CRM means customer relationship management. In business, it’s a kind of ‘catch-all’ acronym, used broadly to describe how companies of all shapes and sizes manage their relationships with their customers.
The term CRM is used in a couple of different contexts. On the one hand, it’s a strategy (or set of strategies) your business follows. A CRM strategy guides how your team acquires and retains customers, re-engages lapsed prospects or deals, and manages its complex network of clients and suppliers.
On the other hand, a CRM system is a kind of software. It’s a scalable (and typically user-friendly) system that lets you manage your business’ contacts, and coordinate its sales, marketing, and customer service automation efforts from a single online interface.
On this page, you’ll find out what a CRM system is, and how it works. We’ll also introduce you to a few of the suppliers at the industry’s forefront, with a couple of case studies to show just how they’ve benefited businesses like yours.
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What is CRM Software?
First and foremost, CRM software acts as a centralized database for storing information about your customers.
That could be anything from basic contact details and demographic info for your clients or leads, all the way to more elaborate insights – such as each customer’s purchase history, marketing preferences, and a record of how, where, and why they’ve previously interacted with your business.
CRM software collates conversations from email, telephone, live chat, and social media. This, combined with the system’s ability to store files, documents, and additional resources – not to mention integrate with a wide range of third-party applications, such as email and project management software – makes it as close to an all-in-one business productivity tool as it gets.
But of course, CRM software is more than just a way to store contacts. The real value of a CRM system is what it lets you actually do with that information.
It’s how you leverage insights and data analysis to make more sales, create targeted marketing campaigns, and respond to customer service issues with ease and professionalism.
So, what can CRM do for your business?
How Can CRM Software Benefit Your Business?
Watch the video below to explore how Business Development Manager Josh Kingcott leverages CRM to break through productivity barriers, and to make more deals.
✔ Smarter business and data organization
CRM software makes it almost impossible to miss an important deadline. Through a combination of automated reminders, calendar and email synchronization, and intelligent, AI-powered data cleansing, you’ll never miss a beat.
CRM frees you from the manacles shackling your business’ productivity. You won’t need to rely on spreadsheets or notebooks for storing data any longer – and can do away with the overstuffed file cabinet hogging your precious office space, too!
✔ More effective project, task, and time management
Whatever kind of system you currently use to manage your time, track your projects, and organize your tasks… it’s not as effective as CRM.
Powered by customizable, drag-and-drop pipelines and vibrant, color-coded displays, CRM empowers you to better understand your team’s workload, and keep everything moving in the right direction.
✔ Accurate reporting and intelligent data analytics
Without analysis, CRM would just be another way to store data – a glorified spreadsheet, if you will. But to focus solely on that would be to miss the point of the software entirely.
The real value of CRM is how it lets you extrapolate key insights into your business’ health and future. For sales teams, that includes information about the past (being able to sort and segment historical sales, and compare them to current figures), as well as the future (CRM’s smart forecasting tools help you understand your sales projections, and prepare accordingly).
The scope of CRM’s data analytics also extends into marketing. You can view exactly who’s opened, read, and clicked on your emails, and segment your audience into bite-sized ‘lists’, grouped by interests or demographic.
✔ Integration with the systems you use every day
Like humans, CRM software isn’t designed to work in isolation. Quite the opposite, in fact – CRM systems are, quite literally, built to work with the other business productivity tools you already rely on.
These days, all CRM software is built to integrate with existing email providers (such as Gmail, iCloud, and Outlook), as well as Office 365, Sharepoint, and other document management systems. For one, this makes data import and export a cinch. But it also means that you don’t have to leave the ease and familiarity of your favorite systems behind… just yet!
You can also integrate CRM software with myriad ERP (enterprise resource planning systems) and finance and expense management tools (which allow you to send invoices and propose quotes) – not to mention a bunch of marketing automation and lead generation tools.
✔ Slots in with social media
We can’t broach the subject of CRM integration without a shoutout to social media.
These days, integration with the major social media platforms is a given for most CRM platforms. Social media integration means you’ll get your lead and prospect data enriched by their Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram profile – giving you a more well-rounded view of the individual, and helping you strike up a more meaningful conversation.
