaders you’ll need to loop in—the IT folks you’ll need to help you implement CRM technology, the HR representation you’ll need to help train employees on your approach, and all of the internal organizations that will need to be involved.
If the list above suggests that you need to think through your entire business strategy to build your CRM framework—that’s because you will. Your CRM strategy should be inextricably linked to your overall business strategy, and it should be built to evolve as your business matures.
For instance, a small business focused on growth will approach their customer relationships very differently than a mature business operating in a saturated marketing that needs to increase the value offered to existing customers.
After you’ve thoroughly examined the context surrounding your CRM strategy, it’s time to discuss the components you’ll need to build it.
With your answers to the questions above in mind, start building your CRM strategy by defining the people, processes, and technology it will need.
Identify the leaders and doers across your marketing, sales, customer service, and other teams. What does each team need to play a productive role in your customer relationship management strategy? The list might include headcount, training, and certain tools and technology.
Once you have a handle on the key players within your company, examine your current processes to understand what’s working for them, what isn’t, and what needs to change.
Tap into the expertise on your marketing, sales, and customer service teams as you work through this. What core processes do they rely on to improve customer relationships? These will likely include (though aren’t limited to) the following:
Though these processes are distinct, they all contribute to the overarching customer experience (CX) you provide. Ensure that the teams and tools that facilitate these processes can share data to create a connected customer experience.
Finally, evaluate your current tech stack and consider its ability to execute your strategy.
As you approach the possibility of new technology, consider what type of CRM solution will address your needs, now and in the future.
All this begs the question: What is the best CRM for you?
There isn't one answer. But the considerations above should help point you in the right direction—toward a CRM that can grow with you.
Oracle CX is an integrated CRM solution that guides customer-facing teams with intelligent recommendations to ensure they provide the right experience with the right data—every time.