Customer relationship management, or CRM as it’s commonly called, is a method of managing customer information, purchase and service history, pricing, and other data. It typically includes applications and systems to help businesses capture and analyze customer data. This can help business owners and managers spot patterns and opportunities, essentially mining their own data for sales opportunities with both current customers and prospects. 

“CRM tools provide the capability to capture and manage all types of data important to your business, including sales opportunities, pipeline activity and service records,” says Domenick Cilea, president of Springboard, a Marlboro, New Jersey, marketing and public relations firm that has used and launched a number of CRM tools.

Cilea adds that today’s cloud-based options make CRM more affordable and effective than ever for mobile businesses, allowing owners to access data from anywhere using mobile devices and laptops. To ensure that the program will work best for you, especially when you’re away from your office, he advises looking for four key elements:

1. “Mobile First” design. Cilea says that many cloud solutions offer browser-based views of CRM functionality which might be ineffective or hard to see on a small screen. Be sure to select a tool that offers a consistent user experience across multiple devices, especially smartphones and tablets. It’s best if you can “test drive” the application using the device on which you’ll access it while you’re on the road, such as a smart phone or tablet.

2. Data portability. In the event you need to change vendors, you should be able to easily export your data. Ask about the formats into which you can export data, such as Excel or other commonly used formats.

3. Collaboration. Your business may require multiple people to interact with customers and prospects. Collaboration features should allow authorized employees to access and share account information, view history of previous activities, and make additions to customer data as needed. This ensures that your team always has access to the most up-to-date information and is important in delivering a unified customer experience, Cilea says.

Third-party integration. CRM tools should be able to integrate with your other applications, such as time-tracking, project management, and accounting platforms. This prevents duplication of effort and data, while helping your business run more efficiently.