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Customer Relationship Management: Guidelines and Resources

© Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD, Authenticity Consulting, LLC

Although there is a conventional difference between the terms "customer" and "client," this topic refers to "customers" as meaning both. Also, although a product is a tangible offering and a service is an intangible offering, this topic often refers to "products" as meaning both. The activities of customer relationship management apply to any type and size of organization, so the term "organization" refers to that wide variety, as well. Before reading this topic, you might read about the Relationship Between Managing Supply Chain, Operations, Quality, Customer Relationships and Customer Service.

Sections of This Topic Include


Suggested Pre-Reading
You Are Probably Doing Some CRM Now, But ...
What is a CRM System?
What Are the Main Benefits of a CRM?
Types of CRM Functions
Types of CRM Systems

Planning Your CRM System

1. Clarify Organizational Goals and Measures
2. Align CRM Goals With Organizational Goals
3. Clarify How Customers Will Be Treated Differently
4. Decide What Organizational Design Changes Are Needed?
5. Select the Best CRM Software

Developing Your CRM System

Redesign Your Organization As Needed for CRM
Start Cultivating a CRM Culture
Delegate CRM Goals to Teams and Employees
Train Employees About CRM

Managing Your CRM System

Manage Your CRM Teams and Employees
Manage Your CRM Software
Evaluate Your CRM System

General Resources


Also consider
Customer Service Management
Operations Management
Quality Management
Supply Chain Management
Related Library Topics


Suggested Pre-Reading

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) ensures that the ongoing relationship between your organization and its customers is always very valuable to everyone involved. That was easier to do in the past when an organization was expected to provide a product or service, and the rest was up to the customer.

That has changed dramatically. Today, customers can instantly access opinions about your organization and its products. Also, they can instantly order products and services from anyone else around the world.

So before reading the following guidelines and resources in this topic about CRM, it would be very useful for you to first get some understanding of the proactive, systematic, high-quality process required to ensure ongoing, great customer service today.
All About Customer Service: Overview and Numerous Resources

You Are Probably Doing Some CRM Now, But ...

If you work in an organization, then you are probably already involved in some form of CRM now. This is true whether your organization serves customers who are internal or external to your organization, or both.

What do you do now to ensure a great ongoing relationships with your various customers? For example, how do you keep track of information about them? Highlights from your conversations? Their feedback about your services? Your plans about serving them into the future? Schedules of when to contact them and what to say?

For example, do you have a central database that organizes that information? Do you use spreadsheets with customer information? Do you resort to using the contacts list in your phones? Are there multiple people involved in serving customers? If so, then how do you all ensure you are effectively sharing the right information at the right times? How are you reminded of when to contact certain customers and for what purpose?

The answers to those kinds of questions comprise some of your activities in CRM. CRMs can be implemented and utilized in a rather informal, sporadic and reactive approach. Or, they can be implemented in a proactively planned and highly integrated approach. If your organization plans to grow and develop to the next life cycle, then you are far better off to use the latter approach. Fortunately, there are many highly practical and affordable guidelines and tools that can help you.

What is a CRM System?

A system is a recurring cycle of activities, including:

  1. Planning to determine goals and how they can be achieved, and
  2. Then developing and managing resources and activities to achieve those goals, and
  3. Then evaluating whether the goals have been achieved or not, and
  4. Then using the learning from the evaluation to improve the quality of the next round of planning.

Thus, a system is a recurring loop of components -- in a continuous cycle of improvement. Customer relationship management is best done as a system; otherwise, the management tends to be highly reactive and sporadic, often resulting in a patchwork of disconnected and ineffective activities.

