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CRMs have grown from a tool the sales team used to track deals they’re working on to the central hub of your business growth flywheel. (To steal HubSpot’s favorite metaphor.) The modern CRM drives marketing campaigns, impacts customer retention and tracks the sales funnel, among a host of other business processes.

However, even though a CRM can have a profound impact on almost every customer interaction, most organizations choose a platform based on whatever the VP Sales used at their last job and then put an intern in charge of setting it up. It’s definitely easier than making a CRM strategy, but it’s also unlikely to support your business processes and drive growth like a CRM platform should.

What is a CRM Strategy?

A CRM strategy is one part requirements document, one part growth plan and two parts Christmas list. It’s a document that should capture:

  • Which teams will be using the CRM? (i.e. Sales, marketing, customer support.)
  • What tools are those teams using today? (And which ones do they want to replace?)
  • Which existing processes will happen within the CRM? (i.e. Email marketing, sales forecasting.)
  • Which integrations will be required?
  • Who will be your CRM administrator? (And do they really want to be?)
  • What new processes might you want to bring into the CRM in the future?

When it comes to how all of that gets captured, it will typically start as a text document or spreadsheet, but will likely morph into a deck that captures processes step-by-step or a flow diagram that lays out how everything connects. 

Remember, the strategy just needs to be comprehensive enough that everyone can align on a vision. There will be more detail-oriented documents when it comes time to build the templates, map your CRM data and agree on specific KPIs.

Why Do I Need a CRM Strategy?

People tend to view CRM platforms as tools—which they are!—and nobody ever sits down to write a ‘hammer strategy’ before building a fence. So, why do you need to build a CRM strategy? 

Well, unlike with simpler tools, you’ll need to align people on what they need a CRM system to do, ensure that CRM is actually capable of meeting those needs, integrate that CRM with all the tools required to support those needs and do so at a price point that’s sustainable for your organization. A CRM strategy is a core component of your overall go-to-market and RevOps strategy. If you’re relying on the oral tradition to collect and disseminate all of that effectively, I hope you’ve got Winston Churchill and Morgan Freeman on your project management team.

An effective CRM strategy won’t be set in stone - after all, needs change because businesses change - but it does need to exist. Otherwise you’ll be chasing a moving target and fighting constant scope creep. 

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Creating A Successful CRM Strategy In 5 Steps

1. Identify Key Business Processes

As I mentioned above, the foundational aspect of a CRM strategy is understanding what you expect the CRM to be responsible for. A strategy focused around collecting customer data to market to ideal buyer personas will look very different from a strategy to help customer service teams increase customer satisfaction. 

You’ll also quickly realize that there are a near-infinite number of potential processes that you can incorporate into your CRM tools. Choosing which of those are the first priority and which can exist independently of the CRM system - at least for the time being - will make deciding how to tackle all of those projects much simpler.

2. Set Your Business Goals

Once you’ve identified the key process that the CRM will encompass it’s time to define the outputs of those processes you want to track. This doesn’t mean setting the specific targets or KPIs, which will bog down the process, but it does mean identifying the type of targets you’ll need to report on. For example, you don’t need to know your target time from Lead to Close, but you should know you want to report on that metric.

This step is important because CRM systems need to be set up in certain ways to capture key touchpoints, customer interactions or activities. If you don’t have those in mind before you start implementation you may find that your CRM reporting for a key metric is more difficult than you expected once the system is live.

3. Identify Your Audience

By now you know which processes will be driven by the CRM and how you’re planning to measure the success of those processes. Sadly, you now have to deal with the worst part of any software implementation… people.

This can be an internal sales team, an externally-facing customer service team, your current customer base or the demographic of your potential customers. It doesn’t matter who they are but the next step in this process is identifying how they should interact with the system. After all, if you’re not aligned on whether you expect the VP Sales will even use the system, it’ll be tough to create a user journey for him.

4. Outline the User Experience

If you’ve made i this far you’re at the point where strategy starts to meet execution. In my experience most organizations don’t make it to this point in the process but it’s incredibly important and failure to do it can completely derail a project.

To illustrate, I’ll use an example from my own career. I was working with an agriculture company that was implementing a CRM for the first time. They wanted to track how often their reps were engaging with growers, they’d set a target for number of visits and we’d identified the reps we’d be using for our pilot program. We were moving forward with setup and testing when I realized that internet coverage was scarce in rural Saskatchewan and the app we were using needed an internet connection.

It might feel beyond the realm of a strategy document to think about the experience of a sales rep in an F-150, but you’d be surprised how often solid business strategy gets derailed because a key piece of functionality is missing.

5. Select the Best CRM Software

If you’ve done all the previous steps, you’ll be well positioned to choose the best CRM software for your business. That doesn’t mean it will be easy, and you may still need to make some compromises, but at least you’ll be doing it intentionally rather than adjusting on the fly.

Future-Proof Your Strategy

A CRM strategy is an inherently forward-looking document, because you wouldn’t be bothering to change your CRM technology if you didn’t believe it would have a positive impact on your bottom-line. With that in mind, here are some future-focused considerations that can help drive your decision-making.

Evolve Your Automation

Evolution is an amazing process. It conjures images of radical change and creatures that are perfectly adapted to their environments. It also takes millions of years, which is something to keep in mind when you’re looking to streamline a dozen business processes at once with the automation features of your new CRM solution.

You should absolutely be looking at ways to leverage automation, but trying to move from no automation to closing every deal via ChatGPT prompt isn’t likely to succeed. To really evolve your automation, you should be looking at incremental changes to optimize self-contained processes.

For example, organizations often try to tackle lead scoring, lead routing and stalled deal reminders simultaneously because they’re all part of the sales enablement process. However, you would see value from all of them individually and they would be exponentially easier to tackle independently.

Deliver Personalized Customer Experiences

Personalization is more than just inserting a first name into the salutation of a marketing email. It’s a feature that goes hand-in-hand with automation and your marketing efforts to deliver tailored customer experience, no matter where the customer or prospect is in their customer journey. 

The important thing to keep in mind is that personalization requires a lot of confidence in your customer information. For example, if you’re going to send different content based on which US state a Contact is located in, you that data point needs to be populated consistently and accurately. 

However, if your data meets the requirements for confidence and accuracy, you can build a CRM strategy that leans into customer-centric sales and marketing strategies based on your ideal customer profiles.

Always Start With Strategy

A customer relationship management platform has been table stakes for growth-focused companies for a decade at this point. The change over that time has been the breadth of processes a CRM platform is expected to be responsible for. 

Storing customer information, driving customer loyalty, capturing new customers, tracking your sales pipeline and so much more. It also needs to do all of the above in a way that your team members can understand and embrace.

With so many stakeholders and workflows involved, it’s become apparent that running a CRM implementation without a strategy is setting yourself up for failure. However, if you take the time to outline what a system needs to do and  who’s going to be involved you radically increase your odds of success.

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By Cody Pierson

Cody Pierson is the founder of Hubcap Solutions, a small team of SMB-focused RevOps specialists laser-focused on working with HubSpot. They don’t run Google Ads. They don’t write social posts. They don’t develop websites. They help marketing and sales teams turn HubSpot into the force multiplier it’s meant to be. I started my career working with Microsoft Dynamics before pivoting to HubSpot five years ago. Since then I’ve worked in agencies and with clients in software, education, agriculture and beyond.