What is CRM? A Guide for Marketers

Customer relationship management (CRM) is the technology brands use to nurture relationships with their customers. These solutions are designed to help sales and service agents communicate with customers more effectively. And because 91% of businesses with more than 11 employees use a CRM, marketers would be wise to learn about all they have to offer.

In this piece, we’ll dive deep into CRM systems and their impact on marketing teams. We’ll cover:

Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

The benefits of CRM

At their core, CRM systems are designed to facilitate customer and sales relationships. From the most basic solutions to the most complex, CRM software stores, organizes and shares customer information to facilitate connections. They collect basic information such as customer websites, emails, phone numbers, purchase dates, social media data and much more. Some even record data in the form of lead scoring based on internal analysis systems.

CRM platforms track user activity across many online channels and seek to guide them through your sales funnel. In essence, they work to paint a picture of the customer to better understand them and, ultimately, fulfill their needs. This approach saves brand resources by focusing on potentially profitable actions, rather than adopting a hit-or-miss approach and hoping customers “bite.”

Organizations of all sizes can take advantage of CRM’s wide range of benefits, including:

  • Improved information organization.
  • Automated data entry.
  • Customer segmentation.
  • Process scaling.
  • Prospect follow-up reminders.
  • Improved reporting.

“Corporations invest in sophisticated CRM, or customer relationship management, programs to effectively oversee their relationship with their customers at every point during the buying process,” says Marc Ostrofsky, entrepreneur and bestselling author of “Get Rich Click.”

CRM platforms can save brands time and resources, yet their ability to enhance customer relationships is their greatest asset. Trust is a bigger success factor than ever in our transformed digital landscape, and brands that fail to keep their customers happy from the get-go will most likely lose out. A CRM system can help organizations combat this challenge by speeding up communication, offering insights to help anticipate needs, and orchestrating marketing activities to deliver relevant information to enhance customer journeys.

Types of CRM systems available

CRM systems are often confused with customer data platforms (CDPs) because they both store customer data, but the two are designed to meet different challenges. CDPs bring together customer data from various sources and unify it, creating shareable profiles in the process, while CRM software enhances the communication and brand relationship with customers, leveraging their data to craft more engaging communications.

At their core, CRM tools offer solutions to help support sales and service agents with customer communications. Unlike CDPs, CRM systems use their technologies to ensure each step of the customer’s experience is as frictionless as possible.

There are a variety of CRM formats available — cloud-based, on-premise, industry-specific, etc. — but there are three main function groups most solutions fall into. Each of these reflects a specific business function designed to address brands’ customer relationship needs.

Operational CRM. The main purpose of operational CRM systems is to help sales, marketing, and service teams better streamline customer interactions. These use various forms of automation to help provide customers with the best experiences. Salesforce and HubSpot are some of the most popular operational CRM tools.

Analytical CRM. Many CRM systems are designed to store vast amounts of data, but not all are effective when it comes to categorizing and drawing insights from it. Analytical CRM software can help marketers determine customer preferences and points of contact more easily through data warehousing, data mining and online analytical processing (OLAP). Zoho Analytics is a good example of an analytical CRM.

Collaborative CRM. Clear communication is key when it comes to sharing customer data across sales, marketing, and customer service departments, which is where collaborative CRM systems thrive. These use interaction and channel management features to give relevant teams a 360-view of customers. Microsoft Dynamics 365 and SAP Customer 360 are popular collaborative CRM systems.


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Who uses CRM systems?

CRM software can be a valuable asset to all departments within your organization, which is why many brands have some form of it. 65% of salespeople used CRM tools in 2020, and it’s growing at a rapid pace — spending on CRM is expected to reach $96.5 billion by 2028, according to Grand View Research, Inc.

Enterprises and small businesses alike have found CRM software helpful in their lead management processes. But companies with the following qualities tend to get the most use out of them:

  • Businesses with sales teams.
  • Businesses with dedicated marketing teams.
  • Businesses with accounting teams.
  • Business with human resource departments.

There are also certain industries that use CRM systems more than others due to their innate compatibility.

