Despite the many CRM benefits, most people have a love-hate relationship with their CRM system. Sales reps complain they waste hours each week doing data entry that has no purpose. Managers and execs aren’t happy when the CRM system does not reflect the actual sales pipeline, making accurate revenue forecasting impossible.
It comes down to aligning expectations, processes, and resources.
Your CRM system becomes a beast once you have numerous sales reps and other customer-facing staff using the CRM system. It usually needs to connect to other business software, such as ERP systems and email or marketing automation platforms. Each system pushes and pulls data, and people are always changing jobs.
The more CRM benefits you expect, the more you need to feed the machine. Even the most basic implementations require update processes, or the contact data quickly becomes stale. Obtaining benefits from your CRM system takes planning, defined processes, and assigning responsibilities.
Controlling sales rep behavior is not a reason to implement a CRM system. The goal is to generate increased and predictable revenue by implementing better sales and demand generation processes and increasing collaboration between sales, marketing, and other disciplines.
Four Benefits of CRM
When planning a new CRM system, create an implementation timeline that starts with importing clean, accurate data into the system. Once you have good data, put maintenance processes in place to keep it accurate. Be sure your data is accurate and you can keep it that way before moving on to more sophisticated use cases.
If you start implementing sales and lead generation processes before your CRM data is accurate, you’ll experience the following problems:
- Your sales and marketing teams will waste a lot of time.
- Marketing to no longer existing contacts can list you as a spammer.
- It will be much more complicated to clean up your contact and account data while you try not to lose the process data your teams have added.
There’s nothing more frustrating, difficult to fix, and ultimately useless than layering complex data on top of inaccurate data.
CRM Benefit #1. Manage Your Customer Data
Every CRM system implementation starts here whether you have any immediate goals or not.
Frequently when a company decides to implement a CRM system, they want to jump straight to implementing and managing sales processes. You can do that, but if you don’t start with clean data, you’ll likely soon be backpedaling and trying to clean up junk data in your CRM system while maintaining the data your sales team has put into the system.
CRM Benefit #2. Implement Sales Processes
Ultimately your CRM system needs to help sales reps work more effectively and close more accounts. Try to limit data that sales reps input to information that will help them improve their customer relationships and follow-up.
Two reasons to limit sales rep data input include:
- Your main goal is to improve sales performance, so you want them to use their time effectively.
- Sales reps will fear the CRM system will suck up a lot of their time and provide little value to them.
Especially during initial implementation, limit sales rep data entry requirements to those things that will directly improve their sales effectiveness. Don’t try to get the more complex CRM benefits until everyone is comfortable using the system.
At the most basic level, sales reps can add notes and schedule reminders to follow up with prospects at a pre-determined date.
Another CRM benefit is to manage opportunities and track progress towards closing deals.
As you get more sophisticated, add workflows that create pre-determined communications over time. These workflows can be a combination of sales rep emails and phone calls or other marketing touches such as direct mail.
CRM Benefit #3. Relevant Marketing
Once you have clean data in place to can add data that allow you to make your marketing messages more relevant to customers and prospects.
Ways your CRM system helps marketing messaging be relevant are:
- Segment your contacts and send targeted messages;
- Modify dynamic content within a message to make it more relevant; or
- Send automated, personalized messages based on CRM data and contact actions.
Ways to deliver these messages include email using a marketing automation platform, phone scripts, direct mail, and social media.
CRM Benefit #4. Revenue Forecasting and Financial Management
CRM systems initially were focused on executives to give them better visibility of sales pipeline and revenue projections. Sales reps entered data that provided visibility on their pipelines and sales activity. While these are important CRM benefits, actually improving sales processes was almost an afterthought.
While more focus is being put on increasing sales rep effectiveness, this does not diminish the value of providing visibility on sales pipelines and using the sum of all pipelines to make financial projections.
Regardless of how complex your CRM needs are, when implementing a CRM system start slowly and take the time to import accurate customer and contact data and establish processes to keep the data accurate.
What CRM System Should You Use?
Your CRM system will be one of the larger long-term investments in sales and marketing that you will make. Consider this:
- It will be more difficult to clean up your account and contact data than you realize.
- You will get more resistance from sales reps than seems logical. (Change is hard.)
- It will take longer to leverage CRM benefits by establishing sales processes, improving marketing messaging, and getting good at forecasting, than you expect.
For all these reasons and more, expect it to take longer to realize positive ROI than the CRM vendors will lead you to believe.
When selecting a CRM system, realize that it is the processes changes you implement are more important than the tools you select. You will never use all the features, and it may take you a year or more to get beyond a basic implementation.
Salesforce made modern CRM SaaS (software as a service) platforms, delivered as a subscription service, industry standard. It is the most well-known and ubiquitous platform. Just about every email, marketing automation, and other sales and marketing technology platform integrate with Salesforce before they do other platforms. Salesforce also has a huge feature set and a large community of developers and service providers that can help you realize CRM effectiveness.
But Salesforce is expensive, and they’ll push you into a multi-year contract. If you have a strong commitment to improving your sales effectiveness and have complex sales processes, then Salesforce might be your best option.
Three years ago a client realized they needed to improve their account and contact data so I convinced them to implement a CRM system to clean up their data. The initial goal was to clean up their data and implement a simple process for the sales reps to identify contacts for their annual holiday gift program. We selected Zoho CRM as it was not expensive, had data structures similar to other CRM platforms like Salesforce, and could be subscribed on a monthly basis with no annual or multi-year commitment.
Once the data was clean, and the holiday program complete, the plan was to do extensive documentation of their needs and evaluate other CRM platforms. Three years later, that evaluation never happened. They just gradually increased their usage and obtained more CRM benefits. Over time they changed to an annual contract to decrease the cost. Zoho is now connected to website forms, their marketing automation system, Zoominfo finding target accounts and contacts, their ERP platform, and other systems.
Other CRM platforms I’ve used and would be good additions to an evaluation short list include Pipedrive and Nimble, which can work really well for freelancers or small teams. Some marketng automation platforms, including Hubspot and ActiveCampaign, have CRM systems built into them.