What is CRM?

And, more importantly, how can you leverage it to boost your sales, marketing, and customer service efforts?

Our experts

We are a team of writers, experimenters and researchers providing you with the best advice with zero bias or partiality. This article was authored by:
  • Rob Binns

In the days before the internet, it was pretty straightforward for small business owners. Face-to-face, they could get to know their customers' preferences directly, make the best recommendations from over the counter, and take the time to answer every query.

Then the internet came along, and big data followed. Suddenly, businesses were faced with all the opportunities that that information provides – and the inevitable challenges that come with it.

How, for instance, do you effectively store and catalogue information about your customers, prospects, and leads? Engineer beautiful, bespoke email marketing campaigns? Respond to customer service queries and complaints with speed and professionalism?

With a CRM (customer relationship management) system, that’s how.

But what is a CRM system, exactly? Why does your business need it? And what are the potential benefits?

Let’s explore.

What is CRM?

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) can be many things; a strategy, a process, a business goal. Here, though, we focus on CRM as a software; a cloud-based, digital tool that stores, organises, and manages data about your customers – and how they interact with your business. 

At its most basic level, CRM software is a digital version of an address book – a place to securely store all contact information. Your CRM database stores all of the valuable data you have about your customers, which is produced through every action and interaction. This data includes:

  • Name, title, and email address
  • Date and nature of last interaction
  • Visits to your website and engagement with your brand
  • Their previous orders and spend
  • Even personal information such as their interests and hobbies, or the name of their dog (for the sake of small talk)

A CRM database is your foundation for success. And yet, for teams focussed on crunching the numbers to analyse performance, increase revenue, and drive growth, it’s so much more – it's the building blocks of scalability and sustainable success.

That's because CRM software allows you to not only store your business' crucial client, lead, and prospect data, but to use it, too.

For sales teams, that means:

  • Convert more leads – benefit from complete lifecycle management, from a customer's first interaction, all the way to a purchase
  • Get a 360-degree view of your pipeline – easily monitor and track targets with drag-and-drop pipeline management
  • Don't miss out on a deal – review historic, current, and projected deals, and engage lapsed prospects
  • Plan for the future – engage with the data that matters most to your business to produce accurate sales forecasts and reports

For marketing teams, CRM will help you:

  • Create beautiful emails – use templates to craft clever, colourful communications
  • Boss your campaign management – document ideas and delivery methods, and target the right audience with the best message
  • Coordinate events and projects – advertise for, register, and manage attendees for events, and push projects forward more effectively
  • Understand the customer journey  – chart customers’ interactions with your business, and engagement with your emails and phone calls

For customer services teams, CRM allows you to:

  • Manage customer interactions – store all conversations with your clients in a central, easily-accessible location
  • Unify your communication channels – pull info from email, social media, phone calls, SMS, and live chat into a single, digestible stream
  • Detail preferred communication methods – record how and when customers like to be contacted, and catch them at the right time
  • Get better at handling complaints – receive a notification whenever someone mentions you on social media or complains, so you can deal with it instantly

Does this sound like a bit of you? Could your business benefit from a new CRM system? If so, let us help. Simply click on one of the thumbs below to receive tailored quotes, and speak to an expert about your business' productivity software requirements.

It takes about 30 seconds, and is completely free for UK-based businesses.

The benefits of CRM software

Regardless of whether you're a sales guru, a marketing wizard, or a customer service hotshot, CRM software brings a series of team-wide benefits to the table. Here are just a few:

Better customer understanding and interaction

With a CRM database, you can easily locate specific information about individuals, and use that data to identify patterns and trends about your customer base as a whole. Better still, you can attach notes from previous email or live chat conversations with that customer, or a recording of your last phone call, to refresh your memory of them before your next discussion.

Segment, segment, segment

Using CRM software's segmentation features, you can create tailored mailing lists, based on engagement, previous purchases, or demographic information. This allows you to deliver targeted email marketing to your customers, ensuring they get only content that's relevant to them, and encouraging greater levels of engagement.

And, thanks to CRM software's drag-and-drop email builder and range of preset templates, constructing eye-catching campaigns is a breeze. Take HubSpot, for example:

hubspot email marketing


You don't need to have an eye for design, or even an ounce of tech-savviness. Just click to drag a feature into your email, and add natural, compelling CTAs (calls-to-action) to give people a place to convert. Simple!

Stay compliant

You can use CRM software to correctly manage GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and other data privacy requirements. Stay on the right side of the law, avoid big fines, and show your customers that you care about their data privacy.

Enhanced sales output

You'll never have more fun cleaning up your pipeline. With more efficient processes, intelligent lead scoring, and a set of brilliant algorithms providing your team with the right leads at just the right team, CRM should send your sales stats skyward.

Improved organisation

Now more than ever, remote working is a key tenet for businesses. However, though your teams may already be collaborating across countries and time zones, CRM allows them to do so in real time. With everything in one place and everyone responsible for maintaining it, a CRM database makes salespeople ‘treading on each other's toes'  a thing of the past.

