What is CRM?

A beginner's guide to customer relationship management

Chapter 01: Customer relationship management

What is customer relationship management (CRM)?

CRM, or customer relationship management, is a powerful system that connects all the data from your sales leads and customers all in one place. A CRM records and analyzes all calls, emails and meetings, helping improve customer service, drive sales, and increase revenue.

You can get personal at scale as you delight every one of your prospects and customers with just-for-them messages. You can track, segment and slice the data to make your sales and marketing smarter, more potent and more efficient.

Customer relationship management is a literal description of what CRMs do, but those three bland words don't tell the whole story. The sheer volume of data that you can track for each individual user in a cloud-based CRM system is staggering ― and exciting. Let's look at the details.

Chapter 02: What does a CRM do…and why?

Contact management on a vast scale is the core function of any customer information system, whether it's cloud-based CRM or CRM software on your server. You want to store and manage data for every kind of contact, from leads to business partners.

Many small businesses still struggle with spreadsheets, inboxes, (or sticky notes!) to track these kinds of relationships. But at some point, those “systems” just can't keep up. If you have a hundred contacts or more, it’s time to try a CRM like Keap for your small business.

Each of these fields can be updated, tweaked and customized as you go to fit your needs.

With an old Excel spreadsheet, you might track:

  • Name
  • Email
  • Phone number
  • Website
  • Address
  • Type of customer
  • Date purchased

With a CRM, you can track all that plus:

Only have a customer name and email address? That's enough to use CRM as a simple contact management system. A good CRM lets you add activities that you've planned or completed, like follow-ups with new prospects, and then track data on what kinds of replies have (or haven't) worked so far. Voila: you've got a valuable strategic task manager.

Add notes on who makes decisions at each business you sell to, and you have a leg up on a meaningful, data-driven sales strategy. Add industry information and company size and you can segment customers by channel.

The best CRM software shows at a glance how hot or cold a lead really is. The more data love you give your CRM, the more it loves you back.

Chapter 03: What is CRM marketing?

Marketing and sales go better with a CRM. Sales staff can work on their own more efficiently and work together more smoothly. Who spoke to a prospect last? What did they talk about? What's the next step? A good CRM knows and will assign a score or a value to each prospect in your pipeline and give you weighted sales projections.

What is CRM marketing worth? A recent report compiled by IBM showed that businesses scored a 65% sales quota increase when a CRM was adopted.

Once you can identify your most profitable customers, you can delight them with perks that help them feel even more valued. Target and refine your marketing campaigns by customer needs so they receive only the information they want to know about.

The mighty merge

Merge fields can play a mighty role in your email marketing. A merge field takes a contact or business name from custom fields and drops it into your email blasts. Result: personalized emails on a massive scale.

Hi John Smith,

We are so excited to have XYZ Enterprises as a new customer! Thank you for doing business with ABC Company,

Sarah Jones | [email protected]

The bolded text above was all populated automatically. The best CRM software offers robust automation, so you can not only insert fields, but trigger entire emails, reminders and appointments based on criteria you set. These all in one CRM solutions take your business to the next level. Getting all of your information in one place helps save time and can help your business earn more money through strategies like quickly following up with potential customers or following up on an unpaid invoice - all automatically.

Chapter 04: How do small businesses use CRM?

Customer relationship management gives you a full view of your sales, marketing, and support for every customer. That's especially helpful for small businesses, which may have just a few people—or even just one—who need to track activity on all those fronts.


CRM management lets you record sales calls, opportunities, and the name and title of the VP or product manager you talked to. Most CRM systems have activity reminders that prompt you to follow up later. The journey of every potential buyer can be monitored on their way to closing. (Or not! Stalled deals are easy to see, so managers can look for ways to move them along.)


Use CRM contacts to learn where your company is winning and losing ― and then target promotions and generate leads accordingly. Lead scoring and email follow-ups are automatic, leaving you free to focus on the creative ideas that win new prospects. Another benefit is that you can actually decrease marketing costs with a CRM because you can narrow in and focus on your target audiences and spend your time selling to them.

