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What is CRM?

CRM is an acronym for Customer Relationship Management. It’s a strategy to manage all your company’s relationships and interactions with potential and current customers.

But CRM is not limited to customer relationships: the scope has been broadened to managing relationships with all valuable stakeholders in the business, such as colleagues, suppliers and resellers.

People typically talk about CRM in relation with terms as CRM software, a CRM system or a CRM strategy. More commonly, people use the term CRM system, software or tool for an overall contact management system. The software helps you gather and store contact details and follow up your sales. By managing relevant business information in one place, you improve internal processes and productivity.

4 CRM definitions from CRM experts

How do you define “customer relationship management”? There are different explanations for what CRM entails exactly. These quotes from 4 experts will give you an idea of its scope:

“What we really need is a mindset shift to make us relevant to today’s customers, a mindset shift from telling to selling to building relationships.” – Jim Stengel, former Global Marketing Officer at Procter & Gamble, owner of the Jim Stengel Group

“Successful CRM is about competing in how you manage relationships. Product and price won’t give you a long-term, sustainable leg up on competition. But if you can get an edge based on how customers feel about your company, it’s a much more sustainable relationship over the long haul.” - Bob Thompson, CustomerThink Corporation

Customer relationship management is a business strategy that optimizes revenue and profitability while promoting customer satisfaction and loyalty.” - Gartner Group

“Customer Relationship Management (CRM) refers to the methodologies and tools that encompass all business interactions with current, past and future customers with the goal of improving customers' relationships with your business. In other words, the goal of CRM is to use information about a customer to increase that customer's positive interactions with the company and increase sales. - Small Business

With these definitions in mind, it’s clear CRM is mostly seen as a strategy to build relationships. However, the term “CRM” is commonly used when referring to software. This raises the question: is CRM primarily a strategy… or software?

CRM: a strategy or software?

It’s both. CRM is indeed a strategy, but that strategy will need the support of technology to really get off the ground. You can create the perfect blueprint to maintain customer data mistake-free or meticulously follow up on your leads… but without the right software to support it, you might as well throw your strategy in the bin. Soon, it will require a dose of manual labour that’s hard to maintain once you get more customers.

Likewise, using CRM software can get you on the right path to success, but it doesn’t mean much on its own. Just like a decent pair of football boots don't make you a world-class striker, CRM software is only useful if you have the right strategy and implementation to back you up.

In practice, a solid CRM strategy and CRM software go hand in hand.

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1. Understand your current challenges in contact management

Think about what’s causing you a lot of headache at the moment. Does any of the statements below sound familiar?

  • Contact info is not readily available. Contact information is often scattered across multiple sources, resulting in a lot of wasted time and disparate data.
  • Adding and managing contact information is done manually, which leaves room for human errors and takes up a lot of your time.
  • You have no clear view on how your sales efforts are paying off: how many prospects are coming in? How many of them approve your quotation? Who is responsible for each deal?
  • There’s no overview of previous communication when someone calls or emails your company, resulting in a lot of confusing situations and frustrated contacts.
  • Not everyone can access the right customer information when they need it. When colleagues becomes sick, for instance, it’s hard to know which prospects they were following up and what has already been discussed. This makes collaboration very complex.
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2. Set clear objectives for what you want to accomplish with CRM

Pinpoint what you want to accomplish by implementing a CRM strategy and CRM software. CRM is designed to help your company reach its objectives for managing and improving customer interactions, so identify what those objectives are. Next, break them down into smaller, bite-sized goals to make these easier to achieve and map out which tactics you’re going to use. Note: this plan should be easy to adapt afterwards.

To give you an idea of how you should set clear goals and map out a clear action plan, here’s a straightforward example:

It could be one of your company goals to better retain customers. You could break down this overarching goal into the following subgoals.

  • Provide great customer support: improve your customer service by minimising your response time or full resolution time when customers contact you.
  • Communicate consistently and manage expectations: send newsletters about your services, discounts or events.
  • Create a customer loyalty programma: send loyal customers targeted communications with exclusive offers.
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3. Identify how you will measure success

Assess whether your efforts are paying off by tracking the right metrics. Typically, most companies define success in three areas: their CRM strategy allows them to save costs, improve revenue or improve customer value.

