written by: William Busse•edited by: Jean Scheid•updated: 11/18/2009
The practice of using online applications in tracking customers continues to rapidly expand in scope and depth of precision. Customer Relationship Management tools (CRM) provide an insight into a customer’s history, service requirements and potential sales opportunities.
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The History of Customer Relationship Management
The concept of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and keeping track of customers has been in practice for many decades, including the earliest Rolodex systems that recognized the value of keeping detailed customer information in a central location. The principle of modern CRM revolves around enhancing detailed profiles of individual customers for the purpose of integrating practices and techniques that provide a seamless experience from order through delivery.
Once the sole domain of large and multinational companies, various online CRM systems include a variety of different options and features, either straight from the box or custom designed applications. The potential number of CRM modules and the level of detailed information is only limited through imagination and budget. While exploring the various CRM alternatives, it is worthwhile to identify the level of sophistication required for an individual business while investigating potential solutions with a provider.
However, regardless of how simple or complex the system, almost every online CRM tool will include common elements that work in conjunction to provide different departments with identical information.
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The foundation of any CRM system is the operational module. This critical element provides vital information for “front office" processes including the marketing, sales, and service departments. Detailed customer contact data as well as recorded client communications are stored and disseminated to the front line employees with direct customer interaction. Those elements identified as operationally important are also provided to “back office" departments as well, and any further actions are documented for future reference.
The result of this interaction is relevant: Real time information including order entry, processing, support, and insight into challenges and opportunities that might ordinarily be overlooked or misinterpreted.
The power of this type of tool cannot be underestimated, especially when keeping track of customers. Territory managers equipped with this knowledge prior to conducting the actual sales call can prepare for potential customer questions and objections and have immediate answers and potential solutions.
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Analytical and Collaborative CRM
The analytical CRM module uses data gathered through the operational component to analyze and categorize customers, as well as identify additional sales opportunities based on velocity and extrapolations. Continual growth of the analytical data base through repeated customer interaction will provide enhanced and more refined evaluations over time. This is also an area where additional modules can be added to provide even more precise analytics. Business intelligence components, in particular, can offer deeper and more detailed reports and provide a greater degree of functionality.
Analytical CRMs rely on data mining as a methodology for achieving reliable results. The resulting conclusions can be used for numerous purposes including successful design and implementation of targeted sales initiatives, financial forecasting, and recognition of unique customer behavior that may influence product or service development.
Collaborative CRM modules integrate all aspects of company interaction with customers through all modes of communication. This includes personal, email, internet, phone, fax and text. The intended goal is to facilitate interaction between employees, data, and operational processes so that customers can be served more reliably and efficiently.
Departments using a collaborative CRM are able to communicate with each other and share seemingly disparate information that when added together, highlights issues and opportunities each department might not recognize if left isolated.
This same information when shared with suppliers and vendors can help facilitate the streamlining of production procedures, as well as illustrate potential sales and cost reduction opportunities.
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CRM Pricing Options
Online applications that offer enhanced customer management tools are numerous and come with an almost infinite variety of features and prices. Basic online CRMs are literally free and include advanced features such as contact and lead tracking, as well as sales and pipeline management. More complex CRMs come with a variety of options and increasingly sophisticated modules that can cost anywhere from a thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars in annual license fees.
In a progressively more competitive business environment, recognizing the needs and opportunities available for each customer is of vital importance. Keeping track of customers online offers a significant opportunity to provide enhanced service, identify new sales opportunities, and create tailor made solutions to operational challenges.