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What is a CRM? (A beginner’s guide)


RealtimeCRM on a laptop

What does CRM stand for?

Customer relationship management.

What is Customer relationship management (CRM)?

It’s the central place where you store, organise and manage the relationships with your customers as the acronym would suggest.

Think about it like the spreadsheets you’re using right now to store your customer information but with a much nicer UI on top that makes it easier to use.

As your business grows you won’t be able to keep everything in your head anymore. You’ll have too many customers, too many leads and activities taking place at once.

Keeping your spreadsheets up to date and making sense of them will become increasingly painful as you scale up. That’s where CRM software comes in.

It’s designed to help you manage this greater complexity allowing you and your team to view the current status of your leads, customers and what needs to be done as well as what has been done in one place.

So we’ve covered the definition of a CRM and its basic purpose.

Now, we’re going to go through the different types of CRM and walk through the various ways a CRM can support your business as well as when you should move to a CRM.

The types of CRM software

There are three main types of CRMs: operational, analytical and collaborative. They’re really not as complicated as they sound.

Which type of CRM is relevant to you is dependent upon what your focus is. For most businesses operational CRMs are most relevant.


Operational CRMs help you manage your day to day activities i.e. your sales, marketing and customer service operations.

Sales automation:

This works with all stages in your sales cycle, from initially entering contact information to moving them through all the stages of your sales pipeline from qualifying leads to closing the deal.

It prevents duplicate efforts between a salesperson and the prospect and keeps track of all interaction and follow ups between both parties.

Marketing automation:

This works on making your marketing process easier to manage.

They can automate your repeated marketing tasks. For example, sending out automated marketing emails at certain times to a chosen segment of your customers.

They can even post marketing information on social media. The goal is to help turn a sales lead into a customer.

Service automation:

This works on improving your customer service.

It can help customers get the support they need through the channel they most prefer whether it be email or SMS. This means they get a consistent experience.

It can also help you manage support requests through a ticketing system so your support team can efficiently deal with queries.


Analytical CRMs help you to look at your customer data from various sources to improve customer acquisition and retention.

The more data your business collects on customer behaviour and pain points the more insights you’ll gain that’ll help you improve your bottom line.

For example you might determine that your most lucrative marketing channel is email and that social media is by comparison negligible. This insight will help determine your future marketing strategy


Collaborative CRMs allow the various departments of your company to share the information they collect from interactions with customers.

For example let’s say your technical support team gathers information from support sessions that could inform your marketing team about products and services that might be of interest to the customer.

By allowing for this greater internal communication you improve customer service and therefore customer satisfaction and retention should also increase

What does a CRM do?

We’re going to cover 5 main areas where a CRM can make running your business easier. You’ll see how the powerful CRM tools described below will save you time and make finding what you need when you need it hassle free.

1) Make data entry easier

Spending time doing manual data entry feels unproductive. It’s even worse if you have to duplicate your effort because you have many spreadsheets that need to be kept up to date.

With a CRM you just need to do the data entry once but it’s easier than that. Your CRM can actually do the data entry for you - for example, RealtimeCRM allows you to take photos of any business cards you receive and then it’ll automatically create a new Contact record.

But if you don’t have a business card it can still help cut down on data entry. Take a look, with your prospect’s email address RealtimeCRM will go and find more information about them instantly - imagine that compounded over a year, that’s a lot of time saved.

We even did a speed test between RealtimeCRM and a spreadsheet, and found that it took twice as long to do data entry in Excel.

data entry in CRM

2) Identify and categorise leads

In addition to easily adding new leads you can quickly categorise them. This allows your sales team to focus on the right leads by prioritising them, and marking the leads that need more nurturing before you turn them into customers.

By doing this you’ll make your sales team more efficient and organised. It’s so much more intuitive to do this with a CRM than an unwieldy spreadsheet. Take the power of Tags - in a few clicks you can group your leads by some attribute say marketing and your marketing team can then filter your leads and get to work on turning them into great prospects.

catergorise leads with a crm

3) Sales pipeline management

CRM in sales is critical. It can mean the difference between hitting your targets and missing them.

