The ultimate guide to CRM

Chapter 01: What is CRM?

Customer relationship management (CRM) software has been around since the mid-1990s, but has come into its own over the last decade.

The reason for this growth has a lot to do with how consumers interact with businesses today.

We can reach out to businesses on Twitter and they reply with personality. We expect marketing emails to address us by our first names. When we contact customer support, it’s obvious that they should have a record of our last phone conversation on file.

For businesses that stumble in this area, the effects can be disastrous.

Without software designed to help stay on top of the details, business owners can run themselves ragged trying to keep up. This has firmly established CRM as a must-have for small business owners who want to improve their relationships with their prospects, clients, and other contacts.

This eBook will tell you everything you need to know about CRM: its benefits, how small businesses can use it, the most important features to look for, and how to integrate a CRM with your other systems.

Chapter 02: About customer relationship management (CRM)

What is CRM? Customer relationship management (CRM) is a powerful way of connecting data from your sales leads and clients into a single tool. A CRM records and analyzes emails, calls and meetings and, if used correctly, can help enhance customer service, drive sales, and boost revenue.

Imagine being able to personalize at scale as you delight each of your prospects and customers with customized messages. You can track, segment, and parse your data to make your marketing and sales smarter, more efficient, and more potent.

Customer relationship management is a literal description of what a CRM does, but those 3 vague words only scratch the surface. The sheer volume of data that you can gather and track for each customer in a cloud-based CRM system is staggering ― and exciting.

CRM and automation functions

Multiple teams across your company can leverage CRM, from sales to marketing to customer support. After all, the primary function of a CRM tool is to organize and track customer relationships — every part of your business can benefit from better understanding your customer.

CRM and automation functions will vary based on your company size, business goal, and what kind of product or service you’re offering. For example, a small company without a dedicated sales team may use CRM to automate the sales process. On the other hand, a larger company may use CRM to build complex email nurture campaigns to convert leads.

Either way, there are 4 standard CRM functions that apply to everyone:

1. Capturing leads: CRM software stores all information about a potential customer, or lead, in 1 place. You can add this information automatically, when site visitors fill out a form for example, or manually, if sales reps want to add names to the database.

2. Tracking the sales pipeline: Once you capture all of your leads, your CRM can then track opportunities as they move from stage to stage based on specific actions. This increases visibility and reporting, allowing sales reps to accurately forecast accounts, see how close he or she is to hitting quota, and prioritize leads who are more likely to become paying customers.

3. Streamlining customer contacts: You may be wrangling spreadsheets, lists, and pie charts in an attempt to capture the diverse activities related to managing customers. It can be difficult, if not impossible, to connect different sources of information to tell a cohesive story. CRM makes it possible to organize contact information, communication, customer service, sales and revenue for tracking, reporting, and analysis all in a single system.

4. Delivering and sharing information: With such powerful data and reporting consolidated in a single resource, delivering information when and where it’s needed becomes much easier. Collecting all this information in your CRM calls for an organized team with a consistent process. Establishing this process and encouraging transparency between process owners will foster information sharing. When a single area of your business process improves, other areas do too.

CRM benefits

The benefits of a CRM are numerous. Smart small business owners know they need to store and manage data for all of their contacts, but many still struggle with inboxes, spreadsheets, and even sticky notes as their primary method of organization for those contacts. Having a high number of contacts is great, but those old school methods just become overwhelming.

If you have dozens of contacts, it’s time for a CRM where each field can be customized to your needs. Think about the different data touchpoints you need to keep track of like name, phone number, email, address, website, and even the type of customers. A CRM can organize all of this data. It also can help with contact title, lead scoring, company size, several contacts within a single company, stage in the pipeline, and even additional notes like who makes decisions at the businesses you sell to.

The best part of organizing your information into a CRM system is that it’s not daunting. Most small businesses already store their contacts in an Excel spreadsheet. All you need to do is collect your contacts in a CSV file and follow the prompts in the CRM to import and map that data. Some CRM companies provide consulting for their products and it could be helpful to get some seasoned insights to get the most out of a CRM. Check out these tips on how to accelerate your CRM adoption process.

In addition to increased organization, here are more benefits of a CRM:

1. Increase sales: A CRM can help you boost sales as it can vastly improve the efficiency and productivity of sales teams. With sales teams freed up from administrative tasks like manual data input of contacts, for example, they can spend that time closing more sales. A CRM will also provide sales reps with more information to help track the journey of each potential buyer, making it easier to spot opportunities.

2. The ability to personalize communication: In addition to more efficient use of sales resources, your customers can benefit from the personalization features many CRM tools offer — a huge advantage when 86% of consumers say personalization played a role in their purchasing decision, according to a study by Infosys. All of that data in your CRM database can be used to build deeper customer relationships through personalized communications. A way to do this is by addressing customers by their first name in emails or creating nurture campaigns based on industry.

