467113687CRM (customer relationship management) products have been around a long time, actually pre-dating the emergence of the web as a tool for business.

The first product in this category was ACT!, introduced in 1987 as a contact management system that allowed sales people to digitally store customer and lead information and use that information to generate rough sales projections based on lead qualifying and scoring.

Today, CRM products are adding more and more features borrowed from marketing automation products, while marketing automation products are similarly overlapping CRM product capabilities. So much so that it’s getting confusing to some decision-makers.

So maybe at some point in the process of learning more about what’s out there and what’s possible in the fields of marketing automation and CRM, as you were bringing information back to your organization to help your senior management team understand these complementary technologies, someone in a position of authority said “Hold on a minute! Don’t tell me we need both. Pick one. We’re either doing marketing automation or a CRM.”

Don’t fight it!

Now you have them just where you want them!

The reality is, if they had told you to come back with a recommended plan to implement both technologies and related strategies concurrently, you might have been prudent to turn the tables and say “Whoa, boy!” Because making the right decisions on both product types might be best served by starting with formulating your inbound marketing plan and the technology that supports it.

1) Start at the Beginning

Inbound marketing is about using search technology and content marketing to attract and nurture the best prospects. For most companies it represents a sea change in selling approach because for the first time leads are signaling to you that they’re interested, and they’re giving you specific direction on what they’re interested in, and why.

2) Reinvent Your Sales Process

Think about that. For the first time your selling strategy can be driven by segmentation of prospects based on the interest areas and pain point information they volunteer to share. As you nurture their interest and encourage a relationship to begin, their content path will continually inform your sales path on a discrete, real-time basis. In the end you’ll be creating a selling process that has you spending more time closing and less time prospecting.

3) Think of it as an "LRM"

What you may discover as you deconstruct and retool your sales process is that Lead Relationship Management may be far more valuable toward achieving your goals than Customer Relationship Management, and so the CRM product you buy should reflect that emphasis.

Because instead of tracking purchases and direct communications and interactions, you’ll want to track their online engagement with your website, your social media sites, and the attitudinal and situational information they offer in exchange for the relevant content they get from you.

And your lead scoring that used to be all based on who they were can now be driven as much by what they’re thinking and the urgency they feel and express.

4) Choose a CRM That Fits and Plays Nice

After you know where you’re going and how you’ll do it with a marketing automation product that gives you what you need, start looking for a CRM product that will provide all the capabilities you need, and won’t force you to buy stuff you already have or don’t really need. Most importantly, find a product that integrates seamlessly with your marketing automation so 1 + 1 = 3 instead of... some fraction like 1.6.

The CRM leaders generally integrate with the most popular marketing automation products. For some of the simpler (and less expensive) CRM products, you may need to buy or license an API (application programming interface) that allows the products to work together.

Now you’re ready for their challenges. Remember, the most important thing is to start. Inbound marketing is an approach that allows and requires rapid learning and quick course correction. But you can’t do that if you’re still on the sideline thinking about it.

This post originally appeared on the Weidert Group's Whole Brain Marketing Blog. The Weidert Group is a HubSpot Partner Agency located in Appleton, WI.

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Originally published Apr 7, 2014 10:00:00 AM, updated October 20 2016

Topics:

Inbound Marketing