If you’re on this page, you’ve been asking: What is CRM? First off, what does CRM stand for? The answer is: Customer Relationship Management.
Still, does that get to the heart of the CRM meaning? Well, there surely is a lot more to be said on the topic, hence the detailed description and examples we’re providing here to help you pick the CRM that will work best for your needs, whether personal, small business, or enterprise level.
What is CRM? Our CRM definition
What is customer relationship management? To give the base CRM meaning, the acronym CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management, but to give a deeper CRM definition, we can say the following: a CRM is a program to help manage your contact information. Still not enough? Fair, then let’s add this: CRMs are a set of management tools to help you find potential customers, win new customers, meet your current customer needs throughout the customer journey and maintain high levels of customer retention.
Truth is, the real list of the benefits of CRM is incredibly long. They can be split up into several types of CRMs, including operational, analytical and collaborative, among others. CRMs are versatile tools made for everything from marketing efforts to salespeople assistants to customer support.
So what is a CRM system?
Defining CRM systems is something lots of online experts and practitioners are always doing. That’s because having a solid understanding of the best customer relationship management software is crucial to choosing the best application and running your business on it. But this article is more than just another take on the hot topic of the CRM system meaning.
First off, it’s good to know that most CRMs are what we call cloud CRMs, or online customer relationship management systems. This means that the system and all your customer data are stored on the servers of the CRM SaaS you’re using. However, some other CRMs are hosted on-premise. When we talk about on-premise CRM, we mean you host all the data and the CRM on your own servers. Choosing the right CRM, whether on the cloud or on-premises, is one important decision.
What’s more, the best CRMs are not only web SaaS or desktop apps, but there’s also the mobile CRM. We’re not talking about only letting sales reps use it to make phone calls (though CRMs can do this too), but that you have full access to your CRM data anytime and anywhere.
A small point to note that is some CRM systems are open source CRM. This means that the CRM maker gives users the rights to use and modify the software and its source code.
Finally, CRM software comes in many pricing options. Often it is a sales manager who decides on what kind of CRM package is best for the team, and knows when to upgrade to premium packages as the sales team's needs become more advanced. Of course, there are plenty of free CRM platforms out there too.
Who needs customer relationship management systems?
The short answer? Anyone who works can benefit from CRM. The longer answer: anyone doing sales, marketing teams, service, support, or running a startup, managing a community group, non-profit, or volunteer organization, and editorial teams, ad agencies, and art projects or productions can benefit.
Businesses of all kinds use CRM, from solo freelance operations and home-run e-commerce to small businesses, mid-size businesses, and massive enterprise-level corporations. Everyone can benefit from better organization, centralized task management, and AI and automation tools that make work faster and better with less time and effort.
What are CRM systems used for?
A customer relationship management system is about more than getting new contacts and making more sales. It’s about deepening customer loyalty as well. To be more specific, CRMs are generally designed to streamline and improve customer interactions, the sales process, and the running of marketing campaigns. They do this by improving efficiencies across workflow and the sales pipeline—automating tasks, and analyzing data.
A great CRM solution is used for managing your team’s voice, chat, and email touchpoints. They track leads, customer needs, offers, and conversions in one place, and help with optimizing your website and running ad campaigns. Keeping track of all that data makes task automation one of the most significant advantages provided by today’s CRMs. By letting machine learning and analytics do some of the heavy lifting, you save time and keep yourself from getting burned out on cognitively distressing or low brain-activity tasks.
Before moving on, we should say one thing about implementing your CRM. CRM implementation has definitely gotten easier with time, but still one should not underestimate this process too much. Check out our review of CRM implementation to learn more. Now, let’s take a look at what CRM does, everything from networking, lead management to post-sale follow-ups.
The purpose of CRM business applications & platforms
Finally, let’s face the question head-on: What does a CRM do? As we’ll see, there are many types of CRM in business, from operational to analytical and collaborative. CRMs can also be broken down by the big three departments: marketing CRM, sales CRM and service CRM. Though the best CRM platforms handle everything, or at the very least, integrate with other SaaS to meet all your business requirements.