3. Increased retention: Another way CRM can benefit sales is that it exposes who your highest revenue-generating or most engaged customers are. You may be able to identify a subset of customers who attend webinars or open all of their emails through a CRM. Why not reach out to them to advocate on your brand’s behalf? A CRM can also increase retention among your existing customers. Through a CRM and its ability to aggregate customer behavior, you may be able to spot patterns like when a customer is about to churn. Having insight into customer behavior can help you develop a plan or program to retain at-risk customers.

Chapter 03: How small businesses can use a CRM

A CRM can help you with list management and campaigns, and can help you stay organized and avoid repetitive tasks. Did you know that you can even set up appointments and/or send invoices through CRMs?

And for those who run service businesses, meeting with prospects and clients is a critical step in building trust, selling your services, and scaling your business. But scheduling and managing meetings can feel like a time-consuming chore. Back-and-forth phone calls, emails, and texts to find a mutually beneficial time to chat can drive anyone crazy. Then, more time is lost when calendars don’t sync or when there are scheduling miscommunications.

Fortunately, some CRMs provide appointments features which allow you to manage appointments from a single platform, giving you a place to access prospect and customer data, your calendar, and even notes before the big meeting.

As a small business owner, it’s important to get the most out of every precious minute and dollar you spend. Time is money and you need to effectively manage both to run a successful business. Implementing a CRM system is a great way to streamline your marketing efforts, saving you time as well as increasing your revenue.

While this goal is not unique to small businesses, the features you look for in a CRM will be different than the needs of a 1- to 2-person start-up, or a large business with more than 500 employees.

You’ll resonate with the needs of a small business if you have 2 to 25 employees and make between $100,000 and $3 million in revenue. You’re also in the sweet spot of growth, with a high potential for more headcount and revenue in the future. As a result, as your business grows, you’ll need a CRM that can grow with you.

Today, however, you need to prioritize a single CRM solution that allows you to manage, organize, and segment customer data, score leads, manage tasks, and even integrate with your email account.

Here are some of the key features a small business should look for in a CRM:

Data management: It’s time to ditch the spreadsheets as a data solution. Instead, look for a tool that houses all your client activity and communication in 1 place. You want the ability to import current contacts into the CRM, organize those contacts with detailed records (like order and account balance, lead score, and website activity), and segment them based on demographics and behavior to personalize marketing communications.

Lead scoring: Not all leads are created equal, so let your CRM software do the heavy lifting and identify the most qualified leads. Lead scoring ranks leads based on interactions and engagement with your communications, so you can focus on and follow up with leads that are ready to become customers.

Task management: Centralize action items with a CRM that also offers a calendar and other task management tools to allow you to schedule appointments, set reminders for tasks, and create to-do lists.

E-mail integration: Managing leads and closing deals in a separate system, like your inbox, can cause confusion and duplication. However, instead of completely abandoning your inbox as a channel, look for a CRM that connects with Gmail or Outlook to automatically update contact records with every sent or received email message. Even better, look for the ability to add notes or trigger follow-up actions.

Mobile: Business doesn’t stop as soon as you walk away from your computer, so find a CRM solution that can complement your on-the-go lifestyle with a robust mobile app. You want the ability to access and manage your CRM to edit contact information, add tags, trigger automated follow-up, activate campaigns, and communicate with your customers - all from your smartphone.

Chapter 04: How CRMs can help grow your business and increase sales

In a world where entrepreneurship is at an all-time high and it’s easier than ever to start a company, businesses need a competitive advantage to stand out. Besides creating a stellar product or service, 1 of the best ways to differentiate yourself is to personalize your customer’s experience. The Harvard Business Review notes, “People now expect companies to understand what types of relationships they want and to respond appropriately — they want firms to hold up their end of the bargain.”

CRM is the essential technology for businesses to manage, organize, and segment interactions with your contacts so you can provide this personalized experience across the board.

Here are 3 ways a CRM helps grow your business and increase sales:

1. Enables scalable personalization

Personalization is key to the message you want to convey: that you're passionate about your product and the people you sell to aren't just numbers. If your interactions come off as impersonal, your message is bound to fall flat (and so are your sales!). Think of all the ways you interact with your contacts: phone, email, social media, face-to-face, text, direct mail, online forms, and more. The list is long. Now multiply each interaction by hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of contacts, and the enormity of the issue becomes apparent. A strong CRM offers you the ability to handle personalization on a huge scale, which means you can grow your revenue the right way.

2. Supports your marketing efforts

Whatever approach your organization takes to marketing, CRM can significantly lighten the load and improve your success. CRM gives you a nearly unlimited ability to segment your contact list so that you can send the right messages and offers to the right people at the right times.

