CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management and refers to a strategy that helps companies increase sales, improve service, and reduce costs. CRM plans focus on increasing productivity through automation and the synchronization of data between systems, ensuring that employees have accurate, timely data about customers. Having the data and technology integrated and accessible improves both efficiency and service. For more than a decade, organizations have embraced CRM to boost sales. Since then, those same businesses have also embraced CRM plans to help manage marketing, technical support, and customer service as well.

Organizations primarily leverage a CRM plan through the deployment of a CRM application, which software is available in traditional on-premises deployments as well as through cloud deployments. The buzz over the last few years has focused the Cloud—also known as software-as-a-service (SaaS)—but each deployment model offers advantages. Although there are dozens of CRM products on the market, the power players in the CRM marketplace are Oracle CRM, SAP CRM, Salesforce.com CRM, and Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

In the past few years, CRM plans have evolved to incorporate a vast array of features that extend way beyond traditional CRM, an evolution that many refer to as xRM. Several companies have adopted the approach, but Microsoft has been the most enthusiastic promoter. Microsoft’s enthusiasm for xRM is one of several key advantages over its competitors, which is at xRM.com we build all our CRM and xRM systems with Microsoft Dynamics CRM systems. Another of these advantages is the Microsoft .NET Framework, which makes it easier to integrate line-of-business (LOB) applications with the CRM platform. A third major advantage of a Microsoft Dynamics CRM system is its native integration with other Microsoft products, including Office, SQL, Outlook, and SharePoint.

CRM is a powerful strategy, and the major CRM applications are incredible tools for improving efficiency. However, CRM is not a panacea for every business. Organizations that wish to implement CRM usually face three major challenges. The first is user adoption. One of the most frequently voiced complaints about many CRM applications is that the programs have steep learning curves and are difficult to use, requiring extensive training and increasing resistance to adoption. Any program that is too difficult to use likely will not be widely adopted within the organization, resulting in a tremendous waste of time and resources. Successful CRM deployments have to be both functional and easy to use. Usability is critical to the overall success of a CRM deployment and plays an important role in determining the rate of user adoption.

Another challenge to a successful CRM deployment is integration with existing systems. CRM needs data to work, and retrieving legacy data from existing systems can be a challenge. Successful CRM applications need to play nice with legacy systems or at least make it simple to import legacy data. A CRM system that cannot integrate with existing systems severely hampers the successful deployment of a CRM strategy.

The third major challenge is the creation of an implementation plan. Without exception, successful CRM deployments depend upon well-crafted plans, and require that an organization define its goals and determine its needs before deployment begins. Hiring experienced CRM consultants can contribute greatly to the crafting of a successful implementation plan.