What is CRM?

A beginner's guide to customer relationship management

Chapter 01: What is Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Software?

CRM stands for “Customer Relationship Management” and is a software system that helps business owners easily track all communications and nurture relationships with their leads and clients. A CRM replaces the multitude of spreadsheets, databases and apps that many businesses patch together to track client data. The result: organization, efficiency, better time management, and impressed clients.

Client management platforms like CRMs connect all the data from your sales leads and customers, all in one place. A CRM consolidates all communications (form fills, calls, emails, text messages, and meetings), documents, quotes, purchases, and tasks associated with each lead and client. Your entire team can access those details at the right time–to close a sale or deliver outstanding service.

Man with glasses and book

Pro tip

If you're ready to test out a CRM, sign up for a 14-day free trial of Keap's CRM and sales and marketing automation software now. Then walk through the features and examples outlined below in your Keap trial app.

Chapter 02: What Does a CRM System Do?

Contact management is the core function of any customer information system including CRM software. The purpose of a CRM is to store and manage all data for every kind of contact, from leads to business partners.

Screenshot of contacts and contact card in app

Screenshot of contacts only in app

Screenshot of contact card only in app

You might be thinking, “Ok, this sounds kind of like a spreadsheet. What does a CRM do that a spreadsheet can’t?”

Level Up with a CRM

A spreadsheet is great if you have under 100 contacts or you’re tracking only static info like name, email address, phone number, company name, website, etc. A spreadsheet can’t compete with a CRM in tracking more complex, dynamic data like what emails a contact has opened, what pages they’ve visited on your website, or their last purchase date. Your CRM is always updating automatically as your leads and customers take actions, while data in a spreadsheet becomes stale the second you stop manually adding to it.

The best CRM software shows – at a glance – how hot or cold a lead really is with lead scoring. Based on rules you set, points are added to a lead record for important actions your lead takes (like submitting a form or clicking a link) so your sales team can identify the hottest leads to focus on. Lead scoring is next to impossible without a CRM.


CRM like Keap

Data Points

Static info (name, email, phone)

Static info plus communications history, files, notes & actions taken

Contact Updates

Manual contact updates

Automatic contact updates, as actions are taken and infois submitted

Information Flow

Information stays in your spreadsheet unless imported into another tool

Data flows from your CRM into your sales and marketing automation engine

Lead Scoring

Lead scoring is nearly impossible

Lead scoring is automated basedon rules you set

Task Reminders & Tracking

Manual task reminders

Automated task reminders

Segmentation & Personalization

Manually sort data and create lists to upload into your email tool

Create tags for contact types and actions taken

What a CRM Doesn’t Do

CRMs aren’t designed to help with backend operations like production, warehousing, shipping, engineering or finance.

And of course, CRM tools can't manage what they can't see. So if people work leads or deals outside the system, that lowers its effectiveness for the whole team.

Some CRM software is used for data management only. However, an all-in-one CRM system like Keap also offers important features like sales and marketing automation, landing pages, quotes, and invoicing to help entrepreneurs manage their entire businesses more efficiently.

Chapter 03: Examples of How a CRM Platform Works

A good CRM doesn’t stop at collecting information; it helps you harness all of that data to:

  • Get personal at scale, sending the right messages at the right times to leads and clients
  • Focus sales teams on the hottest prospects
  • Shorten the sales cycle
  • Monitor, analyze, and improve results

Here’s an example of a personalized email that a consultant might send to a lead, utilizing data captured in their CRM.

Screenshot of email template

A CRM absorbs as much information as possible on leads before guiding them—or helping you guide them—through a planned journey toward purchase.

For example: Suppose a real estate agent is looking to grow her contact list by offering a free educational course on home-buying basics. She runs a Facebook ad campaign, linking to a course registration page with questions about desired location, property type, price range, and timing.

landing page form fields

Each lead’s responses will trigger different automated follow-up communications from the realtor.

A lead looking to buy a home within two months in the realtor’s service area would be tagged as a “hot lead” and enter a fast-track communication sequence.

A lead in the realtor’s area whose purchase timeframe is six months out would be tagged as “long-term nurture” and receive a series of emails offering home-buying resources, designed to keep the realtor top-of-mind until the lead is ready to buy. The CRM could also create a follow-up task to contact the lead via phone four months later.

Leads whose target purchase location is outside of the realtor’s area will be tagged as such and will only receive communications related to the course.

