What Is a Customer Relationship Management Platform?

Daniel Cheung

CRM platforms have been around since the 90s, and have evolved over the last decade to include artificial intelligence, machine learning and improved functionality. That said, just what is a CRM platform, what is its primary purpose, and how is it used to increase sales and turn leads into customers? In this article we will answer those questions and tell you why the martech stack should include a full-featured, unified CRM platform.

What Are CRMs Used For?

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platforms are most often used by sales, marketing professionals, and customer service staff to manage and refine a brand’s relationships and interactions with prospective leads and current customers. CRMs are able to manage the relationships that a brand has with its customers through the entire customer lifetime. While many brands are using Customer Data Platforms (CDP) to unify customer data across all channels, CRMs are still in use by the majority of enterprise businesses. A recent report from Stellaxius revealed that 91% of businesses with over 11 employees use a CRM.

As brands grow and become more sophisticated, their use of a CRM grows with them to take on more duties, said Tony Kavanagh, CMO at Insightly. “CRM has an increasingly broader remit which goes beyond sales to include marketing, service & support, field service, ecommerce and analytics,” he said. “Customer experience by definition relates to every interaction a customer has with your company from unknown website visitor to full happy customer for life. CRM should be looked upon as the technical backbone to help manage this entire journey,” he said.

Older CRMs had the problem of siloed customer data, which resulted in a highly fragmented view of customers, which negatively affects a brand’s ability to consistently engage customers in a timely manner. “The way to address this is to consider moving to a unified CRM platform so that all customers’ data sits in one secure place, and on which all the required CRM applications of sales, marketing and customer service & support. This will ensure that all customer-facing teams are looking at the exact same set of the most recent customer data, resulting in higher rates of responsiveness from both sales and customer service reps and higher customer satisfaction and retention rates,” suggested Kavanagh.

CRMs are also used to provide customer service professionals with instant access to each and every interaction that a customer has had with a brand, including chat history, purchase history, and customer service tickets. Access to this information allows customer service personnel to provide well informed, immediate responses that leave customers feeling satisfied.

Related Article: Has the Rise of the CDP Changed How Companies Use CRMs?

The 3 Types of CRMs

There are three different types of CRMs: operational, analytical, and collaborative. Although all CRMs share some core functionality, the primary roles of each are different:

  • Operational CRMs: These streamline and automate sales, marketing, and service processes, and are used to generate leads and convert them into contacts, while at the same time capturing all details. They also help to provide service throughout the entire customer lifecycle.
  • Analytical CRMs: These are used for the analysis of customer data which has been collected from various touchpoints in the customer journey. They enable brands to make more informed decisions, enable marketers to evaluate the effectiveness of their campaigns, sales professionals to increase sales, and customer service agents to improve the quality and efficiency of support.
  • Collaborative CRMs: These enable a brand to share its customer information between departments (sales, HR, marketing, IT, customer service, and others). They also enable all of a brand’s departments to share the same goal, which is to improve customer service, increase customer loyalty, and acquire new customers.

Sridhar Jayaraman, VP of Engineering at Qentelli, views a CRM as a “one stop platform” that is used to capture all of the conversation with or about a brand’s customers, including those that occur during and after the sales cycle. “Every professional involved in these conversations — including Lead Generation Specialists, Inside Sales and Field Sales reps, Sales Engineers, Account Managers, Customer Support reps — all capture the information in the CRM, so it becomes the single source of truth!” said Jayaraman.

Related Article: What’s the Difference Between a CRM and a CDP? 

CRM Core Functionality

Although the three types of CRMs have different uses, there are three functions that are common to all CRM platforms: contact management, interaction tracking, and lead management. Contact management is used to store customers’ contact information in a searchable database, including names, phone numbers, addresses, email addresses, and social media accounts. Interaction tracking is used to input notes and track customer interaction history, which is used to document conversations with specific customers. Lead management allows businesses to manage the process of converting prospects into leads (potential customers) by identifying, scoring, and moving them through the sales funnel.

Additional functionality that many CRMs provide may include:

  • Email marketing integration and templates
  • AI-based decisioning
  • Workflow automation
  • 3rd party integration support
  • Reporting/dashboard and analytics
  • Sales forecasting
  • Live chat
  • Conversational AI chatbot
  • Call center integration
  • Document management
  • Sales pipeline management
  • Mobile CRM functionality
  • Quote and proposal management
  • REST API support
  • Social media management

Additionally, some CRMs have the ability to send automated emails to customers, for example, after a specified number of days since the customer’s last purchase from a brand. This allows a business to remain in contact with a customer through personalized emails which deliver relevant content, coupons, offers, incentives, and seasonal promotions.

Customizable email templates can be triggered to be sent based on events, including purchases (“thank you for your order”), product inquiries (“you asked about this product”), shopping cart abandonment (“we noticed you left several items in your cart”), and customer service calls (“we hope we were able to solve your problem”) among others.

Other CRMs use AI and process automation to identify customer sentiment through analytics, and rapidly respond to customer service inquiries and social media posts.In fact there are some CRM platforms that are able to intercept problems and complaints on social media that could potentially threaten a brand’s reputation by using social listening. Businesses are able to respond instantly to customer complaints before they can cause damage to the businesses’ reputation.

Many brands use a CRM as a way to gain a deeper understanding of the effectiveness of specific marketing campaigns. “Marketing professionals use the CRM platform to create and track campaigns, gain insights into which campaigns are working and channel energies to drive many such campaigns. This will generate quality MQLs that can be sent to the Sales teams,” said Jayaraman. The CRM is also useful for contract management and forecasting. “As the sales process involves efforts from multiple resources, while identifying the probability of a particular opportunity, a CRM platform can offer visibility to the sales leadership with a monthly or quarterly review of best- and worst-case scenarios.”

Non-Traditional Uses of a CRM Platform

While a CRM is valuable for its traditional functionality, there are many non-traditional uses for a CRM. The cross-department transparency that a CRM provides ensures that every salesperson can see the interactions that each customer has had with the brand. This means that customers will not be overwhelmed with multiple sales calls, and department leads can easily see the effectiveness of their sales and marketing department. The CRM also makes it easier to determine which marketing channels are most effective.

Other uses include historical market and sales analysis, which enables brands to be able to anticipate the needs and spending habits of their customers, increase the efficiency of marketing campaigns, and identify and capitalize on trends.

Many brands use a CRM to keep their customers up to date as they go through the stages of the sales funnel, much like Amazon.com does. Once the customer places an order, they will receive an email letting them know that the order has been received. Once the order has been packaged and shipped, the customer receives another email that tells them their order is on the way, and typically includes a tracking number. When the order is delivered, the customer receives an email letting them know that their order has arrived. Finally, a follow-up email is sent asking the customer if they would be willing to write a review or provide feedback about their order. Also included in the follow-up email are offers for related products or services that the customer may be interested in, based on their personal shopping history with the brand. This is a great way to keep the customer engaged, emotionally satisfied, and loyal to the brand.

Final Thoughts

The Customer Relationship Management platform is an extremely useful tool for marketers, sales professionals, and customer service representatives. CRMs enable brands to manage and build stronger relationships with prospective leads and customers, enhance customer service, increase transparency between departments, and eliminate departmental data silos.

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