Customer relationship management (CRM) is a software system that allows businesses to capture and store business and customer data in a single database. Through reporting and analysis, that data provides businesses with insight into customers’ buying patterns, demographics, purchase history, and personal information such as their needs, challenges, goals, preferences, etc. CRMs help you get to know your customers and forge lasting relationships with them.

CRMs automate administrative processes that are otherwise completed manually. This frees employees’ time to focus on prospect and customer interactions, instead of on time-consuming manual work.

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The brief history of CRM

CRM isn’t a new concept. Businesses have tried to maintain healthy relationships with customers since the dawn of commerce.

For centuries, those relationships were managed through interpersonal interactions such as handshakes, favors, and cordial conversations and letters. Then, came the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the first CRM software systems began to emerge.

Suddenly, all of the details from those conversations, transactions, and other interactions could be stored in a centralized database, accessible by all users.

But CRM in the earliest days was focused on sales automation only. Later in the 1990s, CRM expanded to include a separate database for customer service and support management. Towards the end of the decade, marketing automation was born and the definition of CRM was further extended, now covering a number of separate databases housing valuable customer data.

These earlier CRMs were used primarily by large enterprises and required IT involvement and support.

Then, in 1999, with the launch of the first software-as-a-service (SaaS) CRM, midsize and small businesses with limited IT resources gained access to new CRM technology.

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Life is nice in the cloud

SaaS CRMs allowed businesses to store data in an off-site server, commonly referred to as “the cloud.” This eliminated the need to maintain an on-site data server, saving businesses significant amounts of resources.

Plus, no software installation was necessary because users accessed their CRM via a web browser, not a locally installed application. This allowed users to access their CRM system from anywhere, at any time, by navigating to the CRM’s URL and logging into their system.

The emergence of the modern CRM system

CRM providers and loads of software startups began to develop their own cloud-based CRMs. But these systems were still expensive and came with a steep learning curve. Competition spurs innovation and as more competitors entered the market, a race to the top began.

By the early- to mid-2010s, CRM prices had dropped, competition had risen dramatically, new features were constantly added, and CRMs slowly became more powerful, intuitive, and user-friendly.

The CRM industry grew incredibly quickly. According to Statista, the CRM market with $24 billion in revenue in 2015 is expected to rise to $40 billion in revenue by 2023.

Although CRMs became more cost-efficient and feature-rich in the mid-2010s, there was more innovation to come.

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The unified CRM: Everything under one roof

Early CRM systems did not include many marketing features. Businesses had to pay for a marketing automation solution, integrate it with their CRM, and constantly ensure data was flowing properly from one system to the other. It was costly, messy, and prone to data integrity issues.

So legacy CRM companies began to consolidate sales, marketing, and service apps, packaging them as “suite of apps” or “point solutions” or “multi-platform” CRMs. But sales, marketing, and service data were still collected, organized, and managed in separate structures.

Competition kept pushing innovation forward and now a new generation of CRM software is on the rise. These new platforms combine CRM, marketing, sales, and service solutions into one, unified CRM system, where all apps sit atop one data platform. This eliminates the need to purchase and integrate systems from multiple different vendors or data structures.

These next-generation, unified platforms offer capabilities that streamline business operations even further, such as:

Easy integrations with third-party systems

Imagine you run a brick-and-mortar store and it starts to grow faster than you had expected. You decide to start selling your products online and need an online payment processing system.

With a cloud-based CRM, you can integrate your e-commerce system with your CRM in a matter of minutes, assuming you have accounts with both systems. Solid integrations ensure data from both systems are stored in the same place and are accessible from your CRM.


Robust CRMs allow you to customize your CRM system. You can customize data field names, automated touchpoints and workflows, dashboards, and more. You can customize your system to meet your unique needs, align with your unique processes, speak your own internal language, and more.

Intuitive user interface

Modern CRMs, like Insightly, are so easy to use that even non-tech savvy users can come up to speed in a short time. Drag and drop features make it simple to set up automations, configure workflows, run reports, access data, and more.

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Metrics and reporting

With so much data, your CRM can analyze metrics and produce automated, customized reports to show you exactly what you need to see.

Powerful data analysis and reporting provide the insight needed to identify what’s working and what’s not. This, in turn, allows you to make more insightful decisions about growing your business and form effective forward-looking strategy.

Sales and marketing alignment

When both teams are working in the same system, with the same data, sales and marketing alignment increases. Marketing can set up automated workflows that alert sales when they need to take a specified action, and vice versa. This isn’t possible when the two teams work in silos and don’t communicate well. Plus, better alignment between teams increases transparency and accountability.

Personalized marketing

With so much data stored about each prospect and client, it is easy to review their CRM profile prior to a meeting and gain insight that will help you quickly form rapport. You can also use that data to personalize your customer and prospect interactions, delivering a personalized experience at every stage of the customer journey.

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More on benefits of using a next-gen, unified CRM

At this point, we have indirectly covered many benefits that businesses receive from leveraging a unified CRM. Below, we’ll break down a few more.

One source of data truth to unite your teams

When everyone is working with the same data, updated in real-time for all to see, you eliminate the risk of using inaccurate data.

360-degree view of customers and prospects

When all teams are using the same system, the data they enter about each prospect or customer is available for every user to see.

Every telephone call, email, purchase, complaint, and every other interaction your business has with an individual is tracked. With so much insight into who each individual is and what their needs and preferences are, developing and managing fruitful customer relationships is a breeze.

Increased sales productivity through automation

When you can create automated workflows around your sales process, your sales team becomes more productive and closes more opportunities, faster. This is because they are notified in real-time that they need to take a specified action.

Businesses can customize these workflows. The end result is less administrative work because much of it is automated. This gives sales reps more free time to interact one-on-one with customers and prospects, and form solid, trusting relationships.

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Better customer experience and higher customer satisfaction

With all of the data and automaton features in a unified CRM, you free up time to deliver a better customer experience and:

  • Solve customer problems faster
  • Devote more time to one-on-one interactions
  • Give customers more of what they need in your product offering
  • Proactively ask them how you could improve and serve them better
  • Save time for customers that they can spend on higher-value tasks
  • Personalize your interactions and create brand loyalty

Let’s add all this up. A better customer experience leads to higher levels of customer satisfaction. Satisfied customers are more likely to return for repeat business. When they are satisfied, they become loyal to your brand and recommend it to others.

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Cost savings

Because CRM systems increase efficiency, productivity, and free up time for employees to focus on more important tasks, you and your team spend less money on time-consuming routine administration tasks.

You don’t have to get rid of employees, thinking that your CRM will replace them. Rather, keep those employees, train them well on how to use your CRM, and they will perform better, bring in more business, and increase customer retention.

As we mentioned earlier, if your CRM comes with powerful data analysis and reporting, you can gain helpful insights into what’s working in your business and what’s not. This ability to regularly measure the effectiveness of your strategy and programs allows you to quickly adjust and avoid wasting resources or missing opportunities. A fully adopted CRM can be one of your most effective tools to identify and cut unnecessary costs.

Wrapping things up

Whether you’re looking to set up a CRM for the first time or upgrade your existing systems, we hope the information above provided you with a comprehensive understanding of what CRM systems are, how they’ve evolved into the powerhouses they are today, and how your business can benefit from a unified CRM.

If you run a business and are not using a CRM, today is the day to start looking. Otherwise, you’ll be left in the wake of those that rode the CRM wave to success.

If you already use a CRM, but want to review your specific business needs and see if it’s time to switch to a new system or try a unified CRM, then request a demo and an Insightly rep will reach out with the next steps.


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