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A customer relationship management program, or CRM system, is computer software with a large database populated with customer-related information. Its primary purpose is to organize, track, and automate key aspects of an organization's sales activities. More robust systems normally facilitate similar tasks for marketing, customer service, and technical support operations.
A CRM system can process data using built-in standard functionality, or functionality can be customized to fulfill a user's specific needs. Product software can be purchased and installed on a network, or it can be accessed on demand by paying a monthly fee to an off-site provider. Off-site services typically employ web-based software.
A simple CRM system designed to record and manage information on basic sales activities is relatively inexpensive. As with any product, however, there is a large range of prices depending on features and capabilities added. More costly sophisticated systems typically have functionality that expands beyond sales activity and are generally classified by the type of software included. These more involved systems can be catered to virtually any need. Software options can include analytical pieces, design and marketing programs, campaign and contact management, lead and sales volume trackers, sales force automation, trend forecasters, customer support programs, and more.
Vendors and users often attribute significant benefits to using a large-scale CRM system. Among them are increased sales productivity, better rates of closing sales, improved profitability and enhanced customer service. This leads to higher customer loyalty and retention, more efficient sales and marketing efforts, lower expenses, more effective call center operations, additional opportunities to cross-sell and up-sell, better business intelligence to use in decision making, gains in market share, and greater overall profitability.
As the product category matures and becomes more competitive, many of these benefits are becoming available in systems that small- and medium-sized companies are increasingly able to afford. This means that companies with smaller budgets can still reap the benefits of the efficiency a CRM system can offer.
There are many consumer websites available that will help a company — small, medium or large — check the costs, capabilities and user satisfaction of various CRM systems available on the market. Trial versions of many of these programs are often available for free download. There are also free, open-sourced versions of CRM systems that can be built to a company's needs if it employs a technical staff savvy enough to work on the programing side.
Oddly, these things seem to only work when a company wants them to. For example, Company "A" may be able to look up an order for award plaques that a customer ordered a year ago and suggest the customer may need to reorder, but an auto finance company may not be able to find the past three car payments that were made on time and have already cleared the bank.
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