For example, by tagging prospects in your CRM, you can track those who've identified a specific pain point and send a free eBook that helps address their pain, while at the same time making a cross-sale offer to your clients who have purchased a particular product.

Without CRM, many small businesses don't segment their lists. They often send general blasts, meaning that the prospects and clients all get the same eBook or offer, even if it's not relevant. This runs the risk that the people on your list consider your efforts as impersonal noise — or even worse, as something to opt-out of. Without a database of leads, your pool of potential sales decreases.

3. Facilitates cross-team collaboration

Client-facing roles can create new opportunities for sales. But without a centralized center for your management efforts, you miss out on these opportunities. When client-facing roles use your CRM, you open up the possibility to discover new opportunities for upsells, cross-sales, and marketing for new products. This shared knowledge helps identify preferences and interests, which can be valuable for turning your clients into devoted fans.

With a little forward thinking and the occasional integration, you can customize your contact records to accommodate each area's needs. When all areas share the system, your data stays up to date and ready to go. Imagine the added value your organization could achieve if the lists were shared. How could you make a more personalized experience for your customers, clients, and other contacts through collaboration?

Chapter 05: How to segment leads and customers with a CRM

One of the most powerful features of a good CRM is the ability to manage and segment your list of contacts. Segmentation is not just about pulling up various groups of contacts, but how that information is used to help close sales — making it especially powerful.

Two basic segmentation techniques are available through CRMs and include client segments and lead segments. How you interact with these segments is critically different and depends on your business strategy. The people who have purchased from you should not be receiving the promotions and materials you send to your leads and vice versa. Picture this: A customer just signed up for your service for full price and they receive an email from you for 20% off — the discount you offer your leads. That is far from an ideal customer experience.

Client segmentation provides you the opportunity to engage with customers who have already purchased from you and who you’re looking to keep interested and delighted. Lead segmentation, on the other hand, gives you the opportunity to build trust with your leads, customize messages to align more closely with their needs, maintain brand engagement, or nurture them.

Overall, segmentation is a way to create more personalized experiences for the contacts on your list whether you want to sell more to those who already buy or nurture those who have demonstrated an interest.

Once your list is segmented, you can send leads and clients customized emails, reward their loyalty, notify them of new services, follow up with useful content, or add them to a re-engagement campaign. In other words, segmentation is the bridge between your CRM and your marketing automation software. Platforms like Keap merge these functionalities so you have a powerful way to launch your marketing strategy.

David Tenney, a senior support rep for Keap, recommends the following best practices when it comes to segmentation and using a CRM:

1. Keep your lists clean and organized

Data hygiene is a critical component of using a CRM. Ideally, you want to avoid duplicate contacts at all costs.

“In conjunction with contacts, you may want to consider creating custom fields that are specific for your type of business, and placing those fields based on most used in the contact record, creating custom tabs/sections that will be beneficial,” he said.

Also, if using Keap, Tenney suggests creating saved searches where you’re able to pull up daily reports based on tags or other criteria such as owner, custom fields, date created, and so on.

2. Leverage tags

Make sure to continuously update your tags list located under CRM > Settings > Tags so that you don't have hundreds of unused tags that pile up. Organize your tags with tag categories and create categories that are relevant for your type of business. You may want to think about tag categories used specifically for campaigns as well, for example: Trigger Tags, Exit Goal Tags, Customer Tags, etc.

3. Build a sales pipeline

As a first step, determine what your customer journey is. By default, Keap gives you your standard stages, but they are most likely different depending on your type of business. After you customize your stages, create a customer journey campaign or a process where opportunities are automated.

Chapter 06: How a CRM integrates with other systems to increase efficiency

As a standalone tool, a CRM can increase efficiency among teams and across functions. Coupled with other systems and apps you use daily, a CRM can supercharge your productivity by automating tasks and centralizing information.

A CRM can integrate with other systems in a variety of ways. You could leverage native integrations (which are built into the CRM software), third-party integrations (which are developed by independent companies), and custom integrations (which are created by using APIs). Most CRM tools offer a pseudo-marketplace where you can browse all these integrations and find ones that work for you.

Here are some suggestions for types of systems that you can connect with your CRM:

Email: Your inbox is the perfect place to send communication, but not to follow up with customers or keep track of tasks. A CRM tool that integrates with Gmail or Outlook can get all of this actionable data out of your inbox and into one easy-to-organize system.

E-commerce: If you use apps like BigCommerce or WordPress to manage an online store, integrating them with a CRM can open the door for personalized marketing campaigns. For example, your e-commerce store will no doubt house data about customer shopping or browsing behavior — you can then use your CRM integration to trigger e-mail campaigns and marketing activity based on that shopping behavior.

