What is CRM? Customer Relationship Management: The Complete Guide

What is CRM

CRM: A definition

What is customer relationship management and how should you choose the right CRM solution for your business?

‘Customer relationship management’ or ‘CRM’ for short, refers to the technology and processes that an organization uses to manage its contacts and relationships, both external and internal, such as:

  1. Email subscribers
  2. Sales leads
  3. Sales opportunities
  4. Customers
  5. Advocates
  6. Employees

Don’t be fooled by the word ‘customers’ in the term: although one goal is to use this customer data to build and strengthen relationships, CRM can also be used to manage relationships with individuals at all touchpoints.

The practice of customer relationship management includes not only guidelines for how direct interactions take place, but also CRM tools for organising and tracking all the relevant information you need to find prospects, nurture leads, close deals and retain customers, build stronger relationships, increase sales, create more personalized customer service and, overall, make processes more efficient.

Internally, a CRM can help salespeople automate their sales activities and managers track their team’s performance. With a CRM, you’ll know when to reach out to your sales leads, what to say and how to say it.

The topic of customer relationship management and the challenge of selecting the right CRM system for your business can be intimidating.

We want to explain customer relationship management and help you understand how CRM software can help you build a foundation for sustainable business growth.

The basics and benefits of CRM

Here we’ll run through how CRM platforms work and the benefits of adopting one in your organization.

CRM strategy, technology and how they work together

Before going into the tangible benefits of a CRM tool, it’s important to understand the difference between CRM technology and CRM strategy.

In summary, the key difference is this:

  1. CRM Technology: Acts as a central platform where primarily customer data can be organized, used, securely shared and acquired. It provides functionality for pipeline management and reporting, as well as the ability to communicate and track all touchpoints with your contacts.

  2. CRM Strategy: These are the processes that organizations put in place to standardize and optimize the way CRM technology is used.

To best utilize CRM technology, you need a customer-centric strategy. However, this strategy should be enabled by the technology, not the other way around.

Your CRM shouldn’t be seen as a tactical advantage. The most successful organizations use their CRM as a strategic function across all areas of the business. This further helps to break down the barriers between sales, marketing and customer success teams.

So, how do you define, integrate and execute a CRM strategy?

Start by taking a broad view across all functions of the organization. This means sales and marketing, as well as other departments such as customer success, fulfillment, product teams and technical support.

This also requires an evaluation of other technologies used within the organization, and how they will contribute to the CRM strategy. Platforms around business intelligence, marketing automation and e-commerce platforms should all be evaluated.

Here’s a simple, four step evaluation process for laying the foundations of your CRM strategy:

1. Identify internal challenges

Look for any bottlenecks and hurdles that your customer may have when buying from you. Similarly, identify areas that make it difficult for your team to communicate with prospects and customers.

2. Map the customer journey

Document how your prospects find you, interact with your brand and consume your content. Your sales process should work alongside the customer journey and guide your customers to where they need to go.

3. Define your metrics

Start by setting benchmarks for your current sales results. From here, you can identify the sales activities that will improve these KPIs.

4. Business milestones

When adopting a new CRM, be aware of any product launches and events that you’ll need to work around. Make sure these are noted in order to avoid technical hiccups.

Bringing your CRM strategy together

With this preparation complete, you’ll see how much work is required to implement your new CRM platform and processes. This will all depend on your existing processes and systems.

When creating your CRM strategy, include the following principles:

  • Vision: What will CRM integration look like across all departments?
  • Culture: Is the organization primed for a customer-driven sales process?
  • Journey: A well-documented map of the customer experience.
  • Education: Create training material for internal teams and any third-parties involved.
  • Communication: How will progress and documentation be shared?
  • Leadership: Who is leading the charge? Which responsibilities lie with which team members?
  • Value: How will the benefits of this CRM strategy and technology be communicated?
  • Technology: An overview of the selected vendor platform and why it was chosen.
  • Implementation: A documented plan of how technology and new processes will be implemented.
  • Success: How will you know when the strategy has been implemented? Which KPIs will be measured?

Your CRM strategy must rely on data and communication to be implemented effectively. It all starts with understanding the customer journey.

From here, your CRM processes must work to enhance this journey.

The strategy must also empower your sales teams.

By creating a CRM strategy that helps the customer get what they want, you’re more likely to see better results from your sales activities.

How CRM technology enhances sales processes

You now know how CRM platforms enable sales processes, and that this is the first step to successful CRM implementation. Now it’s time to look at how that happens.

This means investigating the human-driven aspects of CRM, and how they work from the perspective of sales managers and sales development reps.

As you’ll learn in the next section, automation is one of the biggest benefits a CRM platform can bring.

Instead of manually executing tasks such as outreach, follow-up and qualification, CRM platforms can help you automate these menial tasks. This allows sales reps to focus on the activities that bring the most impact.

