How to Launch a CRM

This is article #4 out of 50 in The Startup Marketing Playbook.

Imagine the CRM (Customer Relationship Management software) as the brain of your sales and marketing team. The CRM is used to track every person who interacts with in your funnel.

Every time a lead downloads an ebook or speaks with you on the phone, that action is tracked in the CRM. Each time you engage with that lead, you have a record of what you have told them so far and what you need to do to move them along in the buyer journey.

The CRM is a primary component of your organization’s sales and marketing stack (the set of tools you use), alongside your marketing automation system. For a new B2B startup just building your team and launching your first CRM, here is how to approach it:

1. Analyze your team structure and sales process

Many different CRMs are available, and each caters to different types of companies and sales processes. The most widely used is Salesforce. Other choices include Hubspot CRM, RelateIQ, Pipedrive and As you evaluate which CRM is right for you, consider:

What degree of flexibility do you need?

The benefit of a product like Salesforce is that it offers great flexibility and customization. The downside is that it is far more complex to work with and build. Does your team need that level of complexity, or would something configured “out of the box” be sufficient?

How large will your sales team grow?

Some products (e.g. Pipedrive) are often used by smaller teams in lower volume sales environments. For example, if you are running an agency services business with a limited volume of customer transactions, a smaller, easier-to-use CRM might make sense.

How sophisticated or simplistic is your sales process?

Are you selling multiple products at multiple price points, or is a sale typically the same each time? Do you expect to have a large team with many sales reps or will more of your sales happen on your website?

What resources do you have available to launch and maintain the CRM?

This one is important: who in your organization (perhaps it is you) will be technical enough to get a CRM up and running? Robust tools like Salesforce take a lot more energy (or require expensive consultants) to launch. Consider the timeframe needed to get your CRM operational as well.

Based on these variables, you will need to select a vendor. All of these products are billed as SaaS, typically in the range of $50 – $100 per user per month. If you have a 5 person team that continues to grow, that cost can mount quickly.

It’s also important to note that both Salesforce and Hubspot offer CRMs and marketing automation systems that work together well since they are all-in-one.

2. Determine what data matters and create fields

When you are launching a CRM, you need to make some very important decisions early on about what data you want to track as your sales and marketing team grows. What data about each of your leads and customers is most valuable to you (e.g. location, other products used, industry, revenue size). Tracking this data offers several benefits for your team:

Insight for customizing the sales process

What information would be valuable to sales reps when they are speaking to a lead for the first time? What information gathered during that discovery call could be helpful later in the process? These are the questions that you and your head of sales should think through as you build a list of fields to track.

Let’s consider a quick example: suppose you sell education software into three verticals: K-12, Community College and Four Year Universities. In this example, you’d create a field “Education Type” with three drop down options that are each of the verticals listed above.

Ability to identify trends and “ideal customers”

Following the education example, suppose that after 2 months of selling, you find that the majority of deals you are closing are in the K-12 vertical. By tracking that field, you can access this information effortlessly and in real-time. This helps you cater your marketing collateral and event strategy appropriately.

Flexibility as you grow and change

As you grow, your sales process will evolve, you will add new products and want to track different types of data. Perhaps you also expand to create software for use in home school environments. You’ll want to make sure that the fields you create don’t make it difficult to record data for that vertical which may have different parameters from the other three. You can do that by ensuring that your fields are based around drop-down values, and not free text entry. This is also important because standardized drop-down values enable far more robust reporting and reduce human data entry error.

3. Configure integrations

Your CRM will need to integrate with multiple internal tools, particularly your marketing automation system. Your vendor has likely already built this integration for you, so typically you just need to do a bit of configuration between the two systems. A few things to note:

Consider a CRM and marketing automation system all-in-one

Some of the vendors (e.g. Salesforce and Hubspot) offer both CRM and marketing automation systems. This means that you will have very little integration work to do, and that the two parts of the funnel (marketing and sales) will play nicely with each other.

Connect your own product to your CRM

If you sell a software product, consider leveraging your own APIs to integrate it with your CRM. For example, there may be certain actions your customers could take (e.g. not logging into your product for a certain period of time) that should be logged in the CRM and flagged for your customer success team to support.

4. Import data

It’s now time to import your historic data. There are typically 3 sets of data you need to import:

  • Contacts (people)
  • Companies (organizations)
  • Deals (sales transactions)

In most CRMs, these 3 data types are connected in the sense that a Deal is transacted with a specific company with multiple people involved in the transaction. Those are the people with whom the sales team will be interacting with to close the deal. This means that when you import the data, it’s important to be meticulous in your use of naming conventions. This ensures that the right contacts are associated with the right companies and the right deals.

The process of importing the data itself often involves Excel manipulation and sometimes a call to your CRM vendor to ensure the data is formatted correctly. Don’t be surprised if the data import process ends up being tedious – it often is!

5. Create extensive documentation

If you’ve successfully completed steps 1-4, you should be at the point where your CRM is ready for action. The final step is to document how you want your sales and marketing team to use the CRM and train them accordingly. You need to ensure that they:

  • Enter complete data and fill out the necessary fields
  • Categorize deals, companies and contacts properly
  • Follow the team’s documented sales process diligently

Your team also needs specific rules dictating when a sales rep can create a deal (thus adding it to the sales pipeline). We won’t go too deeply into that since the focus of this series is marketing!

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