Customer relationship management (CRM) software helps businesses manage their relationships and interactions with customers and prospects. A CRM stores customer and prospect data in a central database, typically in the cloud, to help extend access to users across an organization regardless of their location.

According to Gartner research, CRM was the largest and fastest-growing software category in 2018 for the second year running. Enterprise software revenue reached over $193.6 billion last year, with nearly 25% coming from CRM sales. Adoption and spending has steadily risen for CRM, fueled in part by SaaS (software as a service) subscriptions as well as increased investment from marketing departments.

This steady outpouring of investment from enterprise customers has led to CRM evolving far beyond its roots as a digital Rolodex. As the number of CRM software vendors and features expand, it can be difficult for businesses to understand exactly what CRM is supposed to do.

This article will outline the different areas of your business CRM might fit into, as well as what the software can and cannot do—which is essential for setting realistic expectations and getting the most out of your software purchase.

What does CRM do?

CRM software is designed to help businesses implement and maintain customer-centric strategies that optimize profitability, revenue and customer satisfaction. Gartner research (available to clients) identifies five major business functions CRM applications fit into: sales, marketing, customer service, digital commerce, and field service.

CRM does sales:

Sales CRM functionality helps reps and managers save time and improve engagement throughout the sales pipeline. Sales force automation, the most common CRM feature requested by sales teams, delegates tedious and repetitive tasks to software—freeing up salespeople to focus on client relationships and closing deals.

CRM does marketing:

Marketing CRM functionality improves alignment between marketing and sales, allowing advertising dollars to be spent more effectively. This includes personalizing messaging at the correct stage in the sales cycle, tracking customer interactions across channels, and analyzing campaign performance to inform marketing strategy.

CRM does customer service:

Customer service CRM functionality helps create efficient, positive and consistent customer experiences by improving service and support team interactions. This could mean faster case resolution thanks to more complete customer profiles and streamlined processes, or curbed demand for customer support altogether via customer self-service.

CRM does eCommerce:

eCommerce CRM functionality leverages customer data (e.g., purchase or browsing history) to increase online sales and traffic. Software can also extend some benefits of e-commerce to physical retail, such as giving staff real-time inventory access and providing customers with more flexible delivery and return options.

CRM does field service:

Field service CRM functionality matches technicians with customers in need of installation, repair or maintenance services. Software helps optimize procedures, scheduling, and data capture to enable field service workers to digitally capture their completed work (e.g. time spent, expenses, parts used, authorized signatures) regardless of internet connectivity, prepare parts and skills in advance of arriving on a job site and more.

What are common CRM software features?

You should avoid dwelling on the long and sometimes confusing list of things CRM can do and instead concentrate on the features that matter most.

Contact management: At its core, CRM software allows businesses to collect and organize client contact information in a centralized database. Modern contact management extends beyond digitizing customer or prospect contact information, offering features such as:

  • Lead capture and monitoring throughout the sale pipeline
  • Customer interaction tracking from first contact to sale, and beyond
  • Scheduling and follow-up reminder automation

Analytics: CRM analytics collect, organize and synthesize customer data captured from a variety of sources. Data is then interpreted using reporting tools, dashboards, portals and other methods to provide actionable insights and made available to multiple users across an entire organization.

Mobile access: With 81% of CRM users now accessing software via a mobile device, smartphone compatibility is a must. This is particularly relevant to remote or traveling sales teams that depend on mobile device access to do their jobs effectively.

Customization & Scalability: Any CRM should be customizable to fit your business’s needs and budget. This could mean offering à la carte software additions that increase functionality over time, deeper customization to create tailored layouts/workflows, or integrations with other software your business is already leveraging. Weigh the scalability of the software against your planned business growth.

What can’t CRM do?

While the number of things CRM can do is ever increasing, understanding its limitations can inform your expectations for outcomes and the demands that come with a new software rollout. CRM can’t:

  • Keep your data clean: Using low-quality data to make business decisions will result in low-quality business decisions. Unfortunately, inaccuracies, duplicates, and incomplete data entries can be reduced but never completely eliminated. Software can’t magically improve bad data, so it is essential to educate your employees on best practices for data entry and routinely cleanse your data.
  • Solve flaws in workflow with automation: Automation is capable of lowering the level of effort required for employees to complete repetitive tasks, or eliminating their involvement entirely. You cannot, however, automate ineffective processes. Building an effective and efficient system for getting work done is necessary before that workflow can be automated. Don’t expect automation to invent a process for you, but rather manage and maintain it.
  • Be immediately intuitive to all employees: Variance in tech-savviness among your employees, software bugs, and diverse user experiences are bound to create hiccups during any software deployment. Framing new software in terms of benefits to employees, customers and the business before mandating its use can help build employee buy-in and mitigate the impact of inevitable complications. If employees understand the value a new tool offers, they will be more open to learning how to properly use it.

More on customer relations trends and technology:

If you’re interested in finding out more about CRM, GetApp has some handy resources worth checking out:

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