What is CRM? Meaning, approaches, and tools

Customer relationship management (CRM) is an important strategy for retaining existing customers and gaining new ones. CRM is also important for marketing. The first step is to find the right CRM system so you can identify the needs of your customers and meet these requirements in the best possible way.

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What is customer relationship management (CRM)?

Customer relationship management (CRM) is when a company has a strategic, centralized focus on its customers. Instead of leaving the relationship with the existing and potential customer base to chance, companies use this approach to try to cultivate and strengthen it in a very targeted manner. The basis of individual CRM marketing is collecting and analyzing all relevant data and findings in the customer lifecycle using professional CRM tools. CRM affects all channels, from marketing to sales to support.


Customer relationship management (CRM) is a strategic corporate philosophy that focuses on customers. The aim here is to optimize and individualize the customer approach to improve customer care and to acquire customers.

The aims and benefits of CRM

The fundamental goal of customer relationship management is to improve business processes, especially sales, marketing, and support. The subordinate objectives are as follows:

The biggest benefit of proper customer management is that it pursues all these goals simultaneously. The more effort you put in, the faster customers will realize that a long-term relationship is valuable to your company. This starts with categorizing your potential customers, which increases lead generation as well as the chance of a purchase being made right from the start. In addition, customer relationship management greatly simplifies the cross-team collaboration required for this.

Even after the conversion, CRM remains meaningful and still offers many advantages. If queries or complaints arise, you can leave a lasting impression through personalized, competent communication. So in the long term, you build up a base of loyal customers. This means you don’t only expect a high number of further purchases, but also save a lot of money on marketing. Satisfied customers will gladly tell others about your products and services and therefore regularly provide you with free leads.

What are the different CRM approaches?

Customer relationship management is a multifaceted and complex discipline. Within this discipline, there are unsurprisingly different focal points or approaches that companies can pursue, sometimes more intensively and sometimes less. Which CRM approach the most meaningful for you is mostly depends on the type of company and its size as well as the business model. The most important CRM approaches include:

Analytical CRM

Analytical customer relationship management aims to gain important information and insights from customer and transaction data. This way you can identify the characteristics, behavior, and potential of your customers more easily.

Operational CRM

In operational CRM, the information obtained is utilized. In sales, for example, this can take the form of ABC analyses, cross-selling and up-selling, or customer segmentation. In sales, the findings can be used together with email marketing software to create personalized newsletters. In addition, new data for analytical customer relationship management is also obtained in this operational approach.

Collaborative CRM

Collaborative CRM is particularly important if your company consists of many individual teams and organizations. Here, the focus is on interaction among employees and on the closest possible exchange with partners such as suppliers, logistics companies, and other external service providers. This is how a unified CRM concept can be formed.

Communicative CRM

Communicative CRM focuses on all communication interfaces to customers. It is often also regarded as a subsection of operational CRM. It is also referred to as multi-channel management, as more and more channels are becoming relevant for companies. These include print and TV media, telephone support, e-commerce, email and letter exchange.

Social CRM

An increasingly important subsection of the communicative approach is social CRM. This involves managing customer communication on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.

What is a CRM system?

Focusing on the customer is a seemingly simple strategy. However, for this to be implemented at all and for it to work in the long term, a suitable, easy-to-use CRM system is vital. CRM software brings together all factors of a successful customer relationship and combines them with customer data such as names, addresses or email addresses in a data management platform. This data forms the basis of analytical CRM. In addition, a good CRM tool usually also offers the following options:

  • Saves contact history (emails, notes on phone calls, etc.)
  • Selects customers according to individual criteria such as turnover or potential
  • Segments customers into target groups based on demographic, geographic, psychographic, and behavioral characteristics
  • Manages documents
  • Manages tasks and projects
  • Manages appointments

All the collected and structured information stored in the CRM system helps your company to provide individual and comprehensive support to your customers. You always know what the relationship with an individual customer is like. Are they regular customers, for example? Or are you dealing with indecisive customers who may benefit from retargeting? Does a person tend to buy smaller or larger products? And are there specific contact persons in the company? The CRM software enables you to answer these and other questions at a quick glance.


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How to find the right CRM software for your company

Customer relationship management software comes in many forms. Depending on the program and scope, the various CRM approaches can be easier or more difficult to pursue in your own company. For this reason, you should first consider what you want to focus on in your business. Analytical functions and measures, for example, are predestined for customized campaigns. For small and medium-sized companies, however, the analytical part is almost impossible to get to grips with due to the amount of time involved and is therefore usually irrelevant. Of course, this is different for large corporations.

