Not only for salespeople: 10 ways to use a CRM system

We often hear that the Customer Relationship Management systems (CRM) have evolved. While true, the scope of this evolution is much broader than just receiving several fancy new features. In reality, CRMs have moved far beyond the sales tools. ‘C’ doesn't stand only for the ‘Customer’ anymore, while ‘Relationship Management’ plays the leading role. Because of the flexibility that today's CRMs have, they can be used for more tasks than were originally envisioned almost three decades ago. The abundance of features, appealing UI/UX, and a significantly lower price tag (for purchase, training, and maintenance) have turned the CRM systems into the jack of all trades.

In the 90's, the CRM systems were mostly used for sales: to contact existing customers, make them new offers relevant to their previous purchases and trying to provide a better customer support. Since then, the public eye has viewed CRMs just like that - a salesperson tool. While not completely false, today it's more of an aging stereotype.  

How universal is a CRM?

CRM systems have been helping companies to improve sales (and not only) for decades, remaining one of the most requested software pieces on the market totalling $26.3B in 2015. There's hardly a business that won't benefit from a counterpart's data presented in a clear fashion, workflows organised by stages, a unified up-to-date information for every employee, intelligent task lists and reminders, duplication search, personalised mass mailing and all of it in a single package.

If we strip away everything that makes CRM a sales-helper and look at its core, it essentially becomes a business process organisation tool and an actionable database. Once you learn to see beyond the common terms used in a CRM such as ‘lead’, ‘deal’ or ‘pipeline’, you'll understand what this software is all about. Let's get several things straight:  

  • Every business is a process
  • Most jobs are similar. They just name some things differently
  • Customisation makes wonders

Ready-made or custom?

If you want to implement a CRM for your company (and use it not only for sale purposes) you have two options:

1) Choose an industry-specific CRM. These are the systems that were build to facilitate the workflow in a certain type of business or activity. What's great about them is that you get not only a preset system but also an example or a best practice in your business. On the downside, they usually cost more than the following option. 

2) Go for a customisable CRM. Not to say that you can't change anything in an industry-specific CRM, but it's not the best idea to repurpose, let's say, an accounting system to manage emails. A more flexible CRM allows you to change almost everything about it, from structure to the naming conventions. This way you'll be able to transfer your actual workflow into the system, but you need to have a clear understanding of your business processes and their units.

If it's still difficult for you to imagine how a CRM system is applicable to your business, here are some examples of industries and processes which prove that a CRM is not only for sales.    

1. Marketing

First of all, marketing and sales are not the same. The main purpose of the marketing department is to bring in leads, which is the start of the sales pipeline. One of the most important requirement for a marketing automation system (MAS) is the possibility to segment leads, send personalised mass email and analyse the performance of the campaigns. Such MAS functionality is available by default or can be added to most CRMs.

Having the marketing and sales data in the same system is an effective way of cutting down on efforts on maintaining two different databases up-to-date and a possibility to pay for only one service instead of two. Also, having access to the unified data from the two sequential processes will give you a more complete look on the potential clients.

2. Customer support/bug tracking

There's a lot of happening happening on the other side of the sales pipeline. An effective customer support is a proven way for turning new clients into the recurring ones. When your clients need assistance with a purchased product, you already have an instant access to that client and product data (in case it's also stored inside the same CRM). This way, the customer support service can immediately react and provide the most adequate help. At the same time, the new data from the customer support department can become a basis for the future interactions of the sales team with the potential customers.

The same is true in case you're providing some software services: when your user submits a bug report, you might already have all of the data associated with that user and product at hands. Modern CRM systems are capable of generating support tickets from the user messages/emails and they are immediately available to the project manager and developers. Such bug reports and UI/UX improvement suggestions is something to take into consideration during the product development and improvement processes.

3. Project management

With the rise of the simple project management (PM) tools like Trello or Asana, you're probably wondering why should you use a CRM for the same purpose. Basically, for the reasons mentioned above: to collect your customer's data inside one system for the easier search, detailed insight and wider accessibility. Integrating PM software with a CRM is not an issue, but organising the same process natively inside a CRM is much more convenient (if the systems permits you to do so).

Kanban, agile, and sprints are the usual project management methods and they are easily replicable in most CRMs. A little rewiring, like treating leads as tasks, is almost all it takes to repurpose a sales pipeline into a project dashboard. While a client's record should not be treated as a task, you can create tasks and link them to the people who made the request, who's currently assigned to them and manage tasks in a drag-and-drop card-based UI.

4. Lawyers and legal firms

In the legal sphere, clients are not much different from the ones in sales. A centralised database of clients is of the highest importance for both a solo attorney and a big law firm. A CRM system can become the most effective management tool for a lawyer due to the possibility of managing client meetings and cases, storing case-related files and messages, and collaborating with assistants. This way, going to a meeting with a company's client, a newly assigned attorney can learn everything important about him since that client has first entered the doors of the firm.