  • Save costs: think about metrics such as a shorter sales cycle time, quicker sending and managing of invoices, less time spent adding or updating contact information ...
  • Improve revenue: more purchases, more customers, up- and cross-selling opportunities, increase in the number of products purchased per customer ...
  • Improve customer value: a higher customer retention rate, repeat purchase rate vs one-off purchases, lifetime value per customer ...
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4. Align employees with your CRM strategy

Everyone in your company needs to understand the strategy for approaching your customers the right way. A few tips to get employees on board:

  • Inform them about the importance of the strategy: tell them about your current challenges and the objectives you’re hoping to achieve.
  • Acquaint them with the new strategy: inform them which initiatives you will be launching, what will change and how everybody will benefit from the changes.
  • Involve them in the rollout: include them in your new initiatives.

What is CRM software used for?

At the most basic level, CRM software started out as follows:

A system to consolidate customer information and files in a central location so businesses could access and manage them more easily.

Basically, it allowed companies to have a clear overview of customer info in one place such as name or address, but also more detailed data such as previous purchase information, geography, company size, communication history and plenty more.

Over time, functionalities of CRM systems expanded which made them much more useful. The data in a CRM system began to serve as the launching pad for running a smoother business. Below is an overview of some common functionalities of CRM software:

Project management

By connecting the sales management aspect of CRM with project management, this type of CRM skips time on sales administration and can move from having a project offer accepted straight to managing a project. What’s more, it allows you to easily keep customers up-to-date on project status and monitor the lifecycle of your project. For projects budgeted on time and material, time tracking functions can be an added bonus.

Invoicing and workflow capabilities

A large number of CRM systems let businesses optimise their day-to-day processes by automating repetitive tasks such as creating and sending quotations or invoices.

Sales and lead management

CRM basically enables salespeople to track and analyse leads in once place. It gives a clear window into each step of the sales process: which leads you have and who’s responsible for them, which sales opportunities should be prioritised... A CRM also informs you about sales performance and basically tells you who’s doing what for each lead for maximum transparency.


CRM can provide you with profound insights into who your customers are, their needs, what your biggest source of leads is, how much they’re buying from you... Depending on which other functions your CRM has (such as time tracking, project management - see the bullets below), it can also tell you how your team’s performing, how much revenue you’re making, how much time you’re spending, and much more. This level of granularity helps you make informed, strategic decisions to improve and grow your business based on up-to-date information.

Customer support

A CRM system can also offer a support inbox that links all customer interactions (for example, complaints or questions via email or telephone) with the corresponding customer profile. This gives you an overview of the entire conversation history and all interactions.

Benefits of CRM software

1. Easily share information

The more valuable and relevant information you store about your customers, the better you will be able to cater to their needs and improve their experience. CRM allows you to accurately store every customer interaction with your company (meeting reports, calls, emails…) - in one location. On top of all the relevant info to provide customers with great service (like address details, company size, vertical … ), you can also gather additional information. Events they attended or offers they downloaded from your website, for instance: relevant details to share with your colleagues.

2. Enhance your customer support

As soon as a customer reaches out, your team pulls up relevant information such as past interactions, purchases, preferences, or anything else that can be useful. You share a company-wide inbox to store and answer questions and feedback from customers, quickly providing customers with the right response and retrieving past communication

3. Automate burdensome, day-to-day tasks

Think of how many small tasks go into closing a deal. Assigning tasks and calls to your colleagues often results in confusing situations where people are unaware of their responsibilities, but with CRM, it’s all there in a handy overview. Or what about creating and sending quotations? With software, you can use ready-made templates your potential customers can view, comment on, approve and sign online.

CRM offers you the magic of automation, allowing your team to focus on closing deals and building relationships with customers.

4. Improve internal communication and collaboration

CRM doesn’t only facilitate communication, but also has a positive impact on internal processes. By sharing information about customers, other team members can easily take over a colleague’s responsibilities (for example, when someone’s on holiday or leaves the company) as they can work with the same information in one central application.

5. Boost your insights and reporting

One data location makes data analysis more efficient. Dashboards allow you to quickly view information such as sales targets and performance reports. With better data, you make make more data-driven decisions to help your business in general.

Different types of CRM software

We mentioned that in order for a CRM strategy to stick, you need the right software to support it. CRM software mainly comes in three types: operational CRM, analytical CRM and collaborative CRM.

