There are three types of people: those who can count and those who can’t.
Or so goes the old mathematician’s joke.
Counting and keeping track of things is a very human thing to do. We want to know where we stand.
For years, companies have been able to accurately track their accounting via computerized programs. But many other things relating to their customers were either tracked manually or via spreadsheets, neither of which are integrated with business processes.
But now there are very expansive and not very expensive software applications to keep track of many other things that are important in a business. We call these Customer Relationship Management systems, or CRM systems.
CRM systems track communications in the entire chain from prospecting through to delivery management. A common usage is for sales pipeline management where opportunities with potential customers are tracked.
All information on prospects can be kept, including contact information, opportunities, communications, documents, tasks, etc.; and management reports can be run to understand how the sales department is performing.
An important feature of CRM systems is that the information can be shared amongst everyone in the business, who need to have access to this information. So, if a client or prospect calls in, the person answering the phone has access to all relevant recent communications with this caller and can better serve the needs of the caller.
CRM systems can also be used to create marketing campaigns, with powerful tools for email and direct mail management. They can also serve as a repository for sales literature.
For existing customers, CRM systems can keep track of contracts as well as products and services delivered. Many CRM systems also have case management facilities to track and prioritize support calls, issues and resolutions.
Another common facility in CRM systems is workflow management, where certain events trigger other events. One example might be that an email reminder is sent to a sales manager three days after a contract is delivered.
CRM systems can be run in-house on company computers or in a hosted environment in a supplier’s facility. Leading software systems include ones by SAP, Oracle, Salesforce, and Microsoft, the first two being primarily used by large corporations, and the last two often favoured by small and medium-sized enterprises.
CRM systems can deliver many benefits to organizations, including streamlined sales and marketing functions, improved customer service, and better understanding of the marketplace. But proper implementation and training are critical, and there have been many instances of CRM systems not meeting objectives because they were not set up properly or users were not trained adequately.
Proper implementation includes such things as converting existing data to meet the objectives of the new system, customizing it for specific needs, and creating special reports.
Another desired aspect of CRM systems is the integration with other corporate systems such as calendars and email systems. At Nicom, our CRM system (Microsoft’s) is tightly integrated with our Office applications, Outlook in particular. So for example a few mouse clicks in Outlook can cause specific email correspondence to be tied to a particular account, contact, or opportunity in CRM.
Not that long ago, CRM systems were only used in large enterprises, due mostly to their cost. But not anymore; CRM systems are now gaining wide acceptance in firms of any size.