What is customer relationship management?

Customer relationship management (CRM) is a strategy and methodology that revolves around using data and feedback to build authentic, meaningful relationships with prospects and customers, keeping them connected and loyal to your company.

Customer relationship management involves leveraging the right technologies to properly meet your customers’ and prospects’ needs. CRM solutions are data management tools that help companies proactively keep track of their connections and engagements with prospects and customers.

CRM software is critical for tasks such as scheduling sales calls, accessing customer data, and analyzing trends across the customer journey – from browsing to buying.

CRM software provides 360-degree visibility into what customers and prospects are doing, where their interests lie, and how to approach their individual needs. While they are typically implemented by sales teams, these solutions also empower marketing teams, customer support teams, decision makers, and numerous other areas of the business to get the data and insights they need to better support and engage their customers – helping to eliminate departmental silos.

With a CRM system, a single centralized repository contains all information on customers’ and prospective customers’ order histories, their service queries, and their positions in the sales cycle, displayed on user-friendly dashboards.

Beyond that, the best CRM systems also offer sales and marketing campaign management tools, as well as a wide selection of customer data reporting tools, so that marketers can take a more focused approach to moving customers from first-time leads to lifetime advocates and ambassadors. Top solutions will allow you to orchestrate messages to your customers and prospects across channels, making it easy to target people based on how they’ve previously engaged with your brand.

What is customer relationship marketing? 

CRM systems provide crucial support for marketing teams by logging and tracking data relevant to every relationship. This process is called customer relationship marketing. It’s closely connected to customer relationship management, and also uses the abbreviation CRM.

Customer relationship marketing involves a more long-term view, with far-reaching benefits for building brand reputation, improving customer retention, and increasing customer lifetime value. By contrast, traditional marketing is more transactional, focusing on short-term outcomes, quick wins, and driving sales. As such, the return on investment for customer relationship marketing may not be as immediate or obvious on a quarterly report, but it will have ample long-term benefits in terms of brand relevance, revenue, opportunity, and sustainability over time.

What is the purpose of customer relationship management?

Customer relationship management is simply good business: it is much more cost effective to keep current customers than to attract new ones. Loyal customers also tend to spend more on your services and products. Therefore, companies that build affiliation, trust, and an emotional connection with consumers can increase sales, decrease churn, and differentiate themselves in the market.

Customer relationship management drives this powerful loyalty and engagement. When done right, this strategy turns customers into promoters and champions who actively spread your company’s message and raise brand awareness.

“A CRM system essentially lets sales professionals keep tabs on who they have spoken to and record what they discussed during sales calls”

Some organizations distinguish between two types of brand champions:

  1. Brand advocates are those who happily and casually recommend their favorite companies to their friends and families, and expect nothing in return. 
  2. Brand ambassadors function as an extension of a company’s marketing apparatus, and promote a company to their own spheres of influence in exchange for some form of compensation (such as privileges, discounts, or free samples). 

If your company can cultivate brand advocates and ambassadors, it creates an authentic following and yields a competitive advantage.

CRM software helps enable these efforts. A CRM system essentially lets sales professionals keep tabs on who they have spoken to and record what they discussed during sales calls. It also provides the rest of the organization with visibility into the current state of all past and present customer transactions and relationships. From there, it is easy to identify which customers may be loyal brand advocates and ambassadors, and to keep the relationship strong with those individuals.

What are the benefits of customer relationship management?

The best brands succeed by delighting their customers and creating tailored experiences that consistently exceed customers’ expectations. Customer relationship management makes this a priority by taking a consumer-centric approach to every engagement, and by maintaining a single view of the customer across all channels.

A CRM platform benefits your brand by allowing you to deliver service and value to customers as they connect with you in your store, on your website, over the phone, or via social media. With a holistic view of a customer’s engagement with your company, you can provide tailored service at each stage in their journey. 

CRM solutions empower teams to derive real, actionable insights from the massive amounts of data they collect, so that they can market more effectively, respond to customers’ queries, and ensure they’re providing exceptional customer service. 

This creates a virtuous cycle, in which loyal customers provide more insight and data to their favorite brands through more frequent interactions, and brands can then leverage that data to drive increased value for those customers – and for themselves. Having this positive feedback loop will drastically improve your profitability, customer retention, and allow your teams to make informed decisions when identifying promising future prospects.