Lead flow diagram

As you can see, there are many benefits of CRM software. Two business functions that benefit most from CRM software are sales and marketing. Let’s see how.

Chapter 04: How Does CRM Make Sales and Marketing Easier?

A CRM platform amplifies your sales and marketing, without building huge teams or blowing your advertising budget. If your CRM is coupled with sales and marketing automation (like Keap), you can create a sales and marketing engine that takes sales to a whole new level.


Sales CRM software streamlines the entire sales process with improved visibility, prioritization, and follow-up.

Greater Visibility

A CRM provides the visibility that your sales team needs to be most effective. Having all lead and customer data in one place facilitates easy handoffs between teammates if the account owner changes–everything about an individual or company is documented and accessible.

As a sales rep, you can see exactly what a lead has done, which allows you to personalize your conversation and encourage the appropriate next step. For example, you see that a lead has watched your overview video and checked out your case studies. When you speak with them, you can encourage them to sign up for a webinar or consultation to learn more.

CRM systems, in conjunction with VoIP telephone systems, improve visibility for inbound calls, too. When a lead calls a sales rep, their phone number is recognized and their record appears on the sales rep's computer screen instantly.

Greater visibility is also available to sales management through a CRM. A sales manager can easily track individual sales rep activities and performance as well as monitor the entire sales pipeline.

Image of woman typing with charts around her

Clear Prioritization

A CRM helps the sales team prioritize their outreach efforts through lead scoring, which calculates a lead’s interest in your product or service. Leads with the highest lead scores are pushed to the top of the sales team’s tasks.

Lead score card with 4 out of 5 ranking

Your CRM can also prioritize outreach to customers. Records with approaching contract renewal dates and customers who are likely to be interested in a new product can be flagged for sales team follow-up.

Better Follow-Up

Amazing follow-up (and more sales) is made possible with a CRM. By automating follow-up with leads and clients, you no longer have to manage sticky notes on your desk or copy and paste the same email to every new lead. Your system initiates follow-up at the right times, creating a consistent customer journey and converting more leads into clients.


CRM in marketing is often game-changing, as it offers powerful insights, personalization, and testing opportunities that ultimately lead to increased sales.


With data consolidated in a CRM, it’s possible to analyze patterns and find insights that lead to greater profitability. For example, a business can evaluate what characteristics are common in their ideal customers with the largest lifetime value. This allows you to spend your advertising dollars more efficiently and prevent budget going to leads that likely won’t be interested in your product or service.

Insights from your data can also help you increase revenue. For example, if you identify common purchase combinations, you can create packages or bundles to increase sales. Similarly, your data can tell you when customers are most likely to repurchase. You can plan follow-ups and offers to align with likely repurchase timing.


CRM makes sending the right message to the right person at the right time a reality. With your CRM connected to a sales and marketing automation tool, you can send emails and text messages based on a customer’s recent actions.

Let’s say a lead who hasn’t engaged recently just clicked a link in an email you sent announcing a special promotion. You might want to tag that lead as “re-engaged,” follow up with an email containing a compelling customer story, and create a task for a sales rep to call them.

Email flow diagram

Personalization offers a huge advantage in winning more business: 76% of consumers say that personalization prompted consideration of a brand and 78% say that personalized content made them more likely to repurchase, according to a study by McKinsey. All of that data in your CRM database can be used to build deeper customer relationships through personalized communications. With marketing automation, you can personalize your messages at scale with emails that dynamically pull in info stored in your CRM, as well as emails that are automatically triggered by specific actions such as signing up for a consultation.

Testing for Improvement

Testing is the key to improving your marketing. A robust marketing CRM allows you to test just about anything you can dream up: different promos, text messages, ads, how frequently to call a lead, etc. Rather than going just on your gut, data from testing proves which option is most effective in driving maximum profitability.

Chapter 05: How Do I Get Started with CRM?

The best way to fully understand how to use CRM software to organize and grow your business is to use one. Try Keap’s CRM and sales and marketing automation software for free in a 14-day free trial.

Once you’ve signed up for Keap’s free trial, get started with these simple steps:

  1. Import your list of contacts and map your fields

  2. Add custom fields to capture any new data points you’d like to store for your leads or customers

  3. Categorize your contacts with tags for easy segmentation (i.e., website leads, repeat customers, vendors, partners)

  4. Add tasks, notes, files, and other details to a contact record

  5. Create a lead capture form or landing page to collect lead data directly in your CRM

  6. Explore additional features that will help you level up your business like Easy Automations, Appointments, and email marketing

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