Over the years, businesses have become more customer-oriented and more dependent on data collection and analysis than ever before. As a result, CRM (customer relationship management) solutions have become a necessary tool for success in today’s business landscape.
There are many different CRM solutions to choose from, all of which have different features that can benefit your business. However, the one thing that they all have in common is that they provide a centralized place to collect, store, and analyze customer data. While CRM tools have been leveraged for years now, customer relationship management wasn’t always managed by comprehensive software solutions. The following is an overview of how CRM has evolved over time and what they look like today.
It’s almost impossible to imagine how businesses — especially larger companies — were able to manage their customer information before computers became widely available. Prior to the 1950s, customer information was simply handwritten into notebooks, account folders, or personal organizers using pens.
A major advancement was made in CRM when the Rolodex was invented by Danish engineer Hildaur Neilson in 1956. The Rolodex still required businesses to record customer information by hand, but made it much easier to organize customer information and to access it when needed. You could simply flip through the Rolodex instead of having to shuffle through countless pages and files.
In the 1970s, standalone mainframe computers became commercially available to businesses. The first mainframe computers were built by IBM, GE, Honeywell, and others. While these computers were massive and initially quite expensive, they allowed customer information to be recorded digitally for the first time using software-based lists and spreadsheets. These mainframe systems provided the ability to retrieve customer data much more easily and to automate sales through the creation and management of databases. These systems became the forerunner of the present day CRM software tool.
In the 1980s, businesses began to employ database marketing. Before that, everyone relied on direct marketing, where companies would try to blindly attract customers with no idea whether they had any interest in their products or services. Cold calling is an example of such a strategy. With database marketing, companies could use statistics to collect and analyze customer data. They were able to customize their communications in this way, greatly improving their chances of converting consumers.
ACT! (Activity Control Technology), the very first contact management tool, was launched in 1987 by Conductor Software. ACT! allowed businesses to track customer and prospect information using a single database that could be shared by multiple users. However, to implement ACT!, businesses had to invest heavily in expensive hardware and software as well as in-house IT employees.
Database marketing was used throughout the 1980s, but by the early 1990s, it evolved into Sales Force Automation (SFA). SFA automated database marketing features and combined them with contact management tools. As a result, businesses that adopted SFA solutions improved their ability to track customer interactions and their inventory control. Siebel Systems, which was started by Tom Siebel after he left Oracle, was the biggest provider of SFA solutions. It wouldn’t be long until Siebel Systems would be purchased by Oracle.
By the mid 1990s, CRM tools moved away from customer solutions and towards enterprise resource planning (ERP). ERP solutions allowed businesses to use a system of integrated applications that managed and automated a wide range of operations, including not just sales, marketing and payment functions, but also product planning, manufacturing, and shipping operations.
At this point in the mid 1990s, CRM tools were starting to look a little bit more like the CRM solutions we know and use today. At the time, these solutions were known by a variety of terms, including customer information system (CIS) and enterprise customer management (ECM). By 1995, the industry finally settled on CRM, but it is uncertain who coined the term. Some believe it may have been Tom Siebel, while others believe it was Gartner, a technology research company.
By 1999, Siebel launched the Siebel Sales Handheld, the first mobile CRM solution. This was quickly followed by a number of other mobile CRM offerings from Oracle, SAP, and PeopleSoft. However, because mobile devices had yet to take off at this point, adoption of a mobile CRM was limited.
When the dot-com bubble burst in 2001, it almost killed the CRM industry. However, instead of leading to the death of an industry, it led to a rebirth — on the cloud. Cloud-based CRM solutions grew in popularity because they were an affordable alternative to having to install expensive on-premise hardware and software.
Although the cloud has been around since the 1960s, the term “cloud” was introduced in 2006 by the CEO of Google at an industry conference. Yet the first open source cloud-based CRM was introduced a few years prior to that conference in 2004 by SugarCRM. Within three months of its launch, more than 25,000 people had downloaded SugarCRM. They claim to currently have around 1.5 million end users.