Support and service

If you've noticed cracks in your customer service, a good CRM management can repair that relationship for the long term. Post-sales support can get a boost, to, as the data helps resolve problems and explain what might not be otherwise understood.

The customer

E-commerce options in the best CRMs let customers create and place their own orders. Add-ons should be easy to use so that customers can buy quickly. That way you—or your employees—get an early “heads up” if a customer is having issues. A quicker response cuts the chances the buyer goes elsewhere.

Chapter 05: It's customer relationship management

Remember: it's not the customer you're managing, it's the relationship.

With a central memory for all your contacts and customer history, you'll be sure to deliver excellent service even when key staff leave or accounts get moved around. When a customer wants to place a repeat order, that order history is readily available. No digging, no calling, no cursing.

CRM systems also work smoothly with VoIP telephone systems. A customer's record, triggered by their phone number, appears on the customer service rep's computer screen instantly. Talk about a better experience!

Chapter 06: How do I get started with CRM?

Adding a CRM information system to your small business doesn't have to be daunting. The first step is to collect all your existing contacts in a .CSV file. Most CRMs will guide you on how to set it up.

Next, import and map all your contacts. Then you're ready to start crafting your custom emails, follow-ups, customer segments, pipeline stages and the rest of your daily business approach.

Some CRM companies have consulting teams, and it can be helpful to bring them in for veteran insights into best practices.

The final step: train yourself and your staff. Change can be hard, and some "CRM pushback" is not unusual. Here's help: download our free CRM Adoption Acceleration Checklist to bring everyone on board.

Chapter 07: How long does it take to see value?

The right CRM starts to create value the moment you enter your first lead. For best results, make sure that all leads are processed through your CRM. (That's one way to get your everyone in your company comfortable with it, too.)

Now you can see which reps are killing it and which have bottlenecks. Or monitor deal progress and brainstorm with reps on how to move stalled deals along.

On a meta level, watch your pipeline to see if the leads and deals in process are enough to support your revenue and cash flow goals.

Chapter 08: Does CRM affect large and small businesses differently?

CRM is your marketing memory however big or small your business. Large businesses use it to collaborate when a global team is assigned to a single customer or deal. They also use CRM to instill discipline in the sales force.

Smaller businesses often use CRM systems as a data engine for marketing campaigns. The built-in efficiencies and sales journey tracking are often the most valuable aspect for them.

Whether your business is large or small, the effect is the same. The detailed contact records CRM’s provide give you all the information you need about your customers in one place. Your business will run smoother when you have the right data in your hands right when you need it. That data is powerful for any business, enabling you to save time on customer follow ups, increased revenue as you create personalized customer experiences, and more. When you have a data driven business culture facilitated by a CRM and marketing automation system, you'll be able to provide better customer service, which can result in higher revenue from being able to follow up faster.

Chapter 09: What can't a CRM manage?

CRMs are customer-facing. In general, they won't help with production, warehousing, shipping, engineering or finance.

Some CRM systems include order entry or invoice generation tools, but systems designed specifically for those tasks are likely to serve you better; you won’t have to force your CRM into performing tasks it's not built for. In fact, research identifies lack of focus as one of the top three reasons for CRM failure. An all in one CRM systems like Keap has features like marketing automation that can automate tasks that are tedious to get done.

And of course, a CRM can't manage what it can't see. So if people work leads or deals outside the system, that lowers its effectiveness for everybody.

Here's a fantastic list of CRM tools that will supercharge your system.

Chapter 10: Final thoughts

Customer relationship management systems give you deeper insights, boost customer satisfaction, and help you sell more. You'll offer the personal touch as you reach out to every lead and customer, and that's the quickest route to happier customers.

Intrigued? Learn more about how an all in one CRM like Keap can make your life easier and more productive. Or, start a free trial of our CRM software, no credit card needed.

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