The purpose of a CRM system is to take a recurring, comprehensive and systematic approach to ensuring a mutually fulfilling relationship between your organization and all of its customers. The system works with any type and size of organization that has customers, whether internal, external or both. Here are two additional perspectives:

  • "Customer relationship management (CRM) is the combination of practices, strategies and technologies that companies use to manage and analyze customer interactions and data throughout the customer lifecycle, with the goal of improving customer service relationships and assisting in customer retention and driving sales growth." SearchCustomerExperience
  • "Customer Relationship Management (CRM) in a very broad way can be defined as the efforts made towards creating, developing, and maintaining a healthy and long-lasting relationship with the customers using technology." TutorialsPoint
  • "CRM is an organizational strategy, not a software tool -- although software can be used to help the CRM system to work toward its purpose." Carter McNamara

The CRM guides and supports customers through the various phases of the customer relationship phases, as well as the phases in the sales pipeline.
The Three Phases of CRM
Understanding the Four Key Customer Relationship Stages
Five Customer Relationship Stages for Full Engagement

What Are the Main Benefits of a CRM?

The more you understand your customers -- their types and needs, what they value, their activities with your organization -- then the more likely they will remain loyal to your organization. Here is a list of some of the overall benefits of a CRM system:

  • You can easily access comprehensive and integrated customer-related information in one place, rather than sorting through a variety of different channels and people.
  • It improves customer communications because you know how they prefer to communicate, the most recent status of communications with them, and what their current priorities are.
  • It increases efficiencies and team work in operations, helping organizations to evolve through the necessary organizational life cycles.
  • Overall, you can increase customer satisfaction, loyalty and retention -- ultimately, increasing profits for businesses and community impact for nonprofits.

If yours is a small or medium-sized organization, then you might be mistakenly thinking that a CRM system is much too complex and expensive for your organization. If so, then you might benefit from reading this article.
Top Five Myths About CRM Debunked

Types of CRM Functions

The CRM system works by pulling together information about your customers from a variety of different sources that you specify in order to automate:

  • Marketing, for example, organizing information about each different group of customers, and then tailoring sales and marketing campaigns to each (see Marketing)
  • Sales, for example, analyzing information about each customer to help them to evolve through the sales pipeline, as well as using CRM for account and contract management (see Sales)
  • Customer service, for example, recognizing your different types of customers, the needs of each and what they value, as well as noticing their complaints and what has worked to resolve them (see Customer Service)
  • Analytics, for example, generating forecasts of likely demands for certain types of goods and services, as well as what might be the best pricing structures for them (see Business Data Analysis)
  • Collaboration, for example, sharing calendars and project plans, as well as coordinating common communications across different stakeholders (see Team Building)

By automating these functions with CRM software, you can organize information from your documents, notes, phone calls, emails, chats and forums. You can program some CRM software to monitor certain social media tools to notice comments regarding your organization and its products and services.

Thus, CRM systems can give you a clear picture of each of your customers to help you cultivate a strong relationship with each as you support them through the customer life cycle.

Types of CRM Systems

When considering which type of CRM system might be best for your organization, it helps to consider from among three main types including the following. You will notice that they correspond closely to the above-mentioned types of CRM functions.

  1. Operational - This type focuses especially on activities in sales, marketing and customer service. It also organizes information about customers, including each individual customer, as well as different groups of customers. It is the most popular type.
  2. Analytic - This type analyzes information to suggest, for example, buying patterns of each group of customers as well as their spending patterns and timing to convert leads to contracts.
  3. Collaborative - This type coordinates the sharing of up-to-date information among different key personnel and teams, as well as among different groups of stakeholders, including, for example, suppliers, distributors and vendors.

CRM Types
Operational, Analytical, Collaborative
An Introduction to Different Types of CRM Systems
What is CRM? 3 Types of Customer Relationship Management



Understand Problems and Pitfalls to Avoid in Implementation

Now, before you plan and implement your CRM system, is the best time to consider the types of problems that can occur -- not later on when you are in the middle of trying to operate the system, while also trying to resolve problems in how it is operating.
Why CRM Fails
Top 5 CRM Software Pitfalls
Avoid the Four Perils of CRM
Why CRM Projects Fail & How To Avoid These Pitfalls
Top 10 CRM Implementation Pitfalls

Form a CRM Team

The planning and implementation of a CRM system requires sufficient time, energy and expertise, as well as a variety of different perspectives. That means a well-qualified and designed CRM Team of the most suitable members from your organization. The CRM Team would make recommendations to management about, for example:

  • Goals for the CRM
  • Metrics to measure progress toward the goals
  • The best approaches to train employees about CRM
  • Criteria to select the best CRM system
  • The best CRM system that meets the criteria

It is best to draft a job description for the CRM Team to be used when explaining the CRM Team’s role to upper management and suggesting who should be on it. The description also gives guidance and direction to the CRM Team as it is doing its job.