This level of automation can benefit other areas of the business. For example, marketing can contribute to qualification through lead scoring. Every time a lead interacts with your brand, their score increases. Once a certain threshold is reached, that lead will go from a “marketing qualified lead” (MQL) to a “sales qualified lead” (SQL).

This is the perfect time to evaluate which stages of your sales funnel are making the biggest impact.

Talk to customers who have closed in the last three to six months. Ask them what they found most valuable during their communications with you. Find out what they didn’t find of value.

Customer interviews and surveys can shine a light on high-impact processes. These are the areas to be automated and optimized.

The role of CRM technology

In this section, we’re going to take an in-depth look at CRM technologies.

You’ll learn which features you should prioritize, how to communicate to senior decision makers and persuade key stakeholders, and the selection process to find a vendor that’s right for you.

Why you should invest in a CRM platform

There are several reasons to invest in CRM, and we’ll take a look at each in depth to help you fully understand the importance of adopting a good CRM platform.

Everyone makes mistakes

Do you remember every key piece of information from customer interactions and meetings? It’s highly unlikely, and even if you kept written notes, they’re liable to go missing.

Don’t rely on memory alone. Use CRM technology to store key information on your conversations. Train your sales teams to enter this information as soon as they’ve ended a call or meeting.

Not only does this lead to more efficient sales and follow-up processes, it means more data for you and your teams to collect in the long-term.

Monitor key metrics

Without a CRM platform in place, you probably have multiple Excel spreadsheets set up for customer communications, sales numbers and deal tracking.

It’s good to keep track of these things, but having everything in silos can cause miscommunication between team members. Not only that, it’s also far more difficult to yield useful insights from those numbers.

With a CRM platform, all of your sales, marketing and communications data is in one place. This will allow you to create more accurate sales forecasts and create a sales process built on a predictable revenue model.

Keeping data secure

Another downside to having spreadsheets containing your data is that it’s insecure. Furthermore, if you lose that data or files become corrupted, it’s hard to retrieve.

With GDPR rules in place since 2018, you could now face serious legal ramifications for not keeping customer data secure.

Some CRM platforms are GDPR compliant out of the box, including Pipedrive, which means you don’t need to worry about the safety of your data. Everything is stored in the cloud on secure servers, meaning your data is usually safer and more secure than it would be sitting on your local computer.

Collaboration across the business

Another downside to having disorganized customer data is how difficult it can be to work with other teams. Everyone has their own way of doing things, and the same data can often be duplicated in several places.

By bringing the entire organization to a single platform, there’s one standard way of doing things and one home for the same data. Marketing can see which channels are generating leads, while sales can access that historical data to fuel their sales communications.

Better customer service

The benefits above extend to how you interact and delight your customers. As all interactions are recorded in the same place, customer service teams can see a historical view of a customer’s relationship with your brand.

This insight allows customer service reps to personalize their interactions. For example, let’s say an individual is more likely to talk to the sales team over the phone; seeing this in the CRM, a customer service rep knows to schedule in a call rather than try to chat over email.

CRM benefits for the entire organization

When talking about CRM, most people think of sales, but the benefits can extend to every inch of the business.

Why? Because it’s a tool for enhancing the entire customer experience, not just increasing sales performance.

As Graham Hawkins from Sales Tribe puts it, your CRM must empower you to serve your customers:

“In order to actually ‘manage the customer relationship’ the CRM should be delivering a whole lot more around Customer Success metrics. That is, data and information about the buyer and their current business problems. Collating and synthesizing customer data is now easy, however we live in a world where buyers expect you to:

  • Know them
  • Personalize every engagement
  • Teach them
  • Anticipate their needs

“Against that backdrop the CRM must focus on providing vendors with better intelligence on buyer intent data, customer health, trigger events and share of social voice.”

If your business has customers, it can benefit from a CRM. Here are just a few CRM supporters:

  • Top business schools such as Wharton teach entire courses on CRM
  • Business sites like Harvard Business Review cover CRM from every possible angle
  • The U.S. government’s Small Business Administration sponsors events on CRM
  • Even the International Labor Organization studies and recommends CRM

Here’s how a CRM can benefit your entire organization:

Convert the right customers

Marketing captures leads and passes them to sales. But without a system in place, it’s hard to keep track of opportunities and follow-up activity.

A good CRM platform helps you track all sales activities. Every lead can be tracked, assigned and followed along the sales pipeline.

Attract the best customers

As you collect more data on your leads and customers, you can define who the best customers are. Use this insight to work with marketing teams in order to find more of those ideal customers.