For a very long time, the only point of interaction businesses had with their customers was during the transaction. This all changed with the advent of social media. Social media has been around since the late 1990s, but it was the introduction of platforms like MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter, that really launched the social media industry into the stratosphere. Businesses quickly realized that social media was a channel through which they could interact with customers directly. This led to a focus on interactive client relationship management as opposed to transactional client relationship management.
As a result of the transition to interactive client relationship management, social CRM was introduced. Social CRM allowed businesses to improve their engagement with customers on social media by giving them the ability to track, collect, and analyze social data, like tracking social mentions of a company.
In 1999, Salesforce released the first SaaS (software as a service) CRM. SaaS CRM and cloud-based CRM solutions are very similar to each other. For example, both deliver CRM software to the user, which they can access online wherever they are. They’re both subscription services that are offered remotely, which means no on-premise hardware or software is needed. In fact, SaaS CRM solutions are offered through the cloud.
So how are they different? Basically, companies will have more control through a cloud-based CRM because cloud computing offers other services, including additional software tools and control over your data. SaaS only offers the CRM software, which means businesses have less control over the management and customization of the software; however, they also won’t be responsible for maintaining the software.
Both cloud-based CRM and SaaS CRM solutions are incredibly effective for the companies that use them. One of the reasons why both are so popular is not just because they don’t have to invest in on-premise storage or software, but because of how flexible these solutions are. Providers like Salesforce offer businesses the ability to add features when needed. In fact, growing companies won’t have to worry about scalability since cloud-based CRM and SaaS CRM solutions are incredibly scalable, which is also another reason why they are so cost-efficient.
A successful business is one that is able to build and maintain strong relationships with their customers. CRM makes it possible to do just this by making it easier to collect, organize, and analyze all of your customer data in one location where you can access it at a moment’s notice. Using CRM can help improve not just your customer relationships, but also your business processes, including sales, marketing, and accounting processes. It’s no wonder that companies of all sizes, from small startups to major corporations, rely on CRM solutions to succeed.
CRM has gone through many changes as it has evolved over the years. These days, CRM solutions are all encompassing. While all CRM platforms serve the same basic function, many offer different features. Choosing the right CRM solution depends greatly on what your specific business needs are. However, there are ten capabilities that your chosen CRM should offer:
The one thing that every single CRM has is contact management. Contact management is what allows you to collect and organize all of your customer data. This means that you should have the ability to track your leads through the sales funnel and to manage the profiles, relationships, and communications of each one of your customers. An important feature that will make your contact management capabilities more efficient is the ability to segment your customers into groups. Segmentation lets you organize your customers by certain specifications, such as where they are located, their age groups, their buying patterns, their gender, or by any other custom organization rules.
By segmenting your contacts, you’ll be able to target specific customers more appropriately with your marketing and sales efforts. For example, if your company sells clothing and you want to promote a new women’s jacket, segmentation can ensure that you’re not sending out promotional content for this jacket to male customers ( since the content won’t be relevant to them).
Lead management allows you to track the actions, behaviors, and interactions of your leads so you can determine the appropriate actions to take to nurture your leads. Additionally, many CRM tools have lead scoring capabilities. Lead scoring lets you assign points to specific actions that your leads take or specific information that your leads provided. You can then identify what leads are highly qualified and ready to be engaged by your sales team by their scores. This prevents your sales personnel from wasting time trying to close a lead that may not be interested while at the same time preventing highly qualified leads from slipping through the cracks unnoticed.
Analyzing your customer data is key to learning who your customers are and what they want. If you’re not using analytics to do this, then your marketing, sales, and customer service processes won’t be very efficient or effective. It’s why so many CRM solutions now offer reporting and dashboard capabilities — features that for a long time were limited to BI (business intelligence) tools.
Dashboards allow you to visualize important metrics to obtain actionable insights that you can access in real time, thereby improving your decision making abilities. Look for a dashboard feature that offers full customization options that allow you to choose what metrics are displayed as well as how they are visualized. Additionally, reporting features allow you to generate custom reports on the fly. You can even use automation to generate reports based on a customized schedule to be automatically distributed to the people that need to see them.