It also makes it more likely that brand advocates and ambassadors will post about your products on social media or leave glowing reviews online. 

More than ever, customers care about positive brand experiences when deciding what to buy, and they pay attention to positive or negative brand sentiment in their trusted circles and communities. This is why customer relationship marketing is such a powerful growth opportunity for your company.

What are the stages of customer relationship management?

The customer relationship management process is often divided into four distinct stages, focusing on the deployment of CRM software to derive consumer insights.

  1. Data is collected: depending on the level of sophistication of the CRM tool, inputs such as customers’ purchase history, previous communications with the company or support staff, and contact information may be manually or automatically entered into the system as it’s collected, likely by sales representatives.
  2. The system analyzes the data to glean insights and generate reports about consumers – their past touchpoints, purchases, and requests, as well as their current status in the customer journey.
  3. Human teams use this data to refine their sales or marketing strategies. With data to inform their decisions, they can design initiatives targeted to specific personas, audiences, and even individuals.
  4. Executing these campaigns completes the cycle – but it also begins it anew, since teams can make the most of their CRM software to track and measure the success of their campaigns, and effectively start again at the first stage.

At a higher level, this deployment of CRM technology enables brands to succeed in their customer relationship marketing efforts, which can likewise be categorized in four stages. These are broadly defined as “exploratory”, “basic”, “collaborative”, and “interconnected”:

  1. Exploratory: In the exploratory stage, leads and prospects encounter your brand for the first time and form a first impression. This initial encounter may take place through placed advertisements, online content, social media, or a range of other channels, and it marks the start of the awareness and consideration process for consumers, and the start of the customer acquisition process for your company.
  2. Basic: The basic stage is where storytelling begins. Here, your brand will launch preliminary marketing efforts that are more targeted to the prospective customers, such as email marketing campaigns or links to useful online content, showing that you understand who your customers are and what they want, and are in a unique position to meet their needs.
  3. Collaborative: The collaborative stage is a natural extension of the basic stage, which evolves organically once a relationship has been established. Your brand delivers continuous value to the customer through its product and service offerings as well as its expertise, resources, and stories; the customer delivers continuous value through repeat purchases and ongoing loyalty. This stage lays the foundation for those emotional, long-lasting connections that are the goal of all customer relationship marketing efforts.
  4. Interconnected: After that, the interconnected stage is the cumulation of these efforts. Customers are not just brand loyalists, they become brand advocates and ambassadors who openly vouch for the value of your company’s products and services and feel a deep resonance with your vision, vibe, personality, and purpose.

Examples of customer relationship management

Exceptional service has always been, and will always be, the key to unlocking brand loyalty. That means prioritizing the customer experience across all interactions. Some examples include:

  • Marketing: Done right, customer relationship management provides customers with the best knowledge, context, and information that will help them understand why your product or service can meet their needs. Ideally, you’ll leverage the right CRM solutions to build cohesive messaging across the customer journey. Whether you’re sharing inspirational and aspirational stories, user-friendly tutorials, or engaging content and campaigns, you should target customers with messaging that aligns with specific interests in your services and their engagement with your company to-date.
  • Personalization: Personalization is another hallmark of customer relationship management. CRM software should enable you to recognize and celebrate consumers as individuals, anticipating their needs and customizing your messaging to address customers’ specific pain points, successes, and stage in the customer journey. 
  • Social media: Social channels play an important role by providing you with a way to engage directly in conversation with your customers. These channels make it simple to showcase your brand’s voice, views, and values while adding a degree of personalization to your marketing. They can also be a powerful tool for responding to customer feedback and inviting customers to participate in events or engage with your content.
  • Loyalty programs: Rewarding loyalty is another example of how customer relationship management, and customer relationship marketing, can be effective. To turn prospects and consumers into advocates and ambassadors, expanded rewards programs and additional perks can make a huge difference. So can surprising and delighting customers by devising creative, memorable ways to celebrate their loyalty when they least expect it.

Loyal customers are worth investing in – and ultimately, that’s the reason why you should be readily embracing customer relationship management.