10 CRM Best Practices to Maximize Sales and Customer Service Performance

Best Practices

Customer relationship management (CRM) systems are powerful tools for operating a business or organization of any kind. They help you build and convert sales pipeline, manage leads and opportunities, automate repetitive tasks, and build lasting customer relationships. Another key benefit is having a single source of truth for your business, meaning all of your data is standardized and in one place.

Across all industries, CRMs typically show an ROI of $8.71 dollars gained in revenue to every dollar spent on the technology, meaning it’s usually an excellent investment. CRMs are also ideal for integrating sales and marketing activities and driving customer relationships. But getting your CRM right involves a lot of hard work, and you’ll need to adopt CRM best practices to maximize customer sales and service performance. 

The key CRM best practices that will help you determine success include a CRM adoption strategy, CRM strategy, CRM customization, capturing the right data, employee training and implementing user-friendly features to track customer interactions and identify sales opportunities. Other best practices for CRM include automation, regular audits to identify problems and leveraging CRM analytics to make data-driven decisions. In this blog post, let’s explore each of these best practices more closely.

1. Plan your CRM adoption strategy

As with any tool, a customer relationship management system must be used to be effective and to show ROI. According to a recent study in Harvard Business Review, between 15-69% of CRM projects fail. With this in mind, you’ll want to carefully plan your CRM adoption strategy. Consider factors such as CRM selection, customization, buy-in from the organization, training and rollout. Develop a comprehensive plan covering all phases of the implementation process, and appoint a competent project manager to guide the process from execution to successful deployment. You’ll also want to set key milestones to help you monitor progress. Along the way, you’ll want to:

Clarify reasons for implementing a CRM

Why did you want customer relationship management software in the first place? It’s important to evaluate and clarify your reasons for selecting a new CRM system – whether it’s your first or it is replacing an incumbent. When you clearly define the goals you want to achieve, it’s easy to make sure they align with your selected CRM solution’s capabilities. Since CRM is a technology that touches nearly all departments, you’ll also want to ensure everyone understands how the CRM will help you organize your sales and marketing functions and manage customer data. Pick data points that make sense for your organization and get buy-in for those data points so you can report back on the success or failure of your implementation project. This should not be difficult because CRM ROI is typically fairly high. The industry average is a return of $8.71 for every dollar spent on CRM.

Earn buy-in from affected departments, including sales, marketing and IT 

It’s essential to get everyone on board to ensure that all levels – from corporate executives to front line users – fully support the initiative. Involve your sales and marketing team in early discussions. Explain what the CRM can do and sell them on the benefits. Show how it can help improve marketing efforts and increase sales. Be sure you take note of employees’ concerns and ideas, and adapt your plans to alleviate those concerns.

Carefully select your CRM software

When it comes to selection, it’s important to prepare a comprehensive list of requirements to help you evaluate CRM solutions. There are many options in the market, so having a distinct list of must-have features or integrations will help shrink the pool of possibilities. Your list will  help you determine whether your chosen CRM has the right features to align your teams and offer customer satisfaction. You should evaluate whether you can customize the solution to suit your business model and integrate the CRM with other corporate software. Be sure to compare the benefits and potential savings of a modern, cloud CRM solution against an on-premise implementation or the selection of a legacy CRM like Salesforce that may be costly and more difficult to maintain.

2. Customize CRM to your unique needs

Each company has unique requirements, so you’ll want to customize your CRM to suit those needs. Determine which CRM fields you require, and ensure your proposed solution can accommodate these specific fields. Most modern CRMs have powerful customization capabilities, allowing you to define unique page layouts and adjust default settings to suit your requirements. You should also ensure you can configure the CRM workflow to suit your business operations, so you won’t have to change your business model to suit the CRM.

Custom fields are a powerful feature that allow you to add a field that is unique to your business. For example, let’s say you want to collect the Starbucks order for each prospect in your database. You can create a field called “Starbucks order” for this data. You can also search on a field, which makes it a more powerful tool. In this case, let’s say you had an extra Caramel Macchiato on hand, you could search for that value and know which of your prospects would appreciate it if you dropped that drink off at their office.  

Integrate data sources to create a comprehensive overview

You need good data to make decisions. It’s essential to ensure you can import and integrate data from various sources, such as your sales, marketing, financial, accounting and logistics systems. This allows you to create a single view of your customer and helps you make informed decisions.

Establish custom rules, pipelines and responsibilities 

Cultivating a sales prospect into a customer takes time and effort. Developing custom rules and pipelines shortens this sales cycle. Use rules to qualify sales leads by value, segment and status, and allocate leads to sales representatives according to their fields of expertise.

3. Don’t underestimate CRM implementation

Companies that invest resources in the implementation process do better than those that don’t. There are no shortcuts — it’s essential to carefully plan and invest time, money and resources in CRM implementation. Failing to do so could lead to a failed implementation. According to research company Forrester, poor implementation is the most common reason for CRM failure. Conversely, data from FinancesOnline shows that, on average, effective CRM implementation results in a 65% increase in sales and a 50% increase in productivity.

