Some might think automation stops at customer relationship management (CRM). It already works, right? It isn't broken, so don't fix it – in fact, don't touch it at all. However, there's a lot to be said for your trusty CRM getting a refit for 2021 – packing on a bit of robotic process automation (RPA) muscle and getting fit for a business landscape fraught with uncertainty and economic challenges.

But before we get stuck into the benefits of automation for this scenario, and before we get excited about how it can connect and improve siloed departments and increase customer retention, let's briefly look at why we use CRM in the first place.

The no-brainer of having CRM

If you're in business, it's good to have a CRM system. I'm guilty of understatement because it's imperative that you know who your buyers and sellers are, where they are and what they want to buy and sell. What well-oiled CRM does is increase your productivity, help you grow your business and get you out of the spreadsheets and laborious manual record keeping. It's a no-brainer for any self-respecting modern business.

Even old-school companies resistant to technological progress know the value of CRM. Many have been using a system since the 1950s, and many small businesses began to understand the value of using computers for CRM when they became more affordable in the 1970s. (Check out this interesting history of CRM.) But when CRM really hit the big time is when it went mobile, underpinned by the mighty cloud. These days, if you're not using cloud CRM to stay on top of your supply chain, you're not keeping up with the Joneses and may be missing out on the aforementioned benefits.

Yet, even super-powered 21st century CRM has room for improvement and this is where automation shuffles into the spotlight.

The trouble with success is that it makes you popular and the size of your CRM increases exponentially. It's a nice problem to have. Automation may already exist in your marketing pipeline for nurturing leads and analysing campaign data, but it may not be connected to the sales pipeline. For salespeople, the CRM is a time trap where data entry tasks eat into lunch. A 2019 HubSpot statistic reveals that salespeople spend just a third of their day talking to prospects. Imagine a world where your sales team are spending two thirds (or more) of their day talking to prospects because many of the humdrum data entry tasks are taken care of by robotic process automation linked to the marketing team's system.

The streamlining of the process of nurturing leads to become sales prospects can be handled by robust automation. By linking marketing and sales, you also reduce the friction and problems associated with siloed thinking. In other words, marketing and sales don't always communicate well, so using an automation-powered CRM that links the two departments could do all sorts of good for the business (such as increase customer retention!).

Automation helps you see other possibilities

When you minimise the amount of routine tasks you perform, you buy back valuable time. Whether you spare your marketing and sales teams the pain of logging emails, entering bags of data or tedious follow-ups, the benefits of automating these things outweigh anything else. And, as with so many RPA-inspired projects, when you embark on your automation journey, you begin to see other possibilities.

One smooth process often leads to another, and another, and before you know it you have calmed the choppy waters between marketing, sales and perhaps even service itself, where customers are empowered to self-serve through CRM-powered automated dashboards.

If you're already using a good cloud-powered CRM, could you be using it better? Could you be turning potential leads into solid prospects and eventually loyal customers with the help of automation? At the very least, could RPA make your marketing and sales teams happier and more productive? With more regular and accurate information to hand thanks to maintaining an automated central source of information, they may actually have time for lunch after all.

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