Understanding your customer’s journey is essential to understanding the customer, identifying their needs, and positioning yourself at every stage of their journey to meet those needs. Many CRM solutions give you the ability to automate your customer journey mapping processes to help identify your touchpoints. This, in turn, allows you to optimize your customer journey by eliminating potential roadblocks, accelerating the progress of your customers, improving their satisfaction, and enabling your marketing, sales, and customer reps to stay informed and work together more effectively.
Many CRM systems use sales force automation (SFA), which is a technique that allows you to automate certain tasks that are repetitive and time-consuming, freeing up your employees to focus on more important and complicated tasks. Using the SFA feature, you can automate customer management, contact management, information sharing, order processing, order tracking, sales forecast analysis, inventory monitoring, and more.
For example, SFA can automatically assign leads amongst sales personnel, automatically send email notifications to your sales personnel to ensure that they follow up on specific leads or prospects, and automatically generate upsell or cross sell offers to customers based on their orders. By using SFA, you greatly reduce human error while also reducing the sales cycle, both of which will help you improve your conversion rate.
Sales analytics features collect and analyze data concerning the entire sales process. This data is then presented as actionable insights in easy-to-understand reports. The importance of sales analytics cannot be overstated. Through the use of sales analytics, you’ll be able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of your sales process as well as of your sales team, allowing you to make strategic adjustments, whether it’s to improve future sales campaigns or to improve the performance of your sales team. In fact, your sales personnel will even be able to track their own performance, which can help to greatly improve individual motivation and productivity.
Analytical sales reports also allow you to forecast both long and short-term sales. Through sales forecasting, you’ll be able to proactively make better, more informed business decisions based on past sales experiences.
Many CRM platforms have mobile apps that allow users to access customer data on their smartphones or tablets in real time while they’re outside the office. This is important for sales personnel who may be traveling and who need important client information at their fingertips to do their jobs effectively. Mobile CRM tools go beyond just improving accessibility to your customer data. You can also set up campaign alerts on your mobile devices that inform you about important changes; for example, if a lead has taken a specific action and is qualified to be engaged.
The only way that you can judge the current performance of your marketing and sales efforts as well as set new goals is through benchmarking. Benchmarking involves tracking certain KPIs (key performance indicators) over time, which is exactly what a good CRM will allow you to do. For example, by comparing your current conversion rate amongst customers over previous months, quarters, or years you can determine if your sales team is improving its performance or falling behind. You can use KPIs to set specific marketing and sales goals as well, such as hitting certain revenue numbers, hitting a specific upsell rate, increasing the average customer lifespan, lowering your customer acquisition costs, and more.
Your email marketing efforts are a very important part of your marketing and sales strategies. Not only is it one of the oldest online marketing tactics, it continues to be one of the most effective as well due to its high ROI. A CRM with email client integration will help make your email campaigns much more efficient. This is because when you’re creating an email, the information you have on your leads will be instantly accessible if your email campaign is integrated with your CRM. This makes it possible to discuss previous interactions with your leads and strengthen your relationship even more. You can even use your CRM’s segmentation feature to send out emails to specific groups of leads.
Certain business processes, such as collecting and analyzing data, take a significant amount of time to complete when performed manually. It’s one of the issues that modern CRMs were designed to address. CRM will allow you to automate certain processes based on pre-defined business rules, whether it’s data collection, data analysis, or even some of the processes of your marketing campaigns.
Using CRM you can automatically collect information about user behavior on your website. These behaviors can then be automatically analyzed and displayed on your reports. For example, if a new lead submits a form, your CRM can automatically create a new profile for that lead that includes the information that was submitted on the form and that continues to track their behavior across your site.
While you could argue that the previously listed features are benefits in themselves, there are three more general benefits that your team will be able to take advantage of when implementing a CRM solution.
In the earlier days, CRM tools existed in silos, meaning that everyone who needed customer information would have to access the CRM individually. These days, CRM solutions encourage collaboration. For example, if one sales rep began to communicate with a prospect, another sales rep is able to pick up where the first rep left off by accessing that prospect’s communication history (such as their calls and emails with the rep).
