CRM stands for customer relationship management. A CRM system records information about customers and leads in a way that can be easily accessed throughout a business, and used for a variety of purposes.

What features does a CRM offer?

A basic CRM will track every interaction the company has with a customer, including sales, enquiries and support requests. The ability to bring up a full relationship history helps customer-facing staff provide a fast, relevant service when needed.

Information stored in a CRM can also be used more broadly to track metrics such as sales data and customer satisfaction. Many systems can generate custom reports, or integrate with industry-standard spreadsheet and database applications.

A CRM can also integrate with communications tools such as MailChimp, to allow companies to easily contact specific segments of a customer base and track engagement. Recurrent tasks, such as emailing regular promotions, can be completely automated.

What sort of businesses can benefit?

Any business with customers can benefit from a CRM. In a large company, all agents have access to a customer’s profile and case history, so callers can receive a consistent service without needing to talk to the same person on every contact.

For smaller organisations, the CRM lightens the administrative burden by capturing customer information in a central database, and making it instantly accessible as needed. Companies of all size can benefit from the sales and marketing insights a CRM can offer, and integrated communications options.

How do I deploy a CRM?

Companies may choose to run CRM software on their own servers. This allows them to keep sensitive information within their own networks, and gives them the maximum freedom to expand and customise their systems as required. Free on-site CRM options include the local versions of HubSpot and Zoho CRM; commercial offerings include Creatio, Infor CloudSuite and Microsoft Dynamics 365 Sales.

There are also several cloud-based CRM platforms. These are simpler to deploy than an on-premises system, and can usually be accessed through a web browser, making them particularly convenient for distributed workforces. Major cloud CRM providers include Freshsales, Insightly and, of course, Salesforce.

What are the downsides?

Even a free on-premises CRM system requires an investment in hardware, setup and maintenance. There’s also a training requirement for staff who will use the incoming system.

With cloud solutions the up-front cost is lower, but subscription fees must be paid, and the training requirement remains. And if a company stops paying for a cloud service, it will need a migration plan to retain access to the data archive.

Finally, a CRM is only as useful as the data it contains. Details of interactions and other customer updates need to be manually entered and checked by staff. Introducing a CRM into a business isn’t a one-off project: it’s a new workflow that needs ongoing monitoring and management.


  • A CRM system tracks all of a company’s interactions with customers and leads. 
  • The information stored in a CRM can be used to improve customer service, generate reports and streamline communications. 
  • CRM software can be run locally, or businesses may choose a cloud-based CRM with web-browser access. 
  • Deploying a CRM requires training, especially for customer-facing staff. 
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Darien Graham-Smith

Darien is one of the UK's most knowledgeable technical journalists. You will find him in PC Pro magazine, writing reviews for a variety of sites and on guitar with his band The Red Queens. His explainer articles help TechFinitive's audience understand how technology works.