Build bulletproof relationships

Within each target account are individuals. These are the people who will ultimately buy from you. Furthermore, these individuals have their own set of challenges to overcome. Use your CRM platform to understand:

  1. Past communications and previous touch-points
  2. Their goals and challenges
  3. The hyper-personalized messaging that will resonate with them
  4. Which products, services and packages they’ve invested in
  5. When to communicate with them so it matters the most

Stronger sales ROI

While customer acquisition is key for business growth, nothing beats retention. Upselling and offering new products and services to existing customers can help balance the costs of acquiring new ones. Look for opportunities to renew and add more value to your customers.

More productive employees

CRM and marketing automation platforms can help free up teams from repetitive tasks. Instead of manually following processes, CRM platforms can automate your workflows and the most common activities, giving reps more time to focus on high-impact work.

Delight your customers

Your customer service teams work tirelessly to bring the best service to your customers. CRM technology can make this level of service even easier. By having a map of the customer’s journey in front of them, customer service reps can provide highly personalized and fast service.

Better customer retention

Understanding each customer relationship allows you to reach out when it matters most, build strong customer relationships and take action when signals show that a customer may churn.

Use CRM processes to automate these touchpoints and CRM data to personalize the messages you send.

More streamlined customer experience

Executives are used to managing their employees, but they often leave it up to salespeople to manage their relationships with customers and contacts—whether these leads are individuals (in B2C) or other businesses (in B2B). This means there may be multiple ways of operating at the same company.

Adopting a CRM solution and integrating it into as many teams in your company helps change that.

It will create a more streamlined experience for customers as they move through the funnel, as different teams using the same tool will have access to the same customer data.

CRM Technology

Crucial CRM features to look for

Not all CRM tools are created equal.

Some will provide a “lite” platform, offering an affordable solution at the expense of business-critical features.

Others will come at an extortionate price, offering clunky features and a confusing user experience.

When evaluating CRM systems, make sure they include the functionality to help your salespeople do their jobs.

So, how do you choose the right customer relationship management software to benefit your business? These are the features you should look out for.

Pipeline management

Your sales pipeline is the lifeblood of your organization. It helps you measure where opportunities are in the sales lifecycle and where the bottlenecks are. It also helps you accurately create sales forecasts.

So, what exactly is a sales pipeline? Simply put, it’s a visual overview of where each prospect is in the sales cycle.

They show you how many deals are expected to close in a specific week or month. It also provides insights into how close each of your reps are to hitting their quota.

With each stage of the sales pipeline mapped out, you can improve and optimize the sales activities that help them move along. For example, if there’s a higher-than-average lose rate between the proposal and negotiation stages, you can work with your team to try new approaches that improve those close rates.

The key to Pipedrive’s easy-to-use layout is the pipeline approach to sales. Simply label your sales stages, add deals and drag them from one sales stage to the next.

Pipedrive sales dashboard

Great pipeline management should give you a clear visual interface that empowers reps to take the right action. Here’s what it must do:

  • Help you act with clarity: Each pipeline must be segmented by deal stage, which allows your reps to prioritize their activities accordingly.

  • Provide useful statistics: Find the right metrics easily and quickly answer the right questions and identify which stages need improvement.

  • Fully customizable: All sales processes are different, so your CRM must allow you to tailor pipeline management features to fit your needs.

  • Be intuitive: It should be easy to add new deals and contacts, and move them along the pipeline with a drag-and-drop interface.

Email integration

Tracking and keeping on top of emails can be stressful. Again, with your data and email correspondence in several places, managing prospect touchpoints can be tough.

Which is why the best CRMs have email functionality baked into the platform. Simply integrate with your Gmail, Outlook or SMTP accounts, and you can send emails and schedule follow-ups on the fly.

Pipedrive deal view

Here are the email features to look out for when evaluating CRMs:

  • Email inbox: Email management tools that sync with your email inbox and include email tracking and email templates that can be used on the fly. 

  • Customizable templates: Create outreach and follow-up templates that can be inserted and customized straight from your CRM, including customizable signatures to add value to your recipients.

  • Schedule activities: Update contact information and schedule activities without having to leave your email threads, such as by moving deals along the sales pipeline.

  • Advanced tracking: Know when a lead has opened an email, clicked a link or viewed an attachment, and use these triggers as signals to take action.

Email is the central nervous system of your sales communication. Be more productive by using the tools that make outreach and following-up easier.

Activity management

Your pipeline is the main stage, and sales activities are what runs in the background. The sales activities that contribute to deal flow are what makes or breaks success.

Your sales activities are manageable. These are the things you can control the most. While revenue growth is a key goal, it’s largely uncontrollable. But you can control what you do to reach those goals.

These activities include phone calls, follow-up emails and meetings scheduled. These are all things that your reps have control over. As a sales manager, this is what you should be helping them to become better at.

Activity management functionality makes this much easier to keep on top of.

Pipedrive activities view

Look out for the following activity management features:

  • Activity scheduling: Attach activities at a deal, contact or organizational level, and then view these activities in your calendar or on a to-do list.

