The Ultimate CRM Blueprint

How to implement a CRM strategy and software to boost your business' efficiency and empathy

THE ULTIMATE CRM BLUEPRINT

HOW TO IMPLEMENT A CRM STRATEGY AND SOFTWARE TO BOOST YOUR BUSINESS’ EFFICIENCY AND EMPATHY

Have you ever had an interaction with a business that left a bad taste in your mouth? Maybe it was an online retailer who wouldn’t be flexible with their return policies, even though you were a loyal customer for years. Or maybe it was a customer service nightmare where you had to repeat the same information to different people multiple times. From these less-than-remarkable experiences, it becomes clear that businesses need a better way to understand the individuals they’re communicating with, especially in today’s online world where most businesses rarely meet their customers face-to-face. 

Most businesses struggle to understand the individuals they are serving throughout the entire customer lifecycle. This problem manifests in several different ways. 

Poor understanding of individuals in your marketing funnels leads to disjointed, poorly targeted 
marketing messages. This may look like sending irrelevant offers to customers. For example, an email marketing campaign promoting men’s fashion to a list that’s 70% female or a direct mail campaign with coupons for dog toys to an audience of which 90% are not pet owners don’t work. 

This problem can also manifest as messages that are poorly targeted to the individual’s stage in your funnel. For example, a contact who joined your free newsletter yesterday might receive a message promoting your $20,000 coaching program the next day. That kind of mismatch is a red flag that a business is not being sensitive to the individual wants and needs of the contacts in their database.
 
Once leads are qualified and make it into your sales funnel, there are many other problems that can occur. Poorly timed sales conversations are the biggest culprit. For example, calling a customer who’s in the middle of a customer service issue to sell them a more expensive package is always a bad idea. It also doesn’t make sense to spend time calling leads who are not ready to buy, especially if you can use information they’ve already provided to tell the hot leads from the cold ones. Asking potential customers to repeat information about themselves is also a missed opportunity to provide personalized service and win their business.



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Businesses need a better way to understand the individuals they’re communicating with, especially in today’s online world where most businesses rarely meet their customers face-to-face.

Asking leads for the same information multiple times can cost you sales opportunities; asking customers to repeat themselves shows them that you don’t care about them. This can hurt your retention rates, cost you referral opportunities and damage your brand loyalty. 

To develop strong relationships with customers, businesses must learn to view them as individual human beings with unique needs, concerns and preferences. In fact, this is what customers today have come to expect and demand.

The challenge that makes this type of personal understanding so elusive is disorganized data. Although most businesses do have the data they need to understand individual leads and customers better, they are not using it to improve personal interactions or improve the customer journey. This is because it’s spread out among different business tools, not organized in a way that connects each data point to an individual contact, or is so hard to use that business owners and their employees cannot find the data they need at the moment they need it. Most marketers, salespeople or customer service representatives do not have time to dig up all the relevant information about each individual they’re communicating with, which causes them to miss out on opportunities to improve these interactions. 

In this Blueprint, you will learn about a strategy for solving this issue known as Customer Relationship Management, or CRM for short. Although you may have only heard “CRM” in terms of software created for this purpose, in this Blueprint you will discover that software is only part of a successful Customer Relationship Management strategy, and without a strong alignment between that software and strategy, neither will succeed.

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​​​​​​​​​​​​​​To develop strong relationships with customers, businesses must learn to view them as individual human beings with unique needs, concerns and preferences. In fact, this is what customers today have come to expect and demand.
The solution for better relationships with individual customers is to create an individual, top-to-bottom view of all leads and customers where all the data about them lives in one place. Instead of searching through your email inbox, spreadsheets, a filing system or even just your memory to find information about a customer or lead, what if you could see all the information you have about that individual in one place? That’s exactly what a CRM can do, and it solves the problem of poor customer experiences. 

With a CRM software and strategy that provide views of each customer and lead on an individual level, you can:
Personalize marketing messages for each individual to increase your response rate, engagement, and even brand loyalty.
Tailor the customer journey based on each lead’s behaviors to provide them with the information and interaction they need at just the right time to create more sales opportunities.
Use information shared during the sales and marketing process to provide personalized service for new customers, increasing their willingness to spend money with you and stay for longer.
Make the most of information gathered by customer service and sales reps to fine-tune your marketing strategy to find more people who are the right fit for your product.
Improve the quality of your sales conversations with leads by using all the information you have gathered about their preferences, needs and pain points to show them how your product or service provides the right solution.
Use the data collected about all your customers and leads to understand your business performance and project your future earnings based on your current pipeline.

What’s Inside This Blueprint?

In this Blueprint, you’ll gain an understanding of the origins of CRM software and the problems it was created to solve. You’ll discover the far-reaching benefits of a well-implemented CRM strategy and learn the relationship rules that your business must respect to build strong connections with customers and leads. You’ll get tips for choosing and implementing a CRM software that will support your strategy and methods for overcoming common challenges presented by a new CRM. Finally, you’ll gain insight into the future of CRM technology so that your business can gain a competitive advantage by embracing innovative techniques.

Here’s what you’ll learn in the following chapters:

Table of Contents
CHAPTER ONE
What Is Customer Relationship Management?

In this chapter, you’ll learn about the origins of CRM software, including the practical problems it was built to solve and the technology’s development over time. You’ll learn what today’s definition of “CRM” encompasses and get insight into the difference between CRM software and CRM strategy.
CHAPTER TWO
Why CRM?

Take a deep dive into the many benefits that a well-implemented CRM software and strategy have for your business, including improved marketing capabilities, smarter sales processes that lead to more revenue, and more personalized customer service that will create happier customers. Find out why CRM is one of the most important keys to fulfilling your entrepreneurial mission.
CHAPTER THREE
Developing Your CRM Strategy

Before you can successfully implement a CRM software in your business, it’s important to stop and determine the most valuable customer relationships that are possible for your business, to identify the kind of relationships your best customers want to have with your brand, and to understand how negative customer expectations might be holding you back.
CHAPTER FOUR
Choosing The Right CRM Software and Getting Started

To bring your CRM strategy to life you’ll need the right tools. The CRM software market can be confusing and overwhelming, so in this chapter we’ll narrow your focus to the tools that can bring all your business information together in one place, scaling with you as your business grows. You’ll also learn how to start getting the most out of your CRM from day one with quick set-up tips that will prepare you to take advantage of all your data faster.
CHAPTER FIVE
Overcoming Challenges With CRM Implementation

Your CRM can only benefit your business if you and your team actually use it. In this chapter, you’ll learn how to anticipate some of the most common issues that businesses have when implementing a new CRM so you can start getting value out of your system and motivate your team to use it to its full potential.
CHAPTER SIX
The Future of CRM

CRM technology has changed dramatically since its introduction in the 1980s, but it can be tough to stay on top of these technological developments and take full advantage of them. In this chapter, you’ll learn about the competitive landscape for CRM providers today and get a sneak peek into technologies such as predictive analytics and artificial intelligence that can provide you with additional insight into your customers and leads.

CHAPTER ONE

WHAT IS CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIP MANAGEMENT?

The term “CRM” seems to be one of those infectious buzzwords that gets thrown around left and right in the startup world with the assumption that everyone knows exactly what it means. However, many small business owners are still unclear not only about what it means, but also about what CRM technology can actually do for their businesses. 

So, let’s define CRM clearly. 

To do that, it’s important to understand how the term is used in two different senses. The first is in reference to your CRM strategy; the other, your CRM software. 

CRM: A strategy for how your business will manage your relationships with individuals throughout the entire customer lifecycle
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According to Salesforce, a provider of one of the industry’s first traditional cloud-based CRM platforms for enterprises, a CRM strategy is “a strategy for managing all your company’s relationships and interactions with customers and potential customers. It helps you stay connected to them, streamline processes and improve your profitability.” 

The goal of your CRM strategy should be focused on strengthening relationships between your customers or leads and your brand. Developing an effective CRM strategy requires reflection on the types of relationships that are most profitable and best support your mission. We’ll go through a step-by-step process for outlining your CRM strategy in chapter three. That strategy will inform your choices about which CRM technologies to implement and how you will use them.

A good CRM strategy focuses on using all the available tools and data to put your customers’ needs first. To stay competitive in the expanding digital economy, where face-to-face sales and customer service is becoming rare, your business needs to find different ways to build genuine relationships. This is done by demonstrating to individual customers that you are listening and anticipating their needs. 

According to the Harvard Business Review, “People now expect companies to understand what type of relationships they want and to respond appropriately — they want firms to hold up their end of the bargain. Unfortunately, many brands don’t meet those expectations.” Responding appropriately to the relational expectations of your customers and leads is the key to growing your business. Your CRM strategy is a plan for how you will do that. 

This strategy isn’t always what people have in mind when they say “CRM,” however. The term is often used to refer to the software that is used to manage business contacts.

Here is a more software-focused CRM definition:

CRM: A software tool that is used to store all your data points about each individual customer or lead together in one record, enabling you to carry out your customer relationships management strategy via segmentation, automation, and personalization.

This term is very broad, and there are many different types of technologies that fall under the CRM umbrella. According to software review platform G2 Crowd, which has categorized over 180 different vendors in this category, “Customer relationship management (CRM) is an umbrella term for many related sales, marketing, and customer service technologies. They improve the productivity of salespeople, marketers, and customer success managers, and they automate communications between an organization and customers and prospects.”

Most of the time, when the term CRM is used, it is used in this sense — to refer to the software that is used to manage relationships with customers. However, this usage of the term often overlooks the importance of the strategy behind the software. Many business owners do not know that there is much more to CRM than just choosing a software vendor and uploading their rolodex of contacts into it. Having a CRM in place is important, but without a strategy for putting the data inside it to work building relationships, there’s a huge missed opportunity.

Putting the “Relationship” Back into Customer Relationship Management

The most important part the CRM acronym is in the R: relationships. According to Harvard Business Review researchers Jill Avery, Susan Fournier and John Wittenbraker, “Despite the ‘R’ in CRM and the $11 billion spent on CRM software annually, many companies don’t understand customer relationships at all. They lack relational intelligence — that is, they aren’t aware of the variety of relationships customers can have with a firm and don’t know how to reinforce or change those connections.” Without this relational intelligence, CRM software will not benefit small businesses. The key to building this relational intelligence is data.

Many business owners still fail to see the connection between relationships and data. In reality, it would make even more sense to define CRM as Customer Data Management, because collecting and leveraging data is key to building better relationships with customers.

You might be wondering at this point how data could possibly solve the challenge of creating more personalized communication. Isn’t big data part of the problem? Instead of viewing customers and leads as human beings, database marketing just lumps people together as meaningless, impersonal numbers. Right?

Although data can certainly be part of the problem when not used intelligently, it’s actually the key to a lasting solution. In the same way you show your friends and family that they matter to you by remembering their favorite foods and calling them on their birthday, storing and leveraging data so you can remember your customers’ preferences also shows them that you care.

