A customer relationship management (CRM) strategy is a company’s plan to use CRM software to help grow sales and improve customer service. It incorporates an overall business strategy with input from sales, marketing, and customer service. It also addresses all potential touchpoints that occur during the customer journey and includes goals, sales process, and technology requirements.
This article will focus primarily on developing an implementation and everyday use strategy for sales teams because they are typically expected to be the primary users of the CRM software. However, if marketing, customer service, or other organizational teams will also be using the software, you will want to include them in the process for buy-in and to ensure your overall strategy is realistic and addresses all affected team members’ needs and pain points.
There’s a lot to research and review when designing a plan for how to use your CRM software. Download our worksheet on how to create a CRM strategy and keep it nearby to make notes as you read through these seven steps.
1. Review Your Overall Business Strategy
Creating an effective CRM strategy starts with understanding your company’s overall business strategy. It should answer key questions such as where, what, who, and how you will operate in your market, which will help form the backbone of your sales strategy. Here are some of the elements of a business strategy you’ll need to know before creating a sales strategy.
Understand Your Business Goals
Setting the right business goals will inform how you approach the other elements of your customer relationship management strategy. Doing this sets you apart from the majority of your competitors since studies show most companies don’t even monitor their goal setting.
High-level examples of business goals could be to:
- Improve the efficiency of your customer service team
- Increase the margins on all new business by 5%
- Implement a volunteer program for employees
- Boost yearly revenue by 25%
Develop a Unique Selling Proposition
A unique selling proposition (USP) defines the factors that make your product or service different from and better than your competition. Knowing your USP gives you one high-level tool when asked: “how are you different from the other company?” Your USP is the foundation of your whole marketing strategy.
Define Your Value Proposition
A value proposition is a statement of the specific results a customer will get and the value they will receive if they use your product or service. Being able to articulate this to a prospect will get the sales conversation started (and keep it from ending too soon) and differentiate you from your competition.
Here are a few examples of what a value proposition is not:
- “We provide cheap long-distance phone services to small businesses.”
- “Our solution will reduce your accounting stress and help you sleep better.”
- “Our software helps attorneys draft legal documents.”
Here’s an example of a good value proposition from sales expert Jill Konrath:
“We help large companies reduce the cost of their employee benefits programs without impacting benefit levels. With the spiraling costs of healthcare today, this is a critical issue for most businesses. One of our recent clients, a large manufacturing company similar to yours, was struggling with how to reduce spending in this area. We saved them over $800,000 in just six months.”
Know Your Customers’ Buyer Personas
A key foundational element for any business is understanding its potential buyers. This helps determine who your customers are and how you will be marketing, selling, and servicing them. It also helps you better position your business with the needs and goals of these buyers in mind. These fictional customer representations are called buyer personas.
Most businesses have more than one persona, but not so many (less than five) that each one becomes too granular and your marketing gets diluted because you are trying to cover too many messaging bases. Personas typically address the following areas: demographics (age, location, gender, marital status, education, job title, income) and psychographics (goals, challenges, interests, values, personality).
For more information on how to develop fictionalized representations of your customers and a helpful worksheet to guide you, check out our article on how to create a customer persona in six steps.
Understand the Competitive Landscape
If you don’t know who your competitors are and how your company fits into the space, you’ll be at a costly disadvantage. Knowing the competitive landscape allows you to spot industry trends, understand how your competitors are marketing and selling, and ultimately know how (and if) your company will keep its differentiators to maintain its competitive advantage.
There are a lot of ways to evaluate and compare the competition, so you’ll have to decide what’s most important. We’ve compiled some tips and advice on how to do market research to get you started.
2. Map the Customer Journey
The customer journey map is a roadmap showing how a customer or prospect interacts with your company and all the experiences they have along the way. This encompasses your operations, marketing, sales, service, support—any aspect of your business with customer touchpoints.
Those touchpoints may include:
- Your website
- Social media
- Yelp reviews
- Email marketing
- Paid ads
Ultimately, you’re trying to help your customer achieve their goals, whether it’s educating a prospect on how your software differs from your competitors or showing a customer how to use a particular feature of the software. Like buyer personas, customer journey maps are fictional representations of how these interactions will transpire. The steps and actions taken are dynamic, and that’s OK.
Identify Current Challenges
With the stages of your journey map outlined, review each stage to determine what issues and challenges you have for each one. For example, if your conversion rate after a software trial is low, determine why it’s low. Once a prospect signs up, are they actually using the trial? Do you provide enough information to get them started? Do you provide them with a company point of contact to answer questions? Do you have an online support community?
Create a Content Plan
Each touchpoint in the customer journey will require content to support different stages. The types of content for prospects will differ, but will also cross over to those of customers. For example, content for a prospect may include an asset like an educational e-book showing how a particular pain point can be resolved using a certain type of tactic. More specifically, a guide such as “How to Develop an Influencer Marketing Strategy” may be created by a marketing agency.