Reporting: Let’s say your company’s financials and business metrics live in another reporting tool. If your sales and marketing team also uses a CRM, that means you have different datasets living in different systems. By connecting them, you can marry high-level business data with customer insights.

Scheduling: Traditionally, you would use lead scoring in your CRM to identify potential customers to contact. You would then open a different tool, like scheduling software, to find an appropriate time to meet and send the invite. A lot can go wrong along the way: timing mix-ups, no-shows, or the endless back-and-forth coordination. When you integrate your scheduling and CRM tools, you can automate this process to save everyone time and energy.

Let’s say you want your CRM to connect with a specific system, but there is no available integration. Connector apps, like Zapier,, and PieSync, exist to make this a reality. These online automation apps typically support hundreds of apps and offer intuitive interfaces to create workflows and triggers across systems (for example, “When something happens in A, do this other thing in B”).

Chapter 07: How CRM reporting and analytics can enhance your business

While personalized messaging is crucial to your success, we can't overstate the value of measuring your efforts with CRM reporting and analytics. You need to know your big hits as well as your misses to refine your message.

Marketing insights

CRM can take your marketing insight to the next level through robust reports. Because CRM keeps track of the myriad details of your list, it can also help you make sense of that data. A strong CRM provides reports on interactions, preferences, campaigns, purchases, and much more. The more you understand about your interactions with your contacts, the easier it will be to develop targeted follow-up campaigns, slice and dice your list into keener segments, or run split tests (also known as A/B testing) to hone in on the best messaging, to name a few.

Sales insights

CRM not only surfaces marketing data and results, it can also improve sales reports. Just like with marketing insights, a CRM keeps track of all prospects, leads, and customers in 1 place, so it can instantly sift through mountains of data to pull sales reports that will tell you things such as revenue by lead source, activity history and sales generated by each rep on your team, activity and revenue from referrals, and more.

There’s no doubt that this level of visibility helps sales in their day-to-day role. On top of that, there’s another benefit: CRM gives management a level of insight into sales activities that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. For example, a CRM can enable you to set KPIs to measure progress toward goals or measure individual successes so that you can create incentives and reward wins.

The more you know, the better you can manage your teams and the better you can equip your sales reps with the resources and information they need.

Chapter 08: CRM glossary

Whether you’re exploring the CRM market or becoming more experienced in your current CRM tool, it’s important to understand the vocabulary and jargon around customer relationship management.

Here are some common words and phrases used in CRM software:

Analytics: Data that offers deeper insights into business operations, usually related to marketing and sales. This data helps companies make more informed, faster decisions.

Auto-responder: This form of automation in a CRM tool automatically triggers communication based on certain action taken.

Campaign: Marketing activities including emails, social media, online ads, print, advertising, and more.

Campaign management: The process of planning, launching, and monitoring campaigns.

Contact: An individual record scoring a customer’s name, phone number, email, address, and more personal information.

Conversion rate: The percentage of visitors to your website that complete a desired goal out of the total number of visitors.

Dashboard: Can refer to the landing page or home section of a CRM tool that displays key information about the business.

Field: Where users enter information such as name and email address, usually in a marketing form.

Forecast: A sales report containing projects like estimated profits and revenue.

Lead: An individual or organization with an interest in what you are selling. This interest is usually expressed by sharing an e-mail address or phone number.

Lead nurturing: The process of nurturing leads, either by email or in-person communication, to the next stages of the sales pipeline.

Lead scoring: The process of assigning points to each lead you generate. You can score leads based on multiple things, such as demographic data or engagement on your website. This process helps sales teams prioritize leads (the higher the score, the more qualified the lead).

Opportunity: A stage in the sales pipeline where a prospect offers an opportunity to close a sale based on previous conversations around deal details.

Personalization: The strategy to deliver customized, individualized content to recipients by using data collection, analysis, and automation technology.

Pipeline: Shows where prospects are in the sales process.

Prospect: A potential customer who has been qualified as fitting certain criteria, usually fitting your target market and making him or her more likely to purchase your product and/or service.

Segmentation: Dividing a list of people into smaller groups based on shared interests, needs, or locations.

Social integration: Connects CRM software to social media channels, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and others. This offers marketing and sales additional engagement channels and metrics.

Task: Day-to-day activities like emailing, meetings, phone calls, or to-do list items.

Third-party integration: The ability to connect other business tools and apps to CRM software and extend its functionality.

Workflow: Automation of CRM tasks based on trigger-based rules.

Chapter 09: About the author

Emily Esposito writes about small business, design, and productivity. When she's not writing, she's exploring the Pacific Northwest, shopping for indoor plants, or eating chocolate.

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