First type of CRM software to talk about is among the most important: Operational CRM. Operational client relationship management software is the most common variety. Truth be told, “operational” really is a catch-all term, and there’s a lot of differences across CRMs in this category.
So, what is the focus of CRM programs in this area? Generally speaking, it just means software that focuses on streamlining customer interactions with sales, marketing, and service automation. The idea is to generate leads, then convert them into customers and contacts, and make sure they remain happy even after the sale.
Examples of an operational CRM platform
Here we provide a list of some examples of operational CRM solutions. These apps are generally standard CRMs that streamline the business process with the customer data the CRM will optimize.
Salesforce has a CRM with a lot of powerful features, comprising the full operational suite of sales forecasting, reporting, automating tasks, and collecting and documenting sales leads. Calibrated to fine-tune daily operations and reduce effort and expenses, the platform offers iterative improvements to all your business needs.
AI and Einstein analytics predict and interpret data according to your specific business operations. The new Lightning platform is real fast, and it's component-based, drag-and-drop user interface takes customization to the outer limits. Salesforce is a full-on operational client management system.
Propeller CRM is like a Gmail CRM that allows you to put an operational CRM into your inbox with Gmail integration (in the form of a Chrome Extension).
It’s built to manage daily operations, automate marketing, manage your sales funnel—just like a good ol’ operational CRM should do. On the collaborative front, the platform’s team-based features are broad and bountiful, and include an overview of your sales activity, tracking tasks and processes, and assigning follow-ups. Zapier integration connects Propeller to 1,000+ other useful apps. A full-fledged REST API lets you instantly send data wherever it needs to go.
Less Annoying CRM
Less Annoying CRM (or LACRM) targets small enterprises who have had trouble implementing operational CRM. Consequently, they provide basic features at a low price point with only the slightest of learning curves.
The software’s user interface is minimal and functional, with no room for nonsense. All the lead tracking, collaboration tools, and follow-up reminder features you’d need are there, as well as basic reporting. We’ve got a bit more about the app's CRM features at our Less Annoying CRM review.
There are tons of advantages of CRM when it comes to analyzing customer information and other CRM data. CRMs can improve your marketing campaigns with powerful analytics and collaborative tools for visibility across your team. Analytical tools can find meaningful patterns for actionable insights, letting you run effective, targeted ads through marketing automation.
Analytical CRM tools can help turn a lead into a customer, predicting shopping habits and determining how likely a person is to buy something again. That can prove invaluable for future marketing decisions and financial forecasting. You’ll also gain visibility on opportunities you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. That can influence and improve your marketing, strategy, and improve your sales forecasting.
Analytics feed off marketing processes, with marketing automation cutting down work for your sales team, helping you retain customers, and grow sales. Supported by data, your business operations are coaxed towards best practice. Your CRM will automatically update data and metrics, ensuring you have a complete, reliable portrait of your business. Analytic tools can offer insights on your user interface and help you improve customer experience, increasing your bottom line.
Examples of an analytical CRM application
This brief list of analytical CRM software is far from complete. What’s sure is that each of these CRMs will give you that real-time data advantage in everything from the early sales cycle to long-term customer satisfaction.
Hubspot’s CRM (free for up to 2 people) integrates analytics and reporting metrics across its dashboards. Meanwhile, HubSpot’s all-in-one Marketing Hub beefs these features up considerably with advanced marketing analytics. HubSpot Marketing Hub is designed to help improve all aspects of the marketing funnel, from lead acquisition to deal won.
The marketing analytics dashboard works by trawling data from third-party databases and your CRM to find and interpret key metrics and generate reports. Track trends over time, whether that be company-wide aggregate data or individual contact histories. Website analytics tools allow you to interpret which metrics are driving traffic and direct marketing campaigns accordingly. Our HubSpot review covers more useful information.
Zoho also offers a dedicated tool for analytics. It’s called Zoho Analytics (surprise, surprise), and it’s designed to seamlessly integrate with Zoho CRM. This tool lets you aggregate information from a wide range of sources like apps, cloud storage, web feeds, and databases, which you can then turn into dynamic reports on sales funnels to win/loss, and so much more.
