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What is CRM?

CRM Meaning

Customer relationship management (CRM) is a software system that manages your relationships with customers. A CRM system isn’t just one solution. To effectively manage, analyze, and improve your customer relationships, you need a comprehensive set of cloud solutions that supports every step in your customer’s journey.

Such an end-to-end solution should include a sales cloud, service cloud, commerce cloud, and marketing cloud, as well as an AI-enabled customer data platform (CDP) that can combine online, offline, and third-party data sources for a complete, dynamic customer view.

Who should use a CRM?

CRM systems are almost always associated with sales teams. Over time, these solutions have extended their reach and become integral to marketing, commerce, and service functions to name a few.

CRM evolves by constantly gathering customer data, analyzing that data, and using the knowledge gained to deepen relationships and improve business results. It allows any customer-facing employee (or those who support customer-facing employees) to convey, "We know you, and we value you."

A CRM system supports you beyond the sales process, which is crucial to business performance. With the in-depth knowledge of the customer, companies can:

  • Offer and sell new, add-on products—at the right time in the right way at the right price
  • Help service teams resolve issues faster
  • Help development teams create better products and services

Why CRM is important?

You may be wondering why customer relationship management systems are so important. Actually, there’s very little difference—in terms of product features and capabilities—between competing products. So many customers are now making purchasing decisions based on their experience with your business.

To provide a great customer experience (CX), you need a complete view of your customer (and the right data to put that view together). Customer relationship management systems combine data from various sources, including email, websites, physical stores, call centers, mobile sales, and marketing and advertising efforts.

Knowing who your customers are, what they want, what interactions you’ve had with them, and what future interactions will look like is what CRM is all about.

A CRM strategy ensures that you are using the data and analytics processed by your system to achieve your objectives. Your customer strategy will influence your choice of which tools to use, where to host your system, and what to measure to make sure you’re getting the benefits you expect.

The ultimate goal of CRM is to improve customer acquisition and retention. This is the core around which the specifics of your customer strategy will be wrapped. Improving customer acquisition and retention is accomplished by providing experiences that keep your customers coming back. CRM as a strategy—and a tool—makes up the foundation of those experiences.

What is the goal of customer relationship management?

The goal of CRM is to support strong, productive, and loyal relationships with customers through informed and superior customer experiences at every stage of the customer journey. Why? To improve customer acquisition and retention. This central idea is wrapped around your customer relationship strategy. Improving customer acquisition and retention is accomplished in large part by providing experiences that keep your customers coming back. CRM as both a strategy and a tool informs those experiences.

Answer the most basic customer questions

Drive insights into how many customers you have? How many leads converted into prospects, and how many of those turned into opportunities. What was our business's revenue last month?

Manage customer data

Bad decisions come from a lack of access to and interpreting customer data. Being able to store, track, and validate customer data within an automated system will allow sales and marketing to optimize engagement programs.

Salesforce automation of customers and prospects

Customers and prospects can come via various channels, including websites, social media, email, events, etc. Only multi-channel marketing programs can connect prospects with your business across customer touchpoints.

Personalize marketing campaigns

Many businesses struggle to connect marketing efforts across multiple channels. Modern marketers can improve conversions, strengthen customer relationships, and dramatically lessen messaging fragmentation across digital channels by leveraging CRM systems.

Align sales and marketing

Enable teams to share the same goal of driving sales and increasing revenue. When sales and marketing work together, sales productivity will go up along with marketing ROI.

What is a CRM system?

A CRM system gathers, links, and analyzes all the data about a specific customer’s journey including customer information, interactions with company representatives, purchases, service requests, assets, and proposals. The system then provides an interface that lets users access that data and understand each touchpoint. It is through this understanding that the basis for a solid customer relationship is built.

Customer data can also be aggregated to populate commission modeling, sales forecasting, territory segmentation, campaign design, and product innovation, as well as other sales, marketing, and service activities—all of which can help optimize customer acquisition, retention, and revenue generation efforts.