As a result, the lag time between touchpoints is greatly reduced and the prospect has a better experience. It also prevents overlapping — if a sales rep has already begun speaking with a prospect, then another sales rep won’t have to repeat the steps the prospect has already gone through.
Another way that modern CRMs encourage collaboration is through the dashboard features. You can customize your dashboards for different teams. This ensures that when an employee looks at their team’s specific dashboard, only metrics that are relevant to their job are displayed.
In addition to making it easier to track customer interactions and improve customer relationships, CRM tools also help to boost the productivity of your staff. There are a few ways that CRM helps to do this. First, by having access to customer data in real time, your team is able to make better business decisions on the spot. Access to dashboards and reports means that they don’t have to go on a time-consuming search for information or make key decisions based on guesswork.
Secondly, automating certain tasks helps to eliminate a lot of the busy work. For example, data entry. By automatizing data entry using CRM, you free your team up to work on tasks that actually require their skills and attention, such as engaging with your prospects and customers. Other useful automation tools that can help save time and make your team’s job easier include email templates and automated follow-ups.
Because CRM solutions update metrics and customer profiles in real time, it helps to ensure that your team stays up to date on every facet of your business. For example, your marketing team can identify new leads the moment you capture them, your sales team can identify the moment that those leads become qualified sales leads that are ready to be engaged, and your customer service reps can view the most recent communications that customers had with your company to ensure that they are provided with the assistance they need.
Additionally, because this information is available across all departments throughout your organization, different departments can spot issues or inefficiencies in other departments and help solve them as a result.
Now that you know what kind of features a good CRM solution should provide and how they can benefit your company, it’s time to choose a CRM. Before you do this, understand that not all CRMs do the same thing. Different CRMs focus on different business models. Choosing the right CRM for you will depend greatly on what your specific needs are. Keeping that in mind, the following are some of the most highly regarded CRM solutions currently available on the market:
Salesforce.com is arguably the standard for CRM solutions. Salesforce.com will provide you with everything from a mobile app to highly customizable dashboards and reports to company-wide collaboration. Salesforce.com provides third-party integration with Google Apps and Lightning Sync. Some of the additional features offered by Salesforce.com include campaign management, market automation, contact management, customizable sales processes, and rules-based lead scoring.
Essentials: $25/month per user
Professional: $75/month per user
Enterprise: $150/month per user
Unlimited: $300/month per user
Agile is an excellent CRM option for smaller businesses due to its extensive features and automation capabilities, all of which are available at a low starting price of $8.99/month. The starter package will allow you to store information for upwards of 10,000 companies or contacts. Features include lead scoring, email tracking, form building tools, email templates, landing page building tools, social media monitoring capabilities, marketing automation, and more.
(Discounted prices are available for one and two-year long subscriptions)
Free: Free for 10 users
Starter: $14.99/month per user
Regular: $49.99/month per user
Enterprise: 79.99/month per user
Zoho is a cloud-based CRM solution that allows you to collect customer data from a wide range of sources, including email, social media, phone calls, and live chat. Some of it’s more unique features include the ability to create portals for each one of your customers, assign team members individual targets, and develop custom solutions and integrations using the REST API. Zoho also allows you to build and automate sales processes. In addition to the many features already included in its CRM, Zoho provides users with access to its marketplace, where you can add hundreds of different extensions to your dashboard for added functionality.
Standard: $12/month per user
Professional: $20/month per user
Enterprise: $35/month per user
Along with SalesForce, HubSpot is one of the most popular CRM solutions out there. This is in part due to its scalability — making it perfect for smaller businesses with an eye towards the future. Not only will HubSpot automatically collect and organize all customer interactions, you can integrate it with many other apps, including Gmail and Outlook. HubSpot also allows you to view your sales funnel through a visual dashboard and provides a timeline view that makes it easy to follow up with leads. Other features include the ability to measure SEO-based ROI, manage your optimized landing pages, and create custom email templates.