On the customer side, content can be assets like guides on how to use a product, instructional webinars, and paid ads for new or complementary products. These examples can also be used on the prospect side. You can see examples of content as touchpoints in the example customer journey map above.
3. Establish Sales Channels & Sales Process
The channels where you sell your products and solutions will likely already have been decided unless you are just starting out. For example, if you own a residential roofing company, you are selling directly to the consumer. But if you’re a business-to-business (B2B) software startup, you have a number of possible sales channels to consider. What you sell and to whom will determine what your sales process looks like, and how that integrates with your CRM strategy.
Sell Direct to Customers
As the name implies, if you’re a B2B, you’re selling directly to a consumer or another business. As in the roofing and software examples, you may offer a service that will be marketed and sold without involving any other selling layers. You have the most control over this process, but for a company that needs to scale quickly, as in the software example, it can also be the slowest.
Sell Using a Distributor or Reseller
When you sell your products through a distributor or reseller, you are giving up both the one-on-one interaction with the customer and control of the sales process. You are also leaving the entire experience from branding to quality control to a middleman. Your profit margins will also be thinner.
However, for some businesses, these sales channels can mean the difference between growth and closing the doors. You can also combine them with your current sales model (e.g., selling direct) to maximize opportunities for growth.
Benefits of using a distributor or reseller include:
- Instant access to established businesses and their clients, allowing for faster and larger rates of growth.
- Access to the sales experience of a reseller used to selling similar products
- Lower potential barriers to entry
- A competitive advantage over those not using these channels
Define the Sales Process
Creating a sales process is a sometimes overlooked part of a CRM strategy. However, it’s crucial, especially if you plan on growing your sales team and business. The more complex your sales and the longer your sales cycle, the more detailed your process should be. Start by identifying the pipeline stages, defined as the steps in your sales process needed to move someone from a prospect to a customer, because they will be tracked in your CRM.
Common stages include prospecting, initial contact, demo, proposal review, won, and lost. For each step, write out what’s involved and the expected outcomes. To learn more, review our article on the eight pipeline stages every sales team should have.
4. Understand Organizational Dynamics
Whether implementing a CRM for the first time or switching to another platform, you’ll need to know who will have access to the CRM and understand how the change may affect your team. Include relevant employees in all stages of your customer relationship management strategy, from goal setting to technology considerations to selecting the CRM software. Employees with a voice in the process will be more likely to embrace the new technology.
Evaluate Cultural Readiness
If your team is not already using a CRM, it’s a good idea to take the pulse of everyone who will be using it. Identify who these users are and let them know you’re going to be implementing a CRM. What’s your team’s CRM experience? Which platforms have they used? What did they like or dislike about those platforms or CRMs in general? How did it help them perform their jobs better?
Identify CRM Roles
Not everyone in an organization will need to have access to the CRM. Determine who needs access and what levels of access each team member will have. You also may want to name a CRM admin, which is the person who understands both the technology of the platform and all the business processes. For small businesses, this could be an office manager, IT person, or even the business owner.
Another position to consider is a CRM strategist. These professionals, often consultants, develop, implement, and manage CRM strategies on either a temporary or permanent basis for businesses.
Align Sales, Marketing & Service
The departments that use a CRM the most are typically sales, marketing, and service. Bring these teams together to better understand how each one will use the tool and what existing tools, if any, each department is already using. For example, a marketing manager is using Mailchimp to send weekly promotional emails and keeps 20GB of marketing collateral in Dropbox, which is not accessible by anyone else.
Knowing these details will help when it comes time to identify CRM requirements. For instance, if you use Mailchimp for email marketing campaigns, you’ll want a CRM that integrates with it. You also may want a CRM with high or no storage limits if you plan to house marketing collateral in the software for easier access for everyone.
5. Define Team Goals
To evaluate the performance of your team, set goals for each group (e.g., sales) that will be using the CRM. These goals should tie in with your overall business objectives. Knowing these goals will not only set employee expectations, they will also inform the requirements needed for the CRM.
For example, a software company’s goal may be to close 80% of the demos it provides; however, it’s only closing 60%. The company determines that part of this gap results from inadequate post-demo follow-up. Thus they will want a CRM that has the ability to send automated follow-up emails for better engagement post-demo. The effectiveness of these emails can then be tracked with a CRM that has this capability.
Set SMART Goals to Effectively Track Performance
As you define your goals, make sure each one is SMART: (S=specific, M=measurable, A=achievable, R=relevant, and T=time-bound). Here’s an example of a SMART goal for a salesperson’s quota:
- Specific: Sell $150,000 in new business in the Northwest region this quarter.