Integrating your CRM with a social listening tool makes it easy to keep an ear out for mentions of your brand and industry – and feed those insights straight to your marketing team.
✔ Cloud-based convenience for COVID-19 times
You can’t talk about anything in 2021 (and, sadly, probably not in 2022, either) without mentioning the coronavirus. It’s changed the way teams collaborate, and – for now, at least – made office work a distant memory.
That’s why it’s so important to equip your team with the software it needs to keep everyone on the same page – even if you’re not all working in the same place. So how can CRM help?
Well, CRM software is typically cloud-based. What this means is your system’s data storage is handled by the CRM supplier you choose – not, as is the case with on-premise systems, on your own servers.
In practical terms, this means your CRM system can be accessed anywhere, anytime. Anyone in your team can log in from wherever they’re working, and instantly view and update data in real time.
Cloud-based software also has its cost benefits – you’ll pay a monthly subscription, rather than face a big outlay upfront – and there are no implementation costs, either.
Read more: The Best Cloud-Based CRM Software in 2021
CRM Case Studies
From a glittering international diamond merchant to a down-to-earth private charter business, CRM is powering businesses of all shapes and sizes. Let’s take a closer look.
Behind the glitz and glam of esteemed jewellers Leviev lies a rather less headline-hogging basis for success – a CRM system.
After all, with just a handful of boutique locations across the globe, how else would Leviev maintain the personal, almost intimate levels of customer relationship management required for successful diamond-selling?
With CRM behemoth Salesforce, Leviev was able to track its customers’ purchase and travel habits – allowing the diamond giant to tailor its marketing to the occasion and client. Better still, CRM enables Leviev to time its direct advertising to reflect milestone events in its customers’ calendars.
Imagine the scene. Your anniversary is in a week, and you’re at a loss at what to get your wife. Then, an email from Leviev comes through, offering a big ol’ emerald (her favorite), promising delivery to arrive just in time for the date. You’d be hard pressed not to buy!
“We sell extraordinary diamonds. And Salesforce helps us create an extraordinary customer experience as well.”
Paul Raps, Leviev CEO
JetHub provides a charter service offering private flights to more than 7,000 airports around the world. Specializing in connecting its clients with their preferred private jet of choice, it’s kind of like a Trivago… but for the massively wealthy, of course.
As you can imagine, then, maintaining good customer relationships is a pretty important part of JetHub’s job.
However, JetHub’s previous CRM system was outdated. It lacked key features, and was devoid of a solid acquisition and retention strategy. JetHub’s sales agents’ contact lists weren’t secure, allowing anyone to access and disrupt the system.
Moreover, JetHub’s people work all over the country – so a more streamlined, consistent approach to collaboration was sorely needed. How did JetHub come to a solution?
By partnering with Zoho, that’s how. With web-to-lead forms funneling hot prospects straight to JetHub’s sales guns, JetHub was able to react quicker to incoming opportunities, and up its conversion rate accordingly. Hub, Hub, and away!
“JetHub is a completely virtual company. Zoho CRM provides a cloud-based system that supports our distributed workforce, and helps me protect my employees’ information by restricting access to authorized users.
”Being able to secure access to that information could easily save us thousands in business that could otherwise walk out the door in the event of a data breach.”
Kevin Lippert, JetHub Founder and President
How Much Does CRM Software Cost?
The price of CRM software depends largely on the size of your business. CRM is typically priced per user, per month – so the more team members that’ll need access, the more it’ll cost you.
CRM costs also depend on your billing period. Paying in annual installments is almost always cheaper than a month-to-month contract – though there’s obviously less flexibility involved.
Read more: Compare CRM Software Costs 2021
At the cheaper end, Zoho offers a plan that starts at just $12 per user, per month. The system is basic, but should meet the needs of solopreneurs, or anyone just looking for a way of managing and optimizing customer information.
Read more: The Best Cheap CRM Systems in 2021
Slightly higher up the pricing scale are CRM’s mid-range plans. Here, we’re talking about something like Freshworks CRM’s ‘Customer For Life Cloud’. Its ‘Pro’ version is a bargain at $69 per user, per month, and includes sales and marketing features, plus live chat and telephony.