  • Assign activities: Make sure the right reps are working on the right activities by assigning specific activities to a rep who has more experience selling to an organization.

  • Customize activity types: Just as with deals, the right activities will vary from organization to organization. Most good CRM platforms come with basic activity tracking out of the box, but should also allow you to add your own.
  • Reminders: You should have a clear view of which activities are due (and overdue). Furthermore, you should have the option to receive reminders or notifications to let you know when critical activities need completing.

Contact management

The purpose of a CRM is to help you manage customer relationships. So it only makes sense that the best CRM platforms give you as much insight on your customers as possible.

This includes details on their organization, contact details, email tracking (email opens etc.) and a communication timeline.

Pipedrive contact view

Even better, great CRM platforms can feed in contact data from other sources, such as LinkedIn and other social platforms. This data enrichment can provide you with a huge number of insights with very little work. You can then use this insight to personalize your prospect interactions.

Furthermore, you should be able to schedule sales activities, assign contacts to reps and send emails directly from the contact screen. Make sure you choose a CRM that provides you with as much contact insight as possible.

Sales reporting

With all the data available to you, your CRM should show you what you need to do with it. Sales reporting should help you answer the biggest questions. These can include why certain reps outperform others, as well as whether or not you’re on track to hit your annual target.

Great sales managers should know how many touchpoints and activities it takes to close a deal. You should also know how long deals take to close, as well as where certain bottlenecks lie.

Getting these insights isn’t a guessing game, which is why your CRM should provide you ample reporting features to help you get the best insights from your sales efforts.

A live sales dashboard will give you real-time insights on deal statuses and rep performance. These are the key features to look for:

  • Visual dashboards: The best sales dashboards are simple and provide a snapshot of your most valuable information. Find a CRM that makes sales data easy to digest.

  • Customizable reports: Focus on the metrics that matter most. Whether you want to see how many open deals there are stage-by-stage or across a specific time period, your CRM should give you the insight you need.

  • Categorize by product: You should also be able to see reports based on sales performance across specific products and services, including volume and discount amounts.

Not only does this make sales management more efficient, but you can also gamify your sales organization. Reps often love a little competition, so make your reports a central part of your leadership strategy.

Sales forecasting

Having a sales forecasting tool helps automate much of the sales management process.

It can help your reps keep on track without you having to breathe down their necks. Which lets them get on with what they do best: selling.

A good forecasting tool should enable reps to figure out which activities and deals to focus their efforts on. Not only that, it should also stop any last-minute surprises from crawling out of the woodwork.

sales revenue forecast

Here’s what to look for in a sales forecasting tool:

  • Ongoing deal view: See the total value of your ongoing deals and organize based on estimated close dates.

  • Customization: Tailor your forecasting views based on the dates and metrics that matter most to you.

The vendor selection process

Understand your requirements before selecting a CRM platform, so you know what will work for you and your organization’s needs.

Select a platform that will fit your sales organization structure and help you reach your goals.

Here, we’ll outline the vendor criteria and selection workflow. By following each step, you’ll be in a position to choose the right platform.

This isn’t a process to skip: selecting the wrong vendor can be an expensive and time-consuming process to fix, so choose wisely.

A primer on The CRM evaluation process

Before you can document your requirements and shortlist vendors, you must conduct some preliminary research.

This is a method of “soft research” that helps you measure the overall CRM landscape. Here are the categories to familiarize yourself with:

  1. Business Function: Many CRM platforms are tailored to specific business categories, roles and functions. Your choice of CRM will depend on company size, structure and principles. For example, do you value agile and cloud-based systems or is it less of a priority?

  2. Costs: Get an understanding of the costing structure and typical pricing for each CRM platform you’re evaluating. Some may charge per user, while others add compulsory add-ons such as onboarding and data importing

  3. Data Quality: How does each CRM handle customer data? Do they help with opportunity prioritization, and are there any data enrichment features to help with your personalization efforts?

  4. Brand: How familiar are you with your CRM of choice? Do they have a good reputation in the space? Measure up their klout, user reviews (check out G2Crowd) and the value they deliver in their content.

  5. Customization: How flexible does your CRM need to be? This will depend on the sales processes you build around your organization. We’ll cover processes in greater depth in the next section

  6. Migration: Even if you’ve never used a CRM platform, you must work out how easy or time-consuming it will be to move your existing data into the new platform

  7. Scale: If you have aggressive growth plans, you’ll need systems that can handle it. Even if you’re starting as a small, boutique company, you should consider how easy it is to scale as your business growth goals evolve.

  8. Integration: It’s likely you’re using several other systems that will need to communicate with your customer relationship data. Customer support and marketing automation platforms are two of the most common. So, how well do the solutions you’re evaluating integrate into these existing systems?