This type of unified approach to customer data management is called a “single customer view.” It’s defined as “an aggregated, consistent and holistic representation of the data known by an organization about its customers.” What this means is that all the data available about each customer is brought together into a single place. In your CRM, this “place” is the contact record. Anyone within your organization can see all the data points available for a single customer by pulling up his or her contact record. This makes for more seamless handoffs between departments, more insight into each customer’s unique needs and preferences, and better brand loyalty and customer retention. 

With a single customer view powered by a CRM software tool that makes it easy to capture data and use it, it becomes far easier to treat each customer and lead who crosses your path as a human being with unique wants, needs and concerns.

The Evolution of CRM Technology

To understand why the full potential of CRM technology is often overlooked, it helps to look back and understand the origins of CRM software and the ways it has evolved since its inception.

Although mainframe computers came into use as far back as the 1950s, it wasn’t until the 1980s that small businesses gained access to personal computers in the workplace. The possibilities created by the introduction of digital technology seemed endless. 

One of the first and most obvious applications for computers in business was contact management. Instead of pulling out a heavy rolodex and searching through files to find customer information, entrepreneurs could store those digits inside their computer. The very first customer management softwares were basically just digital rolodexes. 

The term CRM was originally coined in 1995 to refer to software used to manage business contacts and sales opportunities. It was almost called Customer Information Management (CIM), Customer Information Systems (CIS), or Enterprise Customer Management (ECM), but CRM won out. 

These old-school CRM systems were basically the digital equivalent of a filing cabinet until a new development known as “sales force automation” came into play in the 1990s. Instead of merely using technology to store and retrieve data, sales force automation actually put that data to work so that computers could manage much of the routine work that sales employees used to do, freeing up time for better conversations with highly qualified leads. To learn more about sales force automation, take a look at our Sales Force Automation Blueprint.


The combination of sales force automation and CRM technology unleashed exciting new possibilities for businesses. Instead of merely using technology to store data so that humans could use it to build relationships, with the introduction of automation, business software actually became capable of doing some of that relationship-building work itself.

In the 2000s, the cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) business model took off like wildfire. Standalone CRM tools sprouted up left and right, along with all-in-one CRM tools that combined database functionality with tools for marketing and sales automation. Tools such as Salesforce, HubSpot, Marketo and Pardot emerged to meet the needs of large enterprises with heavy volumes of data and large teams to support.

To meet the needs of smaller businesses, two different types of providers emerged: list-based systems such as Constant Contact and Mailchimp, and database-oriented systems such as Infusionsoft and ONTRAPORT. While the list-based systems simplified email marketing by gathering subscribers, leads and customers on different segmented lists that received communications on a set schedule, database systems made it possible for small businesses to dynamically control the communications that each customer and lead received with automation based on if-then rules, adjusting the flow of messages based on behavior or any other data point available.

List-based systems offered some limited CRM capabilities such as basic contact records that allowed business owners to find and edit contact information for the subscribers on their list. However, these list-based systems were not well-equipped for sophisticated sales and marketing automation. In contrast, all-in-one platforms offered similar capabilities as enterprise platforms, packages and prices tailored to meet the needs of small businesses and seamless integration between CRM technology and sales and marketing automation. 

Now, the advanced features available in enterprise-level systems are becoming more accessible and affordable for small businesses. In chapter six, we’ll discuss the current competitive landscape of the CRM market and the latest innovations, such as social media integrations, predictive analytics and real-time visual performance reporting.


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CHAPTER TWO

WHY CRM?

You’ve probably heard from many sources that your business needs a CRM, but it still may not be obvious why. This message bombards entrepreneurs because of the crowded market of CRM providers. There are many reasons why a CRM will benefit your business, but it can be hard to digest them and apply them to your specific business model. In this chapter, we’ll talk about the high-level benefits of CRM, and then we’ll delve into the specific, tangible benefits that it can have for your marketing, sales, and customer service teams.

How a CRM Supports You In Fulfilling Your Entrepreneurial Mission

If you are an entrepreneur, you most likely got into business to fill a specific need. Whether that was to provide the solution to a problem that you noticed within your target market or to empower and support a specific group of people, you found an opportunity to add value within your marketplace. 

Building relationships with the people in this group is key to accomplishing your mission. You may have made inaccurate assumptions about who they are, what they care about or what they really need. The only way to discover the truth is with a two-way exchange of information: a relationship.

By establishing these relationships, you can better acknowledge and respond to the unique needs and preferences of each individual within that group. Even if your target market is very well-defined, every individual customer has different needs and preferences, so you can’t treat them all exactly the same. A CRM makes it possible to cater to them on an individual level.

In a nutshell, your business needs a CRM so that you can build relationships that meet individual customers’ needs to grow your business’s revenue. Armed with data that makes it possible to build one-to-one relationships instead of one-size-fits-all, you can foster the type of relationships customers want and the type of relationships that turn leads into lifelong, loyal customers.

The Importance of Data for Customer Relationship Management

In the introduction to this blueprint, you saw that many growing businesses face a serious lack of understanding of their individual customers’ needs. A CRM makes it possible for your business to increase relational intelligence by taking the mountains of data your business collects and turning it into manageable and searchable repositories of customer-focused information to fight data overwhelm.

Especially for small businesses, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by data to the point of inaction. According to a Harvard Business Review report, “Many companies receive vast amounts of data — via e-mails, online chat sessions between customers and reps, and phone calls — that contain relational signals, but they’re poor at collecting and analyzing all this information. These signals convey what kinds of relationships customers want (and are assuming they have) with the brand as well as how those relationships may be evolving. The key is to start listening for and capturing them.” Your CRM is an invaluable tool for turning that ocean of data into a relationship-building asset. 

This is the main reason why your business needs a CRM. However, at this point, it may still be difficult to visualize how exactly a CRM will fit into your business and bring about this result. Let’s take a closer look at the specific, tangible ways that a CRM will impact the day-to-day experience of your team.

The Benefits of CRM For Your Marketing

With a CRM in place, your business’s marketing intelligence will see a significant jump. Whether your business is small and you’re in charge of marketing, or you have a growing team of marketers responsible for attracting new customers, with a CRM you’ll gain advantages that make growing your business more efficient. 

Here are the most notable benefits and advantages:

Customer Lifetime Value Metrics

To make better decisions about where your marketing budget should be spent for the maximum impact on your growth, you need to understand the value that each individual customer adds to your bottom line. Once you understand that, you can identify which marketing initiatives were responsible for generating that value, what demographic traits those customers displayed, and the customer behavior that predicts more spending. Simply put, a CRM helps you understand the lifetime value of each of your customers which, in turn, allows you to find more customers like them. It also makes it possible to evaluate the success of each one of your marketing initiatives to inform your decisions about future campaigns.

Better Targeting and Segmentation Capabilities

A CRM gives you options for organizing and collecting better data about your marketing contacts. With access to all of this data, you can more easily carve your list of targets into narrower segments. You can get far more specific when creating lists of contacts to add to a new email marketing funnel, Facebook advertising custom audience, or any other marketing initiative. You can split up your prospects according to where they are in their relationship with your brand, focusing top-of-funnel campaigns on individuals who are new to your list (or recently re-engaged) and bottom-of-funnel campaigns on individuals who are nearly ready to buy. You can divide your list by industry, interest, behaviors displayed, or nearly any other data point that you can think up. You can easily stack these filters on top of one another to create highly targeted segments with just a few clicks when you’re using a CRM, rather than spreadsheets or multiple other sources of data.

Opportunities for Personalized Marketing Communications

With a CRM, you can take narrowly-targeted marketing efforts one step further to actually personalize the experience of each one of your leads. Using the data that’s stored in your CRM, you can personalize the message your contact sees in emails, landing pages, direct mail pieces, text messages or any other marketing channel. This might include greeting them by name, sending them content that addresses a specific challenge they shared with you, or responding instantly when they display a trigger behavior such as clicking on an email.

Smarter Marketing Automation

A well-implemented CRM is the key to effective marketing automation. Your automation strategy depends on using the data points stored in each contact’s record to determine how and when you will communicate with them. By referencing the data stored in your CRM, you can use automation to create filtering conditions that change the way contacts flow through your automated systems, goals that move contacts forward in your funnel when they take specific actions, or time-bound steps that trigger an interaction on a specific or relative date. CRM and marketing automation are an incredibly powerful combination.
 

Lead & Customer Qualification and Satisfaction Feedback

In many organizations, after leads are qualified by marketing and passed into the sales funnel, there is little opportunity for marketers to follow up and learn whether those leads were qualified by sales, if and when they became customers, and what kind of customers they turned out to be. This lack of an efficient feedback loop means that your marketing team misses out on opportunities to shift their messaging or strategy to find more leads that will be sales qualified and eventually turn into loyal, valuable customers. With a CRM, you can see data about each individual’s interactions with sales and customer service to focus more narrowly on your ideal customers.
 

Ease in Identifying, Nurturing and Empowering Your Brand Advocates

No matter how skilled your marketing efforts, they will never be as powerful as word-of-mouth marketing or have the same impact that a referral from a trusted friend can have but, with a CRM, you can use data about your existing customers to figure out which of them are most likely to share referrals with your business. Once you identify patterns in your most valuable referrers, you can identify more potential referrers, nurture them into more loyal brand advocates, and give them the tools and incentives they need to share your business with their friends.

The benefits for your marketing team alone should be enough to justify the purchase and implementation of a CRM system. However, they are not the only benefits; your sales and customer service efforts stand to benefit as well.

The Benefits of CRM For Sales

A CRM provides a single-customer view that can give your sales team a serious advantage, whether you’ve got a team with several individual representatives or a team of one. With all the data you need to understand the wants and needs of each person in your pipeline, you can close more sales and serve more customers. Here are several specific benefits of a CRM system for sales:

Better Rapport and More Relevant Sales Conversations

With a CRM, your sales team has access to a complete record of all past lead interactions, making it easier to build rapport and have a more valuable sales conversation. When you’re attempting to build a human connection with potential customers, you need to understand who they are, what they need and what their history with your brand is. A CRM neatly stores all that data collected from marketing interactions or notes from past conversations, making it easy to pull up and reference next time you’re speaking to that person. It helps to know when you’re speaking to a former customer who is considering coming back, a lead who’s been in your funnel for ages and already spoken to someone else on your team, or a brand new lead who was just qualified. With a CRM, you’ll always be able to tell the difference.

Opportunities to Reconnect with Leads at the Right Time

Depending on how expensive your product or service is, most of the people who enter your sales funnel won’t be ready to purchase immediately. A CRM can help you manage your ongoing relationships with all the leads in your funnel over time until they are ready to become customers. Instead of using your calendar, sticky notes, or even just your memory to remember who you should reach out to again, a CRM can keep track of the unique follow-up schedule that each individual contact needs. With data on all past lead interactions, your CRM can identify opportunities to reconnect with leads at the right moment to re-spark the relationship and make a sale.
 