Other important factors that play a role in finding the right system for customer relationship management are:

  • Price: The budget for customer care is also not infinite. The cost of the CRM software in question must therefore fit into the planning.
  • Usability: Since CRM programs should be used in all areas of a company, if possible, it is particularly important that the software can be operated intuitively and is easy for beginners to get to grips with.
  • Interfaces: The central function of CRM is to bring together customer data. Therefore, it’s very important for the CRM tool to provide appropriate interfaces to third-party programs so they can be easily connected.
  • Mobile capability: Is it important for your company’s employees to have mobile access to the CRM solution? In this case, the user interface should be mobile-friendly and responsive. The best case would be if suitable apps were available.
  • Support: If there are technical problems with the solution, it is important that the provider can help. This professional service should always be available so that you can quickly return to your day-to-day business after the problem has been solved.

CRM software — local, on-premises or cloud solution?

CRM software can also be technically implemented in very different ways, which is typical for modern business tools. Basically, there are three options for installation or hosting:

  • Local: The CRM system is simply installed on your own PC.
  • On-premises: For the on-premises licensing model, the server-based CRM solution is hosted on server structures on the company’s own premises.
  • Cloud: A CRM cloud solution is available to users via the internet. The application and all user data are stored on the provider’s servers. This is also referred to as SaaS (Software as a Service).

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It depends on the provider which variants are available for specific software. All three models have their advantages and disadvantages, which we have summarized for you:

  Local installation On-premises solution Cloud-based software
Advantages ✔ Data sovereignty✔ Affordable ✔ Data sovereignty✔ Usable on different devices✔ Can be adapted individually ✔ No investment costs✔ Uncomplicated setup✔ Device and platform independent
Disadvantages ✘ Only usable on the respective device✘ Own backup solution required✘ Support difficult to acquire ✘ Own hardware infrastructure required✘ Technical know-how necessary✘ High investment costs (including effort) ✘ Data is stored on the provider’s servers✘ Online connection necessary
Suitable for Self-employed and small businesses Companies with more than 50 employees Self-employed, SMEs, startups

What functions should CRM software offer?

Your company’s needs dictate how extensive a CRM tool needs to be and how it should be technically implemented. However, there are a few basic functions and features that customer relationship management software should provide:

Customer database

A CRM tool should always allow you to keep a complete database of your customers. This is where all the individual contact data such as names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses is collected. Filter options should be incorporated for a quick overview.

Contact history

For a good and long-term customer relationship, it is important that all employees in the company are kept up to date about a customer’s history. It should be easy to add notes on telephone calls or other conversations as well as exchanged emails to the system. Thus, all employees have a complete, clear contact history of each customer.

GDPR-compliant filing

If you have customers from the EU, then it is important to store all files, email attachments, etc. in the CRM system in a way that ensures that the GDPR are adhered to. An integrated solution for regular backups is also useful.

Calendar and task management

The larger your customer base, the harder it is to keep track of the various appointments and deadlines, which is why a calendar function can be practical. An integrated function for managing tasks, including the ability to assign customers directly, is also useful.

Project management

What is the status of a particular customer? Is there any feedback on an offer that was sent to them? Can a concrete sales forecast be made? The more closely the entire customer cycle can be monitored and recorded with the CRM tool, the easier it is for you to intervene and optimize processes.

What CRM systems are available?

There are a variety of CRM Tools that you can use to spruce up your relationships with your customers and boost your business. Look into the various factors such as available features, cost, technical implementation, and support, and you’re very likely to find the right tool for your purposes.

We have summarized some of the most popular solutions for you:


Salesforce is one of the world’s leading CRM providers. The paid, cloud-based solution, which is used by more than 150,000 companies of all sizes and in all industries, is available on a monthly subscription basis.


Zoho offers a cloud-based office suite and a complete CRM platform. The software can be tested free of charge for 15 days.

monday sales CRM

monday sales CRM provides deep insights into your sales and can be customized to fit your sales cycle. For team sizes from 3 to 200 members, you pay a monthly fee per user.

HubSpot Sales Hub

Sales Hub from HubSpot is a sales software that grows with your business. In addition to a set of free tools, there are additional features included in professional monthly subscriptions.


Pipedrive is a CRM solution used by over 100,000 companies in more than 175 countries. After a 14-day trial period, there are monthly costs per user.


CRM systems are among the MarTech tools that play an essential role in successful marketing automation — i.e. when manual processes and work steps are automated to facilitate a campaign.


Customer relationship management (CRM) is a must for any business that wants to retain its already loyal customer base and for it to grow. Before choosing a CRM system, you should keep in mind which factors are most important to your company. In addition to price, usability and scalability, the system’s features should be considered. The same applies to the question of whether a local, cloud-based or on-premises solution is more suitable for your company.

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