Does my business need a CRM?

Every business that sells products or services to more than a handful of leads and customers will benefit immensely from a CRM system.

No matter which goal you want to achieve, you need a crystal-clear overview of up-to-date, clear lead and customer information, coupled with operational efficiency. A CRM system gives you both.

Let’s illustrate this with an example of two archetypes of businesses. Typically, most business fall somewhere in between.

Archetype #1

Fast-growing business reaching for the stars

Ambitions: Hit high sales targets. Strong growth in revenue
Goals: Be as productive as possible to continuously improve and grow day-to-day business
Key ways how CRM helps their business: Efficiently turn leads into customers & make optimal use cross selling and upselling opportunities.

Archetype #2

Healthy business with solid, steady results

Ambitions: Running a profitable, future-proof business
Goals: Manage a sturdy, relatively worry-free business
Key ways how CRM helps their business: Make optimal use of resources & build a durable database of customers to build loyal relationships.

Can my business survive without a CRM?

Before adopting a CRM system, many companies stick with their email application, Excel spreadsheets, task managers, sticky notes - whatever works for their business at that point in time.

If you’re a one-person business or just starting out with only a few customers, using those resources are definitely not a bad way to start. But businesses change and grow. After a while, you have no idea of the exact amount of customers and leads your business has, who they are, and where they came from.

Eventually upgrading to a more professional, centralised platform to manage contacts becomes a necessity to keep an overview of a growing customer base and handle more customer interactions.

Life without CRM?

Think Excel, sticky notes and your inbox are good ways to manage contacts? You’re not alone. To understand just how useful CRM can be, let's have a look at what life without it is like.

Communication gets lost in the flood

A co-worker came down with the flu or is on holiday? Interactions with a lead may suddenly be beyond reach, or you have to dig through dozens of emails to find it.

Storing this information in a centralised cloud tool allows anyone who needs it to keep tabs on important interactions - anywhere, any time.

The risk of lost sales opportunities

Say a salesperson is working on 30 deals. Without a CRM system, it’s difficult to maintain overview, prioritise and get back to your leads when promised.

CRM helps you track your entire sales process in one overview and reminds you when follow-up is due, so a sale never falls through the cracks.

It’s hard to make sense of data

Creating insightful reports in spreadsheets isn’t for everyone and manual number-crunching takes a lot of time to answer questions like: How many leads did I get last year? Where are most of my sales coming from?

CRM can answer important questions about many different areas in your business

No overview of what your team’s doing

Everyone is working hard, but no real results are coming in. You actually don’t have an idea of what you’re colleagues are working on and what the best way is to help each other.

CRM shows you which tasks, meetings and calls are assigned to which colleagues. On top of that, an integrated calendar offers the perfect overview of everyone’s schedule.

Life with CRM

CRM software offers plenty of pros that justify its reputation as a smart solution for improving sales and customer loyalty.

Below are some examples of day-to-day CRM use.

  • Manage precious leads efficiently: A lead calls and you want to give the best sales pitch in human history? Use your CRM to check up on your colleague’s notes about this customer, view a lead’s stage in the sales funnel and know which actions follow next.
  • Provide quick, clear-cut support: A customer calls and you want the conversation to be helpful and efficient? Use your CRM to look up the customer profile, view past interactions (email, telephone, etc.) so you have enough information to help a customer out right away.
  • Uplift your marketing efforts: You organise a small event and want to inform all your local leads about it? Use your CRM to add geographical information for each lead. You can then create a mailing list of people in that region, simply by filtering on location.
  • Properly follow up on sales opportunities: Want to improve your sales process and know which leads to contact today? Use your CRM to check which leads are in the right stage to follow up.

CRM: rising to a $81 billion market in 2025

Growth of CRM software 2017 - 2025

2017 $39.5 billion

2018 (16% expected growth compared to 2017) $45.8 billion

2025 (50% expected growth compared to 2017) $81.9 billion

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Investments in CRM

More and more are looking to invest in CRM. According to renowned research company Gartner, at the end of 2017, the worldwide CRM software market was worth $39.5 billion. By 2025, this is expected to double with $81.9 billion.