Oversight and Insight Into Your Sales Team’s KPIs

Data about your customers isn’t the only data a CRM can reveal — it can also show you data about your sales team’s performance, on a collective and individual level. A CRM makes it possible to view stats about the activities of any individual on your team for performance assessment. You can compare their closing rates, average response times, the consistency of their follow-up and much more. Objective data like this highlights areas for improvement and reveals which people on your team are standouts. Your CRM also makes it possible to understand your team’s performance as a whole. When you know how many leads are in your sales funnel, your average conversion rates and the average length of time it takes for them to be converted to customers, you can predict your future revenue based on your current sales pipeline. This kind of oversight makes it easier to identify problems before they happen so that your business never faces a cash flow problem.
 

More Consistency in Follow-Up and Data Collection

Even the best performers on your team will occasionally forget to follow up with a contact or neglect to gather and input data. A CRM has the potential to boost your team’s consistency in both of these areas. By seeing exactly which leads need to be followed up with every day, your team won’t forget a critical follow-up task that could cost you the sale. Your CRM can also improve their data collection habits by automatically prompting them to enter the necessary data at each point during the sales funnel — and rewarding them for doing so by lifting the burden of manual follow-up. Additionally, with a CRM in place, you can ensure that leads are never disappointed if your team is pressed for time or loses a person; having follow-up tasks clearly listed and prioritized makes it simple to delegate them and transfer responsibility.

Prioritize Your Time and Focus on the Biggest Opportunities

When new leads start coming in faster, your sales team members will face a new challenge: prioritizing their time to follow up with the best leads first. With a CRM, you can use marketing or behavioral data to identify which incoming leads have the best chance of buying so that you can contact them first and maximize your time. Your closing rate will suffer if you spend too much time chasing down leads who aren’t yet ready to buy, but with a CRM you can use all the data you have about each lead to predict their readiness and focus your efforts where they count.

Smoother Handoffs Between Marketing, Sales and Customer Service

Because of the rapport that they work to build with each new customer, your sales team often ends up being the de facto customer advocate when an issue or opportunity arises. With a CRM, you can ensure that the smoothest possible handoffs occur between marketing and sales or sales and customer service because all the information about each customer’s background is stored in his or her contact record. You can also automate this transition, so that once leads are qualified they pass seamlessly into the sales funnel from the marketing team or into your new customer welcome funnel immediately after their first purchase.

The Benefits of CRM for Customer Service

Although a CRM offers many benefits that make it easier to attract new customers, it doesn’t stop there. With a CRM, you can also gain an edge when it comes to keeping customers, retaining them for longer, more profitable relationships and more referrals by providing excellent customer service. Here are a few specific ways your CRM will do that:

Personalized, Above-And-Beyond Service

By gaining access to all the available information about each customer, your team can learn more about the individual they’re interacting with to identify opportunities to go above and beyond for them. They can personalize the support they provide to emphasize the priorities that the customer has already expressed to the sales or marketing teams, and they can learn more about each customer’s unique situation to provide customer service that goes above and beyond. For example, say that during a conversation with your team, a customer revealed that they had recently experienced a big personal victory. The next time they contact you, you could congratulate them on it and give them a gift to celebrate.

Understanding of Individual Customer Lifetime Value

Sometimes it’s important to make exceptions to the rules for a high-value customer, but it can be difficult for managers to make that call. With a CRM, your team can easily see the total lifetime value of the customer they’re dealing with to better understand the value of their relationship for the company so that they can justify making an exception for only the most high-value customers. For example, say that a client had spent $10,000 dollars with your business over the past year and was frustrated with a recent $5 surcharge. Although this is your policy, you may want to make an exception in order to keep this particular customer’s business. A CRM empowers individual members of your team to make good decisions that preserve your most valuable relationships by telling the difference between high-value relationships and those who are simply trying to take advantage of your business.

Seamlessly Share Feedback With Sales, Marketing & Product

A CRM makes it easy to break down “information silos” that prevent data from being shared freely between different parts of your team. With customer service data that reveals which products and services your clients are most excited about, you can focus on building similar ones to serve your customers better in the future. Your customer service team can also input data from first-hand interactions that helps the rest of the company learn more about your best customers. A CRM makes it easy to share data gleaned from human interactions that can be used for future sales and marketing initiatives and create a positive feedback loop for the sales, marketing and product teams.

Increase Referrals and Brand Loyalty

Improving the quality of your customer service with your CRM will have an impact on both your ability to retain customers and on their willingness to share your brand with their friends and networks. Most customers expect to have unpleasant interactions when submitting an issue for customer service, so if you are able to turn that expectation upside down by providing excellent service that leaves customers feeling taken care of and understood, you will make them want to stick with your brand long-term. By strengthening this relationship, you’ll also make it easier for them to refer new customers to you. No one wants to recommend a business that will let their friends down, so earning their trust is the first step to multiplying your referrals. As a bonus, with a CRM system tracking all the data pertaining to your customer relationships, you’ll be able to analyze the data to spot opportunities to ask for referrals or increase brand loyalty.

Track and Improve Customer Service Representative KPIs

In the same way that your CRM makes it possible to measure the performance of individual members of your sales team, your CRM is also a useful tool for understanding the performance of your customer service team. By tracking customer retention rates, average response times and the frequency of customer issues or complaints, you can gather objective data that reveals the performance of your individual team members. This will reveal opportunities for both individual improvement and overall improvements to your team’s processes.

Improve Handoffs Between Customer Support Representatives

With a CRM in place, your customer service team will be able to improve handoffs when transferring a customer from one representative to the next. This will prevent the frustration that occurs when customers have to repeat their issue several times to different people. Since your reps will be able to see the entire customer service history of the contact in the CRM, they’ll be able to make the interaction more useful, avoid forcing the customer to repeat information, and steer clear of repeating any mistakes that have already impacted the customer’s experience with your brand.

The Business-Wide Benefits of CRM

With so many specific benefits for each part of your team, it’s easy to see that implementing a CRM successfully will change the landscape of your entire business. The most fundamental change that will result is that the customer will be at the heart of your entire strategy. This will result in four large-scale effects:

More Satisfied Customers
With more personalized service, relevant sales messages, and fewer complaints, you’ll enjoy better relationships with your customers and a better brand perception as your reputation spreads via word of mouth.
More Referrals
As you earn more trust from your customers and impress them constantly with personalized service, they’ll be more willing to share your business with their friends.
More Insight
Since you’ll be measuring and collecting data on all the interactions between your team and your customers, you’ll gain priceless insight about your team’s performance, your customer’s habits and preferences, and your best sources of new leads. You’ll gain insight that you can use to adjust your strategy at any time.
More Sales
Because of higher-quality interactions with your team across the board, it will be much easier to turn leads into new customers as you handle their objections and treat them as individuals. This will also help achieve more repeat business and better retention.

These effects will fundamentally change the way your business relates to customers and the way your team does its job on a day-to-day basis. With a CRM, you’ll finally be able to get everyone in your organization on the same page about relationships with customers. Your team will benefit from increased clarity on how to conduct one-on-one interactions with clients and feel more empowered to make good judgement calls in sticky situations. You’ll also make it easier for your team to follow established best practices. With automated processes and well-tailored internal forms and custom fields, you’ll remove ambiguity from each interaction with clients by showing your team the information they need and what to do with it. You’ll be able to show your team the right information at the right time to avoid overwhelm. 

Finally, by bringing all your data together into one place, your business will be poised to take advantage of growth opportunities like never before. With priceless data about customer lifetime value, you’ll be able to understand which small changes will have the biggest effects on your revenue. Your CRM will make it possible to connect the dots between seemingly unrelated areas of your business to see how they are interconnected (eg., marketing and customer service or sales and product). With the ability to finally see the whole picture of your business in one place, you’ll be prepared to seize every opportunity that comes your way.

CHAPTER THREE

DEVELOPING YOUR CRM STRATEGY

In chapter one, we discussed the difference between a CRM strategy and CRM software. Then in chapter two, we delved into the benefits of implementing both together in your business. Now, it’s time to dive into the “how,” and strategy comes first. 

Before you can implement CRM software in your business, you need a strategy to guide you. What this entails is a plan for how you will manage your relationships with customers. Without a plan, even if you have the right software, you will not be able consistently create the type of relationships that advance your mission.

Remember, despite all of the sophisticated software features, CRM is essentially about relationship-building. Your goals and your strategy should be defined in those terms. To measure the success of your CRM strategy, you must measure the quality of your customer relationships. According to Charlie Brown, CEO of Context Partners, “Relationships aren’t numbers ... and CRM isn’t an efficiency tool. It’s a relationship-building tool — that’s why there’s an “r” in it — and it’s one of your only opportunities to put real effort and resources toward developing your network of relationships … Find metrics that measure relationship health, not just sales.” In order to find those metrics, you need to know what kind of relationships are most valuable to your business, and you need concrete markers that can be used to quantify them. 

Let’s get started with some steps you can take to pin down those relationships.


"
Relationships aren’t numbers ... and CRM isn’t an efficiency tool. It’s a relationship-building tool — that’s why there’s an “r” in it — and it’s one of your only opportunities to put real effort and resources toward developing your network of relationships … Find metrics that measure relationship health, not just sales.

- Charlie Brown, 
CEO of Context Partners

Identifying Your Most Valuable Relationships

To figure out what kind of relationships your CRM strategy will encourage, you need to examine the relationships you already have. Some of your current customers and leads are worth far more to your business than others, and telling the difference is key to maximizing the right relationships. There are two particular groups that form these valuable relationships:
 

The Customers Who Spend the Most with Your Brand Over the Lifetime of the Relationship

Of course, starting with your most loyal customers is a good way to get an accurate picture of the ideal brand relationships you want to foster in future customers. However, your assumptions about who your best customers actually are may get in the way of this. When you think about your best customers, the ones who recently spent a large amount might come to mind first — but this isn’t the full picture. Even customers with a few large transactions may not be as valuable to your business as customers who have been buying from you for a longer time, even in smaller increments. The only way to compare apples to apples is by measuring customer lifetime value, or CLV. This number takes into account all the transactions each customer has had with your business over time, allowing you to understand which customers were actually worth the most.     

CLV should also be understood in context by comparing the amount of money you had to spend to acquire each customer. Customers with a high CLV who were very expensive to find are not as valuable to your business as customers with the same CLV and lower acquisition costs. It’s important to focus on the low-hanging fruit. What types of customers are easy to find AND end up spending the most with you over time? Focus on them first. Understanding where they came from can help you maximize your marketing efforts by targeting other individuals with similar characteristics.

