The Evolution of CRM

by Peter Knolle

How the latest tools help businesses connect with customers

Decades ago, customer relationship management was simply a salesperson’s Rolodex full of clients’ information.

Now, CRM has evolved into robust, feature-rich software that gathers and stores information about your customers, allowing you to deliver a more personal experience with each interaction. Plus, CRM can streamline your team’s workday by automating many of the tasks that used to require meticulous records and hours of research.

The Cloud Revolution

In 1999, Salesforce revolutionized the industry by offering CRM in the form of Software as a Service or SaaS. The idea behind SaaS is that the software runs in the cloud and requires no on-premise hardware or software. This type of model allows businesses to easily reap the benefits of updates and new features with no installation or maintenance needed. In addition, the smallest businesses share the same infrastructure, security, and functionality as the largest companies.

In the early to mid-2000s, as integration with legacy systems became more important, Microsoft entered the market with Dynamics CRM. Today, Microsoft’s Dynamics CRM Online works seamlessly with Office 360 and other familiar tools.

CRM products have shifted from being used as basic account and contact management tools to being a clear competitive advantage for those companies that can correctly leverage CRM’s powerful features.

The most popular CRM platforms currently provide mechanisms for applications to be built without the need for developers to write extensive code. An innovative tool like Salesforce’s Lightning App Builder allows non-technical users to drag and drop prebuilt components to construct mobile-ready applications.

The Future of CRM

CRM products will continue to evolve in ways that empower their users to make intelligent, data-based decisions and connect with their customers in entirely new ways. Analysis and intelligence tools already provide many features that support this but they are just the tip of the iceberg.

“The ‘intelligence’ aspect of CRM is helpful, no, essential, for small and mid-sized businesses if they want to compete in the 21st century,” says Doug Pelletier, President of Trifecta Technologies. “To be successful, we believe that companies must be engaged with the initial setup and select a consulting partner that knows the CRM platform to successfully enable the automation of all or most of the sales and service workflows and business processes.”

Tips for Making the Switch

Pick a cheerleader: Identify who will be the champions for the new system at your company. It is imperative that there are sponsorships at the executive level but it is also important to have everyday users who will trumpet change.

Investigate your data and workflows: Begin thinking about your current pain points and missing functionality with your existing systems or processes. Moving on to a new and better system is a great excuse to improve processes. Identify what, if any, data from other systems would need to be migrated into your CRM. This can be done at a very high level but is still helpful in getting you to think about how you will use your CRM.  It can also be helpful in gauging your level of effort, though you should consult with the CRM company or one of its implementation partners before making any assumptions.

Find a partner: While you’re considering a CRM, make sure that you choose an implementation partner that will work best for you. There are many partners to choose from, of various sizes and with varying skill sets. Some perform plain implementations but do not have the skills necessary to tackle more complex implementations that require code. Some partners are good at extending the capabilities of CRM platforms with code but are not as good at business process consultation. Some partners have a mix of both.

Be sure that your partner cares about your company’s success and takes the time to fully learn about your business. A good partner should clearly add value, give advice, share experience, empower the employees of your company, and always be available. The difference between having a good, knowledgeable, and available partner and one that is not can make all of the difference.

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