Your Guide to Software Selection

5 Types of Specialized CRM

When it comes to CRM, do general solutions get the job done, or do you need a specialized tool? One way to think of it is to equate your CRM to a pair of cleats. You can probably use the same cleats to play soccer, baseball and football. But if you play a certain position with more unique needs, you may want a cleat specialized for the individual sport.

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This reality extends to the CRM world. In today’s day and age, most businesses know the basic functionalities of CRM software. However, depending on how your business operates, you may require a more specialized CRM to operate at maximum efficiency.

There are, of course, dozens of types of specialized CRM systems you can choose from. They each have unique capabilities that make their niche operations more robust. So to help you navigate the landscape, we took a look at 5 types of specialized CRM solutions:

Gather your unique requirements for a generic or a specialized CRM solution with a CRM Software Requirements Template

Open-Source CRM

As we hinted at earlier, companies today have a plethora of CRM choices. They can choose one of many proprietary, license-owned CRM platforms, or they can think outside the box and choose an open-source tool.

Some companies are surprised to hear that such a choice exists in the CRM realm. In fact, there are dozens of useful open-source CRM platforms that allow companies to set up relationship management systems without paying for brand-name products.

So what are the pros and cons of an open-source CRM model? Here are some things to consider when trying to make a choice for your business:

Pros of Open-Source CRM

Lower Costs

One of the biggest reasons that many firms go with any open-source product is related to cost. Most of the companies offering proprietary solutions want to charge significant sums of money to recoup all of the capital spent in the development, testing, release and maintenance stages. For example, prices for a popular brand-name option from Salesforce run anywhere from $25 to $300 per user, per month – which is quite high when you need to provide access for 50 or 100 users. By contrast, open-source products are traditionally free, barring any types of accessory fees or maintenance costs.

Free Use and Community Support

Typically, vendor-backed programs come with rules. The vendor often imposes various rules about how the product is used, how the company can integrate or modify a program, etc. By contrast, open-source tools are often much more lenient with their use conditions, and supported by a community of developers. Open-source products may be subject to Oslo regulations or some other rules, but not bound in the “walled gardens” of a vendor agreement, or vulnerable to vendor lock-in.


For a company that wants all of the bells and whistles, such as an established blue chip firm with “big data” needs, a proprietary CRM may be a good choice because it will have all of that advanced functionality. By the same token, a smaller firm may struggle to use a CRM that it sees as top-heavy, overly complex or detailed. With this in mind, an open-source product may be a good choice for one of these smaller firms, because in addition to coming at much less cost, the system may be easier to set up without an extremely complex feature-rich interface.

Cons of Open-Source CRM

Ease of Use

Most companies choosing customer relationship management programs need to more or less hit the ground running. They need a small learning curve, and an intuitive interface that employees can use to keep in touch with customers, close deals and do basic customer research.

One potential problem is that open-source products are often a little less user-friendly for beginners. In some cases, it can also be easier to understand a licensed product interface, because the company is actively supporting clients in training and development, and because the company has continually developed their software to make things easier for users.


Another related issue also causes many companies to opt for company-licensed CRM options. Since many open-source products are community supported, there isn’t really anyone to go to for immediate troubleshooting.

By contrast, many vendors make support a big part of their product package, advertising 24/7 support, or specific types of phone or on-site support for clients. This can be extremely valuable to businesses that need their CRM to work well in the field. As a result, support considerations can lead businesses toward proprietary vendor products and away from open-source CRM solutions. For example, if a company is trying to enable its sales reps to see customer histories at a glance, and they feel that open-source products will leave them with page errors or block their access to information, they’re more likely to adopt a vendor-licensed product.

The Wild Card

Brand Recognition

For better or worse, many companies choose vendor-supported CRM products due to brand recognition. Salesforce is an excellent example — this top CRM solution has built a reputation for helping companies maximize their customer relationship management. Oftentimes, vendor reputations are supported by the company’s track record, and executives feel like they’re making a safe choice by going with a household name.

These are some of the pros and cons of choosing either an open-source CRM product or a vendor-licensed CRM platform. There is really no wrong answer for this in the business world. In general, larger and more complex companies will want vendor-supported products, and smaller companies may gravitate toward simple open-source tools. However, there’s plenty of variance because there’s no one-size-fits-all option. Individual companies should compare and contrast both vendor and open-source CRM solution to understand what’s best for their operational model.

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eCommerce CRM

The combination of CRM software and eCommerce operations is one of a number of merging advances in the business world that allow companies to do more to deliver products and services to customers. This type of enterprise software can be an especially vital resource for small businesses that sell online.

In some ways, eCommerce CRM is similar to CRM systems for brick and mortar stores. Many of the core goals are the same: to aggregate and warehouse information about individual customers and groups of customers, to improve marketing and deliver according to demand.