Contacts Who Refer the Most Business to You Throughout Your Relationship

The value of each customer relationship isn’t measured only in terms of how much they buy from you. You can also have relationships that are highly valuable because of how much new business they generate. For example, if you have a customer whose CLV is only average, yet this person has referred you three times as many new customers as anyone else, this is one of the most valuable relationships you have. Advocacy also counts here. Think about who has access the widest network of potential new customers and is willing to share your business with them (even if it’s not a direct referral; testimonials and reviews are also important). Your goal should be to foster relationships that lead to referrals and focus on finding more customers who will refer you to their friends.

Anticipating Your Customer’s Relationship Expectations

Now that you have a clear idea of the types of relationships you want to encourage, it’s time to put yourself in the shoes of your customers and prospects. What kind of relationship do they want to have with your brand? What kind of relationship do they expect to have? Understanding their perspective will help you to reconcile their desires with your CRM strategy. 

Learning from your customers’ expectations of their relationship with your brand can be enlightening — and it will help you better cater to their needs. One of the best ways to conceptualize this is to draw parallels between brand relationships and other types of interpersonal relationships to paint a clearer picture of the relationship dynamic. 

Harvard Business Review researchers Jill Avery, Susan Fournier, and John Wittenbraker have extensively researched consumer attitudes toward brands and characterized the many types of relationships they found in interpersonal terms. Some of the relationship types they profiled include:

Buddies
Consumers view the brand as a close, trustworthy friend who they can have a good time with.

Example: A college-aged male’s relationship with Taco Bell

One-night stands
Customers view the brand as a one-time, secret indulgence. Although they’re willing to make a snap buying decision once, they’re not willing to incorporate the brand into their regular habits or as part of their consumer identity.

Example: A woman splurges on a bottle of luxury shampoo but never buys it again

Marriage partners
Consumers are highly loyal and very invested in the relationship with the brand, relying on it for daily transactions as well as occasional exciting purchases.

Example: Amazon Prime subscribers

Villain-victim
Consumers are trapped by the brand into paying fees or suffering from unfair policies. They feel taken advantage of, and there is an element of negative moral judgment against the brand for committing this injustice.

Example: A customer locked into a long-term contract with a mobile phone service with unfriendly or inflexible policies
These are just a few of the types of relationships customers may expect to have with your brand. The researchers located each type of relationship on a matrix of price premium and market share:
Now, reflect on which type of relationship most customers currently have with your brand. How does it match up with the type of relationship they want to have with your brand? How does it match up with the type of relationships that are most valuable for your business? 
 
If you have multiple buyer personas or avatars, they may each have a different relationship style.

Encouraging Positive Relationship Types

To encourage more positive relationships with your customers, such as those of best friends or marriage partners, your CRM strategy will need to stay focused on ways that you can build trust and reward loyalty. In your communications with prospects and leads, reward individuals who share product feedback, ideas and referrals by identifying desired behavior and recording it in your database. You can then create automated processes that operate using that stored data to encourage more loyalty (e.g., by automatically sending a series of thank-you messages with links to bonuses and freebies).

In addition, learning more about your customers’ preferences and demographic traits by gleaning top-level insights from your CRM will allow you to cater the customer experience to fit their expectations. It will also give you the information you need to avoid violating the rules of the relationship. For example, you can avoid missteps like this one that the researchers identified: “...once customers are entrenched in close relationships, any price increase or change in terms can be seen as a betrayal. Amazon’s decision to raise the price of its Prime membership by 25% made some customers pause to consider the power Amazon had amassed. They felt exposed and vulnerable in the face of it. Suddenly customers could see that in forging what they thought was a comfortable partnership, they had become dependent on Amazon.”

In your relationships with your most loyal customers, you need to know why they value the relationship and what the expectations are on their end. Then, scrutinize each change to your product, pricing model, or strategy to see if it’s consistent with what your most valuable customers want. If it’s not, then you can avoid it to prevent alienating them. 

When forming your CRM strategy, stay focused on ways that you can continue to give loyal customers more of what they want and less of what they don’t.

Shifting Negative Relationship Types

If you find, through customer service records and dismal retention rates, that you’re dealing with many more negative relationships than you’d like, your CRM strategy needs to address this. You need a plan to change the tone of undesirable brand relationships such as villain-victim or annoying acquaintance. 

Try to identify the root cause of your most negative customer interactions. It could be a policy your business has that does not meet the needs or expectations of your target market, such as an online retailer whose shipping policy stipulates that the recipient must always be present to sign for the package (especially whose target market is working professionals who are not home midday) or a software company that does not allow any kind of money-back guarantee.

With a CRM, you can track the feedback that customers provide over time and quantify the effect that each policy has on your business. Providing a cancellation survey that asks each customer why he or she is leaving will give you hard data you can use to justify a policy change.

Negative relationship expectations might also be a result of the type of business you’re in. If customers have been burned in the past by one of your competitors, they may expect the same from you and approach the relationship with distrust. You can defy customers’ expectations by offering a gesture of goodwill upfront.
 

Focus on removing the friction from your most negative interactions: billing issues, customer service requests, refunds and returns, etc. Put yourself in customers’ shoes, and walk through the process you’ve put in place to support customers for each of these issues. Look for ways that your CRM can ease their pain, such as by providing them with helpful information about their order to make returns easier. 

You can also try doing something unexpected that goes above and beyond to solve their problems or even just make their day. Your CRM is a big part of this. For example, you can make it a part of your process to send frustrated customers a package of goodies after they report any kind of complaint. By tracking your interactions with them, you can automate the follow-up so that packages go out on schedule without any individual on your team having to put in extra work.

Applying Your Relationship Goals to Each Area of Your Business

Once you’re clear on the type of relationships you have versus the ones that you (and your customers) want, you can focus more narrowly on what your strategy should look like for each area of your business. Here are a few ways you can do this for marketing, sales, customer service, and product development.

Marketing


Collect the information you need from new leads to set the tone of the relationship. Based on the type of relationships that you’ve chosen to prioritize, think about the kind of data you need from each prospect. For example, say that you’re a wedding planner and you’re aiming to build “best friend” type relationships with potential clients. Gathering info on their wedding date, colors, and decor style will help you follow up with relevant content later on to develop trust in the relationship.

Or say that you know your customers are looking for  “one-night stand” relationships; you would avoid asking for any info up front that implies that you will continue to push them to the next level of the relationship. For example, if you’re offering a free lead magnet, don’t assume that everyone who downloads it wants to get a call from your sales team the next day.

Use your customer relationship goals to send prospects and customers the most relevant messages. Once you’ve gathered contact info from potential customers, you can use what you know about them to start building a relationship. With marketing automation that uses each of the data points inside your CRM, you can focus on sending the right kind of information based on their expectations. For example, if you know that customers prefer to have a “fling” with your brand, don’t send messages that push a “marriage partners” relationship (at least not immediately!).

Strike the right balance of communication frequency. Even though gathering data and using it to automate interactions with your prospects is a good idea, it’s important not to over-automate. Though it may be tempting as a marketer to use automation to send prospects messages constantly, consider how often your contacts want to hear from you in the context of the relationship.

Sales

Use relational cues to identify the right time to reach out to a lead. The timeline for reaching out to your leads should be sensitive to the rules of the relationship you have with them. For example, a customer who views the brand relationship as that of “fleeting acquaintances” might not respond well to aggressive follow-up. They might respond better to a more relaxed approach, with messages spaced out with longer periods between communications. Your CRM can manage the timing of all these messages based on the data stored in each contact’s record.

Shift sales conversations based on the type of relationship the prospect wants. When you do contact potential customers, knowing their expectations for the relationship makes the conversation much easier. You can more quickly build rapport with them by addressing them in a way that matches the relationship. For example, instead of assuming the individual is ready to chat as if you were “old friends,” you may want to start off your sales conversation as a “casual acquaintance,” then shift it to become more familiar gradually. You can gain insight into the relationship desired by the contact by using the data stored in their contact record.

Customer Service

Anticipate what your customers need before they have to complain. Based on the relationships that customers have with your brand, and the insight you can gather from a top-level view with your CRM, you can learn the most common frustrations they have with your business. Then, you can focus on fixing those issues to eliminate them for good, or create a seamless process to resolve things quickly and turn things around for the customer. Your CRM can help with this by providing the data you need to identify negative interaction trends and by building systems to handle those interactions better. For example, you can create an internal form your team uses when speaking to a frustrated customer to make sure they gather the information necessary to fix the problem and even use automation to follow up afterwards.

Based on customers’ desired relationship type, shift the way you interact with them. With the background info and context you gain from customers’ contact records, you can tailor your interaction with them to provide more value. You can avoid asking them for information they’ve already provided and, if they have already complained about a similar issue in the past, you can see that up front. Using the data you have about each customer, you can infer what they want from their relationship with you and use it to make the customer service process easier.

 

Product Development

Use the data in your CRM to improve your product or service. As you gather more data about your customers’ interactions with your brand, you’ll sketch a more complete picture of the relationships they want. This can inform your product strategy as you shift what you provide to match the relationship. For example, if you discover that your customers want to have a “fling” with your brand, you can improve your product so that it encourages more one-time purchases in a way that is more profitable to your business, such as by removing add-ons that cost you more to provide but that a non-committal customer would never take advantage of.

When developing new products or services, make sure that they encourage the kind of relationship customers want to have with your brand. Learning more about who your customers are, and their preferred brand relationship, will give you the insight you need to create new products or services that can provide more value for them. You can even use new products to shift the tone of the relationship by providing the thing that your customers want most, encouraging more loyalty.

In all of these ways, you can construct your CRM strategy around the most valuable relationships for your business and for your customers. Remember, the key to your CRM strategy is to focus on each person you come into contact with as an individual. By prioritizing what is important to them, you will earn their loyalty. 

Before moving on to the next chapter, we’ll conclude with a priceless example of how NOT to do this. 

An anonymous head of data at a large life insurance company once said this: “As a life assurance company, the only interaction you have with your customer is when a member of their family dies. They pick up the phone to the life assurance company and announce the death of a loved one. The customer service operator says: “I’m sorry to hear that your husband has died. When did he take out the life assurance policy?”

Failing to be sensitive to the needs of the family in this story shows what is wrong with most CRM strategies. By simply gathering and organizing the information about when the policy was purchased, and all the other details, this company could have prevented the deceased’s family from re-experiencing that pain. That kind of relational focus is what makes your CRM strategy invaluable.


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CHAPTER FOUR

CHOOSING THE RIGHT CRM SOFTWARE AND GETTING STARTED

Up until now, everything we’ve discussed has been theoretical, but now it’s time to dive into the concrete steps you’ll need to choose and set up your business’s CRM. 

With a clearly defined strategy, you are now in the right position to select and customize your CRM software to support it. 

If you do not already have CRM software, this chapter will provide all the information you need to choose a vendor that will meet your business’s needs. If you do have CRM software, and you’re considering switching, this chapter will help you evaluate how well it meets your needs and provide tips and strategies to get more out of your CRM either way.

