By John Cheney, CEO at Workbooks

At its most primitive, online CRM software is used as an unsophisticated way of recording customer data. At its most sophisticated, CRM is placed at the heart of the corporate growth model and helps determine key areas of business expansion, exploit multi-channel marketing, manage third-party agencies and justify expenditure with clear ROI.

Organisations should stop banging their heads against the cave wall and ensure their marketing moves forward into the 21st Century and beyond by going through the five evolutionary ages of CRM:

• The First Age of CRM: Marketers build a detailed, accurate and complete database of customers and prospects. By analysing transaction data, lapsed customers, top-selling products and customer profiles, they will understand the total lifetime cost and value of each customer.

• The Second Age of CRM: By using marketing automation tools, intelligent email marketing and tailored landing pages with targeted calls to action, in combination with accurate customer profiles, they can improve lead flow and conversion rates.

• The Third Age of CRM: Marketers use the CRM system effectively to close the loop between marketing and sales and transform the effectiveness of lead generation and sales conversion. Leads should be followed up on or marked with a ‘qualified out reason’ to refine lead generation programmes.

• The Fourth Age of CRM: A company-wide CRM commitment creates a better understanding between sales and marketing. This means ensuring the right level of user training to ensure everyone knows how to get the most out of the system.

• The Fifth Age of CRM: Marketers truly come of age and are free to explore new channels such as social media to improve brand awareness and generate new leads. The same metrics management should be embedded to ensure qualified sales opportunities regardless of online channel.