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CRM Software 2021: A Comprehensive Guide

Learn how CRM software works and how to choose the right CRM software

Last updated: Feb 16, 2021

CRM Software 2021: A Comprehensive Guide

What is CRM?

CRM stands for customer relationship management (CRM) which is the process by which all your company’s relationships and interactions are handled. To do this well, you need to know where the new leads are generated, which customers the salespeople are talking to, what communication is happening with them on every channel, what questions and concerns were raised, etc. Today all this information is all over the place in notes, emails, calls, etc. leading to loss of information, no follow-ups, forgotten meetings, miscommunication, etc. Enter CRM software.

CRM software allows you to get all your customer and potential customer information and interactions in one place. CRM helps you with lifecycle management of customer relationships that includes getting the lead, engaging them, closing deals, upsell, cross-sell, to providing support, referrals, etc. This helps to bring the entire organization up-to-date with each customer and manage relationships better by putting the customer at the center.

Some CRMs go one step further and even capture recent news, social media updates, company activities and keep the CRM updated.

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All in one CRM includes basic functionalities of Sales, marketing and service CRM like workflow automation, Leads and deal management, email marketing, contact management, ticketing etc. The primary difference between these CRM and the other one is that these are specifically designed for SME and MM companies to save them the cost of purchasing multiple CRMs.

Social CRM

Social CRM integrates social media channels into Customer Relationship Management systems. Social CRM is also referred to as Social Relationship Management. Social CRM provides insight into customer interactions with a brand, and helps to improve the quality of customer engagement on social media platforms and targets prospective customers on social media platforms.

The use cases and benefits of Social CRM are very different from traditional CRM, though Social CRM’s primary focus is to improve customer engagement. Traditional CRM focuses on customer contact data and customer interaction information. Social CRM is about customer conversations and relationships and managing those conversations and relationships. These conversations are not just two ways but can be multi-way between consumers and across consumer groups. This kind of involvement also involves Social Listening.

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Types of CRM

Types of CRM

CRM strategy involves putting the customer at the center and delineating how the marketing, sales and customer service teams will manage these relationships and ensure customer success. CRM software helps to put this strategy into practice. They can be classified into

  • Sales CRM
  • Marketing CRM
  • Service CRM
Types of CRM

Sales CRM

Sales teams use CRM to get all the information on their customers, prospect them, their interaction history and manage their pipelines better. It saves them a lot of time by automating the key workflows so that they can focus on selling activities. Sales teams use CRM to improve closing rates. Sales Managers and leaders also can keep a tab on sales activities and customer interactions.

Top KPIs for Sales CRM are

  • Close rate
  • Upsell rate
  • Length of the sales cycle

Some of the top usage of Sales CRM are listed below.

All customer data in one place

This is the primary use of the CRM - to store customer information and their interaction. Customer contact information includes name, email, title, company, telephone, social media handles, etc. and interactions include storing all communications via phone, email, SMS, etc. Having all the needs in one place, it becomes the 360-degree view of the customer interactions across departments, across channels, and the de facto single source of truth. No outdated information, no inconsistent data, no hassle for the customer to explain his situation to business, etc. CRM is the best way to organize, access and manage your customer information throughout the lifecycle.

Manage Deals

CRMs can help you create stages for your pipeline and visualize your pipeline so that you can get a sense of how likely you are going to hit quota. This along with predictive scoring can help you prioritize certain deals or certain activities that can help close deals faster. They can also notify you of which deals to prioritize to improve close rates. This visualization helps the sales manager to see an aggregate view of how healthy the pipeline is by giving direct visibility into the team's interactions with the customers.

What I love most about freshsales, is that It gives me so much clarity in regards to all my monthly deals. I know exactly what deals are coming when they are coming in and most importantly how much they are worth!


Martin A

Manufacturing Consultant

Sales Workflow Automation

This is the third biggest advantage of using CRM. They automate workflows to save time for its users like capturing the information in the desired format when a lead signs up or sending a welcome / follow up email can easily be automated with the CRM. CRMs also help with deal engagement by automating email (email templates, sequencing, tracking, scheduling) and email analytics (which emails are opened, being read and which content downloads). Scheduling meetings (meetings, calls, in person, chats, etc) and follow-ups is a huge benefit the CRMs offer. They also have capabilities to craft beautiful proposals, collect signatures, payments, etc to keep deals engaged until he becomes a paid customer.

Increase revenue / Improve the bottom line

  • More Upsell / Cross-sell Opportunities - Since you have a good view of all your customers, their preferences and organization cycle, it can help you identify cross-sell and upsell opportunities and impact your revenue directly.
  • Improve sales performance - CRM’s can also help to identify sales performance issues and fixing them has directly impacted the revenue.
  • Increase referrals - Happy customers usually means more business. This comes from either buying more products from the company or referring the CRM to other customers.


Some software provides basic forecasting capabilities based on the deals in the pipeline, deal stages and deal scoring.

