Woman working on headset and laptop in her dining room.
From customer retention to detailed analytics, CRM software provides a variety of benefits. — Getty Images/PixelsEffect

Customer relationship management (CRM) software works well for building relationships with clients and supports your sales and marketing objectives. With the correct setup, a CRM system tracks the entire lifecycle of a purchase, including wooing prospects, engaging leads and providing customer service.

Moreover, CRM platforms help small business owners monitor and enhance sales performance while giving team members a central database for customer information. Although features differ among CRM systems, the best tools are easy to use and improve existing workflows.

If you haven't decided if a CRM platform is right for your company, check out our CRM software guide. It details how small businesses benefit from and use CRM systems.

For those ready to learn how CRM tools support your sales and customer service objectives, here's what you need to know.

The basics of customer relationship management

People interact with your brand long before becoming your clients. Keeping tabs on these interactions help your team find the best time and place for outreach. However, small businesses may notice several signs that they need CRM software long before deciding to purchase.

Typically, companies consider a CRM system when their previous method fails or isn't efficient. Others experience growth at a fast pace and want an easy-to-implement solution for managing sales and customers.

CRM platforms were once used mainly as contact management tools. Modern systems incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) to automate sales processes and help business owners measure customer interactions. In addition, CRM software serves as a dynamic repository. It gives users access to customer data and real-time insights.

Many CRM solutions are cloud-based, meaning they're available on most devices with an internet connection and may include a mobile app. Business owners can set user access permissions to improve accountability and track changes to contact information. Advanced CRM systems let companies customize dashboards for different team members and integrate with customer support tools. In short, it can serve as a business management system.

CRM software features often consist of:

  • Task management: CRM software may sync with your company calendar and allow administrators to set up tasks for team members, create reminders and notify staff via email or text message.
  • Project management: Some CRM solutions have built-in project management tools so business owners can assign tasks, check for project status updates and oversee marketing and business processes.
  • Customer data management: At its core, CRM software supports contact management, making it easy for users to update customer information and monitor interactions.
  • Third-party integration: Customer relationship management software may connect to other marketing, sales and customer service tools, such as help desk software, live chat and business phone services.
  • Workflow automation: CRM software enables small businesses to develop routines around specific actions or workflows, including email and marketing automation.
  • Sales management: A cloud-based CRM platform gives sales teams access to data in the office or on the road, allowing them to present products and services to leads using the latest information.

CRM software for customer and contact management

Customer relationship management systems support basic data entry and collection, so users can create robust client profiles. However, CRM systems also enhance customer relationships. They offer features to assess customer satisfaction and enable customer support teams to better understand clients and their needs.

A CRM system provides contact management features that show information, such as a client's phone number, email address, social media handles and home or business address. Plus, some CRM software integrates with point-of-sale (POS) platforms. This connection allows companies to attach purchase information to customer accounts automatically.

Customer relationship management: CRM software features

Customer relationships depend on having access to a 360-degree view of your clients and knowing how to leverage technology platforms for better experiences. To this end, CRM platforms offer several features that help small businesses with customer service and retention.

A CRM solution may help your company provide:

  • Telephone or live chat customer service: Integrated solutions connect with your Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone system, giving customer service agents access to a customer's history, including multi-channel interactions, notes from previous calls and customer sentiment scores.
  • Customer satisfaction analytics: Small businesses can use CRM features like real-time reports and historical data to determine the success rate of customer support and find areas for improvement.
  • Self-service: Third-party integrations can connect your CRM system to customer account tools. It lets clients update their contact information and automatically sync changes across your software.

Forge customer relationships and keep your sales pipeline full by selecting a user-friendly sales CRM.

CRM platforms for marketing

Marketing teams use a CRM system to track interactions with prospects across multiple platforms. It's used to collect prospect information and turn it into actionable insights. For instance, CRM software such as Salesforce provides lead scoring and lead grading. Marketers use these tools to determine the right time to pass prospects to the sales team.

CRM solutions also help small businesses record interactions on social media channels, like Facebook or Twitter. This way, teams can get a clear view of how prospects engage with your brand.