Retail and e-commerce. While building relationships with customers is important to any enterprise, a CRM’s ability to encourage customer feedback makes it an important piece of retail marketing. It can also help them set goals and provide the product updates customers need.

Banking and financial services. With so much sensitive information involved in finances, brands need tools that can safely handle customer data. CRMs can offer banks and financial institutions custom solutions to ensure their customers’ finances are secure throughout each stage of the process.

Healthcare providers. CRM systems’ ability to synchronize and share vital health information makes them key assets for hospitals, doctors and other healthcare providers. They also assist in the process of gathering patient insights and providing better healthcare experiences.

Hotels and hospitality. The prioritization of customer service in hotels and hospitality is among the highest across industries. To keep up with the demand for good experiences, these organizations use CRM systems to improve communication with customers, ensuring satisfaction levels remain high.

Agriculture. CRM systems help agricultural workers build better relationships with suppliers, which in turn improves the purchasing process. They can also assist with logistics and transportation of equipment.

Consulting. Consulting practices rely heavily on operations, which can experience functionality issues over time. CRM systems help these companies establish consistent processes, all the while helping them keep up with increasing quantities of client work.

Insurance. Companies in the insurance sector often use CRM software to securely store customer information from multiple sources, essentially creating a comprehensive database that customers can access with ease.

It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in — CRM systems have the potential to improve interactions with customers and within your organization as a whole. At their core, they bring together people, technology and processes.


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How to choose a CRM system

CRM software is designed to help growing companies manage their leads by storing the data in one accessible location. There’s no “wrong” time to adopt one (unless it conflicts with specific organizational requirements such as cost).

Many organizations forgo CRM adoption in favor of traditional customer data storage, relying on salespeople to handle the whole process or using a basic data warehouse. This can work for smaller companies such as startups, which would rather invest in other business aspects. But, at some point, these manual systems will likely fail, putting even greater strain on these companies.

Hesitancy for CRM adoption is understandable given the ever-changing marketing landscape. It’s often the case that brands can’t find adequate amounts of time to evaluate an entirely new system, much less train team members to use it.

But there are plenty of advantages that brands should consider before brushing off the idea. If teams are aligned throughout the CRM selection, implementation and optimization tasks, there’s less chance for major disruptions.

Brands dealing with large quantities of sales data coming from multiple sources may opt for a CRM to consolidate the information. Sales analysis is vital to successful customer acquisition, and without consistent processes, teams will find it more different to make decisions, leading to poorer outcomes and wasted resources.

Brands may have too few staff members available to handle the needs of a growing customer base. Companies in these situations may find CRMs helpful in their ability to organize, manage and connect with these customers.

In the end, your brand and customer needs are the determining factors for CRM adoption. If companies are having trouble connecting sales and marketing with their customers in engaging and sustaining ways, it could be time to streamline their efforts with a CRM.

How a CRM platform helps sales and marketing teams collaborate effectively

Many organizations are set up like silos with windows – each department performs its own tasks, isolated, with limited visibility into the other divisions. And in a world where more organizations are working virtually, this trend has only been exacerbated.

The advent of tools like Zoom, Slack, Microsoft Teams and the like has streamlined communications within teams to address this siloing. But brands need solutions that unify these departments and allow them to address customer needs seamlessly. This is where CRM comes into play.

A CRM platform can provide these teams with records and notes of conversations and interactions between departments and with customers, making it easier to sustain long-term relationships. The added transparency of these tools provides the foundation for much-needed trust between each group involved.

Many CRM tools even allow departments to work simultaneously on customer files, further preventing any discrepancies in the data. The increasingly popular cloud-based CRM solutions make this possible.

Historically, sales and marketing teams have had difficulties working together to drive the best outcomes. With a CRM, these departments can align their processes, collaborate effectively and, in turn, drive more sales.

How CRM enables personalization & personalized experiences

Customers want to feel cared for by brands, and brands show this most clearly through personalized experiences. But this is more easily said than done. Research from Forrester Consulting found that only one out of five marketing organizations was effectively personalizing content at scale. And another study from Gartner found that 63% struggle to deliver personalized experiences with digital technology.