Marketing CRM

Marketing teams use CRM to generate and engage leads, email marketing, marketing automation, segmentation, and targeting, tailoring their campaign and messaging based on the pipeline stages, etc. Ultimately they are looking to optimize their ROI on their campaigns with the help of CRM.

Top KPIs for Marketing CRM are

  • Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)
  • LifeTime Value (LTV)
  • Revenue / Campaign ROI

Some of the key usages of Marketing CRM are listed here.

Managing Leads and Marketing Automation

CRMs have lead management and marketing automation built into it. This includes creating targeted campaigns, identifying quality leads and enriching them, nurturing them across touchpoints, lead scoring and routing, etc. For example, if a lead signs up, you can follow up with a relevant drip email campaign or trigger a follow up if the lead interacts with your content. You can effectively leverage user behavior to personalize and automate content, offer, email, etc. at scale.

Workflows allow you to automate complicated tasks and are almost infinitely customizable, they allow your marketing to be targeted and effective.


Dom W

Business Development

Generating Leads

CRMs offer SEO, blogging, social media, etc capabilities to create engaging content for generating more traffic to your websites. They also offer to capture leads across channels with the help of landing pages and sign up forms to get more visitors and convert them to potential leads.

Marketing ROI

CRMs provide real-time analytics on your marketing campaigns and activities. This can serve as feedback to personalize your campaigns, communication and spend to optimize ROI.

Customer Support CRM

Customer service teams use CRM to improve customer retention rates. It helps them understand the history of customer issues and concerns, the actions taken, and accordingly provide solutions. Some CRMs also integrate with helpdesk solutions to auto-update customer interactions.

Top KPIs for Customer Service CRM are

  • NPS
  • Churn rate
  • Average time to resolution

Better Support

Customer service teams have all the history of customer complaints, interactions across channels and resolutions in one place. So that when you are talking to a customer you have the necessary context to help him better, CRM also captures customer feedback and satisfaction levels which can help you design your retention strategies.

Help Desk

Some CRMs have an inbuilt help desk while others easily integrate with helpdesk solutions. Ticketing (log and assign), routing (escalation and task creation) and feedback(NPS) surveys are other capabilities that they offer to better understand customer sentiment and complaints. They also help you maintain SLA goals.

Customer Self Service

CRMs have a knowledge base (sometimes chatbot) to help customers find their own solutions to their own problems. If that is too taxing, they can engage with the bot who can get them the relevant content they are looking for.

I like the way the Knowledge Base is formatted, it's very reader-friendly and you can search for articles. I think the knowledge base is up to par with this day and age's websites. Our old website was pretty dated, this gave us a major upgrade!


Jacey L

Inbound Marketing Specialist

Common for all CRMs

Increase Productivity and Collaboration

Automating tasks and saving time by reducing searching for customer information directly translates to increased productivity of the team. CRM is one place where all three teams collaborate together for the common goal of customer success.

Analytics and Reporting

CRMs can provide businesses with actionable insights based on customer data (which customer is likely to churn, spotting anomalies in business, etc). In terms of reporting, CRMs have all the dashboarding and charting capabilities built into it.

AI usage in CRM

CRMs have a lot of information and expecting a salesperson to make sense of it is unreasonable. On the other hand, AI works best with large amounts of data and CRM being the hotspot of data, AI can enhance CRM capabilities in multiple ways.

Sales CRM

Voice Assistants / Bots

  • With the data explosion happening in the CRMs it is difficult to access that data easily. Hence some vendors provide AI assistants which can fetch you the information you are looking using voice commands (Einstein, Zoho Zia, etc)
  • Some AI tools can automate the task of auto-capturing the sales activity data and auto-updating the CRM. This saves the salespeople a lot of time and they can focus on selling activities.
  • AI can also help you complete the profile of any person. For example, if the only email, name, etc are known, the AI can look on the web for other details (personal and professional) and complete the profile in a matter of seconds.
  • AI can also be used to automate certain workflows like customer engagement, followup, calendar, notes, call transcription, etc.


  • Some CRMs can also give alerts and recommendations to sales reps on what their next steps should be customized to each customer.
  • It can also give analytical insights based on your customer data to be incorporated in your pitch and demos based on what has worked before.
  • AI can put similar products in a group and optimize the right price for each customer.


  • Some CRMs leverage AI to enhance their forecasting capabilities.

Marketing CRM

Lead Management, Scoring, and Segmentation

  • CRM with AI capabilities can do a great job of lead scoring with lots of historical data available to them. They will be able to score and surface the hottest leads to the sales rep with the highest chance of a conversion.
  • Based on your customer list, AI can also help us identify the Ideal Customer Profile (ICP). AI can also help you segment customers based on past behaviors, demographics, likes, dislikes, etc
  • Automate workflow when customer reacts to marketing campaigns across channels and auto-create email works better for which product and customer.