Small businesses use CRM marketing tools such as:

  • Lead scoring: Assign points to prospects based on actions, such as clicking on an email link, downloading a brochure or visiting your website's pricing page.
  • Lead grading: Appraise inbound leads by comparing them to your ideal customer profile and making assumptions about how closely they match.
  • Marketing campaigns: Use cross-platform data to judge current campaigns, segment potential customers and adjust marketing activities to fit their needs.
  • Marketing automation: Define which prospect interactions trigger an automated response, like a targeted social media advertisement, website popup or chatbot message.
  • Email marketing: Some CRM solutions, like HubSpot CRM, offer email templates and automated notifications. Others integrate with third-party email services. Both help companies create seamless customer experiences.

CRM systems for sales management

A CRM solution helps small businesses refine their sales process. It gives sales teams an accurate, organized database and tools to ensure leads don't fall to the wayside. Furthermore, CRM tools empower sales reps to build personalized presentations based on previous conversations or interactions.

Customer relationship management software gives insights into lead generation and sales pipelines. Many platforms also offer sales forecasting tools. In return, small business owners use sales, lead and pipeline management features to make decisions about marketing efforts.

For example, Salesforce uses an AI feature called Sales Cloud Einstein. It automates data capture, analyzes the sales pipeline to find trends and prioritizes leads based on the potential for conversion. Meanwhile, Zoho CRM provides Zia, a conversational sales assistant that evaluates the win probability of ongoing deals.

Sales CRM intelligence and lead management features help sales teams:

  • Discover upsell and cross-sell opportunities.
  • Set up meetings in shared calendars.
  • Identify customers ready for new products and services.
  • Receive alerts or reminders about leads in the sales pipeline.
  • Access shared documents used by marketing and customer support teams.
  • Automate the sales process.

Pulling it all together: CRMs for collaboration

According to Salesforce's "State of the Connected Customer," "76% of customers expect consistent interactions across departments." However, 54% say "it generally feels like sales, service and marketing don't share information." Small businesses can overcome internal communication barriers with a CRM platform.

CRMs let your staff take notes, record customer incident data and assign tasks. The free flow of information helps marketing and sales teams work together towards a shared goal. Moreover, CRM solutions can give customer service teams a place to share data that's useful for outreach objectives.

Although each department has different workflows and goals, all of them focus on solutions for potential and current customers. Therefore, it's vital to find CRM software suitable for sales, marketing and customer support teams. After all, if your CRM solution is hard to use or doesn't jive with existing workflows, it'll be hard to get your teams on board.

Tips for choosing CRM software

Before selecting a CRM platform, you may have concerns about the per-user pricing, third-party integrations or how it works for sales and marketing teams. Review our list of common CRM questions, then use the following tips to prepare your sales reps and identify business processes fit for sales automation:

  • Look at free and paid software: CRM software may charge a per-user price, offer free trials of up to 30 days or offer a free plan. Ask at least one person from each department to complete common tasks to see if the CRM features are accessible and intuitive.
  • Explore third-party integrations: Cloud-based, connected technologies help small businesses design smooth experiences across all channels, from self-service applications to social media messaging apps. Look at the integration process, supported apps and user reviews to make sure your tools work with your CRM solution.
  • Evaluate business use cases: Decide if your sales teams need (or want) a fully functional mobile app or if they'll access customer information outside of the office. Some sales CRM tools offer basic data entry and contact management via a mobile app, whereas others support sales pipeline management from anywhere.

Best CRM software options

There are many relationship intelligence tools for marketing and sales teams. Finding the best fit for your small business can be tricky, especially when you have a budget to stick to and several employees to please. While many platforms support workflow automation and track customer interactions, some also have features like sales forecasting and integrated email marketing.

Explore our list of free sales tools for small businesses and consider the following sales and marketing CRM platforms:

  • HubSpot CRM: The free version offers a reporting dashboard, Facebook Messenger integration and email marketing.
  • Zoho CRM: Your employees can sync calendars, share documents and review call logs and notes. It's free for up to three users.
  • Freshworks CRM: Use this CRM software to track deal progress, record customer interactions and set up website chatbots.
  • Salesforce CRM: Gain real-time insights into your sales pipeline and deals progress while prioritizing leads and nurturing contacts.

CRM software: customer relationship management goals

Forge customer relationships and keep your sales pipeline full by selecting a user-friendly sales CRM. By putting your sales, marketing and customer service teams on the same platform, you can improve collaborative efforts and build loyal customer relationships.

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