Task automation

Good CRM software allows you to automate not only the bare bones administrative tasks, but plenty of others, too. Modern CRM systems have automated workflows for lead nurturing, customer support, calling, and lead and deal management, plus plenty more – meaning less time spent on gruelling administrative tasks, and more time for the good stuff.

The bottom line? Your team members can focus on their specialisms – and you can concentrate on growing your business.

Analytics and reporting

CRM software allows you to use data more efficiently to make business decisions, and use extrapolations to budget and plan for the long-term. You can also use that information to create stunning, aesthetically pleasing reports to wow the audience in your next presentation.

Take Insightly's interface, for example:

what is crm insightly interface

It visualises key information in intuitive, live dashboards. Within moments of logging in, you can see how many deals have been done, who's been doing them, and how much money it's all made you.

Integration with other tools

Connect your CRM system with your email, telephone, and other productivity tools you rely on, such as payroll, HR, and accounting software. You can also tie your CRM to your social media accounts and website to automate key processes, and speed up service.

The importance of integration can't be overstated. As Duncan Stockdill, CEO of CRM provider Capsule, comments:

“As today’s CRM solutions connect with hundreds of different third-party software apps (from POS systems to invoicing), they also allow you to create ‘one version of the truth’ across your business, avoiding inefficient duplication of effort.

“While some may think this is only important for bigger companies, it creates much-needed efficiencies for everyone, giving start-ups more time to focus on growing their business.”

How much does CRM software cost?

Cloud-based CRM software can cost your business anything from £12 to £200 per month. The specific cost will depend on several factors, including the size, scope, and requirements of your business.

CRM software is commonly priced per user, per month – in other words, the more employees you'll need using the system, the more you'll pay. CRM software is typically tiered, with different plans available at ascending prices, each unlocking more features than the last.

Head to our dedicated resource on CRM costs to find out how much a CRM system will really cost you. Or, if you're still wondering what cloud-based CRM software is, we're about to explain – so read on.

What is cloud-based CRM?

CRM can be deployed as an on-premise, cloud-based, or hybrid solution. 

An on-premise solution is deployed on your business' premises, and you'll own and operate all the hardware involved. You'll get ultimate control over your own data and software, too – though you'll have to stomach the extra costs involved, which include implementation, installation, data migration, and maintenance.

cloud-based solution, however, lets you sidestep these fees. Your data will be stored securely on the servers of your chosen CRM software provider, and you'll pay just a lone monthly fee to lease the software.

The big benefit of cloud-based CRM software is its dynamism. There's nothing to install or download – in most cases, you can access all your data from a web browser. Better still, cloud-based CRM facilitates the real-time collaboration of remote colleagues, from wherever in the world they are (providing there's an internet connection there, of course).

Hybrid solutions are a bespoke blend of the two. Better-suited to larger, enterprise-level businesses, they offer the highest levels of customisability… at a price.

Out of these options, we most recommend cloud-based CRM software. Its benefits include:

  • Tiered pricing – cloud-based CRM providers offer options to suit every budget, and many offer a free (albeit limited) package
  • Cheaper – a low monthly fee trumps the heady multitude of costs that come with an on-premise system
  • Ease of use – no servers means no maintenance, and none of the costs and hassle that come with it
  • Scalability – use only what your business needs, and add to it as you grow
  • Quick setup times – it’s an online solution, so you can usually be up and running quickly and easily
  • Additional services – vendors provide training and customer support
  • 24/7 access – as the CRM software is hosted on the cloud, you'll only need an internet connection and a smartphone to use it
  • Up-to-date – cloud-based CRM software providers offer automatic updates, keeping you up to speed with the latest developments

To find out which cloud-based CRM software is right for you, check out our recently updated guide to the best CRM systems for small UK businesses. Or read on, as we finish up with our top tips for selecting a CRM provider.

Choosing the right CRM system for your business

In order to choose the right CRM system, you'll need to understand which functions you might use. Stel Kabouridis, a CRM expert from a large lead generation company, gives the following examples of how different businesses might use CRM software:

Any business could use CRM software to inform customers about one time offers, or other special deals.

For any business, we recommend Salesforce.

website, blog, or publishing-based business could use CRM software as a forum to build brand loyalty, and to promote engagement via newsletters and other correspondence.

For websites, blogs, or publishing-based businesses, we recommend Insightly.

They could also use the software as a consistent method of driving return visitors to their sites. This in turn would raise their domain authority, as well as promote their commercial pages.

For driving return visitors, we recommend Zoho.

An ecommerce business, or any business with multiple conversion points, can use CRM software to help with upselling. The software could also help nurture users towards a conversion – for example, a customer who has searched for “how to build a website” could eventually be steered towards an affiliate website builder they can sign up with.

If this is your goal, we recommend using our free tool to get quotes, and to help you compare and contrast the range of CRM software providers out there. It takes 30 seconds, and there's just a couple of steps involved.

Simply provide us with a few details about what kind of CRM software your business needs. Are there specific features you require? How many users will it need to support? Let us know.

You'll then receive quotes from leading CRM system suppliers, tailored to your business and requirements. It's the quickest, easiest way to get matched with the right CRM software for you.

Rob Binns
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