Use this checklist as a quick criteria to fully understand the CRM space. Even if you record this information in a notebook, it will help you get a bigger picture of the landscape.

Step 1: Create a requirements document

When evaluating CRM platforms, it’s best to reverse engineer and find a fit for your goals.

In other words, first decide what you want to achieve and what your chosen CRM must empower your sales teams to do. Then, work backwards to find a CRM or technology stack that helps you achieve those goals.

Documentation should start with a simple statement that summarizes what you wish to achieve. For example:

“Our chosen CRM must help my organization to track and prioritize sales opportunities, streamline and personalize outreach activities at scale, and provide ample reporting to provide insights at all levels of the business.”

With this defined, you can create a tailored checklist of features and requirements.

Earlier, you learned about the fundamental features all CRM platforms should offer. Use this list to create a checklist of feature requirements. For example:

  1. Email integration
  2. Reporting and customizable dashboards
  3. Email templates and personalization
  4. Pipeline management

As well as features, you should also consider onboarding and integration requirements:

  1. Possible to import all existing customer data from your current CRM or Excel
  2. Integrates with marketing automation platform
  3. Syncs with customer success platform

Remember, your CRM has to play well with existing systems, so assess the simplicity of data migration and integration.

Step 2: Cloud vs. on-Site

These days, it’s common to use software that is hosted on the cloud.

And we may be biased, but we believe Cloud CRM is the safest and most scalable approach when implementing a CRM platform.

However, your chosen deployment method will vary depending on your needs. To remain impartial, we’ve listed out the benefits of each approach:

Cloud CRM:

  • Less need for IT initiatives and infrastructure
  • Fewer server or hardware costs
  • Cost is scalable depending on the size of your sales organization
  • Updates are taken care of by your provider
  • Setup can take a matter of hours, not weeks
  • GDPR compliant out of the box

On-Premise CRM:

  • Manage in-house
  • Control over your data
  • Higher price-point means dedicated IT support
  • Control over customization
  • Not dependent on external servers

Choose your deployment method based on the goals and requirements you listed in the first step. Remember to work backwards, making your CRM vendor work for you.

Step 3: Define Your CRM budget

Once you’ve clearly mapped your needs, you can start thinking about what everything will cost and how much you can invest into a platform that fulfils them.

Instead of simply looking at the cost of features, calculate an estimated ROI of having a CRM on board.

You can do this by calculating the total number of hours spent by each sales rep on sales activities, and then map out your sales pipeline and the associated activities.

For example, you might only be sending 20 outreach emails a day. What would the impact of increasing that amount fivefold through certain CRM features?

Measure all sales activities and use them to forecast the increased productivity. Take this insight and apply it against your average deal amount and close rate to estimate the total ROI your CRM can bring to justify any costs. This will be beneficial when getting boardroom buy-in, which we’ll explain shortly.

Finally, when calculating your budget, don’t forget about any hidden costs. These include on-boarding and training fees, as well as integration and your own internal resources.

Step 4: Create a vendor selection process

With your needs and budget mapped out, you’ll start to get an idea of the level of service you’ll need for your requirements.

Depending on your level of sophistication, you’ll either need:

  1. A self-service SaaS platform
  2. An enterprise solution

For smaller businesses, or those with lean sales processes, we recommend the former. There are more available solutions, implementation is simple and pricing is usually extremely affordable.

Before evaluating each vendor, you’ll need to create a process that helps you not only select the right vendor, but “sell your needs” to them.

This is a value exchange, and a CRM provider will only be able to offer the right solution if you’ve communicated this clearly.

Here’s what your vendor selection process should include:

  1. Business Goals: Make it clear about what you’re hoping to achieve; revenue goals is a language all businesses can speak

  2. Company Spotlight: With a task of this undertaking, it’s important to communicate the benefits that working with you could have

  3. Timelines: Have clear milestones for each stage of the process, including a deadline to select a vendor, begin onboarding and sales training, and integrate other systems.

  4. Request for References: Ask to speak to a handful of existing customers. Case studies are important, but speaking to those already using the platform will allow you to ask questions knowing they have no ulterior motive

  5. Competitive Insights: Find out who your competitors are using, and how they use them

Step 5: Evaluating vendors: demos, trials and RFPs

If you’re not aware of the CRM landscape, the first step of the evaluation process is identifying what the CRM options are.

There are a handful of methods to do this:

  1. Google terms such as “best crm software” and read comparison posts
  2. Browse through lists on Capterra or G2Crowd
  3. Find an expert

The third option can provide the most insight. Identify someone who has an understanding of the CRM space, as they can point you in the right direction.