Allocate sufficient resources and time

Don’t skimp on resources, and ensure the implementation team is well-trained. Allow sufficient time for preparation, and plan for a staged implementation. Be sure to allocate enough time for the implementation team to properly complete each step. Consider all teams – sales, marketing, customer service teams, customer support teams, and other related teams. This is a good time to detail the necessary business processes and look to gain business efficiency with better customer data management. Depending on the size and complexity of your organization, it should take about 4-8 weeks to implement a modern CRM. If you are hearing it will take 6 months or more, you’re likely dealing with a legacy CRM. Consider looking at other options before moving forward.  

Train your workforce 

Training classroom.

Ideally, ‘just in time’ training should happen for your entire workforce, meaning they are trained just ahead of their implementation date. Training that occurs too early will result in the team forgetting the critical information they need to know; when training comes too late, frustration has already set in. Give the team adequate opportunity to practice and grasp the new system and  then get hands-on quickly. Remember that a new CRM, even one that aligns with existing work practices, is a major change. You should invest in preparatory and ongoing training to ensure your sales and marketing teams know how to use the system strategically. 

Prepare a CRM onboarding, implementation and training plan

Develop a comprehensive CRM onboarding, implementation and training plan that includes all departments and employees impacted by the CRM system. Keep in mind that implementation is a continuous process and not a one-off event. Monitor progress at each stage and continue these activities after implementation. Everyone learns differently; know that some individuals may need re-training for assistance, while others may be set with just one session. 

4. Establish consistent data entry standards

Data entry standards vary significantly, which can lead to errors and incompatibility between corporate systems. Adopting a standard method for entering, storing and managing data makes it easier to share and track data within the organization.

Standardize how you enter data

Set up a standard convention for entering data into your CRM. One method of forcing consistency is to use forms and data templates. This helps ensure data integrity and reduces the risk of duplicate data. Standardized data entry processes make tracking and analyzing information easier, providing better insights into the sales process.

Standardize data tag and naming conventions

Standardized data tagging and labeling conventions reduce the risk of duplicating information and make retrieving and analyzing data easier. This is especially important when accessing data across software platforms, such as between an accounting system and CRM. It’s best to implement standardized tagging conventions before CRM onboarding starts.

Use data validation to reduce the risk of human errors

Set up data validation requirements for all critical fields to ensure users enter valid codes. This reduces the risk of incorrect information and improves data quality. Insightly data validation rules restrict the type of information users can enter into each field to ensure the data conforms to the requirements. For instance, it will not allow a phone number to be entered without the correct number of digits. Or, it will only take the official two letter capitalized abbreviation of a US state (ex: MI vs. Mich or Mi.) 

Clean data before CRM implementation

Ensure all data imported into the CRM system is clean and complies with data entry standards. This mainly applies to historical data imported during implementation, but it’s also a significant factor for current data imported through software APIs. The Insightly Importing Guide explains how to remove duplicate information and correct or delete erroneous data before importation. Be sure to review API configuration tables to ensure imported data conforms to CRM standards and fields. Maintain a log of ongoing errors, and promptly correct them to prevent data loss or a build-up of corrupted data.

5. Implement customer-friendly CRM features

It’s important to understand that while CRM is primarily intended for sales and marketing use, it’s also a customer-facing platform with numerous customer-friendly features. Use these features to encourage customer feedback and participation. Explore the available features and implement as many as possible. This will improve the customer experience and give you tools to assess customer sentiment.

Leverage social listening

One of the best ways to discover what people think about your company is to adopt social listening technology to harvest this information. People use social media to communicate, and much of this information is public. Tracking and aggregating hashtags and keywords related to your company can help you discover what your customers are saying.

Use live chat

Live chat is a popular service that overcomes the frustration of dealing with call centers. If you use a chatbot, you can help customers resolve simple queries and, if required, escalate their issues to a person. To get the best out of live chat, you should staff the service adequately, so your loyal customers don’t have to wait for answers. Your chat feature should integrate with your CRM to allow for easy tracking and recording of data.

You can use the data collected by your chat bot to continuously improve the chat experience. For example, if customers are repeatedly chatting in about a billing question, you should consider adding that question to your FAQs. 

Don’t forget about post-sales activities to build loyalty

True customer relationship management processes don’t end once you’ve made a sale. Customers appreciate receiving follow-up emails and messages to ensure they’re happy with your service or product. You can use these communications to thank customers for their business and keep them informed about related products or services. This helps you build a future relationship and retain their interest while giving you insights into customer behavior. Continually using the CRM to cultivate upsell and cross-sell opportunities is a key benefit of the software.

Segment customers

Segment your customers and potential customers into target groups to better understand their needs. Listen to feedback from each group, and create marketing campaigns targeted to them. Personalization is no longer a ‘nice to have.’ Since the pandemic, digital behaviors have raised the bar. According to recent research from McKinsey, 71% of customers expect companies to deliver personalized interactions and 75% get frustrated when it does not happen. Specific benefits of customer segmentation include better customer retention, increased brand loyalty and better sales.

