The world of small and mid-sized business (SMB) is full of acronyms, and the one that you’ll encounter more than any other is CRM, which stands for Customer Relationship Management. CRM software can be used to keep track of a company’s customer base, from generating leads, to managing accounts and ensuring customer satisfaction.

But with so many types of CRM software to choose from, it can be a little overwhelming to find the right one for your team and get everyone on board. In this article, we’ll take a look at the history of CRM software and some of the ways it can help your business.

What is a CRM?

First, what exactly is a CRM? In short, it’s a database of your customers’ relationships with your company, encompassing everything from buyer profiles to a history of every interaction they’ve had with your customer support or sales teams.

But unlike an old-school database that requires lots of manual upkeep, a CRM is mostly automated. Once you’ve set up the software, it can log interactions, schedule follow-ups, automate phone calls, and share information between departments.

Depending on the type of CRM you choose, it can even make sales forecasts and rank the quality of individual leads. Sales teams can use CRMs to set up an effective sales pipeline, while sports teams can use them to manage their relationships with fans.

No matter which aspect of your business you’re hoping to streamline, a good CRM will use the latest data management tools to help you boost sales and productivity.

CRMS have had a long and storied history in sales.

Sales teams have found ways to manage their customer relationships for decades, but the first modern CRM tools were developed in the 1970s and 1980s.

Companies like Oracle began offering enterprise resource planning (ERP) software with built-in CRM modules that included sales force automation and other capabilities.

At the time, businesses had to rely on mainframe computers to manage their databases, with the first cloud-based, handheld CRM developed by Siebel coming out in 1999.

In the late 2000s, the rise of social media platforms in marketing led to the development of Social CRMs and SaaS CRMs. Now, many CRMs rely on business intelligence tools to further improve their capabilities and offer customizable, industry-specific options.

Get to know the different kinds of CRM software.

There are three main types of CRM software: operational, analytical, and collaborative. Although there’s some overlap between them, they’re designed for different objectives and each one is better suited to a different type of business.

For a more in-depth look, check out our article on the three types of CRM software. Here, we’ll just have a brief look before moving on to the five major benefits of using a CRM.


First, operational CRMs are designed to help you with the day-to-day functions of your sales and support teams. Their main benefit is that they can automate sales tasks and make it easy for members of your teams to coordinate with each other. They combine marketing, sales, and service automation into a single package.

For example, an operational CRM can build a customer profile based on data that your marketing team gathers, and use that information to score leads.

Then, your sales team can follow up with phone calls, emails, and SMS messages, and schedule product demos directly through the platform.

Once the deal is closed, your account managers and customer service reps can use the CRM to deliver surveys, create centralized support tickets, and more.

As a result, organizational CRMs are great for SBMs and SaaS businesses that rely on repeat sales and have a relatively short sales cycle.


Analytical CRMs are for teams that rely more on data and analytics than customer-facing activities. These CRMs use the latest business intelligence tools, including data mining and pattern recognition, to find trends and make sales forecasts.

Because of the emphasis on data, analytical CRMs are most useful for large companies with lots of data and a more complicated sales pipeline.

These CRMs allow you to target demographics more precisely, and make predictions about what a customer is likely to buy in order to upsell and cross-sell.

They’re especially useful for analyzing which marketing touchpoints, including ads and email campaigns, are most effective at driving sales.


Finally, there’s the collaborative CRM, which is designed for coordinating data between multiple departments and even other businesses. It’s ideal for companies that work with outside vendors and distributors, or that have several teams working in parallel.

You can use a collaborative CRM to break down data silos and ensure that your sales, support, and marketing teams are all working with the same customer data.

Collaborative CRMs rely on interaction management to keep a record of every contact a customer has with your team, and channel management to reach them through their preferred form of communication -- such as by email, phone call, or social media.

Because data is shared so widely, though, it’s not a good fit for companies that need to restrict access to confidential customer data.

CRM software can help your business in myriad ways.

Now that you know the three types of CRM software and which aspects of relationship management they focus on, how can you use these tools to help your business?

Centralize your data in one place.

First, CRMs allow you to organize your data in a centralized database. While analytical CRMs offer more robust data processing than other types of CRM, one of the benefits of any CRM is the ability it gives you to collect and organize customer data.

Not only will it save your sales reps the trouble of manually inputting data, but everyone on the team will have access to the same information.

No more duplicate calls, no forgetting to follow up: any team member can pick up where another sales rep left off, and be able to reference a customer’s entire purchase history and support tickets when making a sales call.

It’s like the difference between having access to an entire email thread instead of just the most recent communication.

Plus, you can integrate data from multiple platforms with the same CRM. Whether you reach out to customers via phone, email, or social media, you can start a conversation on one channel and continue it via another.

You can even carry on conversations across multiple time zones, or from smartphone apps, so that your support team can offer 24/7 service without missing a beat.