Choosing the Right CRM Software for Your Business

In a market flooded with different options, choosing a CRM is no easy task. G2Crowd, a review aggregator site for business software, includes 189 different providers in its CRM category and an additional 111 providers in its CRM All-in-One category.

Before you get too far into researching CRM providers, there’s one important decision you’ll need to make: Are you looking for a CRM-only tool or an all-in-one platform? 

Both are viable options, but it’s important to make a conscious choice about which one will best support your CRM strategy.

CRM-Only Tools

Tools in this category are focused only on providing a contact database with simple, streamlined features for contact management. These tools typically don’t provide bulk email delivery, marketing automation or sales automation but, instead, rely on integrations with other business tools to perform these functions.

Some examples of tools in this category are Zoho CRM, Sugar CRM, Insightly and Karma CRM.  

Here are a few reasons why you might consider a CRM-only platform:

These tools are often significantly less expensive than other options.

There are many niche providers in this category, so you might be able to find a CRM software tailored specifically for your industry.

If you don’t need sophisticated, rule-based or campaign-based email marketing automation, these apps provide a quick way to look up individual contacts and follow up.

Here are some reasons to steer clear of a CRM-only provider:

If you are planning to add on integrations in the future, you’ll have to be very careful to select a tool that will integrate cleanly with all of the other tools you’ll eventually need.

You’ll miss out on opportunities since your data is held in different places, making it difficult to interpret and respond to what’s occurring in your business.

It is unlikely that CRM-only providers will provide a scalable solution as your business grows and needs additional capacity and features.

Overall, we typically do not recommend CRM-only providers for these reasons. For a deeper dive into the disadvantages of using multiple single-point solutions, including CRM-only tools, take a look at this article by ONTRAPORT’s Founder and CEO Landon Ray.

All-in-One CRM Platforms

As opposed to CRM-only tools, an all-in-one platform contains all the tools you need to manage your relationships with customers, market to them, and sell your wares in one system.

Some examples of all-in-one platforms include Infusionsoft, Clickfunnels, Greenrope, Hatchbuck, and, of course, ONTRAPORT.

In addition to the CRM database, a typical all-in-one platform will provide:

Marketing automation

Sales force automation

Landing page builder and hosting

Email marketing

Online forms

Payment processing and order forms

Marketing tracking

Some all-in-one platforms also provide:

SMS marketing

Postcards

Shopping cart functionality

Referral tracking

Membership sites

Detailed performance reporting

Marketing tracking

The main reason to use an all-in-one CRM platform is that it will provide data about your business you can’t get anywhere else. It allows you to measure and track every single touchpoint along the customer journey in one place, providing priceless behavioral data about your leads and customers. For example, you could find out how many customers who visit your landing page and call in to your sales team on the same day have purchased in the last year. With a separate system for tracking landing page visits, selling your products, and storing information about each sales call, you’d have to look in three different places to compile this information. Not to mention the fact that you’d have to process all that data by hand, or with some spreadsheet magic, to find the data you’re looking for.

By storing all your customer data in one place, you can also get a far more specific (and accurate) picture of customer lifetime value (CLV). In the previous chapter, we discussed the importance of using CLV to understand which customers are the most valuable so that you can target more people like them. Calculating CLV is difficult, if not impossible, if your customer data is spread out across multiple systems, such as your payment processor, your CRM-only tool, and your referral tracking system. Even if you are able to calculate it, you would need to constantly recalculate that number over time for it to remain accurate. With an all-in-one CRM, not only can you always view and understand the CLV for each individual customer or group of customers, you can easily see how CLV is affected by changes to your marketing campaigns, customer service processes, sales systems or any other factor in your business.

Additionally, having all your customer data together in an all-in-one CRM platform gives you access to insight about the future of your business, rather than just the past. With the predictive analytics capabilities built into some all-in-one platforms, you can forecast the effect of making a change to your current processes for sales, marketing or customer service. Storing all the information about each customer’s behavior, purchases and interactions with you in one place makes it possible to use technology to make educated predictions about the future of your business by analyzing past trends. This is a priceless tool for the CEO who wants to understand how the current sales pipeline will affect revenue in six months to anticipate problems and prevent them. It’s also an indispensable tool for the marketer who wants to see how increasing the budget on a campaign would improve the campaign’s KPIs.

Using an all-in-one platform also reduces the burden of software training for your team. Rather than training your employees to use six different tools, each with a different interface and different terminology, your team only needs to learn one. They’ll see the benefits of relying on their CRM faster, increasing overall adoption and accuracy of the system in your business. 

All-in-one systems also allow you to manage the entire customer experience using a single integrated toolset, which means there won’t be any awkward transitions or hiccups in the experience. This is especially a concern if you are relying on many separate tools connected by tenuous third-party integrations. If just one integration breaks, it can result in clients receiving the wrong email messages, being charged for the wrong products or losing valuable information shared through forms. With an all-in-one solution, it’s much easier to make the entire customer journey smooth and seamless.

One objection that small businesses often bring up when considering an all-in-one platform is expense. In a growing business, there’s usually not much extra cash lying around to spend on software. This is a significant reason many of them end up using cheaper options such as CRM-only apps. However, even though single point-solutions are cheaper individually, they have a tendency to multiply in cost over time. According to Landon Ray, many entrepreneurs migrate away from using multiple single-point solutions because “as they gain experience, grow their businesses and collect more tools, the costs really start to add up in ways they didn’t expect.” He talks more about how these costs add up here.

For more specific information on how to pick an all-in-one platform, check out The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Small Business Software.

Importing Your Data Quickly and Accurately

Once you’ve settled on a platform, the most important thing to do is to get all the data that you do have inside of it. Until you’ve successfully imported your data, you won’t be able to get the full value out of the platform you’ve chosen. Here are a few tips for importing your data as quickly and painlessly as possible.
 

Preparing Your CSV File

‘CSV’ stands for Comma Separated Values, and it is a universal filetype used for spreadsheets. You can export your data from any systems you’re currently using and clean up the formatting using Excel or Google Sheets, then save your file as a CSV. While you’re formatting your data, keep these tips in mind:

Make sure you have correctly formatted the “Name” field. Some systems have separate fields for first name and last name, and others combine them into one field. Make sure your formatting matches the default for your system.
Check that the column names on your CSV file match the field names in your system exactly.
If you want to import a data field that is not one your system’s default fields, make sure to create the field in your system before beginning your import.

To get into the nitty gritty of cleaning up your CSV in Excel before your import, check out this detailed step-by-step article. Note: Although this article mentions how to import into ONTRAPORT, these clean-up tactics can be used regardless of the system you're planning to import your files into.

The Import Process

Most CRMs have a guided import process that will take you through step by step. Typically, this is what you can expect during the import process:

STEP ONE
Select your CSV file.

STEP TWO
Match up the data in each row to a field name. Verify that the correct field type is chosen.(For example, if you have a date field, make sure it is formatting that data as a date rather than as a text or numeric field.)  

STEP THREE
Choose settings for how duplicate contacts will be handled. This is especially important if you already have some data in your system. 

It’s important to know which field will be used as the primary identifier for contacts — it might be email, name, or a unique identification number. If one of the contacts you import has the same value for that field, the system will detect that it is a duplicate and merge them.



When it comes to merging contacts, you have three options:

Merge and underwrite
This setting will not change any data for existing contacts. If there is new data found in the import, it will be added into blank fields

Merge and overwrite
This setting will change data for existing contacts if the data in your file is different than what is in the contact record.

New entry
This setting will create a new contact, even if the primary identifier is the same. If you use this setting, you may end up with duplicate contacts in your database.

Customizing Your CRM Set-up

Once you’ve imported your data and have as many of the system’s default fields filled in as possible, the next thing to do is tailor your CRM to fit your business’s needs. The great thing about all-in-one CRM platforms is that even though they seem generic on the surface, they can be completely customized and configured to meet the specific needs of your business model and your unique business processes. 

In this section, we’ll cover several CRM features that are near-universal so you can apply them to whichever platform you’ve chosen to use. We may use some specific examples from ONTRAPORT to illustrate a how-to concept, but keep in mind that you can apply these same tips if you’re using most other all-in-one CRM platforms.

 

Custom Fields

Depending on your business model, there are many different highly specific bits and pieces of information that you’ll need to keep track of for your clients. For example, if you’re a real estate agent, you likely want to track the dates that your client’s property entered escrow and the transaction closing date. If you repair air conditioning units, you probably want to know what the make and model of your client’s AC unit is. Or, if you are a wedding coordinator, you need to know the wedding venue and dates. Custom fields make it possible to store all of these types of information and more. 

When creating a new field, first you’ll select a field type. In most CRMs, the variety of field types you’ll have to work with will look something like this:

Checkbox - Checkbox for yes and no values.
Country - Dropdown list for countries.
Date - Calendar box to select date.
List Selection - List of multiple values; allows selection of one or more.
Long Text - Text field for long descriptions.
Numeric - Field for whole numbers only.
Price - Field for entering a price.
Phone - Field for phone numbers.
State - Contains a list of states and regions.
Dropdown - Dropdown list of multiple values allowing the selection of one of the values.
Text - Field for alpha-numeric values such as proper names, serial numbers, etc.
Email - Field for email address.
SMS - Field for a phone number that can receive SMS messages.
Address - Field for a street address.

Some fields, like text fields or checkbox fields, require no further set-up. Other fields such as dropdown or list selection, require you to specify a list of possible inputs. For example, if you wanted to create a list selection field for real estate leads to select all the types of property they are interested in, it might include:

 

With a list-selection field, contacts may choose all that apply, but you have to input the list of options when you create the field. On the other hand, when you create a dropdown field, only one value may be selected. For example, say that you run a boarding kennel for pets. When registering a new pet, you want the owner to select from the following list of pet types that you provide service for:

 

Dropdown fields are a good option when you want to force the selection of only one option from a limited list.

 

Tabs and Sections on Contact Records

The more custom fields you have, the more difficult it will be to keep all the information you’ve collected neat and organized. The way to solve this problem is with tabs and sections on contact records. 

All the values stored for each individual entry in your database will be grouped together in one location. In ONTRAPORT, and some other systems, it’s called a contact record. In ONTRAPORT you can arrange all the custom fields that you’ve created into different areas within the contact record right in the field editor, the same tool used to create custom fields. 
 
Tabs are used to divide information into large chunks. You can think of them as separate pages of information, similar to the concept of browser tabs. They are available within the same contact record, but you may only view one at a time. Tabs are useful for broad categories of information or collections of fields that are all related. For example, you could group together all of the information relevant for marketing, sales, and customer service into different tabs. Or you could break them up according to the different products or programs you offer. 

For organizing smaller clusters of information, you can also break up tabs into sections. Sections are useful for grouping data points that all relate to the same topic or were all collected at the same time or on the same form.

For example, perhaps you have a survey that all new clients fill out after one week. It would be wise to group all of the survey fields together in one section on the contact record, maybe even under a tab called “surveys.”