Customer management software and tools help you streamline the customer engagement process, establish strong relationships with your customers, build customer loyalty, and ultimately increase sales and profits.

How to measure CRM Success?

Since your CRM system is there to help you sell to new and existing customers, it’s a business investment that has a measurable ROI. There are several metrics, across sales, marketing, and service, that you can track to help you understand whether your CRM is effective at providing the ROI you need.

CRM features and benefits

There are many different types of CRM and vendors to choose from. However, there are a few capabilities you should look at—no matter whose CRM system you’re evaluating. It must:

  1. Be easy to use or people won’t use it.
  2. Fit within your budget and provide an adequate return on investment (ROI).
  3. Integrate well with your other systems.

You need accurate, consistent data for that customer 360 view, and if you cannot trust the CRM/back-office integration, you can’t trust the data.

Types of CRM

Customer relationship software solutions, at their core, are used to manage customer relationships and sales interactions. Many businesses, however, leverage CRM systems to function simply as a sales force automation tool. But solutions, like Oracle's, offer so many more capabilities, from marketing, customer service, sales, channel management, to any solution that helps you sell more, improve the customer experience (CX), and boost customer retention and loyalty.

Therefore, the best way to address your business sales and marketing challenges is through leveraging the right front-office tool. There are three main CRM systems, including collaborative, operational, and analytical.

B2B CRM

Not every customer relationship management system is made equal. Typically, a B2B sales environment is more complex, with multiple buyers involved. A sale can take up to 12 months to close and involve more steps in the process. B2B deals are larger which means that there are fewer purchases. There are fewer leads because B2B products are not universally needed. Many people like Coca-Cola, but not everyone needs the tire assembly for an off-road earth mover.

Given the level of complexity, you need a customer solution that fits your unique B2B needs. Consider a system that provides the following:

  • Automated workflows to help sales reps manage their workloads and keep track of everything
  • Forecasting capabilities to accurately predict customer behavior and project financial outcomes
  • Greater visibility into what stage of the sales funnel the prospect or lead is in
  • CPQ applications to sell complex, highly configurable equipment that in many cases are found in a self-service environment
  • Quote management to generate quotes and provide a level of detail to prevent order mistakes

B2C CRM

As mentioned above, not every customer management solution is created equal. A B2C sales environment is typically less complicated than B2B. Sales take days—not months or years—and usually require fewer touchpoints. Deals are smaller, but there are more products per purchase. Given the need to focus on a broad audience to make quick and easy sales at a massive scale, you need a solution that fits your unique B2C needs. Ideally, your B2C solution should provide:

  • Real-time capabilities in the areas of customer data, service notifications, and more
  • Robust email marketing that’s capable of sending out blasts to large lists while maintaining a personal touch
  • Automated workflows that support marketing to an extensive database of contacts, selling to that large number of contacts, and providing service that can keep up with customer demand
  • Integrated call center and customer service capabilities that can handle more requests through an integrated ticketing platform and a variety of chat tools
  • Social media integration to try to bring disengaged customers back into the fold and all promote other buying choices for all customers

CRM and data

Data is the most important part of any customer software solution. The basis for successful customer relationship strategies hinges on accurate, complete, and accessible customer profiles.

Bad CRM data can come from several places, including:

  • Fraudulently entered data
  • Keystroke errors
  • Duplicate customer information
  • Natural changes

Insufficient or wrong data can be costly and snowball quickly to degrade the value of your CRM.

However, with accurate information, businesses stand a better chance of reaching their target customers and prospects. Therefore companies need to collect and optimize these four CRM data types:

Identity Data

Identity data includes descriptive details to identify customers, leads, and contacts. This data should be the data used for marketing segmentation.

Descriptive Data

Descriptive data includes lifestyle details relevant to your contacts. This data gives you a 360 view of leads and contacts.

Quantitative Data

Quantitative data includes measurable data points that can help you interpret how your contact has interacted with your company.

Qualitative Data

Qualitative data can help understand your contacts' intent, including search behaviors related to buying decisions.

