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CRM software is used to manage customer relationships and sales interactions. To many, a CRM system functions as a sales force automation tool, but it’s so much more. It should encompass marketing, customer service, sales, channel management—really any solution that helps you sell more, improve the customer experience (CX), and boost customer retention and loyalty.
CRM systems are classified differently. Why? Because of the vast breadth and depth of companies’ needs. What one company may need from a CRM could be vastly different from what another company may need, even if they are in the same industry or geographic region. Let’s take a look at different types of CRM.
An operational CRM streamlines and simplifies a company’s primary business processes. In doing so, it spans marketing, sales, and customer service processes. An operational CRM system helps companies generate leads, convert those leads into contacts, and provide the customer service infrastructure necessary to delight and retain customers. There are three basic components of an operational CRM.
Marketing automation, which streamlines the many marketing processes within multichannel digital marketing campaigns. This can include email marketing, as well as live chats, website monitoring, and lead scoring.
Sales automation, which, at its most basic, streamlines the many time-consuming, manual tasks that occur during the sales process.
An analytical CRM system (CRMS) focuses on connected data, analysis, and reporting to help you better understand your customers.
When your CRM can connect customers’ behavioral and intent data, company data (in the case of B2B sales), and known customer data points, you have access to accurate, complete, and connected customer 360 profiles that can be used to provide personalized, consistent customer experiences—at a moment’s notice. So, no matter how or when your customers choose to interact or where they are in the buying cycle, you’re ready to meet any and all of their expectations.
Selling is a collaborative process. This does not mean that your marketing team and sales team go on sales calls together, or even sit in the same office. But the marketing and sales data should work together. A collaborative CRM integrates marketing automation, sales force automation, CPQ, and even ERP data so that everything works together to close deals, and gives each team a clearer picture of customers’ needs and expectations.
There are two well-known types of collaborative CRM systems (CRMS).
Contact management systems are used by sales teams to track contact and account/company details and every customer/prospect interaction. Contact management systems are the foundation of collaborative sales processes since they house your first-party customer data.
Channel management systems can encompass sales, customer service, and marketing systems. For example, digital marketing and account-based marketing (ABM) campaigns operate across different channels to reach as many people as possible. Both can be integral parts of a cross-channel marketing strategy that works to engage with people no matter where they are or how they want to interact with you.
In addition, customer service organizations should leverage as many assisted and self-service channels as possible. It can be virtually impossible to fully predict which channels customers will use (chatbots, call centers, or knowledgebase searches). To provide differentiated customer service experiences, you need to be on all the channels your customers will want to use.
Channel management also focuses on distributors, wholesalers, and other partner relationships who can expand your marketing, sales, and service reach. Partner relationship management systems make it possible for all sellers to share leads, register deals, create quotes, collaborate, and deliver results.
Not every customer relationship management (CRM) system is made equal. B2B sales are typically more complex, with more steps and multiple buyers involved. A sale can take as long as 12 months to close—or even longer. Business-to-business deals are usually larger and can be less frequent than typical B2C sales. There are fewer leads because B2B products are not universally needed. Many people buy Coca-Cola every week, but not everyone needs the tire assembly for an off-road earth mover.
Given the level of complexity, long lead cycles, and the number of players, you need a CRM that fits your unique B2B needs.
A B2C sales environment is typically less complicated than B2B. Sales take hours or days—not months or years—and require fewer touchpoints. Deal sizes are smaller, and there are more products per purchase. Audience and customer segments are not as narrowly defined as they are in B2B sales. The contacts and customer segments that are managed within the CRM are much broader. Given the need to focus on this broad audience to make quick sales at scale, a B2C CRM needs different capabilities than its B2B counterpart.
A mobile CRM should boost a seller’s productivity. A mobile CRM solution with a built-in digital assistant allows your sales team members to handle various tasks while on the go. The best mobile CRM systems enable users to do the following:
The best CRM systems have AI and machine learning capabilities. AI is the future of CRM, helping you see what's happened in the past and guiding you toward the next-best actions and product configurations—specific to each customer opportunity. AI also delivers timely customer intelligence so individual sellers can optimize the brand experience across marketing, sales, and customer service. Finally, a good solution should also offer usage analytics that provide a 360-degree view of customer interactions.
However, success is not dependent upon AI alone. Clean, complete, and accurate data is needed to fuel AI. Yes, embedded AI capabilities within your CRM can help move you from reactive to proactive. It can provide prescriptive recommendations that make sense to customers and align with their needs. It can share smart talking points. It can provide accurate company data and news. But the foundation that AI resides on is clean, consolidated, complete, and accurate data. You cannot have one without the other.
Does your sales team rely solely on intuition and relationship-selling techniques to close deals? If so, you may not be as profitable as you could be. See how the right sales intelligence capabilities can help you grow and retain more revenue throughout the entire customer lifecycle.
So which type of CRM is best for you? The answer may be a little more complicated than “A” or “B” or “C” in that there is no “best CRM” per se. Your best CRM system will depend on your company’s size, budget, and needs—today and in the future. In the long run, the most effective CRM needs to be operational, collaborative, and analytical. It needs to support both B2B and B2C selling environments. It needs embedded AI, machine learning capabilities, and a data foundation to support it. And it needs to support a mobile workforce and those employees who work with customers, but may not be (officially) part of your sales team. It just may not need all that functionality all at once.
A small business just starting out may only need a contact/interaction management system, but as it grows, the CRM will need to grow as well. Maybe in a year or two, the company may need to embrace sales and customer service automation. Then, perhaps add a customer data management solution to clean up incorrect, inaccurate, and duplicated data, or a customer data platform (CDP) to begin to learn customer behaviors, build profiles, and combine data for complete customer 360 views.
The trick is to find the CRM system that will grow with you. That CRM will be your best CRM. For help, visit Gartner Peer Insights.