It is often best, as well, to train the members of the CRM Team about CRM. It might be useful to hire an expert to do that training, as well as to being a resource to the CRM Team as it does its job.
How to Build the Perfect CRM Implementation Team
How To Structure Your CRM Implementation Team
5 Important People You Absolutely Need for CRM Success

Also see
Hiring Consultants
Team Building
Team Performance Management

Understand the CRM Planning Process

Here are some excellent articles that can give you and your CRM Team a good impression of what is generally involved in planning and developing your CRM system. You might read them in this order from general to more specific:
Top 4 CRM Implementation Considerations
How to Complete a CRM Implementation in 5 Steps
How to Create a CRM Strategy in 7 Steps

1. Clarify Organizational Goals and Measures

What are the organization's overall goals regarding its sales, customers and service? For example, are they to increase sales revenue, expand marketshare, increase customer retention and/or reduce customer complaints? What is your unique value proposition to sell your products and services to different groups of customers? What is your unique selling proposition that separates you from your customers?
Strategic Planning
How to Do to Planning
Goals and Objectives Should Be SMARTER

2. Align CRM Goals With Organizational Organizational Goals

Define the CRM goals needed to help achieve the strategic goals. For example, should you focus more efforts on various preferred groups of customers, such as the most profitable customers, new customers, current customers and/or reducing their complaints? As much as possible, associate the necessary SMART objectives needed to implement each CRM goal. It is helpful to articulate a fictional customer profile, or persona, to most easily consider the nature of each group of customers.

When deciding CRM goals, it is often useful to consider various metrics, or measures of progress, for a CRM system. The metrics themselves can become goals to achieve.
The CRM Metrics: How to Measure the Performance of CRM
How to Measure CRM Success
CRM Metrics: What Should You Monitor and Measure?

Also see
Action Planning and Operational Planning
Strategic Action Plans & Alignment

3.Clarify How Customers Will Be Treated Differently

How can you best evolve each preferred group through the sales pipeline, while maintaining strong customer relationships and services? For example, should you sell directly to them or use a distributor? For each group, should you start or enhance a call center, up-sell or cross-sell, focus on certain types of discounts and/or improve quality management? Also, what are the most appropriate communications channels for each preferred group?
All About Sales
How to Work With Others

4. Decide What Organizational Design Changes Are Needed?

A conventional rule in deciding the structure of something is "form follows function." In other words, the structure of the organization (its design and roles) should be to what is most useful in implementing the organization's functions (its goals and methods to achieve those goals).

So what departments, teams and employees are now -- and should be -- involved in dealing with customers, for examples, sales, marketing and customer service? What roles are now -- and should be -- involved in using the CRM system, including its software? What goals should each department, team and various employees have in customer relationship management? What SMART objectives should be associated with each goal?
Organizational Structures and Design
Requirements for Successful Organizational Change

5. Select the Best CRM Software

What Type of Software Platform is Best?


In this type, you install the CRM software on your computer system, as well as maintaining, troubleshooting and updating the software. You would either use one of the free CRM tools (listed later on below) or buy or license a tool from a vendor.

This type of software installation works best if you have available ongoing technical skills for installation, troubleshooting and upgrades. You also will need considerably more time to install the software as you climb the often steep learning curve to understand the software and its installation. You are likely to face occasional periods of downtime of the software as problems are solved and upgrades are installed.


In this type, you subscribe or license the software from a vendor that makes the software available to one or more people in your organization, depending on the licensing agreement. The vendor manages all aspects of the software, including installation, testing, training, troubleshooting and upgrades. This works if you have a suitable budget. Fortunately, the price of CRM software has continued to decrease over the years.