AI in CRM

The best CRM systems offer robust analytics coupled with AI and machine learning. AI is the future of CRM, going beyond contact management and sales force automation to truly helping you sell. AI in CRM can guide you toward the next best actions and provide smart talking points—specific to each customer opportunity. AI also delivers timely customer intelligence that helps you optimize CX across marketing, sales, and customer service.

CRM vs Marketing—What are the differences?

Both CRM and marketing automation systems are all about data. More precisely, they’re about the storing and use of data.

But marketing automation systems focus on communicating with potential customers and customers with the end goal of gathering leads (that is, enough customer data points to show intent) and then handing them off to the sales team.

CRM picks up from there by working to generate leads and convert them into contacts, defined as leads who’ve expressed interest in buying your product or service or have purchased in the past and will hopefully buy again in the future.

CRM vs CX

When CRM first arrived on the scene, businesses would capture and hold data but not know what to do with it, other than as a glorified Rolodex. Now, customer relationship management systems integrated with AI acquire and connect data and then interpret and predict what that data means. Customer data is the starting point.

Quickly evolving AI capabilities as well as configure, price, and quote (CPQ) solutions will play a pivotal role in using a complete, accurate, 360-degree view of customers to start them on their sales journeys and then expand those sales journeys onto new paths and product areas. The endpoints are infinite.

As these AI enhancements continue to evolve, CX will continue to improve—and in turn, customer expectations will continue to increase.

Your business will need to have a deep understanding of its customers and their journeys to not only meet their growing expectations but to serve them in unique and compelling ways. This is the future of CX, and should serve as your guide to selecting the best CRM solution.

How customer relationship management (CRM) improves customer service

Traditionally, CRM was viewed primarily as a sales tool. Not anymore. While customer software solutions help sales teams organize their leads, automate follow-ups, and manage their opportunities and pipeline, it does a lot more for the other departments within your organization.

Since your solution holds important information about every lead and customer, this gives all customer-facing teams much greater insight into who they are, their motivations, what they might want, and what type of relationship they’ve had with your brand in the past.

This information gives your customer service reps context for when the time comes that they interact with those customers. The more your CSRs know about who they’re working with, the better they can serve them.

How customer relationship management improves customer experience (CX)

A complete customer view is necessary for business success and growth. Without a CRM system, you’ll struggle to develop that much-needed 360-degree view of the customer that you need to

  • Personalize customer interactions
  • Automate business processes (with appropriate CX integrations)
  • Track all customer interactions

Cloud CRM

As with any other business application, the decision to host your CRM system on-premises, in the cloud, or as a hybrid model depends on your business needs.

On-premises CRM

On-premises CRM gives you complete control over your system. But there’s a cost. On-premises CRM systems must be purchased, installed and deployed, monitored, maintained, and upgraded. They can be costly, involve time-intensive installations and upgrades, and require in-house IT resources for ongoing maintenance.

Cloud-based CRM

Software-as-a-service (SaaS) options offer simple interfaces that are easy to use and require less IT involvement and investment than on-premises CRM systems. Any business user can make updates. Because upgrades are pushed through automatically, you always have the most up-to-date functionality without significant IT effort. Cloud CRM also offers the convenience of any time, anywhere access.

Hybrid CRM

Hybrid CRM requires tradeoffs in all the areas mentioned above, but they can also deliver the best of both worlds. However, it’s important to recognize that technology is increasingly moving to the cloud. Companies that remain heavily invested in on-premises CRM risk being left behind as competitors advance to the cloud. Mobility (anytime, anywhere) will be limited.

Access to new functionality can be a long, drawn-out process. Also, the most sophisticated AI-based technology—technology that supports virtual assistants, chatbots, next-best recommendations, and predictive analytics—will not be available.

The CRM model right for your business is the one that best aligns with your needs and resources and allows you to interact with your customers in meaningful ways to drive exceptional customer experiences.

Learn more about Oracle Sales—a CRM designed to help you sell more, faster.