Julian Poulter, Research Director at Gartner, expects the CRM software market to reach the number one position in the software industry this year:

“In 2018, CRM software revenue will continue to take the lead of all software markets and be the fastest growing software market with a growth rate of 16%.”

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The rise of Mobile CRM

The use of CRM on mobile devices is on the rise and that’s no surprise: according to Statista, in 2017, global mobile internet traffic amounted to 52.99%, surpassing desktop traffic. As a result, mobile CRM has massively increased in importance.

Mobile CRM creates the option to access and update data from anywhere and share information with co-workers on the go.

Furthermore, its adoption seems to correlate with increased sales success: research from Innoppl Technologies shows that 65% of businesses that use mobile CRM achieve sales targets, as opposed to just 22% of businesses who don’t.

The future of CRM

As technology continues to evolve (see new developments with artificial intelligence and the internet of things), so do CRM platforms. What does the future hold? Here are some must-know trends shaping the CRM landscape:

  • More and more businesses are using software for their day-to-day activities. Tools for email marketing, group chat, accounting, online payments, file management and more are becoming commonplace. CRM is trending beyond just standalone software, and is designed to work well alongside a company’s other business tools, hence why even more third-party integrations will start popping up.
  • Mobile access to CRM through a mobile app will be at the top of the list for software requirements as well as the possibilities to use mobile for CRM.
  • To help accommodate the rising demands of SMEs, more functions will be merged into one application. Look for the merging of invoicing, project management, sales and customer support features.
  • The latest technology trends such as artificial intelligence and machine learningare new to the CRM space and are still in their infancy. A CRM is a treasure trove of useful data for AI to thrive on: AI will allow companies to better serve clients and automate more routine tasks. These types of technology will make software smarter by predicting patterns, recommending new processes and providing deeper analytics and insights.

CRM integrations

A CRM system can do wonderful things for your business, but you might have only scratched the surface: these days some CRM systems can integrate with hundreds, maybe even thousands of useful business apps.

There’s no one CRM platform that offers all the features to help your run your entire business, and you may still want to use some of your
existing tools to address your needs.

A CRM integration is a connection between two software applications which allows them to share and exchange information with each other.

Integrating your CRM system with other software gives immediate benefits:

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Useful CRM integration

1. Bookkeeping

CRM and bookkeeping tools can send crucial financial data back and forth to one another. With a bookkeeping integration, you can automatically add outgoing invoices in your bookkeeping tool or auto-update the payment status of invoices in bookkeeping tools such as Exact Online, Yuki, Octopus or Twinfield.

2. Calendar

By using a calendar integration connected with your CRM system, you can sync all the calendars you currently use, adding all your meetings, events, tasks and calls in the calendar of your CRM system too. Most CRM systems offer popular workplace integrations to connect with such as Office 365 Calendar, Google, Apple iCloud and Microsoft Exchange.

3. Chat

Are you using chat tools like Slack to interact with co-workers on the go? Let’s imagine you just closed a deal and you adjust this information in your CRM system. Slack can instantly send a chat notification to inform your team and make sure all this information gets synced to Slack.

CRM Examples

Across the globe, all types of businesses are using CRM software to improve customer relationships, sales processes, internal communication, and more. Learn how these companies have managed to build a successful CRM strategy as well as effectively implement CRM software.


Academy Award-Winning animation studio

Before making the switch to CRM software, Aardman managed their contacts with cluttered Excel sheets. Now, CRM technology has managed to gradually unify their departments and improves how we share knowledge and ideas. Because information is now stored and managed in one location in the cloud, information is much more transparently.

Jason Fletcher-Bartholomew, Head of New Business & Executive Producer:
“2016 was a bit of a challenging year for Aardman. That’s why we wanted to dig deeper into our sales process. It turned out we were using too many outdated systems. None of those were really communicating, so the quest for a CRM system was necessary to grow our business.”

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Atelier Schrauwen
Craftsman business for exclusive front doors

In the past, colleagues were unable to view each other’s calendars which made it challenging to complete projects. Their toughest challenge: keeping an overview of how much they sold, the return they have on investments and their overall targets.

CRM software now is the backbone of their business: from managing customer information to sales intelligence: everything is much more accessible to them now that they have a central system.

Jef Schrauwen, Business Owner:
“Before we used CRM software, communication was rather difficult. Now we have more insights and we know how long each project takes.”