What is CRM?

Learn what customer relationship management (CRM) means for marketers, and how CRM tools can help you understand audience data and use it to market smarter.

What does CRM stand for?

CRM stands for customer relationship management, or the process of managing interactions with existing and prospective customers. Any strategy or approach that uses data to build, improve and manage customer relationships can fall under the description of ‘CRM,’ but the term is most commonly used in reference to CRM tools or technology.

What is CRM technology?

CRM technology is a tool or system of tools that help businesses aggregate, organize, and analyze customer data to better manage relationships with customers.

When data for potential and existing customers is collected and stored in a CRM system, tracking information across every touchpoint in a customer’s journey (details shared through forms, engagement with marketing campaigns, interactions with customer support, buying patterns) can help you cater to their needs, build better relationships, and market smarter.

What does a CRM system do?

In short, CRM systems serve as a hub for organizing and making sense of valuable audience data and insights, providing all the tools needed to collect and manage information about people who are important to your business.

This function can look very different across departments. For example, CRM can:

  • help sales reps quickly see past interactions and purchases before making a call,
  • provide support teams with the background and contact information needed to provide great customer service, or
  • give marketers access to details that will help them target their campaigns.

Organizing and understanding data insights has become a key responsibility for any customer-facing role within a company. But as the importance of audience info grows, so does the amount of details that businesses need to keep track of. With many online channels and multiple ways for customers to engage on each, data often gets siloed in different tools, making it difficult (or impossible) to get a complete picture of your customer and talk to them in a meaningful way.

That’s why businesses of all sizes and across all industries are turning to CRM tools to create a central hub for audience reports—gaining a better understanding of who their customers are and what they want, and building stronger relationships as they grow.

Why is CRM important for marketers?

As a marketer, you collect valuable information with each campaign you send and every customer interaction that results from it (including clicks, views, and purchases across new, existing, and prospective customers).

Your customer knowledge is one of the most valuable resources you have for improving your marketing and growing your business. Effectively collecting and organizing your info can tell you everything you need to know about your customers’ preferences: Which products they love, what they’re looking for, the messages that tell them what they need to know, and where you’re still missing the mark.

The sooner you can begin capturing, organizing and making sense of that data, the sooner you can start using it to improve build more—and better—customer relationships.

Do small businesses need a CRM tool?

CRM isn’t just for enterprise businesses or Fortune 500 companies. Using statistics to improve customer relationships has become an essential function for businesses of all sizes and niches. In fact, there’s no better time to think through the best ways to collect and organize customer data than when you’re just starting out.

From the moment you create an online presence for your business, you start gaining access to valuable info about your customers and potential customers. CRM can help you lay a strong foundation for building and tracking relationships with those customers, collecting data about their preferences and setting up automations for consistent, personalized touch points over time.

CRM doesn’t need to be a full-time job: Whether you have a small sales team or you’re a solo entrepreneur relying on occasional marketing campaigns to sell your brand, putting your data to work for you can help you stay on customers’ radar and save time. It also allows you to make knowledge-based decisions about where to focus your budget to reach customers on whatever channel they prefer—so however or whenever they’re ready to make a purchase, they’ll think of you.

4 essential CRM features for small business marketers

Of course, if you’re just starting to lay a foundation for managing customer data, it’s unlikely that you’ll need the same CRM functionality as a large enterprise. Specific CRM needs will vary based on how your online business functions and scales, but there are a few key needs that any small business marketer should keep in mind. These basics include:

  1. A central hub for audience data. First and foremost, small businesses need a centralized location to start gathering all their customer info in. Creating a single source of truth lets you organize customer insights as you collect them, and identify patterns that reveal things like where most of your audience lives and what messages they interact with most.
  2. A seamless connection to your key marketing channels. Especially for businesses with small or non-existent sales teams, your marketing is an important part of selling your products or services and should be as tailored as possible. Managing audience data in a separate tool from your marketing channels makes it more difficult to turn customer insights into personalized communication, and increases the risk of information getting lost in the shuffle. Identify a few key channels you’ll be using to reach customers, and make sure your CRM tool allows you to seamlessly collect reports from these tools.
  3. The ability to test, learn, and iterate on campaigns. As a growing business, you have a lot to learn about who your audience is and what their preferences are. It’s important to look for a tool that will help you to easily see how your channels perform, gain insights about how your audience is interacting with your marketing, and use this information to adjust your campaigns.
  4. Tools to help you grow. Once you’ve started collecting audience data and learning more about who you’re talking to, you’ll want to be able to use that information to find and talk to people you should be talking to: potential new customers. Particularly for small businesses with limited access to budget and resources, audience info is an important tool for making your marketing budget go further—helping you to anticipate who’s most likely to buy and focusing your resources where they’ll count.