How to Select the Right CRM Software

Questions to Consider When Specifying Your Software Requirements

Itarian lists a variety of questions to consider, including:

  1. Is it suitable for your size of organization?
  2. Are there any limitations to the number of users?
  3. Is it easy to use?
  4. Can it be integrated with your other computer systems?
  5. Is it easy to integrate with other customer service solutions that you already use?
  6. What are its security features against hackers' attacks?
  7. Is the software affordable and fits in your budget?

You should also consider:

  1. What type of CRM software do you need? (See Types of CRM Systems)
  2. What type of technical support does the vendor provide? How reliable is it?
  3. Does the vendor provide training?
  4. Does the vendor include a careful manual for implementing the software?
  5. Does the vendor provide demonstrations that your employees can experience?
  6. What are some of its customers saying about the software?

Specify the Requirements for the Software

Now you are ready to specify what you want the CRM software to accomplish for you. It is best to write a software requirements specification (SRS), while focusing now on the needs of your organization, and not on the particular software tool that you might already prefer. Later on, you will take your SRS to the various CRM software vendors for you to carefully decide if their software will indeed meet your organization's needs.
How to Create an SRS for CRM
CRM Software Requirements for Your Business
How to Define Your CRM Software Requirements

CRM Requirements Example Document
Five Levels of CRM Requirements
Specify Your CRM Requirements

Lists of Some CRM Software and Costs to Consider

Free CRM Software

7 Best Free and Open Source CRM Software Options
How Can You Use Gmail as CRM Tool?
The Free CRM With Something for Everyone
Best Free CRM Software for Business in 2019
Free CRM for Small Business

Fee-Based Software

CRM Software
Best CRM Software 2019: Comparison & Reviews
The 25 Best CRM Apps for Every Business
CRM Tools
Customer Relationship Management Software

For Small Organizations

"Most of the businesses out there will choose a CRM software to measure the performance of their strategy. The good news in selecting a CRM Software, is most of the complexity has been taken out of the process now. The best CRM software solutions include SaaS (software as a service delivered online), and innovations in this area improve everyday. This means there is no longer a costly need of an in-house IT team and server space. At least this will be the case for 97% of all businesses with less than 10 employees." Thinkaboutcrm

For Nonprofits

Nonprofits can also use CRM software, for example, for tracking clients, program outcomes, funders, results of fundraising, volunteers, memberships and their membership levels.
How to Choose the Best CRM for Your Nonprofit
6 Awesome Nonprofit CRM Options for Your Organization
Top Nonprofit CRM Software

Now Select the Best Software For Your Needs

You are in a great position now to begin working with various vendors to get the best software to meet your needs, as specified in your SRS. You might include your specification in an overall Request for Proposal (RFP). You also might bring the members of your Implementation Team with you when talking to the vendors.
Your Definitive CRM Selection Guide and Checklist
How to Choose Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Software
Choosing CRM Software
23 Tips for Choosing the Right CRM Software
A Step-By-Step Guide To Selecting The Right CRM Software
CRM Vendor Evaluation Matrix
A CRM Evaluation Checklist: What Should You Look For?
A CRM RFP Guide and Template for Creating the Perfect Proposal

Also see
4 Reasons Business Contracts Fall Apart
US Business Contracts


Redesign Your Organization As Needed for CRM

Consider the goals and objectives that you established during the CRM planning for each department, team and employee associated with customer relationship management. What teams and roles should exist? How should they be integrated with each other? For example, which departments, teams and employees should be collaborating with each other and how? What organizational design would best facilitate that type of involvement and collaboration?
Understanding Organizational Structures and Design
Work Design and Job Design
Organizing or Reorganizing an Organization and Its Employees
How to Know What Positions and Jobs Are Needed

Start Cultivating a CRM Culture

Research shows that long-lasting, successful change in an organization usually requires a change in its culture. Unless the culture begins to change, it does not matter how much advice and many tools that the organization gets. A change in culture will determine whether they are actually used or not.

