Customer relationship management does not come in a box, or on a disc, or through a cloud subscription. CRM is a holistic business approach to customer relationships and how they are handled. CRM software is typically a tool that enables better customer service through a business, but CRM is about the people and business processes that make up a customer’s experience with your business. It is however, a business process that frequently demands powerful software implementations are made.

Why CRM?

To illustrate how CRM practices and CRM software can enhance customer experience consider some of your own interactions with businesses. Let’s take an example of an internet service provider. You are having technical problems with your internet connection and they have not been resolved via a simple modem reset or whatever magic the customer service technician has wielded on the other end of the phone lines. The problem needs to be escalated to other technicians, or is referred to a third party service provider such as Telstra. Now, think about how your follow-up calls have been handled or if you were lucky enough to have the service provider proactively follow up with you to provide updates on how your case is being handled.

Imagine the frustration if you had to repeat yourself over separate calls to communicate the problems you were having. Imagine if your case was forgotten about, or stalled, due to poor handling of the ticket by one of the technicians. Imagine if the technician did not provide you with a ticket number, so there was a painful process of looking up your ticket at the start of every call. If any of these previous customer service steps go wrong, customer dissatisfaction will occur. With customer dissatisfaction comes brand damage, as well as a number of results that can cause harm to your bottom line. Conversely, customer interactions that are smooth and well organised can inspire customers to become brand advocates which result in huge benefits to your sales levels.

Some amongst you may argue that the above example is actually a discussion of help desk or service ticketing software and not CRM. I disagree with this, CRM is not just a salesperson’s little black book turned into a computer system as some believe. CRM is a process that embodies Sales, Service and Marketing. It is how you deal with your present as well as your future customers. Consequently, CRM industry leaders such as Salesforce have pushed on to offer a Sales, Service and Marketing Cloud as a part of their complete offering. That is because customer relationship management actually does encompass Sales, Service and Marketing, and can touch on nearly all aspects of your business.

What does a typical CRM package look like?

CRM Overview

An overview of the Core Elements of CRM. Click to see a larger image.

Ok, so now that we’ve described how CRM is not a piece of software, let us look at the core elements of what makes up a typical piece of CRM software. I’ve taken a screenshot of the Salesforce CRM database schema and put a few annotations on there about what each ‘object’ does. There are actually about 100 objects in our own Salesforce database, and many CRM systems will contain at least 20 objects ‘out of the box’. Most CRM systems, though, can be philosophically reduced down to the core few things I’ve shown in this picture and describe later in a table below.

A note on database structures

It is important to discuss what a database looks like now. Firstly, there are tables or objects (I’ll use the terms interchangeably). Objects typically look like a single spreadsheet, where all the columns are represented by characteristics of an individual record such as a Contact person and their Name, Phone Number, Address etc, and each line represents a different Contact. Each of these objects are connected by little lines you can see that form relationships between characteristic (fields) of the various objects. For example, there is a lookup relationship in Salesforce between an Account and a Contact. Each Contact can be assigned to only one Account, but multiple contacts can be assigned to the same Account. In database terminology we describe this relationship between Contact and Account as a ‘many to one’ relationship. You can see the various relationships between fields all over the place in the picture and the direction of the relationship (one to many or many to one). How these relationships work determine how easy or hard it is to extract the business intelligence you need later on. These structures have been refined by CRM system developers over a long time, and there is a reasonable amount of consensus between products on how they look.

A CRM system’s table/object breakdown

In terms of tables, a typical CRM package contains the 7 core functional database objects below with a large number of connecting relationships. Lets have a quick look at what these are.

Object Name What it does
Leads Simply put, this is the pool your future customers come from. They are not qualified yet to receive the full attention of an account manager. Nor are they simply an address from a marketing list. Once a lead reaches a high stage of qualification, they are moved out of the lead pool and become a Contact, with an associated Account.
Contacts These are people who are active customers, people who work at active customer companies, suppliers, people you do business with in general, and they are also fully qualified leads.
Accounts Accounts are simply business accounts. They house contacts and opportunities. In Salesforce, an account is required to put in a contact. They contain all the relevant information about a business that you wish to store.
Opportunities Opportunities are a potential sale to a current client, or qualified prospective client. Opportunities typically have a stage (within sales cycle) and some sort of dollar value attached. Opportunities when used well provide the business with powerful forecasting, and allow other people in the business to understand what a client is looking to buy from your company in the future. Opportunities, combined with products have the potential to be automated to generate quotes.
Products Products are what your business sells, and become child objects of an opportunity. These allow your business to see more detail in an opportunity, other than dollar values, sales stage and notes from the salespeople. Opportunities and products become more difficult to ensure good staff compliance with, unless there is some sort of quoting automation. It can be difficult to convince a salesperson to do up a quote one way and then key all the quote details into an opportunity with products. Hence quoting software should be connected to CRM opportunities, or your CRM should be enabled to become a quoting package.
Cases Cases are faults, warranty claims, service requests, technical support requests etc. It is a customer interaction relating to a product or service they have purchased in the past. Sometimes cases can also be used to manage technical pre-sales enquiries. Cases can and should be automated to forward some of the case information and updates to the customer, as well as to prompt follow up calls. They are also useful for a business to gain insight about their products and how to improve them.
Tasks/Activities In a typical CRM such as Salesforce, all of the previous objects will have some sort of tasks or activities associated with them. These are simply things that you need to do or have done in relation to a Contact, Account, Opportunity, Lead or Case.


