This content is part of the Buyer's Guide: A buyer's guide to choosing the right CRM product

Making CRM part of your customer engagement strategy

One of the best ways to justify the purchase of CRM software is to explore how other organizations use it in their customer engagement strategies.

Customer relationship management (CRM) tools and strategies play an increasingly important role in the success of most, if not all, organizations today. The best way to determine whether your organization can benefit from CRM tools is to evaluate your process for finding, catching and retaining good customers -- not just today, but over time. If you're having difficulties in one or more of these areas, it's time to examine how CRM products can help solve these issues and improve your customer engagement strategy. One way to get ideas on how to justify the purchase is to identify how other organizations are using CRM tools and which features they use to meet their needs.

How companies use CRM

Exploiting digital touch points with sales force automation. Customers and prospects alike are transmitting hundreds, if not thousands, of digital signals via tweets, comments and reviews each day about what's important to them. Aggregating these messages in a central location and finding meaningful insights from them is important in forging relationships with today's consumers. But it isn't humanly possible to manage this process manually. Many vendors offer sales force automation (SFA) and CRM applications that make it easier to gather important insights about contacts that can be used in more targeted, contextual interactions such as sales campaigns. For example, these tools can provide insights, such as the best time to send personalized content based on different kinds of data, including demographics and firmographics, which indicate buying habits.

Creating a consistent experience across sales channels. If you have a direct sales force, an inside sales team, selling partners or even business-to-business commerce, SFA tools manage the sales process across multiple teams and communication channels from a central location. For example, more organizations are using a hybrid approach to create sales teams, having a mix of internal staff, field sales, third-party outsourced staff and trusted partners involved in different phases of the sales cycle. Using SFA tools to help coordinate activities and interactions with prospects during the sales process is critical to keeping all parties on the same page and projecting a single, clear message to sales prospects.

As it gets easier to create and distribute content, it becomes more critical to know which content is converting, and which is not.

Optimizing sales opportunities. Speed and accuracy are important to winning deals -- especially complex ones. Working in tandem with a sales force automation application, price configuration tools -- configure price quote (CPQ) software -- can give sales professionals a more efficient, data-driven selling experience.

For example, certain CPQ software packages have built-in integration with Salesforce, enabling customer information to be transferred from Salesforce into a CPQ system. This automatic transfer helps reduce the errors inherent in manual quote creation. Additionally, any proposals generated in CPQ software are automatically exported into Salesforce, so sales reps can see the history of the customer's past proposals, which can be beneficial for future sales.

Another benefit of this integration is that it enables the CPQ software to automatically add new products into the price book if they don't already exist in Salesforce. This combination of software can also provide the sales rep with suggestions for other offerings specific to that package or solution that could be offered to the customer, including cross-sell and up-sell recommendations.

Creating engagement opportunities. Marketers have only milliseconds to make their content meaningfully connect with their target. This content must turn one transaction into several that result in qualified leads. Marketing automation tools help speed up the content distribution process by programmatically executing multichannel campaigns (email, social, blog, SMS, etc.). Under the management of a single campaign, users can orchestrate the distribution of various marketing messages to multiple social media networks (tweets, Facebook posts, YouTube posts, etc.), email messages (specific discount offers, campaign mentions in weekly newsletters, etc.), via push notifications through mobile apps, digital ads and other content distribution channels. And as these messages are consumed and acted upon, you can see how the campaign is performing at the overall campaign level, the channel distribution level, the list level and down to the individual recipient. The ability to examine performance can help marketing departments hone successful future campaigns.

Testing content to optimize conversions. As it gets easier to create and distribute content, it becomes more critical to know which content is converting or prompting customers to buy (direct sales, sales lead, registration sign ups, etc.), and which is not. Using CRM systems that indicate what types of content will work better on certain channels for conversion helps increase marketing's ability to connect and engage with customers and prospects.

Using CRM software to automate testing content types, formats, delivery channels and device screens can help determine the right mix to reach the right customer segments. This increases the likelihood that your message will be received and inspire prospects to take the first step to becoming your customer.

Nurturing and converting leads. Managing the lead generation process can be difficult for some companies, as the number of potential leads increases and customers raise their expectations for more personalized interactions. Marketing automation systems can help process leads to determine which are ready for the sales team, which will move with some nurturing, and which aren't worth pursuing. Using insight gathered from lead activity, social signals, demographics, firmographics and other factors, these systems can determine how ready a lead is and what actions should be taken to nurture the relationship, knowing which content format and channel will work best for engagement.

Using the right support channels. Knowing your customers' communication preferences is central to extending the customer lifecycle. A customer support platform can help you manage interactions across channels (voice, text, social, self-service, mobile app, etc.) while also managing the process flows of problem resolution. These systems can transfer information across channels efficiently to the best support resources to reduce resolution times and increase customer satisfaction levels.

Sharing insights across departments. The ability to consistently aggregate and analyze service interactions, identify important insights, and efficiently share those insights with other departments (marketing, sales, product development, etc.) is critical to extending customer relationships into multiple or long-term purchases. Customer support applications enable users to handle this workflow efficiently as time goes by and interactions increase. Integrated with other CRM systems, these tools can provide better overall insight into the customer journey and the best strategy to use to align the company with it.

Making the call

These scenarios just touch the surface of how CRM platforms and services can improve your customer engagement strategy -- now and in the future. Your organization may need to focus heavily in one or two of these areas, or may need to tackle the whole engagement spectrum. Whatever the case may be, the next step is to develop a list of the features and functions you need from CRM software.

Next Steps

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