 

Custom Objects

For some business models, simply having one contact record per individual may be too simplistic to accurately manage your customer relationships. To more accurately reflect those relationships, you can create a “Custom Object,” or a new type of record that may be connected to multiple other records. 

“Custom Objects” is a term that derives its name from object-oriented database engineering. A contact record is just one type of database “object,” but with a CRM tool that allows you to create new object types to reflect just about any type of relationship within your business, you can completely customize the way your CRM operates.

Here are a few examples of relationships that could be represented better by using Custom Objects:

A company with many individual employees who work there

A family with multiple members, including parents and children

An event your business is hosting with many individual attendees

A client with whom you have worked on multiple large transactions, such as real estate deals

A customer who has multiple pets that you care for

In all these cases, it can be useful to tie multiple contact records together so that you can accurately serve each individual without sending your message to the wrong person — for example, emailing a child when you should be emailing the parents or communicating with someone who is not the correct point person within a third-party organization you are partnering with. 

Many CRMs deal with this challenge by creating Custom Object types. Here are a few examples:

Opportunities and Deals

In many CRM systems, an “Opportunity” or “Deal” may be created when a new lead is qualified by your sales team. In simple terms, this usually means that a conversation has taken place where a contact expressed interest in moving forward with a buying decision. An opportunity or deal represents your sales team’s chance to convert that lead into a customer and makes it easier to project the total dollar value of the transactions currently moving through your sales pipeline for revenue forecasting. 

The reason it is useful to track opportunities or deals outside of contact records is that there may be multiple contacts involved with only one opportunity. For example, if you are selling a B2B service, even though you may correspond with multiple contacts inside one company, they are considering only one purchase, so it would be one opportunity.

Within an opportunity or deal record, you can link multiple contact records. You can also create additional custom fields just for that opportunity. For example, a “Decision Date,” “Deal Value,” or “Status” field can let you know the status of the conversation. Deals that are set up to represent an individual transaction can be very helpful for real estate businesses (or any other model where a single client may have several large transactions that require monitoring over time). 

With these objects, you can more easily manage the follow-up conversations surrounding that purchase decision. For example, you can automate follow-up tasks with different contacts within the same company. This will allow you to avoid getting your wires crossed, such as by having two different members of your team chase different contacts within the same company for the same possible purchase. 

Setting up opportunities also allows you to better track your sales team’s closing rate. With the ability to isolate and analyze data for all past opportunities, rather than looking at leads who never became opportunities, you can gauge your team’s closing rates collectively and individually to evaluate their progress toward a fixed goal.


 

Other Custom Object Examples

While using deals or opportunities is a good fit for many businesses, your business is unique, and you may benefit from setting up a completely customized object type that reflects the way you do business. Here are a few examples of one-to-many scenarios to help you see the possibilities:

Veterinarian or Pet Groomer
Set up a “Pet” object type with records that contain data about each pet you serve, then tie each “Pet” record to a contact who is the owner. You can tie multiple pets to one owner contact. This would allow you to follow up with the owner regarding information stored within the Pet record. For example, each pet might have a different annual vaccination schedule. With a record type specifically for pets, you could automate the vaccination reminder process according to date fields stored in each Pet record rather than creating generic custom fields in the contact’s record such as “Pet 1 Name” or “Pet 1 Vaccination Date.”
Event Management
If you run a business that involves events, you can create a custom object for each Event, then assign all of the contacts who will attend the event as “Attendees.” This way, you can run automation based on the event date and other fields that pertain to the event itself, rather than adding fields for that event to every individual contact record. There’s a detailed step-by-step explanation of how to set this up in the ONTRAPORT Knowledge Base.
Testimonials
If you want to collect information from your customers such as product reviews, testimonials or even surveys, you can create a new “Testimonial” object type with fields for all the relevant information, including the date given, source, or even the specific product or service it relates to. This way, you can store multiple testimonials for each customer rather than using generic fields on their contact record such as “Testimonial 1” or “Testimonial 2,” which would be nearly impossible to avoid over-writing if customers wanted to provide additional testimonials using the same form. You can find step by step instructions to set this up in the ONTRAPORT Knowledge Base.

Users, Roles and Permissions

Another setting you can customize in your CRM is the level of access given to each individual member of your team. Sometimes, the data stored in your CRM is sensitive, so you may not want everyone you work with to have access to all of it. Using a precise combination of users, roles and permissions you can keep your data secure and simplify each individual’s job.

Users

For most CRM systems, each individual on your team who uses the tool will have his or her own login information and user seat on the account. Having everyone share the same login information for one user seat is a bad idea because:

It makes it impossible to know who was responsible for changes and updates.

It prevents you from keeping the information inside your account as secure as possible.

Anyone can export data (ie., your list of leads) and take them and, if they do, you won’t know who exported what.

You’ll have to change the login info if anyone ever leaves your team.

If anyone changes the login info without telling the rest of the team, the rest of the team will be locked out.

Creating individual users solves this problem. It also allows you additional benefits, such as being able to customize the default permissions given to each user according to his or her job function.

Permissions

In ONTRAPORT, as in many other CRM systems, you can assign specific permissions to users on a feature-by-feature basis. This allows individuals to access specific parts of the system but not others. For example, if you don’t want certain users to be able to export data from the system, you would remove that permission from their user seat.

Here’s a list of all the permissions that may be added to users in ONTRAPORT:

Roles

One useful way to manage multiple users with varying levels of access to your data is by creating roles, which are pre-set groupings of permissions according to the individual’s job function. For example, you could create a role called “Sales Rep” that allowed any individual user with that role to access specific parts of the app, such as editing contacts, setting tasks or managing lead scoring. This way, you could easily standardize who has access to which parts of the system according to their job function and save time assigning individual permissions.

Tags

One of the easiest ways to manage all the contacts in your database is with tags. A tag is essentially a label that can be applied or removed from any contact. Tags can be added by automation, such as at a fixed point in any of your marketing campaigns or business processes. You can also add tags manually or by performing a group action on a collection of contacts. 

For example, you could add a tag that says “Lead” automatically each time someone fills out a form requesting more product info. You could remove that tag after someone on your sales team talks with them if they are no longer interested. 

Using tags makes it very easy to create groups of contacts who have something in common, such as a specific behavior or status. Since you can add as many tags as needed, and you are not limited to one value per field as you would be when using custom fields to segment groups, tags can sometimes be a more versatile option for contact segmentation.

Groups

A group is a collection of contacts in your CRM who all share specific criteria that you identify. In ONTRAPORT, as with most other CRMs, groups can be created based on any field value. ONTRAPORT also offers the option to view groups of contacts who have all taken a particular action (such as opening an email or visiting a landing page.) 

To create a group, you’ll need to specify a field or several fields and the specific values those fields should contain in order for a contact to be part of the group. Here’s what that looks like:

Using these flexible conditions, you can create groups for many different purposes. Then, you can select everyone in the group and perform an action on them all at once. Some of the actions you may want to take include:

Add everyone in the group to an automated campaign.
Send them all a particular one-off email message.
Export specific field values for every contact in the group to a CSV.
Assign a follow-up task for your team to perform for everyone in the group.

Report on the number of contacts in the group for a quick snapshot of how well a specific campaign or goal is progressing.

With all of these tools, there are infinite possibilities available for you to customize the way your CRM works to fit your business’s unique needs — and your customers’ needs. Even though it requires an initial investment of time to learn and set up, doing this thoughtfully at the outset will prevent issues down the line, speed up company-wide adoption of your new system, and yield more valuable data for you in the future.

CHAPTER FIVE

OVERCOMING CHALLENGES WITH CRM IMPLEMENTATION

With the right CRM tool for your business chosen and set up, your next significant challenge will be to get everything implemented so that your new system can start providing the benefits your business needs.
 
Training and adoption are some of the most significant challenges during a new CRM implementation, but there are others, including the difficulty of breaking down information silos throughout your company and reducing inefficiencies in your processes that will be highlighted (or possibly exacerbated) by streamlining your work with a CRM. In this chapter, we’ll discuss the underlying causes behind each of these problems and delve into solutions you can use to overcome them.

Challenge One: Training and Adoption

One of the first obstacles to overcome is getting your team’s buy-in for the new system. Your task is to not only get them familiar with the software, but also to encourage adoption of the new system across your business. Since you’ve already invested significant time and effort into this project, to you it may be obvious just how valuable your new CRM system is to your business — but that does not mean it is obvious to everyone on your team.

Encouraging CRM Adoption With Your Sales Team

To illustrate why it can be difficult to get your team to actually use your new CRM, consider what Clara Shih had to say in the Harvard Business Review about the typical attitude many sales reps have toward CRMs: “While senior management clearly values the ability to monitor reps through CRM, the vast majority of salespeople dislike the extra work and overhead it creates and generally use CRM begrudgingly — and rarely to its full potential. This administrative work becomes more significant when you consider that, on average, reps spend only 11% of their time actively selling.”

The same study also revealed that the largest chunk of an average sales rep’s time, 27%, actually went to administration. That is not what you hired them for, is it? 

The truth is, sales teams hate CRM systems when they do not clearly see the value and time-saving potential of the tool. A CRM system would indeed be a burden if your sales team viewed it and used it as a one-sided data collection system but, when used correctly, CRM is intended to lift the administrative burden off of your sales team, give them more time to actively sell to leads and customers, and provide them with insight they can use to increase their closing rates.

Shih goes on to explain how a well-implemented CRM system can actually benefit your sales reps. She says, “Harnessing the power of machines to recommend actions and approaches allows every salesperson to become data driven, freeing their time to focus on the human trust and relationship aspects of closing business.” With a CRM in place, your sales reps will actually be able to spend less time doing what they don’t like — busywork — and more time on what they do like — selling.

Encouraging CRM Adoption With Your Marketing Team

Compared to your sales team, encouraging your marketing team to use your CRM will likely be an easier sell — odds are, they are the ones who were pushing for it in the first place. With a CRM in place, your marketing team will gain more insight into the customers and leads they have helped to generate, opening up a positive feedback loop so they can better focus on finding people who will become loyal customers.

As far as encouraging them to fully implement it so that you can have all your data in one place, you’ll need to evaluate the other marketing tools they may already be using and see if any of them can replaced by the functionality built into your all-in-one CRM. (Hopefully, the team members were involved with the selection process so that the software meets their specific needs.) For example, if your team was using a form builder, landing page builder, or email marketing tool, you’ll want to make sure they switch and take advantage of the editors available inside your all-in-one platform instead. This way, all the data about each lead and customer will be tied together and available in one place. Having data about how leads engage with your landing pages, forms or emails in separate systems will only create re-work for your team as they attempt to move it over or cross-reference it.

Take advantage of everything your all-in-one platform can do to keep your data neatly organized, and you’ll be able to use it to gain more insight and make better decisions.

