We help you choose the right customer relationship management system to boost new and repeat business.
Customer relationship management (CRM) systems do what the term suggests: they keep track of the various interactions a business has with its customers regardless of channel, and makes that information available for ad hoc enquiries or regular reports.
We’ve explained what CRM is and what it can do previously, but essentially it helps you boost new and repeat business by enabling you to gain a greater understanding of your existing customers and spot market trends.
CRM can also provide a foundation for automating various activities, such as tracking marketing campaigns. Salesforce – the largest cloud CRM provider – has even evolved into a platform that allows third parties to develop business applications that can integrate with the CRM.
Like other business applications, CRM can be run on-premises but is increasingly consumed in the cloud as Software as a Service (SaaS). According to Okta, Salesforce is the second most widely used SaaS application, well behind Microsoft Office 365 but with a big lead over third-placed Box (file sharing and collaboration).
The importance of integration
We recently reviewed the leading cloud accounting systems – if you're using one of them, choosing a CRM that can integrate with it makes a lot of sense, as the two functions are closely related. For example, if you're talking to a customer about a possible new order, it helps to know how close they are to their credit limit and whether there are any complaints that have yet to be handled. Furthermore, it's a lot less effort to maintain information (such as the customer's address) in one place and let the software keep the records synchronised.
An interesting point is that Sage's forthcoming Sage Live product is built on the Salesforce platform. More generally, using cloud CRM and cloud accounting systems that already know how to talk to each other is normally easier than integrating their on-premises counterparts.
It’s also possible to integrate the likes of Salesforce with ERP systems – or, for larger businesses that prefer an all-in-one, single-vendor approach, some ERP systems can include CRM, as we explained in our ERP buyer’s guide.
For everyone else, there’s a broad range of cloud CRM systems available, many of which integrate with cloud accounting systems, such as Xero, MYOB, QuickBooks, Saasu, Reckon One and SageOne (the latter via OneSaaS integration).
Similarly, you probably want integration between CRM and email (including bulk mail), social networks, and so on. So don't just think in terms of CRM functionality, look at the wider picture.
Which CRM is best for you? Next: we compare six of the better cloud CRM systems.