Using CRM Systems in Unique Ways

The primary use case for a CRM system is, of course, to manage customer relationships. Most programs that exist today are optimized for performance in this space: essentials like tools for tracking sales and integration with common marketing software tend to squeeze customer relationship management software towards a very narrow function within the overall needs of a business.

But don’t let this fact constrain your thinking on how CRM software can be used. Just because it has a specific area where its strategies excel doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to use the software to your advantage. Using your CRM system for purposes beyond contact data storage and staying abreast of customer needs can help your business stay on top of relationships that matter. Most CRM programs have grown beyond mere contact management and sales tracking.

If you operate in a field that doesn’t deal with customers directly, but that forms other types of relationships instead, you can still use CRM software to keep track of — and foster — those connections.

Oft Neglected CRM System Features

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the most basic and fundamental features of your CRM system, but getting the most of your investment requires looking at everything. Make sure to leave nothing on the table by acquainting yourself with these core CRM software features. If your system integrates with other programs, like Outlook, make sure you understand the scope of these auxiliary workspaces as well.

Scheduling and Alerts

While the primary function that people associate with a CRM system is the ability to store and maintain contacts, the role of alerts and tracking shouldn’t be underestimated. A good CRM program will do more than help you keep track of emails. It will also notify your sales team when a customer or client takes very specific actions, or allow you to set up reminders of key dates related to major deals or milestones in your specific pipeline.

Judicious use of this feature is something that can really take your CRM strategy to the next level. Context-sensitive alerts can ease the burden of scattered notes, calendars, day planners, and other disparate organizational tools used throughout your sales team. The swift responsiveness that alerts like these cultivate can make customers feel extremely valued and, ultimately, much more satisfied in their experiences with your company.

These alerts can also remind your team when something hasn’t been done. Has a customer not received a follow-up email in more than a month? Are there orders sitting in the warehouse unshipped? By using your CRM system to create simple reminders for your team, you can stop things from ever slipping through the cracks again. But don’t overwhelm a team with these alerts–make sure that they are only targeted at the employees who have the power to do something about them. Like all powerful tools, CRM scheduling and alert tools need to be used sparingly, but efficiently.

File Sharing and Attachment

Lots of CRM programs also let you attach files or notes to specific accounts or profiles, allowing you to keep better track of important customer documents and other aspects of the communication process. Some things you can do with the file attachment and sharing features of a CRM include:

  • Keep all documents, orders, and contracts sent or signed by a customer in one easy-to-reach place.
  • Maintain a repository of unchanging forms and documentation, like tax information.
  • Put relevant analytics data and other supporting documents in a place where they will actually get visibility.
  • Provide easy access to any of this data for mobile users of the CRM program, who may not have access to some other features that generate this data in the mobile version.

Though it is a small feature, the power of file sharing and maintenance in CRM systems cannot be underestimated. Use this to tease that extra little bit of responsiveness and easy data access out of this already-powerful platform. If you have remote teams, this is especially important to maintain. Remember to set up appropriate permissions for any sensitive data, however.

Alternative Fields and Use Cases

It’s not just business transactions that can use CRM to improve communication and build better relationships. Other sectors, and even other segments of a business not normally associated with CRM, can use these systems to store data more efficiently, distribute that data faster, and experience more team fluidity.


Just because you aren’t a business and don’t have “customers” doesn’t mean you can’t use CRM programs to improve your performance. Just like businesses, nonprofits need to cultivate operating surpluses. Nonprofit organizations need to maintain strong relationships with key donors, or those operating surpluses will dry up in short order.

A CRM program can help. You can keep track of the data you gather on potential donors, track donations, and keep detailed records of past correspondence. You can also use it to reach out to those who have donated in the past and even track trends in donations. Do donors respond better to some campaigns than others? Are there specific events that draw big numbers from donors every time? With a strong CRM system, you can track and act on the results of major fundraising initiatives with a minimum amount of fuss.

You can also associate other important metrics, such as participation and volunteer history, with entries in the CRM system. This lets you move your outreach efforts toward those who will be most favorably disposed to them. You can target only those who have donated large amounts in the past, or who have volunteered with your organization, with specific outreach messages that focus on their unique history with your cause. This can lower your administrative costs and extend the value of the money you spend on outreach, ultimately bringing in a larger operating surplus.


Smart recruits are a lot like good customers. You need to spend a fair amount of time getting to know them and building a good relationship. You want to have their information available at a glance, rather than rooting through dozens of emails. You should have an easy means of contacting your potential recruits, both as individuals and as groups.

CRM systems provide all of these things. While not all features in a CRM suite are necessary for the recruiting process, things like email integration can go a long way toward easing the burden of a search. Some companies even offer specific recruitment CRM packages or applicant tracking software (ATS), while others offer an integrated approach that does both. The best choice for you depends on your specific recruiting situation.

Schools, Governments, and Other Public Institutions

Many CRM providers offer specialized implementations for governments, schools, and other institutions with specific data management needs. The needs of public institutions differ significantly from other organizations, and “one-size-fits-all” CRM solutions rarely suit these groups.

If you represent one of these organizations and are looking for a CRM system, keep data security and interoperability in mind. You will most likely need other organizations, such as other schools in your system or other government institutions, to be able to access data quickly and securely. Keep an eye out for features that support this when shopping for CRM software, or consider an implementation optimized for government use.


Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) has driven the costs of using a CRM system way down, and freelancers whose budgets never would have been able to handle it before can now make use of CRM programs. The unique nature of freelancing makes it a natural fit for a CRM program as well, tracking long-term relationships at the touch of a button.

Unlike many of the other alternative organizations and departments that can use CRM mentioned here, however, freelancers don’t need much. Simple contact management and account tracking are the most important aspects of freelance CRM use. A freelancer looking for a new CRM program should be a little wary of getting upsold or cross-sold more things than are strictly necessary for their small operations to thrive.

CRM Is More Than a Buzzword

While the scope and expense of a CRM program has left it associated primarily with larger businesses and simple features, both the user base and the quality of CRM programs has grown. Organizations that once relied on stacks of notes and business cards can now enjoy many of the benefits that larger or more profit-oriented institutions have for years.

CRM has come a long way from simple contact storage. As a result of its origins, however, many don’t notice the new features that have come into play, or take them for granted. These features can go a long way toward making sure a business gets the most out of its CRM investment.

What features have you been able to get good use out of? Have you used a CRM program for an unorthodox purpose? Are you part of a nonprofit that uses a CRM system to track donors? We’d love to hear your stories.

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