Some CRMs, like OnCourse, integrate with Gmail, Google Calendar, and other email and scheduling apps, making data migration even easier.

Automate sales tasks.

The biggest time-saving tool that a CRM can offer is the ability to automate your sales and support tasks. This is a major feature of organizational CRMs, which allow you to develop customized outreach sequences and a linear sales pipeline.

How can a CRM automate your sales tasks? For one, you can schedule SMS messages and email sequences in advance, and reduce dial time with the in-app dialer. You’ll also save time on data entry, since call and chat logs are automatically recorded.

Another benefit to sales automation is that you’ll be more likely to reach prospects when they’re receptive to purchases. Whether you use lead scoring to tell you which prospects are most likely to respond favorably to an offer, or you allow prospects to schedule sales demos automatically, a CRM takes the guesswork out of lead generation.

In addition, all of these interactions can be logged, so you’ll be able to see whether there are any weak links in your sales pipeline that need to be addressed.

Create personalized customer profiles.

A CRM allows you to create a unique customer profile for each prospect. From their first visit to your website to their most recent purchase, you can track their progress through the most relevant touchpoints and see where they are in the customer lifecycle.

You can use channel management to customize their communication preferences, and reach out to them via the channel they’re most likely to engage with.

You’ll also be able to gather demographic data, like age, gender, and martial status that you can use in list segmentation and sales forecasting.

While old-school sales reps had to make note of birthdays and personal preferences the old-fashioned way, CRMs make it easy to provide an individualized experience.

You’ll also be able to upsell and cross-sell with ease when you can make targeted offers based on a customer’s purchase history and communication preferences.

Track your performance.

CRMs aren’t only useful for customer-facing data: they’re also useful for tracking internal metrics too. From setting sales goals and KPIs to delegating tasks, an effective CRM can show you who’s pulling their weight and who could use some coaching.

You can use built-in dashboards to track your performance, produce sales reports, and make sales projections for upcoming quarters.

It’s easy to hold each other accountable, or even to have a friendly competition between teams, when so much of your sales data is readily available. Not only that, but a more experienced salesperson can step in if a newer sales rep is having trouble closing a deal or renewing a contract.

At the same time, you can use a CRM to scale your business and bring on new sales reps more efficiently when you have a functioning sales pipeline already.

Whether you add new teams or expand existing ones, there’s no real limit to how much you can grow your CRM. In fact, the more data you have, the better, since you’ll be able to use your analytical tools to produce even more accurate forecasts.

Share data between teams.

Finally, CRMs allow you to share data between teams -- and with external partners too, if you use a CRM that offers Partner Relationship Management capabilities.

Why does this matter? Just imagine your sales rep calling up a customer to make a sale, without realizing that they have an unresolved ticket with your customer support team.

Or your support team trying to troubleshoot a new customer’s problems without access to their purchase history or contact preferences.

With a collaborative CRM, you can share data between teams more efficiently, making it easier to notice problems with your products -- and solve them.

Ultimately, CRM aren’t just for sales and support teams. Marketing teams love them too, because they allow them to track sales touchpoints and improve conversion rates.

You can send out a user experience survey to update customers’ contact information in your CRM, or get feedback on marketing efforts and upcoming products.

If you contract with other vendors, you can decide how much information to share with them too. From partner programs to data sharing agreements, CRMs make it easier to collaborate with external partners and make sure you’re all on the same page.

How do you implement a CRM?

Once you’ve decided on a CRM for your business, now comes the fun part: getting your employees to adopt it. The truth about any CRM is that it won’t boost your sales figures or performance metrics on its own. You need to set it up properly. Otherwise, you won’t really be getting the most effective results out of it.

The first step to setting up your CRM is to get properly trained on it. Whether you bring in an official representative to onboard your entire team at once, or you roll it out in stages, don’t skimp on the training process.

That’s a surefire way to end up with a team who sticks to their old methods because it’s too much work to learn a new system. Instead, incentivize them by showing them how much the CRM will make their work more efficient.

And don’t spring it on them out of the blue. Ask them what kinds of features they want a new CRM to have before you begin the implementation process. Get feedback at every step of the way to make sure they’re adapting to it.

Second, have a good data migration plan in place. An effective CRM is all about data, so you’ll need to import your existing customer data before you get started.

OnCourse can handle data migration for you, scrubbing your data to prevent duplication and ensuring that your system is ready to go from Day One.

Plus, OnCourse integrates with Gmail, Google Calendar, and more, so you don’t have to worry about data entry when you could be learning about other features instead.

While any new CRM will have a learning curve, OnCourse’s professional sales reps and support teams are here to make the process as easy for you as possible.

If you’re ready to get started, reach out to the team at OnCourse today to request a free demo and see if it’s the right CRM for your business.