Customer Service CRM

Better support

  • AI can go through the online review and internal feedback by the customer to understand his emotional state and tone of the complaint. This can help prepare the customer service person to respond with empathy thus increasing case resolution speed.
  • Auto escalate calls for different types of customers to different agents
  • Identify support ticket trends and auto-generate responses to customers based on the type of query and product
  • Intelligent customer self-service

Buyer’s Guide - Guide to Choose Right Fit CRM Software

The golden rule to follow while selecting a CRM is that DO NOT compare the feature set. Define your requirements, define the business process you want to improve and check if the CRM helps you do that as most of the features in CRM don’t get used much.

Who should buy a CRM

Buyers are recommended to consider peer reviews and expert opinions that are extensively available on Cuspera before making buying decisions. Cuspera’s AI based engine guides you through the requirement process to help you choose the right software.

Go to Cuspera

B2B or B2C

Ideally, any company that has to manage customer relationships can buy a CRM. Whether you are B2B or a B2B company, small business or enterprise, there is definitely a CRM that you can leverage to improve your business process. While CRMs are mainly useful for B2B companies (for account management, deal management, payment management, reporting, etc), B2C companies can also leverage CRMs which focus on multi-channel lead management, surveys, marketing automation, etc.

Small or Enterprise

Some CRMs are designed to cater to specific needs of small and medium-sized companies like easy to learn, high-level features and scalability. Enterprise CRMs have complex workflows and increase the time to implement and training required. Enterprise CRMs are standalone products with integrations (email, support, etc) while midmarket is integration solutions with these functionalities built into them.


Many CRMs are customized for particular verticals which have workflows that solve complex use cases of that industry. For example, there are many CRMs that are designed for the real estate industry like Boomtown, Market leader, Contactually, etc.

When to buy a CRM

Usually, when the business is small, most customer data is either with the CEO or sales head and they mainly use excel to manage this. As the company grows, following cracks begin to appear such as excel is no longer effective, takes too much time to manage data, if an employee leaves you can lose critical information, etc. These are early signs that you must start thinking about CRM.

Which business process you wish to improve

While CRMs are mainly designed for sales teams, there are many variants of these CRMs which focus particularly on either sale, marketing or support. For example - Sales CRMs focus on contact management and pipeline management while marketing CRMs focus on basic lead management and email marketing. Many solutions have all three packed into one specially designed for smaller enterprises. Also, you need to be clear if the CRM will be used by only one team or you expect it to be adopted by the entire organization sometime in the future. Having a longer-term view of the CRM investment gives better results in terms of customer satisfaction.

What type of customization and integrations you need

Businesses usually want to integrate with existing systems accounts, databases, document signing ERP, etc. They also want to have certain customizations done so that the CRM can be leveraged for maximum business success. If you are a small business, this may not be required at all, but for an enterprise, this becomes very critical because they already have many other systems which deal with this or related data.

Cost / Pricing (Total Cost of Ownership)

The two biggest contributors to the cost of the CRM are - the number of licensees and integration costs. Instead of just looking at the number of licenses for the costs, looking at a total cost of ownership gives a better estimate of how much CRM is going to cost the business.

Vendor Experience / Reliability

Having vendors who have experience with companies similar to you always helps. Sometimes it is also useful to have vendors with stronger local partner networks for local support, business consultations, and other customizations.

GDPR / Data Security

How your data and your customer data is stored is extremely critical in light of new GDPR guidelines. Most of the CRMs are now GDPR compliant which means that customer requests such as removing him from the database or giving him a record of all the data the company has about the customer should be possible in a single click. Without such capabilities, you are open to big fines and lots of time wasted in manual work. Also, cloud CRMs usually struggle with data security issues.

Deployment Flexibility

What type of deployment you want has a big impact on certain key metrics? If you prefer an on-prem deployment, it means users have to own and maintain their tech infrastructure, they have full control of data, higher security, higher customization, and usually have their own IT departments which increase their spending. If you want a faster deployment, want to outsource most of the maintenance costs, and requirements on customization/integrations are low, cloud deployment would work for you. Given all this and your needs for security and data control are high, a private cloud would be the best option for you.

Mobile Readiness

If your business has a lot of sales reps working from the field, business meetings, trade shows, networking events, in-flight, etc and criticality of information is high, it makes sense to invest in a mobile-ready CRM so that sales reps can update CRMs on the go, right when the information is hot in their heads.


Training becomes especially critical in the case of enterprise where the CRM workflows are complex and the success of the CRM depends on how well your team’s adoption of the CRM is. For small companies, some training is needed as this may be the first time they are using technology solutions for their business.

TTV - when will you see results

It does take a lot of effort to set it up and is directly a function of the size of your organization and customizations/integrations needed. But for you to derive value out of the CRM, employee training becomes critical and when they reach a certain level of proficiency in using the CRM and its complex workflow, you can expect to leverage it for business success. The typical time taken could be 1 month to 6 months.

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