We’d also recommend HubSpot’s ‘Growth Suite’ here. It includes the laudable CRM provider’s sales, marketing, and customer service features in a single package – with a tasty discount thrown in, too. The plan is available for $113 per month, for a single user.
This range of pricing is well-suited to small businesses looking to scale.
Read more: The Best CRM Systems for Small Businesses
At the pointy end of the pricing range are the big hitters – namely, Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics 365. Targeted at enterprise-level companies, Salesforce’s costs rise to $325 per user, per month. And that’s just for its sales or service module alone – the bill for its marketing product can reach as high as $3,750 per month!
As you can see, the nature of CRM’s tiered costs and plethora of pricing plans makes it easy to end up spending more than you bargained for. At best, choosing the wrong supplier means ending up with less features than you need. At worst, it could mean being thousands of dollars out of pocket, saddled with a complicated, budget-busting system that you don’t have a clue how to use.
So just how do you choose the right provider for you? Well, read on – we’ve listed eight of our favorites below, along with the type of business they’re best for.
Or, if you’re a little short on time, you can use our quick quote-finding questionnaire to find out which CRM supplier is right for you. Simply provide us with a few details about the type of CRM features you’re looking for, along with some info about your team size and industry.
We’ll then match you with the right CRM provider, who’ll be in touch with you directly to offer quotes tailored to your business’ unique requirements. It takes just 30 seconds, and is completely free for US-based businesses!
Best for solopreneurs
With a clean, intuitive interface and a learning curve about as steep as the Great Plains, Zoho is as user-friendly as it gets. It’s cheap, too – although its more limited range of functionality may render it a little too simplistic for the needs of larger businesses.
Zoho offers a free version. Paid plans start at $12 per user, per month.
Best for customizability
SalexNexus allows sales leaders to focus on growth and salespeople to focus on customers, by providing a simple, modular, and highly customizable CRM solution. Be warned, though – it isn’t the cheapest system going!
SalesNexus starts at $45 per user, per month.
Best for large businesses
You can’t get away with calling yourself the world’s #1 CRM platform unless there’s some truth in it. And, while Salesforce’s prices do eventually become prohibitive (and fast!), it really is the finest CRM software the industry has to offer.
Salesforce starts at $25 per user, per month.
Best for email marketing businesses
Closer to a marketing automation tool than a CRM system (if you want to get technical about it, that is!), Sendinblue nevertheless comes with useful tools for cultivating better customer relationships through emails.
Sendinblue offers a free version. Paid plans start at $25 per user, per month.
Best for project management
With kaleidoscopic, drag-and-drop pipelines and a modern, Kanban-style visualization of your task timeline, monday.com is truly a tool for the modern business. It's collaborative, color-coded approach to teamwork also makes monday.com particularly well-suited as a CRM for marketing and creative agencies.
monday.com offers a free version. Paid plans start at $7.80 per user, per month.
Best for small to medium-sized businesses
Freshworks CRM (formerly Freshsales) blends functionality with affordability – then adds in a healthy peppering of usability to taste. There’s a range of pricing plans, packages, and tiers to choose from, too, meaning it should suit budgets and businesses of all sizes.
Freshworks offers a free version. Paid plans start at $19 per user, per month.
Best for businesses with tight pursestrings
Working with a shoestring budget, but still want more features than free CRM typically permits? Apptivo is the software for you. Don’t expect the world – just basic, no-frills CRM at a wallet-friendly price point.
Apptivo offers a free version. Paid plans start at $8 per user, per month.
Best for healthcare businesses
Zendesk atones for its lack of marketing CRM capabilities with savvy sales and service features. Zendesk also ranks among our top CRM systems for the healthcare industry – just what the doctor ordered!
Zendesk starts at $19 per user, per month.
By now, you should have a pretty good understanding of how indispensable CRM software is to a modern business.
You’re also well-acquainted with how CRM works, how much it costs, and which suppliers are currently making waves in the industry – and, hopefully, which one’s right for you.
But don’t go yet! At least, not without a few quotes to send you on your way. Not just any old quotes, either – we’re talking CRM offers, packages, and advice tailored specifically to your business’s size, industry, and niche requirements, delivered directly to your ear by the providers themselves.
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