6. Rely on automation

A great way to get value from your CRM is to automate repetitive tasks. This frees your team staff from performing tedious but necessary tasks, so they can focus on more productive work, while also reducing the possibility of careless, manual errors. Examples include customer service automation, workflow automation, automated lead qualification processes, automatic lead assignment and automated email marketing activities. If possible, use custom apps to allow your sales and marketing departments to automate specific activities related to their functions, such as marketing campaigns, sales functions and complex workflow processes. A CRM is a powerful business tool. With Insightly, you can use workflow automation to trigger customer follow-up sequences based on their actions; for example, if a customer attends an event, add them to an invitation list for a similar, upcoming event. Or, if a customer responds to an email for a particular product, send them follow-up messages for similar products.

7. Perform regular CRM audits

Magnifying glass.

While you may think that your CRM is a ‘set it and forget it’ technology, it’s quite literally the opposite since you can derive the most value from it when you are constantly seeking to improve your use. It’s vital that you continually audit your CRM to ensure it functions properly. You can use tech audits to verify system integrity and identify problems before they become major issues. Audits can identify processes that don’t work as intended, highlight issues with data integrity and detect malicious activity early.  

Maintain data quality with regular audits

Good, clean data is the foundation of an effective CRM system. Check your CRM databases regularly to identify poor quality or duplicate data and implement corrective action to prevent future occurrences. Some important areas to focus on include customer databases, contact information and lead qualification processes.

Regularly audit CRM workflows  

You need to audit workflows to ensure they work as intended. Pay attention to the fine details, evaluate each process and ensure you don’t gloss over minor issues. Try to identify issues early on. You should also watch for bottlenecks and existing manual processes that could be automated. Regular audits help ensure smooth workflows and allow teams to work efficiently.

Monitor CRM adoption rates

Another CRM best practice is to monitor how the team uses CRM functions and features. You should identify areas of poor utilization and analyze the reasons. Then, implement remedial training or make system changes to make these features more user-friendly. You should also monitor advanced and complex features that may not be easy to use to identify where staff may need additional training.

8. Develop CRM collaboration

Effective collaboration between teams and individuals is crucial for business success. It helps break down nonproductive silos and leverages individual skills and knowledge. Good collaboration improves productivity, builds trust and leads to a healthy and constructive work environment. CRM helps improve communication between individuals and teams and provides access to valuable information and knowledge. Ensure that those who need access to the CRM have it – at the appropriate level – and are able to derive the information they need from it to do  their jobs. 

Choose a CRM system that empowers your sales reps

Your sales team plays a vital role in bringing in new business and growing the company, and having a CRM system can help them do their work better. A good CRM system empowers the sales team by providing them with effective tools to generate and develop leads and increase sales. It incorporates features that help sales representatives manage the sales process, monitor sales performance and track progress toward sales targets. Your field team may find extra value in the ability to use a mobile app for most of their work on-the-go, so ensure access to a mobile app is included in your package.

Provide a unified view

A key benefit of effective collaboration is the ability to develop a single, unified view of the customer. This means various functions, such as marketing, sales, procurement and logistics, have equal access to the same customer information. For example, a unified view allows a sales representative to access procurement information to answer customers’ questions about delivery dates, whether an item is in stock and prices. The addition of Insightly AppConnect allows you to integrate CRM with other apps you use in your business and automate workflows.  

9. Leverage CRM analytics

Use CRM analytics to reveal insights and identify sales opportunities. Your CRM database contains massive amounts of structured and unstructured customer information. Leverage this data using CRM analytics to better understand your customer journey and track marketing and sales performance.

Use CRM analytics to drive decision-making

Leverage your CRM datasets to make data-driven decisions and identify the best business strategies to improve sales and marketing performance. For example, you can use CRM analytics to identify product line performance, such as identifying best- and worst-selling products and tracking product life cycles.

Use marketing and sales data to create comprehensive reports

A key benefit of an integrated CRM system is the ability to merge marketing and sales data and analyze sales and marketing performance. Analytics can help you gauge the effectiveness of marketing campaigns, better understand customer preferences and behavior and more effectively convert prospects into customers.

Use predictive analytics

Unlike conventional business analytics, which only monitor historical performance, predictive analytics uses advanced mathematical techniques to predict future trends. Predictive analytics can help your team make data-driven sales and marketing decisions from your CRM datasets and other data sources.

10. Work closely with the CRM vendor’s support and implementation team

Whether you’re new to CRM or upgrading from an existing CRM, it’s imperative that your implementation team works closely with the CRM vendor’s support and onboarding specialists. They’re experts with these CRM best practices and when it comes to understanding their CRM software’s capabilities and nuances, and they’ll be able to help you get your CRM up and running quickly. They can help smooth out the implementation process and help your team understand their CRM workflows, so they can adapt and configure them to your organization’s requirements. Insightly’s proven Guided Onboard Package and Premier Success Plans offer access to onboarding specialists for initial configuration and include resources to maximize long-term CRM adoption. 

Whether you have an existing CRM solution or are looking to upgrade your current one, these ten CRM best practices can help you make the right decisions to improve your CRM and drive sales and marketing growth. Find out how Insightly can support your sales and customer service goals.

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