ECommerce CRM is also quite different than CRM for brick and mortar stores. Designers of CRM eCommerce solutions anticipate that customers will be online and not meeting company representatives in a physical store. This can lead to a heavy focus on social media marketing, or specific tools within the actual CRM platform that collect the vital kinds of information that cashiers might get in a physical store.

Ways to Get eCommerce CRM

Different vendors also offer different models for providing eCommerce CRM stores.

Some of the most popular vendors of CRM solutions offer integration. Using application programming interfaces and other tools, third-party professionals are able to connect the traditional CRM platform to the eCommerce operation. For example, Infor, a major provider of CRM software, advertises the ability to provide integrations with eCommerce through its Intelligent Open Network (ION) framework.

In other cases, CRM eCommerce functionality is built into a CRM solution. CRM vendor NetSuite promotes “one solution for all operations,” combining ERP, CRM and database-driven eCommerce. The company likens the comprehensive platform and its customer experience to major established eCommerce portals like Amazon and eBay. Other features in the NetSuite CRM package include channel unification for online, mobile, social media and brick and mortar.

Examples of eCommerce CRM Features

A look at eCommerce CRM functionality shows the fundamental role that CRM software plays in online selling. A resource from Quora explains how CRM systems sit in central locations in IT architecture. These central repositories put customer data into the cloud or other shareable systems so that companies can track customer behavior and pinpoint the best ways to reach customers.

This same web page details features and functionality from various vendors. For example, how Salesforce CRM gets set up for versatile reporting, or how CRM vendor Pipedrive helps sales teams retrieve information from digital conversations. Both the aggregation and the reporting tools are key elements that many vendors offer that allow companies to enhance eCommerce operations with customer relationship management data.

Plugging Into the Shopping Cart

Another major element of eCommerce CRM has to do with online payments — in fact, some experts make the case that automated payments with CRM data are going to pave the way for a very new kind of buying experience in the near future.

The idea, in its most basic form, is that companies utilize stored CRM data to identify customers and facilitate transactions. If this is done the right way, it can expedite the shopping process. Shoppers are already seeing this type of technology on the market in the form of Amazon single click features and other  types of automated shopping transactions.

Many of these efforts start with storing the right payment support information in a CRM solution and tying it directly to a shopping cart or eCommerce gateway.  Designers can then figure out what to do with that information. This could mean mining the customer data so the company can send targeted ads or product offers to a specific customer’s device, or storing information to eliminate some of the busywork that customers traditionally have to do in an eCommerce shopping cart.

Other eCommerce CRM Features

Additional CRM eCommerce tools look at customer demographics and build target audiences. A company will typically try to mine CRM data to figure out who has the most interesting new products and services, and how to approach a specific group of customers online.

To this end, some companies utilize CRM systems that deal with customer feedback — the customer feedback enters the system, either in relation to a web form or survey, or as paper data that gets manually input. The company then uses that feedback to target customers through the CRM platform.

All of these types of functionality show how customer relationship management can support eCommerce and online sales. Companies should look for vendor options that fit the size and operational needs of its business. It’s imperative that businesses, especially small businesses, do their due diligence so they choose a CRM that serves their best interests.

Social and Mobile CRMs

Here’s something you may not know: social and mobile CRM applications can be just as important as your regular CRM software. Social and mobile CRM solutions are both specialized CRM platforms that come in the form of modules, extensions and integrations for your regular CRM. They add powerful capabilities to your CRM strategy, creating a more dynamic product.  Rather than focusing exclusively on sales, you can also be proactive in your customer engagement efforts.  And instead of being stuck on your laptop, you can take your CRM system with you everywhere you go.  Let’s dive a little deeper into these customer service-boosting modules:

What is a Social CRM?

Now here’s something you probably know: social media is huge today.  It allows customers to engage in conversations about brands.  More importantly for brands, it allows brands to engage in conversations with their customers.  The problem with standalone CRMs is that they focus on tracking sales data, rather than simplifying engagement.  Richard Hughes wrote in his article in CRMSearch that “Most CRM systems today are very much designed to help a company manage their customers, but they do very little to help engage them.”  That’s where social CRM platforms come in: they bridge the gap between your CRM software and your social media presence.  More relevant for your marketers, they enhance and simplify customer engagement.

Do You Need Separate Social CRM Software?

Here’s the first big question: should you start looking for a separate social CRM solution?  After all, we stated its importance two paragraphs ago.  So why wouldn’t you Google (or Bing — we don’t judge) “social CRM vendors” right now?

You can probably hold off on that search because you probably already have a CRM solution.  And these days, most have a social CRM module built-in or have a module available to add-on.  Rarely will you find a truly “standalone CRM,” as the market has increased its demand for more powerful features.  In fact, Salesforce, Oracle, Sage, Infor and Microsoft Dynamics all have social CRM modules.  That said, if you don’t have a CRM (for shame – you need one) or your vendor doesn’t have a module, you’ll want to look for social CRM software.

What is a Mobile CRM?

