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Introduction to CRM

CRM Software
Martin Collier

By Martin Collier Consulant, Updated 17 May 2017

Customer Relationship Management has been around since the 1990’s, when it simply referred to the methods you used to keep in touch with customers. Now it refers to the software that you use to do that, as well. Used to its full potential, CRM software can be so much more than a glorified address book.

CRM is the key to synchronising all of your external contacts, making sure that your employees have up to date information about your clients and that your clients have the best experience possible when dealing with you.

Every department in your business should be using your CRM system, and getting value from it. But that’s not always the case. Some companies don’t use the full potential of their CRM systems; in some cases employees don’t understand how it can help them; and in others, your CRM system may need replacing.

How Did CRM Develop?

The many and varied CRM systems we now see were originally developed to give Account Managers, Customer Support, Sales, and Marketing a system that would track activities and provide efficiency savings. They allowed firms to record performance metrics so that they could track how the business, various departments and individuals were performing, and identify where savings were possible.

CRM developers added analytics and management modules, resulting in the systems that we have today: a database of prospects and leads which you can access from a range of devices and which includes analytical and reporting functionality in order to track performance as well as communication.

A CRM system can be so much more than that. It can provide up-to-date information not just about how to contact a customer or potential customer, but all the relationships between companies, teams and individuals that go to make up your business relationships. To do so, your CRM system needs to be able to tap into all the software systems that your organisation uses, which can be quite challenging.

What Should You Get From Your CRM System?

Different people - or departments - will need to see information in different ways. There are three main views:


A CRM system that focuses on conversations shows you much more than just the emails sent and received by a particular person, or group of people. It can organise the interactions by group, by team or by company involved, and help you to see who you need to contact, when and why.


You may prefer to focus your CRM activities on leads and deals instead. Your CRM system helps you to log and track existing and potential customers, from initial contact to potential buyer, through negotiations and to the sale. It subsequently tracks after-sales, customer relations and identifies issues or opportunities, making sure your customers remain happy - and remain with you.


This CRM view focuses on individuals. You can log the interactions with somebody, with as much information as you need; even including details such as what kind of restaurant they prefer, or when their birthday falls, as well as their current roles and responsibilities.

What Qualities Should a Modern CRM System Offer?


Your CRM system should be flexible, able to deal with accounts, contacts, opportunities and list management. Then including customer support, project management and customer service can all use the system to manage their own workloads effectively in the way best suited to them.


Your CRM system needs to be able to connect with the disparate systems used by your teams, and with new systems as you introduce them.


Your CRM system cannot keep you tied to the office, or your desktop. A good system will be usable anywhere there is an internet connection, on a variety of devices. Provided that you have your tablet or your phone, you should be able to use your CRM system to make notes; access and share up-to-date information; communicate with your colleagues; and retrieve sales histories. In fact, you should be able to do anything that you could do in the office.


The CRM system needs to be able to report on everyone and everything that’s plugged into it, giving an accurate picture of your organisation at all times.

Improves Sales

Your CRM system should allow your sales team to focus on key metrics. It should also enable them to work collaboratively and cooperatively, as it can show your team where the most likely conversions are. It can assist your sales team in focusing their time and effort effectively, and should help to minimise any disagreements as to focus and targeting.


Every member of your organisation can find recent, relevant information about any customer with whom they deal, allowing them to deliver a fully personalised service to every customer and to quickly identify issues or sales opportunities.

Works with your Marketing Software

Marketing automation software has huge potential for most companies. To really use this kind of software properly, however, you must integrate it with your CRM system.

Content Management

A good CRM system can be used as a library, ensuring that assets are available to everybody and that updates and messages are properly handled.


Different teams need different views - and so do different businesses, or businesses at different times. You need to be able to fine tune your CRM system to the needs of your business; CRM is definitely not one size fits all.

Scalable, Affordable and Future-Proof

Many CRM systems come under the heading SaaS (Software as a Service), which is often subscription-based. This means that these solutions are affordable for smaller companies, not just global giants. Whether or not this is the route you choose, you will need to have a CRM system that can cope with changes in your business, in software and in the marketplace.

A Central Service

Your CRM system should be central to your organisation, and everybody should be using it. If your entire team has access to the information your CRM system can provide, then your customers will get a better, joined-up experience and your staff will work more efficiently.

If you use the full potential of your CRM system, it becomes the hub of your business. It will collate information from the other software systems, such as enterprise and ecommerce solutions, marketing automation software, social tools, accounting systems, your CMS and call centre management systems. This information is then readily available to those who need it, and you can monitor how effectively the information is being used.

Each individual in your firm will use the CRM system differently. The important thing is that they all use it! The more information the system collects and shares, the more effective it becomes.

How Do You Know You Need To Change Your CRM System?

It’s not always obvious that you need to make changes to your CRM system. This is because anyone who uses a system with which they are familiar will almost invariably find ways around any problems; very often ways that were never intended by the developer. These work-arounds allow individuals to get what they need out of a system, but can cause problems in the longer term. At the very least they may slow down the delivery of improvements.

If employees are not storing data in the CRM system, or are storing it in the wrong locations, that data is not available to everyone who may need it. Efforts are thus duplicated, or time is wasted searching for information which should be instantly available. This suggests that the system may have functions which have been paid for but are not being used.

So, What Signs Should You Look Out For?

Firstly, do you have a single source of information? If you have databases and spreadsheets all over the place; information and contacts are shared haphazardly between teams; and data is held in silos or at very least is hard to find, then you should be thinking about a new CRM solution.

If you have been using the same system for more than five years, it is probably due for an overhaul, an upgrade or an out and out replacement. CRM systems have improved so much over the last few years that if you’re using an older system you will be missing out on some valuable functionality.

If your customers all get the same treatment, no matter how different they may be in size or how different their needs may be, then your CRM is not managing relationships effectively.

Another indication that things may need to change is the existence of your CRM system in isolation. An effective solution needs to be linked to the other technology you use, in order to make the best use of the information that technology generates.

That data then needs to be stored in the right fields, standardised, classified and easy to find when searched for. If your staff are simply storing everything in the “notes” field, they’re not realising the full potential of CRM.

All of your staff need to be using the system. If there are people in your organisation who would benefit from having that information at their fingertips but don’t have it, or who have information but store it elsewhere, then your CRM solution is not doing the job you need it to do.

Do you have to spend time tracking down missing information on leads, budgets, or clients? If you do, then you need to be using a different CRM solution, or changing the way in which you use the one you have. This wasted time is precisely what a CRM solution is designed to avoid.

If all of your staff are using the CRM solution, do they all have the same view? They shouldn’t, unless they all do the same job. Different teams have different needs, and a good CRM solution is flexible enough to meet all of them.

Leads and results should be clearly visible. If your sales pipeline isn’t clear, or your sales forecasts are wildly inaccurate, you need to look at how you are generating and using leads.

If you’re about to install marketing automation software, you need to look closely at your CRM system. Can you link the two? Without a finely-tuned CRM system to capture the associated information, the marketing software will deliver significantly less value.

Finally, you need to consider reporting. If the mere thought makes you shudder, then your CRM system needs some attention. A good system should make reporting a pain-free process. You shouldn’t need a degree in Computer Science in order to generate them!

So, having considered all of these points, you may decide that you really need a better solution. There are five steps that you should take to ensure that you choose a CRM system which will be of maximum benefit to your business, one which generates more business and saves you time and money by increasing efficiency throughout your organisation.


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