It allows you to better understand your pipeline so you can make more accurate sales forecasts as well as see which opportunities are languishing and intervene to move them forwards.

Sales CRM

The sales pipeline will tell you how close you are to hitting your targets, and sales managers can assess the performance of individuals. This allows them to better manage and motivate people.

Not only that it makes logging the calls and meeting notes, creating tasks to follow up with customers and sending out quotations all so much easier than trying to balance many spreadsheets and long email chains.

You want things to be clean and simple, you don’t want your sales team wasting time trying to figure out what’s just happened.

recording activity in a crm

4) Makes Collaboration easier

As you grow your business you’re going to bring new people onboard. With a CRM your team will have easy visibility of and access to data - making collaboration easier and boosting productivity.

For example, you can cut down on time wasted on duplicate tasks as everyone can see all the interactions with a customer, you can even forward customer emails into CRMs as well. For the same reason you don’t need to be delayed by people going on vacation as all the information you need is readily available to move a deal along.

It also makes file sharing a lot easier. You don’t want your sales team wasting time looking for the right quote template and then filling in details manually. With a CRM you can simply upload your standard quote template and in one click it’ll fill in the relevant details for them because all the information is in one place. It makes this task much simpler and therefore more likely to be completed promptly.

upload quote template in crm

CRMs can also make real time communications easier, for example with instant messaging and team scheduling.

Instant messaging is great for quick communication that doesn’t make sense in a long email chain. They’re great for getting answers to questions and updating everyone else on how a meeting went.

Team scheduling allows you to efficiently and easily allocate your team resources. It can even help boost revenue as each team member can update the status of a job in real time on their phone.

The billing department can see this in real time and ensure prompt billing - they no longer have to wait around for job sheets to come in streamlining the whole process.

5) How cloud based CRM makes doing business easier

Cloud based CRMs like RealtimeCRM offer huge benefits to businesses by reducing costs and complexity.

You don’t have to spend a small fortune installing software across your devices, as long as the device can connect to the internet it will have access to the CRM and this frees your team from the office.

Many companies are now choosing remote work. By dropping what is usually their biggest fixed cost - renting office space they can invest those savings into boosting productivity.

For example, research by Innoppl Technologies shows that 65% of sales reps who work at companies that have adopted a Mobile CRM have achieved their sales quotas whilst only 22% of reps from companies that have not yet adopted a mobile CRM platform have done so.

That’s a huge gain in revenue by moving to the cloud because you allow your team to access the data they need. From sales reps on the road to your customer service reps.

It also reduces maintenance costs as your CRM manager no longer needs to worry about implementing security updates - these are automatically installed from the cloud.

The other major benefit of cloud based CRMs are they make version control much easier. If your sales pipeline is in a spreadsheet you have to work very hard to make sure it is up to date and accurate.

The more documents and spreadsheets and the more time passes the harder this is to achieve. CRMs on the other hand are designed to be updated at scale and in real time. You don’t have to worry about a member of your team taking away a copy of a document and then the headache of reincorporating it into the master.

When should you move to a CRM?

Eventually, all businesses as they scale will need to move to a CRM as they grow in size and complexity. The timing depends on how painful your current system makes running your business.

If it becomes tough to manage your data in a flat structure like a spreadsheet - making it difficult to visualise relationships between contacts, companies and sales opportunities then its time to consider making the move.

If you’re jumping between multiple places where your data lives and it becomes slow and cumbersome for your team to find what they need then it’s time to move on.

Imagine a scenario where you want to contact a prospect so you have to find their phone number in a spreadsheet and then you’ve got to find the quote document they were sent. Then you have to find your colleague who was on the last call with them to find out what was discussed - you could find all of that information in one place with a CRM and make that call quicker.

Lastly, what if someone leaves which results in a loss of data? For example a member of your sales team moves on and drops all of his deals in your lap but you have no way to pick up where he left off. A CRM makes it easy to see what the status of his deals are, where he left them off and all the information you need to move them forwards.

Eventually the risks of not moving to a CRM become too great so it’s best to start thinking about moving long before it becomes urgent. In that way you can make a proper assessment of your CRM needs and act accordingly.

Why not try RealtimeCRM free for 30 days?

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