Developing and nurturing a relationship with the customers of a business ensures repeat consumers and allows an organization to adjust their product or service to meet the needs, desires, and wants of their intended customers. Enter customer relationship management (CRM) software!
What is CRM Software?
The idea of CRM is not by any means “new” or innovative in the sense that the earliest iterations of CRM began when the trade of goods began some 20,000 years ago. Even modern day inventions such as the Rolodex and early Excel databases can be considered a form of a CRM database. However, utilizing the great advances in computing and especially in cloud computing and the internet of things (IOT) allows a company to capture and leverage great amounts of data. These advances have created a vast number of software companies eager to prove that they have that “unique” item in their software that will push your company from good to great.
As a side note, I was going to save this post for a little bit later until we can delve into the importance of developing the customer relationship and brand. However, due to some individuals wanting this breakdown, I decided to accelerate it to now.
Marketing, Sales, and Support, Oh My!
An example CRM Marketing and Sales Funnel
For those of you reading this that are unfamiliar with what CRM software is, the term is very flexible at this point in time, but ultimately it assists businesses with gathering leads, nurturing those leads into contacts, closing deals, and then turning those customers into repeat customer. Many of these platforms also have project management, e-commerce, and service department integrations so you can have your entire organization networked together.
Companies that embrace the connectivity and intelligence that comes with digitizing their operation, stand to increase the ROI of new opportunities.
– Anonymous Quote
An example of this would be a manufacturer that embraced this could have their marketing company monitor their social media and email marketing campaigns, generating leads and passing them to sales. The sales department could refine the needs of the customer, generate a quote, and close the sale with these customers. The production line will receive the exact details accepted by the customer and build the custom item specific to that customer. The details of that customer’s sale are also available to the service support and accounting departments to better support the customer through the processing and life of that product. Then, some time in the future, that same customer begins to interact with some of the company’s marketing material. That customer begins the cycle again.
Sounds rather LEAN doesn’t it? That’s because it is!
All of that information in one place, fully integrated with other software of the company, and customized for the specific needs of that business. Sounds amazing right? I can sing the praises of CRM software all day long, and many of my clients know because I have to them for probably entirely too long, plus that is not what you are here for anyway. Below is a breakdown of my three favorite CRM software suites that are definitely not Salesforce and SAP. In my experience, the bigger the software company is, the less customization that is available, and I am a firm believer of “no business is built the same” so customization is everything. I breakdown my favorite parts of each software one at a time, but if you want to see a quick breakdown table, scroll to the bottom.
Quick note: All of the following links are affiliate links for these software suites.
Zoho CRM: Best for Business Versatility
Zoho is a company based out of India that started in 2005. They are unique in the since that they started as a competitor to the Microsoft Office suite of programs, not as a CRM software. What this means for you is that Zoho provides the most comprehensive suite of programs for your business. This includes workplace apps for data and word processing, a suite of programs for marketing departments to fully manage lead capture and customer desires, a module for finance and inventory management, a multitude of real-time IT resources, modules for HR departments to recruit and manage the human resources for the company, a module for Project Managers to oversee the operations of the business, and yes, of course a CRM software suite to best develop that ever important relationship with the customer. All counted, there are 37 unique Zoho created apps to assist your business. They advertise themselves as “the operating system for business” and you can see why. Additionally, Zoho operates on a open application programming platform and therefore has an extremely large third-party apps marketplace for further integration (they are celebrating 1000+ apps now on their marketplace).
Unique Feature: Project Management
Just focusing on the Zoho CRM suite (there are so many different modules that it would take forever to go over all of them), there are tools to collaborate among your teams, interact in real time with your customers, and save a significant amount of time through automation. However, what sets Zoho apart is the incredibly powerful reports generation, built in AI to classify leads (only in the higher membership levels), and its project management platform. The last is one of the truly unique features Zoho provides as it allows for a greater element of project management than most if not all other CRM platforms.
Image credit: Zoho.com
The picture above shows the Gnatt charts that track multiple projects in real time and get all your tasks organized by priority. This feature in other CRM only allows for task generation, but the visual nature of Gnatt charts allows your teams to better track progress across multiple projects in real time in a much easier format.
Image credit: Zoho.com
One of the other incredibly unique features of Zoho’s project module is the ability to create time sheets within the software and send to customers. For businesses that focus very heavily on billable time on projects, this could be an incredible time and cost saver due to consolidating time tracking and project tracking into one application.