One thing to take note of: there are three main versions of the HubSpot CRM available. There’s the marketing CRM, the sales CRM, and the service CRM. Although they all share numerous overlapping features, they all have individual features that are more tailored to their main function. For example, the sales CRM offers real-time sales insights, a deal and task board, phone integration, and more. The three versions of HubSpot CRM can be all be integrated with one another as well.
HubSpot CRM is available for free, although if you want access to more comprehensive sales and marketing tools, you’ll need to look into purchasing more advanced solutions, which are available in a variety of different plans:
Starter: $50/month includes 1 paid user
Professional: $400/month includes 5 paid users
Enterprise: $1200/month includes 10 paid users
For a CRM solution that’s particularly user-friendly, Streak is a great option. Many CRM platforms can be a bit overwhelming when you’re first getting started, which is where Streak really sets itself apart. The reason for this is that Streak is a CRM extension that works with Gmail. Using Streak, you can leverage Google Calendar to set up task reminders and manage deals as well as share files and contacts with a single click. Because it’s built on Gmail, it can integrate with Google’s other web apps as well. Some of its other features include shared pipelines, mail merge, and Webhook API access.
Professional: $49/month per user
Enterprise: $129/month per user
Pipedrive is a CRM built specifically for sales, which is why it’s primary interface is the pipeline. All of your deals are categorized using the different stages of the sale and you can easily analyze your sales using a statistics tool. Pipedrive offers a number of helpful features, including detailed tracking, customized template support, email integration, task notifications, and visual reports that allow you to view key stats split by products or services. PipeDrive uses an open API, which means that it supports a number of third-party features and software, such as the Zapier add-on, which makes it easy to sync your data between numerous web apps.
Essential: $12.50/month per user
Advanced: $24.90/month per user
Professional: $49.90/month per user
Enterprise: $99.00/month per user
Insightly is another budget-friendly CRM option. It’s most basic version isn’t as limited as you might think as it allows you to send up to 2,500 mass emails a day, collect up to 100,000 records and the ability to important 25,000 records per session, all with storage space of up to 10Gb. You can also integrate Insightly with Microsoft’s Power BI analytics solution. Automation is made easy using Google Contacts and Calendar Sync. Other features include task management, pipelines and activity sets, detailed report charts, unlimited custom reports, and API access — not to mention an open API that allows for seamless integration with Boomerang, Data2CRM, PieSync, and other services.
Plus: $29/month per user
Professional: $49/month per user
Enterprise: $99/month per user
Zendesk Sell is a CRM solution that boasts a user-friendly interface along with a few advanced analytics capabilities, including pipeline analysis, forecasted sales, sales revenue, goal performance reports, and sales rep performance. It has an extensive set of communication tools along with a variety of features that make the somewhat higher cost (compared to other similar CRM tools) worth it, including excellent deal tracking and lead management capabilities. It’s one main drawback is that its customization ability is somewhat limited.
Team: $25/month per user
Professional: $59/month per user
Enterprise: $125/month per user
Elite: $2,388/year per user
PipelineDeals is perfect for users who are transitioning from spreadsheets to a CRM solution. In fact, the data is organized in a manner that’s similar to a spreadsheet. Of course, using PipelineDeals makes it much easier to manage your data since its connected to communication and tracking tools, eliminating most of the effort required to manage spreadsheets manually. Along with a user-friendly interface, the PipelineDeals CRM has a number of advanced features, including sales forecasting, activity tracking, deal insight, automated task assignment, automated notifications, and more. Integrations are somewhat limited, although you can connect to Microsoft Office, Microsoft Outlook, and Google Apps.
Start: $25/month per user
Develop: $33/month per user
Grow: $49/month per user
The way we do business is constantly evolving; however, there’s one thing that will always stay the same — the importance of the customer experience. It’s no surprise how important CRM has become over the years. Even in the heyday before CRM was known as CRM it was essential to the success of your company. Yet CRM is constantly changing to keep up with the evolving needs and expectations of your customers. However, it’s exactly because of those evolving needs and expectations that make CRM tools so essential to your ability to provide the best possible experience to your customers.
Contact us now to learn more about our Cloud and CRM services at 469.916.7730.