Managing legal cases as the CRM records (similar to the project management) will give you an actionable dashboard with cases organised by dates, clients, preparation stage, etc. This is a convenient way of managing the lawyer's workload as well as coordinating their assistant's work in preparation for the hearings. Similar to the marketing segmentation capabilities, CRM lets you easily contact important client via mass email for organising meetings, sending announcements or inviting clients to the corporate events.

5. Retail

Unlike companies that provide mainly services, retail chains and stores can also use a CRM system for keeping the wares in order just as much as a customer database. Each record in a CRM can keep the details on a particular product, check its availability throughout outlets, simultaneously change prices and put the items on sale throughout the chain. The inventory-keeping aspect of a CRM will also let you analyse and build reports on the bestselling good and judge the performance of the clerks. This is most effective when combined with the point of sale (POS) solutions or plug-ins to implement a full sales and customer support cycle.

However, the customer management isn't less relevant in retail. On the contrary, the capabilities of the CRM systems allows to set up loyalty programs for turning new clients into the regulars. A unified customer database will tell your employees everything they need to know about the returning customers to add a personalised touch to their shopping experience. This may include special offers, complementary purchases or ensuring a warranty service if a customer has lost the receipt.

6. Recruiting and HR

Often your employees are even more vital to the company's success than all the leads you can get at the moment. As a Human Resources (HR) manager you can successfully be using an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) and an Employee Resource Management (ERM) system but a custom CRM will be no less effective and integral.

A CRM for HR allows you to select the best suited candidates from the range of current and past applicants by creating a database of potential employees. Upon hiring, a new recruit profile can be added to the general pool of employees, allowing project managers to select them for the tasks matching their skills. At the same time, leave management is made possible alongside the compensation and reward calculation from inside the same system. A self-service feature would give your employees an access to the company FAQs, let them fill in vacation requests and edit their personal info to keep it up-to-date. 

7. Blogging

One would argue that a CRM system is an overkill for a blogger, but it certainly has something to offer to the content creators. Organising posts and editorial connections using a spreadsheet might be enough, but if you want to juice up your blogging efforts, a CRM is here to help.

No matter how you look at it, writing is a complex process. The development of your post from idea to a new article, researches and multiple stages of writing can be successfully represented in form of a project going through the kanban-style plan. Yet, completing a post is just half a work. Submitting it to a new resource (especially for the guest posting) can be a lengthy procedure. If your tested and potential outlets are gathered in a CRM, they can be segmented by topics, sites rating, editors, and the history of your past interactions with them. This might give you a better result with publishing your work instead of just going for the sites that immediately come to your mind.

8. Healthcare

Most state and especially private clinics have already experienced the benefits of progress, so the days of paper charts might be coming to an end. Here you can use a CRM in two cases: 1) to manage patients' treatment and stay in touch with them or 2) to stay connected with the referring institutions and suppliers. With the first it's possible for the authorised personnel to access the patient records across different clinics and departments, gather test results and overlook the treatment progress. CRMs are effective for staying in touch with patients, either for reminding them about periodical check-ups or scheduling and confirming meetings via a built-in calendar that show doctors' available time slots.

Hospital management can also be facilitated with a centralised system. A coordination of staff is necessary when you're running urgent medical procedures and pulling up a patient's data with all flags and important data outlined. This saves both time and lives. Allocating available staff, exam rooms, and facilities can be done via a dashboard and arranging work with the suppliers is significantly easier when every vendor is only two clicks away.

9. Schools

It might be some time since you've last been to school, though it has changed a lot. No, the boring lessons and bullies are still there, but the administrative part has definitely improved. CRM can help schools during the whole cycle of a student's study, from managing the waiting list to keeping in touch with students even after the graduation. With a CRM system, schools and colleges can efficiently manage the admission process, track students’ progress, grades and course completion, reach out to their parents and manage teacher's schedule for the main course or tutoring. 

A digital approach to school management significantly reduces paperwork. When each class is represented as a CRM folder and every student has his or her data stored inside a structured record, generating academic progress reports becomes an effortless task and reaching out to the whole class becomes a matter of a single mass email.

10. Churches

It might seem odd to put clergymen in the same line with the salespeople. But once you give it a deeper though, you'll see why ministers can consider using a CRM system. A church members database is a godsend resource for a minister who wants to reach out to his tech-savvy congregation to make announcements, schedule events, check their attendance and connect people with a professional help or mentorship.

Not forgetting the financial aspect of any church, CRM is a convenient way of tracking donations, generating reports, and ordering church supplies. And just like in any other industry, a database of members is the best assistance that a new minister can get to engage with a new congregation.


A CRM system is a significantly more versatile tool than we've grown to believe. A wide variety of companies adapting the CRM systems to their needs only proves the necessity of knowing your business processes from the smallest components to an overarching goal. So no matter the industry you're in, there's almost certainly a way to move some of your business process (or even all of them) into what previously was a sales-only tool.

Victor Iryniuk, chief marketing officer, NetHunt CRM