Great customer relationship management is a mindset. It is a way of thinking, prioritizing and planning about customer relations in an organization. It guides how decisions are made and how problems are solved regarding customer relations. When many people in an organization have that mindset, then the organization has a CRM culture.
CRM Culture – How to Bring CRM Culture Successfully?
10 Steps to Implementing a CRM Culture in the Organization
Creating a CRM Culture

Also see
Cultural Change
Team Building

Delegate CRM Goals to Teams and Employees

Consider the CRM goals and associated objectives that you decided during the planning. Which goals should be delegated to which teams and employees? Make sure that you make the assignments according to the team performance management and employee performance management practices that are formally established in your personnel policies.
Goal Setting with Employees -- What Should Employees Work On?
Team Performance Management: Performance Planning Phase (Assigning Goals)

Also see
Personnel Policies

Train Employees About CRM

It is critical that all employees have a mindset of great customer relationships, especially as a result of having great relationships with customers. The relationship requires skills customer service, including in building trust, having empathy for others, listening, asking thoughtful questions and sharing feedback.

Training also includes how to use the CRM software, for example, its purpose, how to use it, how it integrates with other computer systems, and where to get help. Good CRM software should come with ample documentation about how to use it. If you licensed or bought the software, the vendor will very likely have time-tested training and materials to use.
Keep It Simple: Training New Employees on the CRM System
How to Train Your Staff for CRM
The Importance of Training in CRM Success

Also see
About Training and Development

Also see
Cultural Change
Team Building


Manage Your CRM Teams and Employees

You have already done the phases of setting goals and delegating them to the appropriate teams and employees. Remaining tasks are to monitor and measure progress toward those goals, implement performance improvement methods where needed, and reward/compensate teams and employees accordingly.

For teams:
Team Performance Management: Performance Appraisal / Evaluation
Team Performance Management: Development (Improvement) Planning Phase

For employees:
Giving and Receiving Feedback
Evaluating Performance (Performance Appraisals)
Rewarding Performance
Addressing Performance Problems
Performance Improvement/Development Plans
Firing Employees

Ensure all necessary collaborations are occurring among teams and stakeholders, for example, cross-collaboration between marketing, sales and customer service activities.

Monitor and evaluate the achievement of team and employee CRM-related goals, and report the progress toward achieving the organizational and CRM goals.

Also see
What is Supervision? How Do I Supervise?

Manage Your CRM Software

The management activities specific to the CRM system include, for example to:

  • Develop useful written procedures about managing and using the CRM system.
  • Ensure all necessary employees continue to effectively use the CRM software -- that is, they are indeed adopting the CRM system.
  • Update the content in the CRM software, for example, adding and modifying current contents from the functions of marketing, sales and customer services.
  • Manage the CRM software, for example, doing backups and upgrading the versions as necessary.

Evaluate Your CRM System

Evaluations should monitor various metrics, or measures, to decide how well the CRM system is operating. (Various metrics were listed above in the section 2. Align CRM Goals With Organizational Goals .)

Evaluations should especially be in regard to measuring the extent of achievement of the CRM goals that you had established for your customer service management system.

Be sure to use the learning from your evaluation activities to improve the next round of the planning of your CRM system. In that way, you are indeed treating your CRM as a recurring system of integrated and tightly aligned activities.

Also see
How to Design Successful Evaluation and Assessment Plans

General Resources


CRM Glossary
CRM Definitions and Glossary


Customer Service Institute of America
International Customer Service Association
National Customer Service Association
North American Customer Service Management Association
SOCAP International

Learn More in the Library's Blog Related to Customer Service and Satisfaction

In addition to the articles on this current page, also see the following blog that has posts related to Customer Service and Satisfaction. Scan down the blog's page to see various posts. Also see the section "Recent Blog Posts" in the sidebar of the blog or click on "next" near the bottom of a post in the blog. The blog also links to numerous free related resources.

Library's Customer Service Blog

For the Category of Customer Service and Satisfaction:

To round out your knowledge of this Library topic, you may want to review some related topics, available from the link below. Each of the related topics includes free, online resources.

Also, scan the Recommended Books listed below. They have been selected for their relevance and highly practical nature.

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