Encouraging CRM Adoption With Your Customer Service Team

Just like your sales team, your customer service team will be reluctant to use your CRM unless they see it as more than a data entry tool. In the same way that you’ll need to show your sales team how the CRM makes their job easier, you’ll want to explain to everyone responsible for customer service that your new system will make daily interactions with customers go more smoothly and improve their satisfaction ratings.

First, when each contact record is up to date with information about each customer, your team will have more context for the interaction and will be able to bypass repetitive tasks such as asking for contact info or confirming which product the customer owns.

Using a CRM will also improve the handoff experience between team members. For each service request, the person who was helping your customer can leave detailed notes about any troubleshooting steps taken or any solutions offered. That way, another person can effortlessly pick up where the other left off if the customer needs more help later.

Overall, when your team members begin to rely on your CRM for information to make the customer experience better, they will see a higher satisfaction rate on customer support issues, spend less time re-doing work, and end up dealing with fewer complaints. Communicate those benefits, and they’ll be sold on making the system a part of their daily routine.
 

Company-Wide CRM Adoption Tips

Despite the differences in each team’s uses for your new CRM, there are a few organization-wide strategies you can use to win buy-in from everyone on the team. Whether they’re involved with sales, marketing, customer service or a different unit, use these four tips to encourage your team to integrate your CRM into everything they do.

Keep the Process of Using the CRM as Simple as Possible

You can eliminate unnecessary burdens on your team’s time by simplifying the way they’ll interact with the CRM. Making it a part of their current workflow is also essential — the last thing you want to do is rely on your team to remember to update your CRM at regular intervals on their own. Even with a responsible, well-trained team, relying on human memory in order for tasks to get done inevitably results in inconsistency. Instead, specify when they should update the information in your CRM. 

For example, you could create an internal form for your sales team to use each time they have a conversation with a new lead. An internal form is a form that your employees use to automatically update fields on a contact’s record instead of opening up the CRM database and searching for a contact or creating a new contact record. The form could include fields for the person’s contact info, notes about the conversation, a specific follow-up date, etc. Then, they won’t have to remember to go update your CRM throughout the day. Instead, each time they hang up the phone they can submit the form to automatically store that information in the right place. 

To make this an effortless habit for your team, remember to eliminate any fields that are not essential or that you already have data on.

Set Aside Time Specifically for Training on the New Tool

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to assume that your team will pick up the new software you’re using “on the fly.” No matter how smart and tech-savvy they are, training is critical so that you can ensure everyone is using your system the same way. This will result in more consistent, accurate data.

In addition, your team is busy, and they probably won’t have time to fit solo software training into their schedules. Clear their schedule of other responsibilities so that they can focus on software training, even if it’s just for an hour or two. By setting aside time for them to focus on this, you will actually make it possible for them to learn faster.

You should also consider what training resources you can provide to make this time more worthwhile. The CRM provider you’ve chosen should have a knowledge base, introductory videos, or possibly even a software training course you can have your team go through. 

Be sure that you take the time to do this as well. Even if you won’t be working in the CRM every day the same way that your team does, you’ll need to understand their processes so that you can optimize them over time. In addition, you’ll want to learn how to make the most out of the top-level reporting tools you’ll use to get insight into the team’s performance as a whole.

 

Ask your team for input on how they want to use the CRM

Your team will be more likely to take ownership over their new CRM system if they are personally invested in its success, and there’s no better way to encourage this than by asking them for ideas about how they can make the most of the tools available.

Listen carefully to what they share with you. They will probably share many ideas and opportunities you hadn’t thought of, and they just may challenge your assumptions about what will be the most efficient and valuable way to manage customer relationships and gather data. After all, many of the people on your team work face-to-face with customers more frequently than you. Show them that you are serious about incorporating their ideas into the company’s systems, and they will be even more motivated to keep the database useful and accurate.

Connect the KPIs That Your Teams are Responsible for to CRM Reporting

One of the most powerful motivators you can use to get your team’s buy-in for your new CRM is to show them how the system will report on who is leading the team in terms of job performance. Sales reps will be evaluated by their conversion rates, average time to complete follow-up tasks, or total revenue generated by their sales. Marketers will be evaluated by the success of their campaigns, including the number of qualified leads they generate, the conversion rate on their landing pages, or the engagement rate for leads on their lead nurture emails. Customer Service reps will be evaluated by the satisfaction rate reported by customers and customer retention rate. All of these KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) will be measured by your CRM. This gives everyone on your team an incentive to record their activities in the CRM so that they can be recognized for the good work they’re doing.

Challenge 2: Breaking Down Information Silos

First things first: What is an information silo? “Silo” is a business buzzword that describes the way organizational knowledge tends to be stored within separate departments, making it difficult for that knowledge to spread between teams so that it can become even more valuable.

According to Brent Gleeson in Forbes, “Departmental silos are seen as a growing pain for most organizations of all sizes. It is the duty of the executive leaders and management to prepare and equip their teams with the proper mindset to break down this destructive organizational barrier.”

"
Departmental silos are seen as a growing pain for most organizations of all sizes. It is the duty of the executive leaders and management to prepare and equip their teams with the proper mindset to break down this destructive organizational barrier.

Implementing a CRM across your entire organization is a great first step towards solving the silo problem. This is because the end goal is visibility for all the data and information your business has collected. After a successful CRM implementation, all the leaders on your team will be able to view all the information they need about your customers and your business in one place. This makes collaboration, optimization and innovation far easier.

However, even with a CRM in place, it can still be a challenge to get everyone on the same page so that the entire company can benefit from the data of each team.

Resolving Clashes Between Incompatible Processes

One challenge is that each team may already have processes for managing contacts, leads and customers that your other teams are unfamiliar with. This could lead to hiccups in the customer experience, since each team is unclear about exactly where each individual they deal with is.
 
For example, your sales team may have a process for following up with qualified leads over time by reaching out via email. If your marketing team was not familiar with the follow-up schedule, or even about who the sales team considers a qualified vs. unqualified lead, that could cause issues in their own lead nurturing campaigns. If leads are receiving messages from both your sales and marketing teams on the same day with conflicting messages, this creates a poor customer experience and reduces their trust in you.

To solve this, encourage the leaders from each team in your business who have a hand in the customer journey to get together and map out that entire journey. They should decide where critical handoffs between teams happen and how they will smooth that transition. They should decide how the marketing team’s process for nurturing contacts into leads will feed into the sales team’s process for turning those leads into customers. They should discuss how the sales team should work with your customer service or onboarding teams to provide new customers with the very best possible experience. The end goal is for each stakeholder to gain clarity about his or her team’s specific responsibility for the customer experience and understand what other teams’ responsibilities are as well.

The purpose of this exercise is not to increase barriers between the teams or foster a culture where a team member would ever say, “That’s not my job.” On the contrary, your goal should be for each team to take full ownership over the customer experience but gain an understanding of how they will collaborate with other teams to make that as seamless as possible. The goal is to increase the circulation of information between your teams, not to restrict it.

Creating Clarity With Naming Conventions

Another problem related to information silos is poor communication about what specific CRM components are to be used for. For example, are different teams using the same field to refer to two different things? Are teams using two differently named fields to refer to the same thing?

Confusion over fields is just one example — these communication issues may also extend to the purpose of internal forms, tags, emails, or any part of your CRM. The reason why this may happen is because of a lack of well-known and shared naming conventions. Here are a few tips for keeping your CRM organized (and everyone on the same page) with naming conventions:

Create rules for naming items inside your CRM that everyone uses. Enforce these rules consistently and, if you find items built in the CRM that disregard the rules, don’t sweep them under the rug. Rename them so that everyone is clear about what they are for.
Include the name of the team responsible in the item name.
Include the name of the specific campaign or funnel in the item name.
Include the date that the item was created.
When creating new custom fields, keep them organized in sections and tabs.

Challenge 3: Increasing the Efficiency of Your Processes

A final challenge that you may face during the CRM implementation process is the discovery of many inefficient processes that, when systemized and automated, wind up creating chaos in your business rather than saving time.

When a process is scalable, it is easy to increase the number of times that process is carried out without decreasing the quality of the results it generates. The sneaky thing about inefficient processes is that you cannot always see just how inefficient they actually are until you attempt to scale. This might be because you have a talented employee who makes up for the inefficiency by working extra hard. But when you go to scale the business and hire more people in that role, you quickly realize how unsustainable that process is. Or, you may simply have a situation where people on the team are ignoring the process because they know how inefficient it is, so they improvise to get the job done instead. The problem with this is also scalability, and you may not become aware of the inefficiencies until you try to automate that process using your CRM.

According to Charlie Brown for the Harvard Business Review, “The problem is that CRM’s purported goals are vastly different from the way it usually functions in real life ... Moreover, CRM implementations tend to entrench ineffective practices rather than introduce new ones.”

He explains that during the implementation process, most companies focus only on the processes they are currently using and how they can fully automate them. Instead of doing that, it’s important to take a step back and ask what the process actually should be. Use the implementation period as an opportunity to examine which processes in your business are working and which ones are not. Here are a few ways you can do this:



"
The problem is that CRM’s purported goals are vastly different from the way it usually functions in real life ... Moreover, CRM implementations tend to entrench ineffective practices rather than introduce new ones.
When you map out all the processes and systems with your individual team stakeholders as part of your solution to Challenge #2, encourage conversation about what problems they are currently having, and incorporate the solutions into your customer journey map.
Encourage everyone on the team, manager or not, to report inefficient processes to you so that you can find a better solution.
Remind everyone on the team that even if they know a process is inefficient, they need to continue to follow it until you decide to make a change so that you can accurately measure the impact of that change.
Constantly check in on the processes that you have built around your CRM to see where they may be breaking down or wasting time.
Ask your team to share ideas for improvements to processes, and take their contributions seriously.

The Problem-Solving Mindset

All of these challenges, while common among businesses that are implementing a CRM system, are not the only thing that may go wrong. It’s important that you anticipate that you will run into unexpected challenges during the implementation period. These challenges do not mean that you chose the wrong CRM. It’s completely normal to uncover growing pains, hidden dysfunctions and underlying conflicts during the CRM implementation process, precisely because a successful CRM strategy needs to touch every part of the business. View it as an opportunity for some spring cleaning, and stick with it even though it will be difficult at times. Once your business begins to benefit from having all your data in the same place, and you see the power of creating stronger customer relationships, you will be glad you did.


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CHAPTER SIX

THE FUTURE OF CRM

As one of the most competitive and rapidly growing software markets, CRM has become a space that is ripe for innovation. Several recent advances have already changed the landscape dramatically, and even more are predicted on the horizon.

In this chapter, you’ll discover how the competitive landscape for CRM providers is currently changing and get a sneak peek into breakthrough technologies such as predictive analytics and artificial intelligence that will soon provide your business with additional insight into your customers and leads.

 The Competitive Landscape

As you probably discovered while shopping for the right CRM platform for your business, today’s CRM landscape is vast and can be confusing and inaccessible for the average consumer. Because of this explosive proliferation of technology providers, there are two big trends for the future of CRM software.