Zoho is an incredibly versatile CRM platform that specializes in business improvement and project management while giving you the same bells and whistles that all of the other CRM software gives.
Image credit: Hubspot.com
Hubspot: Best CRM for Customer Service
Hubspot is another “not Salesforce”, large CRM provider based in Cambridge, MA. Founded in 2006, Hubspot has been recently named as one of the best places to work in the United States and their customer service supports that supposition. Just like Zoho, Hubspot is designed to funnel customers to your business through social media marketing, SEO, and developing and maintaining customer brand recognition. However, unlike Zoho, that can get rather complex with its features, Hubspot is separated into three different modules, marketing, sales, and service. In this way, a company can track a customer’s relationship as it progresses from pre-sale (or funneling) to sales/invoicing and finally through post-sale support. It is fairly easy to visualize the progression when the modules are physically separated as Hubspot has designed it.
However, not everything is as simple as it seems, some items that Sales and Service might need are located in the Marketing module (such as a contact form to generate a service ticket or an automated email that needs to be sent out to leads) or Hubspot’s version of project management in the form of tasks is actually located in Sales, despite being used by all three departments.
Hubspot does integrate very well with other applications as well, specifically as it pertains to the three business segments. This can be seen in their real-time integration with your email server to create beautiful meeting (or appointment) links that customers can schedule time with your teams.
Image credit: Hubspot.com
Unique Feature: Service Module
Introduced in 2018, the Hubspot Service Module is very unique as it is a user interface specifically designed for post-sale support of your product or service. If you have different product/service pipelines, you can separate the service tickets and group them in segments, then create ticket status life cycles that match your unique business and customer needs.
Image credit: Hubspot.com
This looks similar in practice to a sales pipeline, however it is very much geared to service and allows your business segments to be fully independent from each other. Since getting a sale and supporting that sale long term are two different skill sets, especially for many companies whose salesmen and women do not have the technical expertise, this can be a very great advantage. As you can see in the above picture, this allows your Service department to prioritize and classify the issues occurring for your customer base.
Hubspot also allows for custom variable creation (as does many CRM software suites), however combine this with the Service Hub and you have a very powerful way of tracking issues with the products or services being provided to your customer and feeding that information back into the production departments. For those of you tracking, that is a BIG point towards LEAN thinking (aka providing a product/service to the customer that matches their needs at the right time at the right price).
Hubspot’s unique perspective of customer relationship life cycle and Service Hub allow for a better “customer-centered” CRM software.
GetResponse: The Most User-Friendly
Originally envisioned in 1997, GetResponse has been slowly gaining ground as a low-effort, high-reward marketing platform. Priding themselves on titles such as “World’s Easiest Email Marketing” and deliverability rates of 99%, GetResponse is by no means “bare bones” when it comes to a CRM, however it does lake some of the post-sales support that some of the others have (see Zoho’s project management Hubspot’s Service Hub above). What it lacks in that area though are far made up by its user-friendliness during the funneling stage of the customer’s relationship with your company.
This video references a “get up and running in minutes” attitude, and sure enough it is. GetResponse has templates for emails, landing pages, and autoresponders. Pair this with paid ads and social media hubs and you can very quickly create and start funneling with professional and eye-catching ways.
Once a customer engages with your brand, GetResponse makes it very simple to automatically add them to a list that best fits how you want to interact with them. In other words, their program with segment your customers to allow for more targeted advertising with little effort from you.
Unique Feature: Webinars
In addition to the simple and quick “get-up-and-go” style of GetResponse, they add in a webinar feature that allows you to host unlimited webinars with up to 1,000 live attendees in each. Their platform also allows for recording the webinars for future use and cloud storage for up to 20 hrs of footage. For business owners that wish to interact with their current and potential customer base, this places a face to the brand name and makes your company dramatically more personable.
Image credit: getresponse.com
Earlier in this article we spoke about how CRM software allows customer ideas, wants, and needs to be fed back into your company for product/service improvements. Think about doing all of that in real time while also selling your brand to hundreds of customers in real-time.
If your expectations of CRM software are to use it as a funnel and don’t need all of the bells and whistles of other software suites, look no further than GetResponse. It offers and incredibly user-friendly approach to generating marketing campaigns that has you off and going right after sign up.