Zoho offers a free version of Analytics for up to 2 people with a lot of limitations, like a low cap on how many rows of data you can save (just 10,000) and few app integrations. Want to learn more, pop over to this Zoho review, which covers analytics as well as other CRM tools for marketing, the sales process and analytical features to better understand customer behavior.
Creatio is a CRM that lets you set up business automations without knowing how to code. Included in Creatio are features for sales and marketing, and there are plenty of good tools for analytics and reporting.
The Creatio marketing set of tools includes business process management. This is great for setting up automations. It gives you decent monitoring and analysis for these workflows. The sales part of Creatio gets you analytics for your customer database. It aggregates a bunch of customer data to give you a better idea how to contact them through the sales funnel, and shows you the high-priority customers. Our Creatio review has got more descriptions.
Next up is collaborative CRM. This is a digital tool focused on improving the customer experience. Collaborative customer relationship management delivers this by giving your whole team better information about all your contacts, including communication and other engagement histories. By streamlining the sharing of CRM data, collaboration is more efficient even among remote workforces. Tracking and sharing customer data lets everyone be on the same page. It’s very useful for keeping a seamless multi-channel customer experience humming along while you run your day-to-day operations.
Collaborative customer relationship management also offers integrations with other applications, ensuring you can aggregate information from different channels and move smoothly between them. It also acts as a social CRM, letting you work on all your profiles from singular interfaces. By sharing information and linking your activities across social media sites like Instagram or LinkedIn, instant messaging, email, and more or less everything else under the sun, you gain in productivity and visibility.
Examples of a collaborative CRM platform
Many CRM strategies from various providers include collaboration features. In fact, any good CRM will help teammates coordinate tasks and managers oversee projects. This list is far from exhaustive.
SugarCRM is a highly customizable CRM for managing customers and leads, and bringing your sales team in sync with your marketing and support teams. The platform’s prime value is in refining and personalizing your sales cycle and sales pipeline. Tweakable dashboards and productivity and collaborative tools make it easier to bring your team’s personas together into a cohesive, appropriate system.
SugarCRM’s Sales Stage keeps track of opportunities from “Prospect” to “Proposal” to “Deal Won” and assigns a probability of success for each stage. That’s very useful for sales forecasting. The platform’s development tools let you build custom apps for your discrete selling needs. A clean, drag-and-drop modular interface lets you do a lot of ‘developer’ stuff like setting up features and fields, without knowing a line of code. Read more at this SugarCRM review.
Microsoft Dynamics 365
Microsoft Dynamics 365 is a total set of tools for all your business needs with its Microsoft Azure cloud computing ecosystem. It has five CRM-type packages: sales, customer service, field service, project service automation, and marketing. For each module, you get several add-ons you can buy.
For collaborative CRM features, the Sales Professional or Enterprise plan or the Customer Service Professional or Enterprise plan are ideal. Both platforms get you to coworking features of sales force automation and Office 365 productivity. Everything integrates with all the products in the Microsoft ecosystem, furthering collaborative power.
Copper can be a good collaborative CRM. It was designed with relationship-building as a first principle. Copper is made to extend collaboration which closes deals and promises a spike in teamwork. Copper tracks customer touchpoints so you have a good overview of your teammates’ interactions. It also cuts down on admin bills by making direct interactions between team members a snap.
You can check out the Copper review here. It covers a lot more about this great collaborative CRM. While you’ll see that Copper has a special emphasis on working with Google apps, especially as a way to replace spreadsheets, you might also learn about other tools for contact management, deal tracking over the customer lifecycle, and lead scoring.
Marketing & Campaign Management CRM
Marketing has unique challenges and fulfills a singular “frontline” role in your business. A marketing CRM setup can help out with that, big time. Any good customer relationship management CRM is built on the principle of better business through overlapping communication, as well as the centralization of tasks and data. In that spirit, a marketing-focused CRM offers a lot of help with marketing by symbiotically merging it with sales, letting you run campaigns more effectively, obtain more leads, and close more deals.
Some basic marketing CRM tools include things like email marketing campaigns, which can sometimes create the first touchpoints in discovering new sales opportunities. A marketing CRM can segment leads into different categories, according to how long they spent on your website, what links they clicked on, and what kind of personal information they shared on a form. Marketing segmentation allows you to build separate campaigns for separate demographics, keeping your brand “top-of-mind” until the lead is ready to become active.