CRM success through marketing

Sales teams need new ways to build relationships with their customers. The costs of sales can be high. Your salespeople need to be armed with the right tools. A sales process that is ineffective can make or break your business. It goes without saying that a salesperson or yourself will undoubtedly prefer to deal with a hot lead rather than a cold one if the goal is making more sales in less time. You want customers who have read through your website and sales material, and are genuinely excited about the product you have to offer. These sales are a breeze. Your salespersons role for hot leads is reduced down to smiling, nodding and handing over a contract to sign or taking the money. But what if your business is not receiving the amount of hot leads that you would want through your marketing channels? Every salesperson knows that every other sale outside of the ideal scenario requires a lot of hard work. Dealing with warm or cold leads also requires ruthless time management, prioritisation and a high degree of organisation. In nearly every business though, this needs to be done.

About cold leads

Take for example, the process of business to business cold calling, the dial-and-smile approach that is often a necessary evil of building business relationships. Cold calling for many businesses is not about making an immediate sale on the back of a single phone call. It is often about establishing a contact, building a mailing list, attempting to identify decision makers, or gaining intelligence about a business as to whether it may be a valid customer for your business in the future. It requires a high degree of organisation and a savvy salesperson to do it effectively. It is important to provide the tools to help your sales team cold call very effectively if this is being done.

Similarly, a cold lead could also take the form of a business card dropped in a bowl at a trade show or an event. Perhaps they only did it at the time to win the free bottle of wine you offered as a lure to get more business cards dropped in the bowl. There are a lot of unqualified leads in the world. Your salespeople simply do not have time to follow up all the cold leads with a full sales process. Your salespeople only should have time to follow up the hottest prospects that are obtained through many marketing activities. At the same time, colder leads that have expressed only vague interest in your company should not be completely ignored. They are the hot leads of tomorrow.

You need to automate the process of managing cold leads as much as possible, to nurture leads and identify the exact point at which they become qualified and warm so that sales energy can be focussed towards them. Some of this will be determined by the instincts of your salespeople, and they can also apply methodologies such as BANT (Budget, Authority, Need and Timeframe) to determine how qualified a lead is. But ultimately, many leads are not yet ready to deal with your business, and need to be dealt with efficiently but not completely ignored in case they do become qualified later.

Lead nurturing

So, how do we deal with leads that are not presently qualified? One common, but very much underexploited method of nurturing leads so that your product will remain front-of-mind is to implement email marketing. There are also other methods available now that involve advertising technology such as remarketing and custom audience marketing through the large internet media companies (Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin etc).

What the smartest companies are doing is implementing their lead nurturing with appropriate analytics, so they can measure how a customer is responding to or interacting with your company on the internet. Ultimately this should be visible through the CRM system, to allow salespeople to quickly identify or be notified of the best leads and get on the phone to them. In short, advertising and marketing efforts need not involve as much guesswork as they have in the past. With well-implemented CRM systems connecting your sales and marketing efforts, you are giving yourself access to a truth machine that will make it impossible for your business to become silted up with dogma and misinformation. Good CRM solutions enable powerful forecasting, analysis and management for sales and service pipelines.


Although we have discussed some of the software aspects of CRM at length, now it is time to turn back to people. Managing the way your staff interact with your customers is essential. The ethos of sales being everybody’s job is an important one to put forward if you want your customers to have good relationships with your business. If you manage a service call centre, monitoring the quality of the phone calls is important for managing your customer relationships. It is also important to ensure that a high level of detail is maintained in CRM system entries made by staff. This will allow the next customer service representative to understand the customer’s relationship and history with the business properly. Lots of CRM detail can also be useful as proof if a business relationship does go sour and a legal dispute occurs.

A note on commission vs salaried sales staff

Encouraging your sales staff to adopt the CRM system is important. The way you choose to pay your sales staff can also be important in determining how your business forms relationships with customers as a result of how salespeople represent your business. Commission offers powerful incentive for salespeople to make sales, but it does not offer them incentive to build the brand of your business. That sweaty and pushy vacuum cleaner salesman who doesn’t leave your house? He’s probably on 100% commission and receives no salary. He will tell you anything to make the sale, which can harm the brand later on. Many businesses understand this and most salespeople now are paid an adequate base salary, with incentives and/or a moderate amount of commission only. Bear in mind, commission pay does offer its own mechanism to ensure some sales information is correctly entered, by adopting an ‘if its not in the CRM package, it doesnt exist’ philosophy. Commission pay can effectively be pegged to some aspects of CRM adoption if commissions are only paid on completed CRM system records. But overall, salaried salespeople are more compatible with good customer relationship management, and more likely to comply with reporting standards. So, even human resources questions come into play when we try to manage our customer relationships.

You don’t need to hit it all at once

By now, CRM is probably starting to sound like a complicated beast, but it need not be and good systems won’t always be built in a single iteration. You are already practising CRM in some form within your business. You are doing it regardless of whether you possess a piece of software that calls itself a CRM system. You’ve already started on the path when you launched the business or first picked up the phone. Your goal is simply to make your customer service a little better every day. I believe the level of customer service that can be achieved by a company will ultimately become capped unless some form of good CRM system like Salesforce is adopted. That CRM system will need to grow and evolve with your business, so CRM becomes a road rather than a destination.

Salesforce is not a traditional CRM package

There are many other packages out there, but Salesforce is the one I currently work with and love. I love it because Salesforce is more than just a CRM system, it is an application platform. What makes it superior is that Salesforce provides a flexible development stack for rapid business application deployment. You see, your business can probably be shoehorned into a traditional CRM structure such as Client – Account – Opportunity – History (and for many businesses this will almost fit). The other way is to make CRM exactly what it should be, which is a systems-enshrined business process and philosophy that encapsulates your business’s unique selling proposition through highly efficient and accurate systems.

I hope this helps provide a little more understanding on what CRM is and how it can be implemented. If you need any help automating your business customer service processes, developing a CRM strategy or having implementation work done, then please don’t hesitate to contact us.