We’re living in an era of acronym overload, especially when it comes to industry-specific lingo. A lot of acronyms really mean nothing for your day-to-day as a small-business owner. But if you want to grow your sales, there’s one you might want to familiarise yourself with — CRM.

What does CRM stand for? Customer relationship management, and your relationship with your customers is the driving force of your business.

What is CRM?

CRM is an online system for managing your relationships with your current and prospective customers. The greatest benefit from having and maintaining a CRM is being able to store a directory of your customers’ information online.

Why use CRM software?

If you’re now manually collecting customers’ contact information and entering it into an Excel doc, you’ll understand how big a time-saver a digital solution can be. The latest CRM tools store your customers’ information in the cloud — which means it’s accessible anytime, across any device.

With everything in a centralised place, you have a command centre to help you deepen your relationship with your customers after they’ve left your shop. Some CRM software also includes a customer feedback tool and support component — a place where you can respond directly to customers who have written in for one reason or another.

But a CRM’s most vital feature is all the insights it can help you glean about your customers. CRM tools can track powerful data about how people interact with your business on and offline. If your solution includes a feedback or support centre, there’s likely data around customer sentiment, as well as the most common complaints — so you can focus on the key areas where you need to improve.

How can a CRM help you?

Pouring over all the numbers in your CRM helps you spot trends in your customers’ behaviour and sentiment — which is invaluable as you make important business decisions. All this data can help you respond better to customer feedback and improve your business.

What are common features in a CRM?

The most effective CRM systems capture a range of quality customer information to help build robust profiles for everyone in your database. Commonly tracked data includes:

  • Customer Contact Info: customer name, email, address, phone number, preferred mode of contact (email, text) and how the customer learned about your business (online search, shop visit, social media—all of which can be gleaned from signup forms)

  • Complete Transaction History: items purchases, value of purchases, time of purchases and method of payment (all collected at point of sale)

  • Demographic Info: region where customer lives, birthdays, technology usage, hobbies and interests (can be gleaned from signup forms or collected over time with repeat customer interaction)

  • Customer Interaction Details: feedback on what customers like, what types of products or services they purchase most often, overall sentiment towards your business.

What should a CRM cost?

It’s difficult to say what a CRM should cost. Initial CRM costs vary widely, so the only way to determine what a CRM for your business costs is to research vendors and then talk to them directly.

When you do start researching CRM options, you want to look at the software cost, the hardware cost (i.e., a computer to run the software), any customisation costs (does it cost money to add additional tools or format the directory in a specific way?), training costs and support costs.

Many CRM software vendors charge a monthly fee per user.

What are CRM tools?

CRM tools are applications that tap into your customer directory so you can better communicate with your customers. Some examples of CRM tools include:

  • SMS messages: texts can be used to confirm appointments, update customers about service changes and make occasional announcements about timely information

  • Customer retention tools: personalisation, promotions, gamification; a Harvard Business Review study has shown that increasing customer retention by 5% can ultimately increase profits by 25% to 95%

  • Customer support: making your business available to customers 24/7, whether through online chats or email support; the less you leave your customers hanging, the more likely they’ll come back to you again, even if they’ve had a problem with a product or service in the past. Using twitter to reply to customers: makes customers, especially Millennials, feel heard in real-time and lets them know that your business values each individual customer enough to respond to personal inquiries via a social and very public platform.