Depending on your needs, your evaluation process may vary. For example, with a SaaS platform, the process will look as follows:

  1. Request a demo: A sales rep from the CRM will run through the features and, if they do their job properly, tie them to your needs

  2. Digest sales material: Take the time to look through all technical specifications, pricing sheets and case studies

  3. Trial period: Most SaaS products allow you to “try before you buy” so you and your team to get a feel for the platform in your own time before committing

  4. Negotiation: Discuss timelines, any final questions and negotiate pricing

If it’s an enterprise solution you’re after, then you’ll need to create a Request for Proposal (RFP). This communicates the scale of your requirements to potential vendors, and allows them to pitch their platforms to you.

Your CRM RFP should include the following:

  • Objectives: What are your goals and how will your choice of CRM feed into these? Use what you defined in ‘step 4’ above

  • Requirements: Which features are absolutely essential? Which would you say are ‘desirable’ but aren’t business-critical?

  • Resource allocation: Include a list of which elements of the process you can take care of in-house, and which you’ll need help with

  • Training: You don’t know exactly what your teams will need to do yet, so use this section to summarize. Include the size of your team, the number of hours required and any ongoing support for new hires

You should also include elements you documented in ‘step 4.’ Over the space of one to two weeks, you should have collected proposals for evaluation. From here, select those you’d like to give a presentation and demo the platform for you.

Remember, many salespeople have a habit of over delivering expectations. Which is why it’s important to speak to referrals.

Step 6: Making a decision

By following the process above, you’ll set yourself up to make a decision based on all the key information you need.

With all things, emotion will play its part. The key is to get input from other members of the team who have contributed to the process themselves—even those who have joined in late.

Data is the best compass. What do the numbers say? Having a score where you measure each vendor against features, support and other factors will help you make informed, data-driven decisions.

If there’s no clear winner, then feel free to go through another round of qualification with your vendors. Focus on the areas where scores are closest to make an informed decision.

How to get boardroom buy-in

Getting boardroom buy-in is much like enterprise selling: you must understand what they care about and what motivates them to invest.

As Max Altschuler, founder of, Sales Hacker says, the vendor selection and information gathering process goes beyond internal structures:

“I think one of the biggest drivers of organizational buy-in in regards to investing in new elements of your tech stack is peer referrals and information sharing. I’m seeing more and more that buyers are talking to their tribes, communities, peer networks, or mentors for advice on why, what, and when to buy. Also, from who.

“Forums like LinkedIn Groups, VC/PE portfolio communities, review sites, and more. If you’re a champion or end user looking to drive buy-in upwards or across your org, looking externally for peers at the stakeholder’s same seniority level or job title to provide their two cents on the issue might be a good way to make it seem like more of a no-brainer.”

“So if your VP of Sales Operations is holding up your team from buying new tech that will improve your sales org, try pointing them to other VPs of Sales Ops that could provide their feedback on the situation. Even better if they already bought the product you’re looking to add.”

With this in mind, let’s look at the core process to follow when getting buy-in from the boardroom.

Prepare boardroom communications

Depending on the size of your organization, you may already have a good understanding of the goals and responsibilities of each member of the leadership team.

But it’s unlikely you speak with each of them on a day-to-day basis. Which means you may not understand their true motivations.

Outline the upside and risks

Senior decision makers want to hear about the solutions to problems, as well as any implications. Focus on communicating the following:

  • Benefits: What value will the technology bring to the business?
  • Risk: What are the potential downsides, and what contingency plans will be put in place?
  • Strategy: How does the technology and processes around it contribute to the business strategy?

When communicating risk, you should also address what’s at stake if the business doesn’t take action. Risk goes both ways, and the material loss from legacy/outdated systems is something the c-suite is all too aware of.

Use simple language

It’s easy to get bogged down by technical language. While you’re familiar with certain terms, phrases and abbreviations, the boardroom may not be as clued up.

This means focusing on the cost, upside and risks (see above). It helps to do your due diligence ahead of time. Show them that you know why you’re there and why it’s important for them to be aware of your plans.

You should also be prepared to take the lead. If you’ve outlined the benefits, risk and strategy effectively, you should get the all-clear. They want to know their business is in good hands, not give orders on the minutiae.

CRM driven sales process

Building a CRM-driven sales process

You now have a roadmap for identifying, evaluating and implementing the right CRM platform for your organization.

Now it’s time to use it to empower your sales teams and create a more delightful customer experience.

Without the right processes in place, having a powerful CRM is meaningless. Here, we’ll break down how your chosen CRM platform should help you reach your business goals faster and more efficiently.

Sales training and enablement

With your new sales CRM implemented, you’ll need to get your existing sales teams (and future reps) up to speed.

In order to do this, you’ll need to create a sales training program that gives them everything they need to know about using the CRM. You’ll also need to create sales enablement materials to empower them to do their job effectively.