Benefits of CRM for small business marketers

Finding a CRM tool that meets the needs of your business (even if it’s just the basic criteria outlined above) can start to yield immediate benefits for small business marketers. Building a solid foundation for CRM can help you to:

  1. Get a better sense of who you’re marketing to. When you create a central location for customer reports, you see a clearer picture of who you’re talking to and can keep track of any changes as your business continues to grow and evolve.
  2. Send the right content to the right people. When you use data to target your messages, it makes it easy to send content that matters to customers (which makes it more likely they’ll keep listening). Particularly for small businesses relying heavily on marketing to position their brand, tailoring messages to specific segments is key to making sure you don’t overload your audience.
  3. Use your data to find new people to talk to. Creating campaigns based on your existing audience knowledge makes it easy to find the people most likely to love what you have to offer, so you can be smarter about targeting your campaigns and getting the most out of your budget.
  4. Find new ways to talk to people with shared interests. By seeing all of your data in one place, you’ll start to notice patterns in who your contacts are and what interests them. And the more you know about audience trends and preferences, the easier it is to think of new ways to talk to your audience and improve your campaigns.

How to choose the right CRM for your small business

Your specific needs for CRM will vary widely based on how your business operates and sells to customers, so you should always take the time to figure out how your strategy will look based on your goals. Here are 4 key questions to ask yourself when evaluating your own needs:

  1. Who will use your CRM tools? Will your CRM tools primarily be used for marketing? By a sales team? Both? Consider everyone in your organization who could benefit from access to customer insights (whether it’s just for visibility, or to use data for a specific purpose) to find a tool that will accommodate what you need.
  2. How much complexity do you need to get started? Keep in mind that you likely won’t build a complex CRM strategy overnight. Find a tool that will allow for a simplified approach, so you can adjust your strategy and add complexity gradually as you learn.
  3. Which marketing channels are you using to talk to your audience? Find a tool that integrates directly with the channels you use most, so that info can quickly be turned into action, and insights are unlikely to get siloed or lost.
  4. Will your CRM scale with you as you grow? Over time, you will find new ways to use your audience reports and automate CRM processes, so it’s important to find a tool that allows you to add this functionality as you’re ready for it. But keep in mind that if there are CRM processes you’ll never need, you don’t want to be paying for (and working around) unnecessary complexity.

How to choose the right CRM for your small business

Your specific needs for CRM will vary widely based on how your business operates and sells to customers, so you should always take the time to figure out how your strategy will look based on your goals. Here are 4 key questions to ask yourself when evaluating your own needs:

  1. Who will use your CRM tools? Will your CRM tools primarily be used for marketing? By a sales team? Both? Consider everyone in your organization who could benefit from access to customer insights (whether it’s just for visibility, or to use data for a specific purpose) to find a tool that will accommodate what you need.
  2. How much complexity do you need to get started? Keep in mind that you likely won’t build a complex CRM strategy overnight. Find a tool that will allow for a simplified approach, so you can adjust your strategy and add complexity gradually as you learn.
  3. Which marketing channels are you using to talk to your audience? Find a tool that integrates directly with the channels you use most, so that info can quickly be turned into action, and insights are unlikely to get siloed or lost.
  4. Will your CRM scale with you as you grow? Over time, you will find new ways to use your audience reports and automate CRM processes, so it’s important to find a tool that allows you to add this functionality as you’re ready for it. But keep in mind that if there are CRM processes you’ll never need, you don’t want to be paying for (and working around) unnecessary complexity.





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