To infuse their campaigns with the personalization consumers demand, more sales and marketing departments are turning to CRM solutions. These platforms can aggregate massive amounts of customer information, including prior conversations, preferences, questions, concerns or any other data they’ve consented to share. Brands, using a CRM, can leverage the insights gained to craft personalized customer experiences.

“Every contact we have with a customer influences whether or not they’ll come back. We have to be great every time or we’ll lose them,” says Kevin Stirtz, author of “More Loyal Customers.” Companies can ensure they don’t lose touch with customers through CRM software’s relationship-building capabilities, providing salespeople with the most pertinent customer information.

CRM platforms can also help marketing and sales teams predict the next best action for clients. After gaining a more complete understanding of customers, they can more easily guide them to personalized resources on your properties. This helps prove your value as a brand and build customer trust and loyalty.

These personalization capabilities allow CRMs to work effectively with email, social media and website communication; they support over 70% of account-based marketing (ABM) programs, according to the 2020 ABM Benchmark Survey Report.

ABM technology investment chart from survey data

A one-size-fits-all approach to customer relationships will inevitably fail. Brands need solutions like CRM platforms to communicate effectively with their customers, address their concerns in a timely manner and prove that they value their business.

How CRM software can help brands

While CRM software is far from being an all-in-one solution, its capabilities can offer brands much-needed support for their sales, marketing and customer relationship teams. Its ability to automate simple yet mundane tasks free up team members’ time so they can focus on their primary work.

This is perhaps why so many marketers replaced their CRM systems in 2021, opting for new versions to meet their needs.

Businesses that have succeeded with CRM platforms tend to point to the following benefits:

  • Centralized customer data.
  • Improved task tracking.
  • Increased customer retention rates.
  • Automated tasks.
  • Increased sales opportunities.

However, brands shouldn’t expect automatic success with CRM software, especially if their organizational structure isn’t primed to handle it. More marketers are finding issues with many brands’ overreliance on CRM in their B2B stacks, which is why many organizations are demanding more flexible solutions — especially in a post-COVID world. But more than that, brands need to learn how to use whatever CRM system they choose effectively.

“Implementing a CRM system will do absolutely nothing for your business,” says CRM consultant Bobby Darnell. “However, the continued and effective use of it will.”

Building strong relationships between brands and customers is needed now more than ever, and the CRM systems of today seem ready to tackle the challenge. The societal upheaval brought on by the 2020 pandemic left many brands struggling to connect with audiences as they once had, which is most likely why the CRM market grew 10.9% that year and is expected to grow to $128.97 billion by 2028.

The solutions offered by these systems have the potential to help brands effectively connect with customers no matter where they enter the sales cycle. To attract and retain them, marketing and sales teams should consider exploring the capabilities of a CRM.


Marketing automation: A snapshot

What they are. For today’s marketers, automation platforms are often the center of the marketing stack. They aren’t shiny new technologies, but rather dependable stalwarts that marketers can rely upon to help them stand out in a crowded inbox and on the web amidst a deluge of content.

How they’ve changed. To help marketers win the attention battle, marketing automation vendors have expanded from dependence on static email campaigns to offering dynamic content deployment for email, landing pages, mobile and social. They’ve also incorporated features that rely on machine learning and artificial intelligence for functions such as lead scoring, in addition to investing in the user interface and scalability.

Why we care. The growing popularity of account-based marketing has also been a force influencing vendors’ roadmaps, as marketers seek to serve the buying group in a holistic manner — speaking to all of its members and their different priorities. And, ideally, these tools let marketers send buyer information through their tight integrations with CRMs, giving the sales team a leg up when it comes to closing the deal.

Read next: What is marketing automation?


About The Author

Corey Patterson is an Editor for MarTech and Search Engine Land. With a background in SEO, content marketing, and journalism, he covers SEO and PPC to help marketers improve their campaigns.

What is CRM and how does it support marketing?

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