Heather Morgan from SalesFolk shares her thoughts on the importance of a rigid training structure:

“Like with training anyone on any new software or process, it’s important to have clear documentation and examples that they can look to.

“But before doing that you should also ask yourself what the objective or ideal outcome for that software/process change, and make sure it really does fit in with your organization’s overall goals. You must also make sure that objective is clearly communicated with your team.”

“Ultimately, there must be an incentive or compelling reason to make them want to adopt this new process or software, or else adoption will fail.”

Start with a group of adopters

Rolling out new technologies to the entire sales organization is too mammoth a task to begin with. Especially when you’re not familiar with the ins and outs of the technology yourself.

Therefore, start the training process with a small number of people. If you’re in a smaller organization, then this may not apply to you. Either way, be prepared to roll out your CRM in phases.

Depending on how complex your chosen CRM is, you may need several rounds of training with the company’s account managers.

Creating an internal training program

All organizations are different. The way you use your CRM technology will vary. Create a training program that empowers your sales reps to use your CRM according to your sales processes.

For example, you might be an inside sales organization with a focus on post-trial retention. It’s likely that the majority of your sales activity will revolve around warm email (and perhaps in-app communications).

Therefore, your training will want to cover a sales cycle from awareness to post-trial signups. You’ll be relying heavily on email capabilities, as well as integration with other systems.

Again, each organization will be different. Start with your processes and find a CRM platform that works for you. Build your training and around the features that enables your reps to follow those processes.

Communicate the benefits to reps

Without clear benefits to them, sales reps may view new CRM technologies as another roadblock to sales productivity.

Get them excited and onboard with the idea from the very beginning of the process. By communicating the benefits to them, you’ll help them:

  • Be more productive: The best CRM platforms and sales technology stacks automate common tasks

  • Be more organized: All information is in one place—plus certain tasks (such as follow-ups) can be scheduled, with reminders keeping reps on top of what they need to do

  • Have more time: With less ‘sales admin’ comes more time to focus on activity that makes an impact. Sales reps are free to focus on the things that help them reach quota

Make sure you get your reps involved during the purchasing decision. After all, they’re the people who will be using it on a day to day basis.

As Tibor Shanto puts it:

“Rolling out a new piece of tech can be challenging in as much as you are trying to get different people, with different skills and requirements to adopt a single platform. In order to have people invested in anything, they need to feel ownership or influence, hard to do on a mass basis.

“In most instances, decisions around a new technology deployment may take a few months, evaluation to done deal. Working with sales enablement and front-line managers, you can tie the elements of the new technology to specific elements of your annual development plan for your reps, (you have one for each, right?).”

“Making it about the rep, not the technology, allows reps to look at successful onboarding as something specific to them; it becomes about them, not the company or new application.”

Collaborating with marketing (and other departments)

Collaboration is important when it comes to integrating new technologies. It helps to promote a culture where the customer comes first. It also allows for the best method of sharing information across each department within the organization.

Lori Richardson shares her thoughts on working with other teams when bringing in new technologies:

“The best way to get separate teams in a company to work together implementing a new CRM technology is to have key users from each team involved from the very beginning, including selection if possible.”

“Let them know how valuable the perspective they bring is and keep them engaged through the process. This is your team for adoption, if they are excited and see the upside they will take that back to the rest of their departments.”

Here, we’ll share three ways to collaborate with the rest of your organization when considering and implementing new CRM technologies.

1. Create a training plan for all teams

Each department has their own goals, workflows and KPIs to meet. For example, while sales is a one-to-one practice, marketing takes a more holistic approach further up the buying cycle.

Therefore, it’s important to collaborate on how each team will use the CRM for their own purposes.

Sure, it helps to choose an intuitive CRM in the first place, but each user will still need sufficient training on using them.

This may require some customization. Investigate under the hood and see which features can be unlocked. Look into integrations, and where your CRM can plug into existing systems used by other departments.

For example, Pipedrive integrates with customer support platforms like Help Scout, marketing automation platforms like Autopilot and management platforms such as Asana and Trello.

Of course, with several departments involved in the process, new requests and demands can creep in. During the initial phase, make sure that only key stakeholders from each department are making these decisions.

2. Get stakeholders to do their research

It’s important to find CRM technologies that empower or improve the processes you already have in place.

This comes back to our statement on starting with your goals and working backwards. How will your chosen CRM platform help each team, department and user complete important tasks?

When evaluating your options, find a CRM that allows for cross-department customization.

3. Use your CRM for company collaboration

By choosing the right CRM and ensuring all teams are on board, you’re more likely to get everyone and their goals aligned.

Every team has their own priorities, but they usually lead towards the same overarching goals: engaging customers and making sales.

By collaborating with other departments within the organization, you’re able to predict and prepare for interactions at all stages of the customer journey.