Examples of a collaborative CRM platform
Marketing CRM vendors are plenty, and most of the best CRMs will include some marketing tools like email campaigns and marketing automation. This list is just the tip of the iceberg.
Drip eCRM is built to support online businesses and does a great job of tracking ecommerce KPIs. It’s designed specifically to help smaller operations get out from the shadow of big companies and their personalized algorithms, helping them build more intimate, intelligent customer relationships. As may be given away by the name, it specializes in drip marketing campaigns.
Drip handles the time-released distribution of marketing materials through email, text message, Facebook ads, and personalized landing pages and websites. The platform uses marketing automation to ascertain if someone is a prospect, customer, or an advanced user, then directs strategy in the right direction. Lead scoring and tracking features help you keep tabs on purchase intent and unique events.
Keap organizes client information in one locale to personalize marketing and boost workflow. It’s one of the best small business CRM, with features built to run campaigns with advanced marketing automation. You can use triggers to automate tasks when specific criteria are met. Data from campaigns, workflows, and tracking are made extra intelligible through real-time monitoring, visualized statistics, and in-depth analytics.
The tracking features collect leads into different segments, each of which gets delivered personalized “nudges” to close more deals, while workflows automate tasks based on triggers. Data from campaigns, tracking and workflows become intelligible through statistical reporting. Visual editing lets you build email campaigns and landing pages and ready-made templates are available on their marketplace if you’re strapped for time.
What started out as an email subscription SaaS is now a full-on CRM with plenty of marketing tools. Mailchimp is a stalwart in the field of email databases and automated blast emailing. Their straightforward design tools let you create email marketing campaigns and tailor messages to reach people across social media channels.
Mailchimp provides a long list of automation features, letting you set up auto-emails triggered by events like new sign-ups, purchases, or abandoned cart reminders. In terms of integrations, Mailchimp offers a vast collection of ready-to-merge services and is easily teamed with CRMs like Salesforce, Insightly, and social media sites like LinkedIn.
A short history of CRM technologies
The ‘Uberization’ trend has hit the CRM market like a tidal wave. Developers have come into the user, offering software with friendly user interfaces and appealing niche design language. Simplicity and low friction usage now come standard.
That wasn’t always the case. The history of the CRM reaches back to the dot.com bubble era. The first version of legacy software SAP CRM, for example, was released way back in millennial year zero, aka 2000. Back then, all CRMs had a big learning curve and required a complete retooling of the workflow. First, you need to train up. Then you’d have to import all your contacts onto a proprietary cloud and plug away doing data entry.
Things look a lot different today. A small business can now implement CRM processes with minimal hassle, without hiring developers. Cloud-based CRMs have become standard. Cloud storage, automated data entry, and web/mobile cross-platform functionality have improved user experience (not to mention customer experience) dramatically. Prices have dropped too, with free, open-source, and affordable professional and enterprise plans available across the market.
Legacy providers like Oracle, Microsoft Dynamics, and Salesforce have kept pace with trends, and continue to command serious market shares. But an increasingly diverse cast of new wave platforms has emerged to challenge them, as we’ve shown.
Key takeaways on customer relationship management solutions
That brings us to the end of our comprehensive breakdown of the CRM management system. We’ve talked about basic features of CRM software, and examined the many CRM capabilities on offer among the oodles of CRM vendors. The key takeaways are simply this: That customer relations management is a serious business, with many CRM solutions jockeying to win a coveted spot in your business budget. And while the concept of CRM is broad, the details prove that there is a CRM tool for every kind of business process or industry. Including yours.
What is a CRM database?
The CRM database system is the software or platform that facilitates the storage, management, and retrieval of this customer data. CRM database definition says that it stores and manages various data, such as contact details, purchase history, and preferences, allowing businesses to gain insights and improve customer experiences.
What is CRM data?
CRM data meaning refers to the information stored in a CRM system. This data enables businesses to gain a deeper understanding of their customers and personalize marketing, sales, and service efforts. Data mining in CRM involves extracting valuable insights and patterns from the CRM data.