Putting the R back in CRM


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I recently read an interesting article by Charlie Brown in the Harvard Business Review called, “Too Many Executives are Missing the Most Important Part of CRM.” Personally, I could not agree more. Businesses often look at CRM as a sales tool with a goal of driving conversions. Of course, it does help with conversions, but the real purpose of CRM is to build relationships that result in conversions.

Acronym of CRM Customer Relationship Management by hand drawing
Acronym of CRM Customer Relationship Management by hand drawing

Brown writes, “I’ve seen dozens of CRM implementations in a wide range of organizations, and consistently find that they fail more than they succeed. This isn’t the fault of the technology or the CTO, who usually manages it. It’s a result of misguided strategy.”

CRM is not all about making your business more efficient; it gives you the power to develop meaningful business relationships that drive sales and retention. With the customer experience being top of mind for most organizations, relationship management should be the priority.

However, prioritizing relationships takes vision, and vision comes from the top down. Brown uses the examples of Amazon and Patagonia. Both companies are committed to developing relationships with their clients to keep them engaged and loyal. Their companies are profitable and will continue to grow in the coming years because they foster relationships and build communities of people, companies, vendors, etc. This is their company culture, and companies who commit to a culture of relationships will be those to succeed in the future. Let’s explore.

Relationship marketing
There is a new term in marketing and it’s power lies in relationships. Having great relationships with your clients can be one of the most influential tools a brand can utilize to attract and retain a loyal tribe.

Relationship marketing, as defined by TechTarget is:

“A facet of customer relationship management (CRM) that focuses on customer loyalty and long-term customer engagement rather than shorter-term goals like customer acquisition and individual sales. The goal of relationship marketing (or customer relationship marketing) is to create strong, even emotional, customer connections to a brand that can lead to ongoing business, free word-of-mouth promotion and information from customers that can generate leads.”

CRM and marketing automation are at the foundation of this type of marketing as they make it simple to record, manage, and execute based on the information you collect from you leads.

Use CRM to develop real relationships
CRM is an effective tool for keeping you organized and on top of your leads and clients, however it is also an exceptional tool for helping a brand nurture relationships, real relationships.

A CRM does more than simply house names, numbers, and addresses. It collects and organizes so much more data, if you let it. An integrated platform with both CRM and marketing automation offers the perfect foundation for relationship building.

Contact Data
Obtain, store, and access both demographic and behavioral data for all of your contacts. We all remember the phrase, “knowledge is power.” A relationship is all about the connection you make with another person. The more you know about a person, the more opportunities there are for a deeper connection. Whether it is a common sports team, a hometown, or a deep understanding of a contact’s pain points, these are all connection points that can be made between a brand, the people behind the brand, and its consumers.

Luckily, as marketers and sales professionals, we have technology to help us gather a lot of this information automatically.

Automation and segmentation
When a leads signs up for more information, downloads an eBook, or registers for a webinar, you are gathering important information about that client and/or lead. You are not only gathering important demographic information, but also data surrounding their interests and pain points.

With a CRM and marketing automation platform, the lead, their contact information, and any other data collected is automatically stored in the CRM. Then, automatically engage your new contact with relevant and personalized messages to help nurture the beginning phases of this new relationship. This is all done with auto-responders, drip campaigns, and other automation tools triggered by the signup. Because of the data you collect and the rules you set, it is easy to personalize while automating at the same time.

By segmenting your contacts and personalizing your messages based on both demographic and behavioral data sets, you begin to establish trust. This trust shows that you truly understand and are there to help your leads and customers succeed, grow, and to make their lives easier.

Use relationships to cultivate new relationships
Your clients are your greatest referral sources. The better relationships you have with your clients, the more likely they are to share your company with their network. People do business with those that they like.

As Brown states, it’s all about “prioritizing the right relationships.” CRM gives you insight into who your leads and clients are, as well as their network. The more you get to know about your contacts, the more you realize their referral potential.
With sites such as LinkedIn, you can also get valuable insight into their network. The better a relationship you have with your client, the easier it is to ask for the introduction or referral for your product/service.

You can tell which clients may be a great referral source based on how engaged they are with your brand. If they are opening your emails, engaging with you on social, actively providing positive sentiment, this is a good relationship to nurture and maintain.

All of the relationships you have with your clients and leads are important, but some can provide more long-term value than others. The trick is simply knowing your clients, something that a CRM and marketing automation platform can provide.

Use Social CRM to listen, engage, and connect
Social media presents a unique opportunity to connect with your leads and clients. A CRM, integrated with social media lets you actively listen and engage with your contacts. Take it a step further when you attach automation to your social listening.

Whether it is LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or another social network, social media is a powerful learning tool. When you actively track everything your leads and clients are saying online, you see a whole other side of who they are, their interests, the pain points, and more. This is the kind of useful data a brand needs to develop solid connections with their contacts.

Social media listening is especially important for marketing and sales professionals. Their success largely depends on the relationships they create. Start by connecting on LinkedIn, inviting them to your Facebook page, or following you and your company on Twitter. Once they are connected socially, you can start tracking their social network activity.

Trigger automation so you never miss a chance to engage with your contacts. Some CRM and marketing automation platforms have the ability to activate workflows when a person likes, follows, comments, or replies on any of your social networks. This makes social listening even easier, especially when your day is filled with phone calls, meetings, and emails.

In conclusion, if nothing else, I wanted to emphasize the importance of relationship marketing as one of your most significant marketing strategies. Thankfully, we have CRM to help us succeed in developing the relationships that help grow our businesses. CRM is a sales and efficiency tool because it provides you with the necessary functionality to help develop and nurture valuable business relationships.

For more information about how CRM helps sales, click here.


  1. Hi Alessandra, great article that touches a good number of relevant points. We could add all sorts of service- and transactional processes, too, that can and should add to the ability of provisioning a superior experience and thus help building a relationship. And as you rightly say, it needs a strategy. Unluckily the industry has reduced CRM to a technology. But then: There is no experience without engagement – and CRM is the foundation for both.

    Just 2 ct from Down Under

  2. ACT! helped people be more efficient and effective by putting communication at the core. It dialed the phone, wrote letters and faxes, AND in the process captured a lot of information that made it into notes and history. Most CRM today expects us to enter much of that same data manually. It is information about customers. CRM ought to facilitate communication with contacts, prospects and customers. It generally does not do that. Rather it seems to depend on us being good record keepers.

    I contend email and excel are the number 1 and number 2 CRM systems of today. Instant messaging, social media, slack, ryver etc are not far behind, Communication is the most important element for building relationships. I learned that from my wife! 🙂

  3. OK, got you Pat. Many of those systems that you now refer to I wouldn’t even title CRM systems – luckily the ones I usually work with are better than what you describe and have enough of an engagement component, across multiple communications channels – but then I mainly dwell in the tier 1 region of systems 😉


  4. predominantly SAP, a little bit of Salesforce and Dynamics CRM; afaik SugarCRM and Zoho can do a lot of what you are missing as well. Nimble can do partly, same for Freshsales/Freshdesk. Nimble integrates particularly well into GMail, Office365 and social media. That list is surely incomplete

    Many of the low end ‘CRM’ systems are mere contact- or activity management applications.

  5. Love all of the conversations this has triggered! Thanks for the amazing engagement. Check out GreenRope CRM. It’s complete sales and marketing system, so you have all of the tools to actively track and manage all of your relationships. If you want CRM to facilitate relationships, it has to come from the top down. It is strategy that takes vision. If you have the vision, CRM will work the way it’s intended to.


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