With the right CRM, you’ll also be able to automate the flow of these conversations. Should this customer query be routed to sales or customer support teams? These are workflows your CRM can (and should) automate.

How to automate sales activities and workflows

You’ve reached sales nirvana. Your CRM is in place and the promise of streamlining sales activities are in sight.

The question is, what exactly should you be automating?

Here, we’ll share some of the sales activities that can be automated with the help of your CRM platform.

1. Day-to-day sales admin

General administration is one of the least looked-forward to aspects of a salesperson’s job. Thankfully, CRM technologies can streamline and even automate much of it.

Typically, these tasks involve:

  • Reminders: Creating tasks and scheduling various reminders throughout the work day
  • Appointments: Calendar integration allows for easy appointment setting
  • Data entry: All data on prospects, deals and customers is stored in one place

Additional technology, such as data enrichment, call logging and technographics can also assist with data-driven tasks.

2. Email and communication

The majority of day-to-day tasks revolve around email. Automating these activities begins with identifying the most common that are sent, as well as how long they spend composing and personalizing them.

The most common emails salespeople send on a daily basis include:

  • Reminders: Emailing prospects about upcoming meetings and appointments
  • Welcome: Encouraging new leads to take the next steps and set appointments
  • Follow-up: Reach out to leads when a response has not been generated
  • Onboarding: Getting new customers up to speed and thanking them for their business

A huge part of this activity involves personalization. Tailoring the message to the target buyer persona, amending copy for names and company as well as the right resources can take a tremendous amount of time to organize, compose and check.

While not all emails can be automated, you can still create templates that your reps can use as and when they need. It’s this functionality that streamlines workflows and makes life easier.

3. Lead prioritization

Many of the leads you generate into your sales funnel won’t be a good fit for what you offer. This can often be due to budget, or simply because they’re in research mode and aren’t ready to buy.

So, how do you sift through the tire kickers and get to those who are ready to buy right now?

If your reps are spending much of their time qualifying leads, or if conversion rates seem unusually low, then lead prioritization can help your reps focus on the best deals in your pipeline.

Look at historical sales opportunities. Which of those closed the fastest? What do the buyers and organizations associated with these deals have in common?

Traits such as job titles, company sizes and even behavior on your website can contribute to a lead score that indicates how hot a lead is. The higher the score, the more likely a lead is to be ready to buy.

Optimize sales processes with analytics, reporting and dashboards

One of the biggest benefits of adopting CRM technology into your organization is the amount of data it collects.

The right data allows you to:

  • Focus on sales activity that makes the biggest impact
  • Tailor the training your provide your reps with
  • Optimize the entire sales process from start to finish

Let’s look at how it’s done.

1. Identifying the right data

Adopting a CRM has already put you on the path to collecting more data. The challenge comes when there’s too much of it.

Which is why it’s important to decide upon the right KPIs up front. Most sales managers will know these, but as your sales process evolves with your CRM, these metrics may change.

No matter which metrics you’re tracking, make sure they lead to sales performance. This means avoiding vanity metrics to make important decisions.

Ensure you’re collecting the right data in the first place. With the right CRM and sales technology stack in place, manual data entry should be minimal. This helps to reduce workload while increasing data accuracy.

Finally, make sure you keep your data clean. Audit your data on a regular basis to remove any outdated information.

2. Identifying true-north metrics

What is the one KPI that leads to the most critical result? Most organizations and startups have one, and the same is true for sales teams.

Ideally, this metric should contribute to the success of the business. It could be as simple as revenue, or more granular metrics like MRR and average deal value.

Once decided, build your reporting and sales dashboards to focus your team around this one metric. All other activities and KPIs must serve this one metric.

3. Measure team performance

The reporting provided by your CRM doesn’t just show you the overall health of your sales pipeline. You’ll also generate insights on how your entire sales team is performing.

Pipedrive analytics graphs

The performance and sales data of each rep will be segmented, allowing you to identify top performers and those who need additional training.

It will also allow you to see which activities are making the biggest impact. If a rep is sending more follow-up emails and getting better results than their peers, then this is worth testing across the team.

Over to you...

In this guide, we’ve given you a complete roadmap of what to look for in a CRM. You should now understand why a CRM platform will not only make your salespeople more efficient, but bring in better results from the business.

Of course, as this is such a mammoth topic, you probably still have questions.

To learn more about customer relationship management, cold calling scripts, sales follow-up emails and the CRM technology you can use to scale your business, subscribe to our sales blog, Selling and Scaling.

Pipedrive is the highest-reviewed customer relationship management tool on the market.

Designed so that it will scale with your team, there are hundreds of app integrations so you can automate your process and focus on selling.

You can choose one of three pricing tiers so that you only get access to the features that will benefit you and your business, but all the key features come as standard.

Best of all, you can get a free 14-day Pipedrive trial!

Try Pipedrive for free now!

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