Just to really hammer home the point, here’s one more thing you already know: mobile devices are huge.  Not the devices themselves, but their popularity.  People take their devices with them everywhere, and use them for seemingly everything.  No longer are phones and tablets just for entertainment; they’ve become essential business tools.

Mobile CRMs let sales teams work on the go, making it easier for them to stay on top of their work.  A study by Innoppl Technologies found that 65% of sales reps using mobile CRMs achieved their sales quota.  This is opposed to only 22% of those not using mobile CRMs reaching their quota.  Think about it: with a few taps and swipes, you can receive and post updates on customers and leads.  What a time to be alive!

Do You Need Separate Mobile CRM Software?

Now, here’s the second big question: should you start looking for a separate mobile CRM app?  As we mentioned, it’s a necessary CRM strategy these days.  But the short answer is, just like for social CRM, probably not.

The five popular CRM systems we listed above provide their own mobile apps, extending their CRM to your mobile device.  Available for iPhone and Android, these mobile CRM apps let you access customer service data anywhere.  With the popularity of business mobile apps, chances are your vendor has a mobile CRM solution in place.  If not, however, you can look at integrating a mobile-only vendor to enhance your CRM capabilities.

You can exponentially better your CRM strategy by using social and mobile CRM applications.  Ask your vendor if they have modules available, and add them to your system if they’re not already included.  One last thing you probably know: your customer relationship management will never be the same.

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CRM Lead Management

In recent years, the CRM industry has grown and there are software solutions to suit all needs. Whether you’re a bakery, a high street retailer, or an insurance provider, you’ve now got the tools to capture leads and guide them through your conversion funnel.

The question is: how different are lead management and CRM solutions? They’re both popular ways to increase productivity and customer retention, but what roles do they play? And more importantly: does your current CRM system already cover lead management requirements?

The Truth about CRM Lead Management Software

To understand the importance of CRM lead management tools, it’s necessary to know how and why they differ from traditional CRM software. While the two are closely related (lead management is, in many ways, a component of CRM), the former deals with potential customers.

It focuses on capturing and retaining leads until they officially become customers, with a purchase, subscription, or other interaction to their name. So, in simple terms, lead management software brings in the leads and turns them into a profitable entity.

This is the point at which your CRM solutions take over, but it’s really important that this first step goes smoothly. Lead management software is an investment which all businesses should consider as a way to optimize their marketing automation and sales toolkits.

What It Does, What It Offers, and What Will Happen

Lead management tools are responsible for collecting and developing the leads that will eventually become your customer base. This means that they are the first step on the road to sales. Crucially, this software is able to identify leads which are most likely to end in conversions.

It is a big asset for businesses because it produces a very clear plan of action. If you know which leads offer attainable value, you can invest more time and money on developing these particular prospects. You can ‘bet’ your marketing capital on safer candidates.

To achieve this, lead management software mines data from multiple sources. Sometimes, it uses direct mailing or email marketing lists. Other times, it extracts information from customer databases or even social media platforms.

Once it has access to the right data stores, it analyses the information, segments valuable customer identifiers, and produces a set of qualified leads. Not only does it do this with more accuracy than a traditional sales team can, it also does it at speed.

The objective is to try and identify leads which match your blueprint of the ‘perfect customer.’ What the ideal customer looks like will, of course, depend on your product and brand narrative, so you’ve got to integrate the software with your marketing strategies.

The Main Benefits of Using Lead Management Tools

The biggest benefit of CRM lead management software is the accelerated and optimized use of corporate intelligence. In other words, it makes sure that all of that customer data you collect actually gets utilized in a valuable way.

It is so common these days for businesses to gather data just because they can since it has never been easier to access personal details about consumers. Yet, it’s a major waste of time if mailing lists, web forms, and social media platforms always collect and never deliver.

With the right lead management tools, this information becomes a valuable asset and it contributes to profit and conversion margins. Though they are a vital part of CRM systems, they offer something which conventional customer relationship management resources do not.

They tell your business who is worth your money and attention, based on their likelihood of becoming a paying customer. It is the ideal opportunity to minimize waste and make sure that you’re developing the right areas of the target market.

For this reason, a robust lead management policy can end up saving you a lot of cash. When you can distinguish ‘might buy’ from ‘definitely will buy,’ there is substantially less risk and a higher hit rate when it comes to sales.

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Selecting the Right Specialized CRM

There are plenty of specialized CRM tools to choose from, but you’ve got to pick a product that suits your needs. It all starts with assessing your CRM needs, and taking the time to think about what kind of specialization you need, and if specialization is even worth it. Never rush that decision, ask plenty of questions, and keep the overarching goal in mind: building up a strong customer base.

If you work in a niche industry, it could be worth doing some research on slightly smaller providers. Generally, this is a very fertile industry. While some companies aren’t as well known, it doesn’t mean their software isn’t every bit as effective as a mainstream solution.

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