Market Consolidation

In such a crowded and consumer-unfriendly market, an obvious corrective shift is a move towards simplification. This has already been happening in the form of acquisitions, in which larger companies like Oracle, Microsoft and Salesforce are buying smaller, niche competitors.

To make CRM technology even more valuable for end-users, large providers are doing everything they can to offer control over the entire customer experience. This involves a massive acquisition not only of niche AI technologies, but the data that many other companies own. As large companies press on to continuously improve their machine learning capabilities, eating up smaller competitors becomes a necessity, even if only for their data.

According to Dan Dawes, Co-founder and CEO of Response Labs, “The future of CRM is a Matrix-like structure of real-time connectedness that enables smart marketers to identify, target, convert and nurture their customers through machine learning and AI ... A glimpse of that future is what Microsoft is doing with its LinkedIn acquisition allowing for data discovery with the CRM platform based on crowdsourced rankings and networks.”

Linkedin’s recent acquisition by Microsoft is only one example. Here are some more notable CRM acquisitions that illustrate this trend:

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The future of CRM is a Matrix-like structure of real-time connectedness that enables smart marketers to identify, target, convert and nurture their customers through machine learning and AI ... A glimpse of that future is what Microsoft is doing with its LinkedIn acquisition allowing for data discovery with the CRM platform based on crowdsourced rankings and networks.

In 2016, Salesforce acquired multiple data intelligence and machine learning startups, including MetaMind, Prediction IO, Implisit, and others.
In a $9.3 billion acquisition, Oracle closed a deal in November, 2016 to acquire NetSuite, an Enterprise Resource Planning tool.
Ecommerce vendor Shopify purchased Kit CRM in April, 2016
So far in 2017, Enterprise CRM provider HubSpot has purchased several AI startups, including Motion AI and Kemvi. Interestingly, they also acquired a dating advice startup called Evolve, due to the company’s expertise in machine learning.

Overall, the past few years have seen a frenzy of tech giants buying up AI technologies, with over 40 noteworthy acquisitions in 2016 and 60 acquisitions in the first two quarters of 2017 alone.

Platforms and Ecosystems

Related to the market consolidation trend, another shift that is occurring is the unification of many smaller, niche-specific business apps and tools around larger platforms. Ecosystems are being built around software integrations that provide collections of apps all built upon single, comprehensive platforms.

Experts have predicted that the CRM ecosystem will deepen and mature as standout providers take the lead and smaller providers focus on building add-ons or plugins for platforms. This shift is already clearly underway.

Steven Benson, the founder and CEO of Badger Maps, points out: “The key trend I see happening in the CRM market is people customizing their CRM experiences with specific applications and add-ons. They will use these to enhance the core CRM experience and make it better for their specific go-to-market strategies and needs. The ecosystem of apps around CRMs is allowing specific users to get exactly what they want out of their CRM for their individual use case.”

According to Billy Lyle of Redspire, “Thousands of vendors, both in the cloud and standalone, have made a business from selling plug-in apps. This trend will be deepening within the future of CRM, with plugins for plugins — and perhaps even plugins for them!”

Salesforce was one of the first to embrace this model, with its extensive Appexchange marketplace. It provides hundreds of plugins and micro-apps designed to increase what users can do with the Salesforce platform and provide more niche solutions.

The app model has made its way to small business as well. For example, PlusThis provides apps and add-ons for small business marketing automation platforms such as Infusionsoft, Drip and ONTRAPORT. Other notable app providers include SyncSumo and Fuzed.

Breakthroughs in CRM Technology

CRM technology has come quite a long way over the past few years, and the future is even brighter with several more exciting new developments on the horizon. Soon, advanced CRM technology will be accessible for even the smallest of businesses.

Social Media Integration

A new trend called Social CRM aims to combine the relationship-building power of social media with CRM technology. According to IBM, “Social CRM — the integration of social media with customer relationship management (CRM) strategies — is the next frontier for organizations that want to optimize the power of social interactions to get closer to customers.”

Social CRM tools make it possible for businesses to learn more about existing leads and customers by drawing in more details about them from social media channels.

In addition to the data that you’ve collected from your contacts on leads through forms on your site or conversations that you’ve had with them, some social CRMs also collect and organize data that your contacts have shared on their social media profiles.

This helps you create a more complete, individualized picture of the contact so that you can tailor your message to them even more narrowly. It also makes it possible to track conversations with them held across social channels as well as email. 
Social CRMs also allow you to listen to what your audience is talking about across social media so that you can learn from their dialogue and respond at the right time.

Many platforms make it possible to monitor conversations about your brand, or even just conversations surrounding certain topics and trending hashtags, so that you can learn more about your audience.

Social media is also becoming a more popular channel for support requests. You may already be accustomed to receiving Tweets or Facebook messages from customers who need help. Social CRMs can streamline these conversations by bringing messages from many different social channels together into one dashboard. They can also send automatic responses depending on the situation. These automated messages are gradually becoming more sophisticated.


According to Direct Marketing Magazine, “CRM platforms are beginning to integrate support requests via Twitter or Facebook as though they were standard email requests. By 2027, AI-equipped CRMs will pick up on changes in text and sound that indicate moods, with both IBM and Salesforce testing variations of ‘emotional’ analysis. If a customer sends an angry tweet about the product, your CRM can view and process the information and prioritize the item for quick follow-up by an appropriate support staff, even while it generates a fitting response message.”

Predictive Analytics and Artificial Intelligence

Another promising trend in CRM technology is the increasing reliance on data and artificial intelligence or machine learning models to make predictions. These predictions can tell you as a business owner which leads and customers to focus on when, with the goal of maximizing their lifetime value and minimizing time required from your team.

According to Rishi Khanna, CEO of ISHIR, “CRM without AI is an unintelligent system. Without using predictive analysis, if you try to search for customer information, it’s like looking for a needle in the haystack. You cannot know which customer has the highest potential to invest … AI and predictive analysis will make it possible to analyze customer sentiments and intent, score leads, recommend products, and upsell.”

Using all the data available, CRMs with artificial intelligence can:

Predict when a lead may be ready to buy

Based on data about past conversations and transactions, CRMs with predictive analytics will be able to make educated guesses about which leads are most likely to become customers at any given time. This may function in a similar way as current lead scoring technology, but with one key difference. While lead scoring technology relies on a human to analyze and interpret data about past sales to predict which factors indicate that a lead is ready to buy, then score that data and behavior, predictive intelligence would calculate this probability based on machine learning models. That is, it would use the data in your CRM to constantly adjust its predictions toward increasing accuracy, prompting you and your team to reach out at just the right moment.

Predict which content will be most effective

CRM with predictive analytics won’t just revolutionize sales and customer service — it will also have far-reaching impacts for content marketing. By gathering data about how leads and customers respond to each piece of content at various points during the customer lifecycle, smart CRMs will be able to optimize that lifecycle by offering different content to each contact dynamically, based on machine learning models that will analyze the efficacy of each piece. This will allow content creators to learn which assets have the greatest impact on contacts during each stage of the relationship, from lead to loyal customer, so that they can create even better content over time.

Predict when a customer is likely to cancel

Using data from your past cancellation trends, CRMs with artificial intelligence will also be able to identify factors that indicate customers may be about to cancel, then automatically present them with a special offer, freebie or more support to prevent it.

Predict which offer, upsell or cross-sell will work best

With data about all past transactions, smart CRMs will be able to predict whether a given customer is likely to respond to a specific offer at any given time. Using this data, the system may prompt a sales rep to upsell a specific product during a call or automatically display a certain cross-sell offer during an ecommerce transaction.

Overall, CRMs powered by artificial intelligence offer a massive advantage, and that is that they avoid overloading individuals with data. The smarter the system, the better it can make predictions about which data is most relevant and display only what is needed for humans on your team to make better decisions or have better in-person interactions with customers and leads.

Just how prevalent is artificial intelligence in CRM poised to become? Its potential is nearly universal, according to Katherine Kostereva, co-founder, CEO and managing Partner of bpm’online, who says: “CRM is already in the midst of an intelligence revolution, and in 10 years we won’t even think about AI and machine learning separate from CRM. They will be standard in CRM solutions and will automate all non-social or creative tasks throughout the customer journey.”

Visual Performance Reporting and Projection

One final innovation is already available to small business owners and entrepreneurs. New technology allows them to view their entire sales and marketing funnels all in one place, with data about their current performance (including conversion rates, lifetime value generated, time to convert and more) overlaid on each step.

Visual campaign builders are nothing new on the all-in-one marketing automation scene. What these tools do is lay out each step in a marketing or sales funnel so that users can easily see how each step is connected to the others, which is essential for many sophisticated funnels that make use of conditional filters, if-then logic, and advanced segmentation.

However, to take this further, users also need the ability to view and analyze every aspect of a campaign’s performance directly on this map, not to mention project future performance by changing any campaign inputs.

ONTRAPORT is the first (and so far, only) visual campaign builder with built-in performance reporting and projection. It includes two modes that you can use to discover how your current sales and marketing efforts are performing and predict how they will perform in the future based on any changes to your strategy.

Performance Mode

ONTRAPORT’s Performance Mode provides a clearer understanding of how leads and customers interact with every single element of your campaign. With a contact flow report, you can get an instant view of where contacts are currently on your campaign map, as well as an understanding of where they have been, so that you can identify opportunities to keep relationships moving forward.

With a funnel conversion report, you can instantly reveal the conversion rates for every single goal on your campaign map, allowing you to find easy opportunities for improvement.

In addition, you can see how the lifetime value of each customer changes as they move through each step, making it very clear which marketing elements have the biggest impact on your revenue.

Projection Mode

Understanding the past performance of your funnels is important, but what if you could predict their future performance? As a business owner or marketer, it’s necessary to occasionally take risks by trying a new strategy or cutting off an existing program. With Projection Mode, you don’t have to bust out a spreadsheet with complicated formulas to figure out how this will affect your overall revenue. Instead, you can fast forward in time and see the impact that tweaking one piece of your funnel will have on the end result.

For example, you can see how your goal conversions would be affected if you switched off advertisements from one source or how they would change if your landing page conversions increased by 20%.

You can use this tool to get insight into where your funnel’s biggest blockages are happening and anticipate what will happen if you strategically improve specific campaign touch points.

With this kind of big-picture understanding of your biggest opportunities, you can focus on creating stronger relationships with every customer and lead by improving on your weak points and optimizing your strong areas even further.

Now, It’s Your Turn

You’ve reached the end of the Ultimate CRM Blueprint — well done!

With the strategies and tips from the past six chapters, you are now ready to implement your own CRM strategy to build stronger relationships with customers. No matter how technical or sophisticated your strategy gets, never forget this: Successful businesses are built on relationships. Put this first and foremost in everything you do with your CRM, and your business will become unstoppable.

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