- Measurable: Is the goal objectively measurable? CRMs can track progress toward sales goals by showing sales achieved at any point during the quarter.
- Attainable: Is $150,000 based on a whim or is it backed up by past performance or another objective indicator? A SMART goal must be reasonably attainable by the person tasked with achieving it.
- Relevant: Does the goal align with other sales goals in relation to the overall growth goals of the company?
- Time-bound: Does the goal have appropriate beginning and end time parameters in place to make the goal achievable?
Establish Key Performance Indicators
Key performance indicators (KPIs) are simply metrics used to measure the performance of a person, team, and organization as they relate to their goals. KPIs should tie directly to your company’s overall goals and strategy. They can easily be tracked with different CRM analytics such as “close by lead type,” “month-to-date sales vs quota,” and so on.
At the top level of a company, KPIs are typically broad, like increasing revenue by 25% each month. At the mid-level, a sales team might have a departmental goal of increasing product demos by 20%. KPIs at this level help both goal achievement and building team cohesion. For an individual salesperson, it could be more specific to the success of that person as it relates to their specific targets.
For example, a salesperson with a $150,000 quarterly sales quota will need to set up 30 meetings each month in order to close an average five customers. In this case, the 30 monthly meetings is a KPI because it ties back to their quarterly sales quota. These metrics can also be easily tracked and measured with a CRM like Salesforce Essentials.
6. Define the CRM Components
This is the more granular stage of the CRM strategy, and is where you define the who, what, and how. It includes defining contacts, creating pipelines and deal stages, identifying requirements, and selecting any additional software necessary for a successful sales team. These actions don’t have to be created in the CRM initially, though it may help to visualize everything. If you haven’t selected a platform yet, create these steps in writing until you do.
Define Contacts, Leads, Prospects & Opportunities
If you’ve used a CRM before, you know how quickly it can get over-stuffed with contacts from various sources. Because not all of these need to be in your CRM, define what makes a good contact. At a minimum, it should be someone with a full name, email, and phone number. Some CRMs even require all of these before you can create a contact.
A lead may be someone who downloaded an e-book from your site. A prospect is someone who has the types of challenges that your company solves, which you may know because you met them at a trade show. An opportunity can be someone who has a challenge you can solve and is considering your company to help them solve it.
The best CRM software lets you customize how you categorize a contact with the use of properties. In other words, you can identify them as a lead, prospect, opportunity, or whatever label you want to use. Keep in mind, however, that some CRMs have different definitions for all of these. For example, some platforms consider a contact a lead that has been qualified. Depending on which CRM you use, you may have to adjust how you define these categories.
Create Pipelines & Deal Stages
While you don’t need to create pipelines right away in your CRM, it may help to see them “live.” More important is identifying the different pipelines you have and the stages involved in each one. For example, if you sell products and services, you’ll want different pipelines for each. The stages in the sales process will be different, and you’ll want a way to identify and track these separately in the CRM for management and reporting purposes.
Within each pipeline, list all of the steps necessary to take a contact from lead to customer. These are things like first contact, discovery call, demo, proposal review, and so on. If you’ve created a sales process, these should be easy to plug in.
7. Selecting the Right CRM Software
There are dozens of CRM platforms, each with their own strengths, weaknesses, and varying costs. For a small business CRM, expect to pay between $10 and $50 per user, per month. Some are industry-specific CRM, while others have tools like social media integration or marketing automation built in. Understand the capabilities you need by discussing with your sales, marketing, and service teams.
Review & Research Requirements
Identify the requirements you’ll need for the CRM by meeting with the sales, marketing, and service teams. What software are these teams using currently? Do they need to integrate with the CRM? Are they looking for new capabilities? For example, sales might need Gmail integration capability, as they would like the ability to send simple automated emails to follow up with demo customers.
Once you’ve determined your CRM requirements, it’s time to research your software options. Visit the CRM reviews section of our site to compare the different features and use cases, and to read user reviews.
Test Drive CRMs
Once you’ve narrowed down a handful of CRMs that meet your requirements, review all the features, costs, and upgrade capabilities. Most offer free trials, so sign up for a few of these to get initial impressions, then request a demo with the company for some hands-on experience. Once you choose your CRM, use our guide to implementing a CRM to be up and running in no time.
Creating a CRM strategy is crucial in order to grow a company’s sales and improve customer service. Though sales will be the primary users of the software, other departments should be also included in strategy conversations, as the use of a CRM will affect all customer touchpoints, from the website experience to customer support channel content.
A full-featured CRM such as Salesforce Essentials allows you to implement your strategy and hit the ground running. It’s highly customizable and easy to set up, with pricing from $25 per user, per month. Visit Salesforce’s website to sign up for a free, 30-day trial today.