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Customer relationship management (CRM) broadly refers to any of the technologies, strategies, processes, and practices associated with a company’s business relationships with its customers. But the term CRM is frequently used to mean CRM system or CRM software. CRM software is vital to helping a business keep track of prospects and customers, understand order history and service issues, project sales pipeline, document interactions with suppliers, manage the supply chain, and track evolving business partnerships.

Typical CRM systems can compile data from many channels and use sophisticated data analysis capabilities to spot trends and support informed decision-making. The addition of functions such as recording email, phone and social media interactions with customers can add rich detail to a customer record, and enable aggregate trending within the CRM system. Sales teams rely heavily on a robust CRM system to automate many aspects of the sales cycle that support prospect nurturing and lead development.

There are many CRM software vendors which provide both on-premises CRM and cloud-based CRM. Salesforce, SAP, Oracle and Microsoft provide CRM systems that tend to be most popular with the largest enterprises. Open source CRM platforms like SugarCRM and SuiteCRM are affordable alternatives to the proprietary platforms.