You Need a CRM 

You Need a CRM

Heard this one before? We’re guessing you have. But what exactly is a CRM? What does it do? And do you actually need a CRM?  Let’s discuss. 

Once a business gets to a certain size it is natural to wonder if there is a better way to organize your customer/client information, track your business development & sales, and make sure you are optimizing your service performance and taking advantage of every opportunity to understand and extract value from you customer relationships. 

This is when a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool begins to look like a good idea. 

What is a CRM? 

At its core, a CRM system is a relational database of the relevant “objects” in your business: Companies, Contacts, Leads, Deals, and Tickets are the five objects in Hubspot, a popular and fully featured CRM system. Other CRM platforms may have different nomenclatures. Each object, as you can see by the categories, will have multiple records – for example, the Companies object will include individual records for each of the companies that are your clients and sales prospects. The Contacts object will include all the people who are relevant to your business. The ‘relational’ part of the database links all the contacts who work for a certain company with the company object. 

Rounding out the other objects, contacts can become “Leads” or prospective customers if they show potential. “Deals” are sales opportunities that are being worked on by the sales/bd teams. Deals are associated (related) with companies AND contacts simultaneously – since sales teams that sell to a company do by closing a deal with someone who works there (a contact). Lastly, “tickets” are service tickets – items that are being worked by the service delivery side of the business.  

Businesses that aren’t currently using a CRM are often tracking things on a spreadsheet – so we’ll make the analogy. CRM systems are like separate spreadsheets for each Object (or separate tabs in a workbook) that are linked with a key field or id number. Each record is a row on the spreadsheet. Each column on the spreadsheet is a data field, or in CRM parlance a “property.” 

What’s the magic of a CRM? The system pulls data from all the related objects, no matter which ‘tab’ they are on, and presents the information concisely on the screen. And with an integration to your Outlook/Microsoft Exchange/Office 365, all the email and calendar activity can be synchronized with the CRM, providing both complete information in the CRM and allowing users to keep doing their email and calendar work in the systems they already know. 

CRM Caveat #1 – Complexity  

Is the spreadsheet method working well for you? Is it just one or two people who need to review the data? Are you doing very straightforward and simple tracking work? You might not need a CRM right now. While a CRM system can do a lot, it is costly. And if your business is not really growing, or you don’t see a benefit to a lot of historical data, or if the sales organization is very small and simple, a CRM might be overkill. 

CRM Systems for Sales 

While it is nice to organize all the customer company and contact information, the real power of a CRM in terms of revenue generation comes from sales. 

The deals, or opportunities, become trackable items. Deal can be assigned ‘stages’ that fit right into the categories of your sales funnel. Every business will have distinct stages that match the customer buying cycle or journey. Some businesses may provide demo equipment or allow trial periods for services. Financial services firms, where we do a lot of work, may have a due diligence stage, in addition to an initial meeting, a pitch session, and a document review by the prospective clients. Everyone’s sales funnel culminates with a deal or opportunity becoming “closed-won” or “closed-lost.”  Those last two terms should be self-explanatory. 

As a deal moves through the categories of the sales funnel, the CRM can report on the progress in many different ways. As a sales management tool, the CRM provides a standardized framework for coaching, reviewing, and assessing sales performance by the reps. Discussion points can include whether or not opportunities are moving or languishing, whether deals tend to fall apart at a certain stage, and how a rep is performing.   

The other interesting functionality in the sales part of the CRM is the ability to forecast sales. Each deal stage can be assigned a historical (for you) probability to close. Couple that with an expected close date and you can begin to map expectations for the amount of closed business in future months. 

CRM caveat #2 – Culture 

As a business owner or firm principal this thought should have occurred to you as you read this piece: “sounds like quite a cultural shift will be necessary in order to adopt this fully…” 

If you thought that, congratulations. The biggest impediment to realizing the full value of a CRM system is going to be cultural – particularly the sales culture. Sales people will see it (and probably flat out tell you) that it’s a big brother, micromanaging time suck that does nothing to close more deals – in fact the time the reps need to interact with the system directly reduces the amount of time they can spend in front of customers and prospects – which could actually reduce sales. If that isn’t enough to strike terror into a sales manager’s fragile, override-driven psyche, there’s always this one: “I’ve been the top rep for years, I know (the owner), I’m godparent to their children…I’m going right to him (or her) ….”  And someone will need the answer to the question: is this actually going to hurt sales?  

Suddenly those spreadsheets don’t seem so unwieldy. 

There will need to be a cultural shift in any organization that adopts a CRM, but it can be more acutely felt in a smaller organization. And CRM systems need to be adopted fully. It doesn’t work if some people in your company use it, and some don’t. If your business is mid-sized or better, the CRM is something you’ll just need to do. Corporate/enterprise already has the tool – their businesses are too complex to contemplate managing without a CRM. 

The Other Benefit 

While this piece is ostensibly about CRM systems, there is another part of the system that can change the value equation – marketing automation. 

Most systems have a marketing functionality that layers in with the CRM quite nicely. With the marketing piece, the lifecycle of the prospect or customer doesn’t begin when the sales rep does the data entry to create them, it begins when the contact starts interacting with your company digitally. That can be a website visit, a form fill, interaction with a social post, clicking in an email, or responding to an online ad. This information becomes part of sales process and as opportunities move through the sales funnel to close, the efficacy of marketing programs becomes evident, and we go from not really being sure what marketing is working to actually having an ROI for all of your marketing campaigns. 

There are other automation tools…like drip campaigns, and (depending on the platform) the ability to have email-only sending domains. The marketing toolset that goes along with a system like Hubspot is quite robust. You’ll find very simplified versions on many email marketing platforms so if you are staying with spreadsheets, then that combination with an email marketing platform might work well enough for you. 


Working in these systems for our clients, one thing we strive to accomplish is to put as much of the tool into the language they already use. Is a prospective sale an opportunity, a deal, or a job? Do they track total revenue, annual revenue, monthly revenue, or commission revenue? The more the system can use the same vernacular, or so the theory goes, the less disruptive – the smaller the cultural headache – and the greater the possibility of full adoption. 

Unless you are working with a tool like Salesforce, which is customizable at the code level (very expensive), every platform we use has some trade-offs on the customization. The native reporting capabilities in the CRM systems solve some of this, as there are standard reports and custom reports. But it’s never 100%, which helps explain the proliferation of custom reporting dashboard platforms that seek to simplify things. The drawback is the reporting platforms represent an additional cost. 

Which system would we choose? 

There are many very good CRM systems out there. And the real answer to the best CRM system for you is at the cross section of features, function, and price. From our perspective, we can’t be experts – or partners – with all of them. We can figure out how most of them work, but we’ve settled on two; SharpSpring and HubSpot. 

We mentioned Salesforce, but why not Salesforce? We see that as more of an enterprise platform (although they all have “light” versions) that works down-market if you really want to spend on code-level customization.  

HubSpot wins on features and integrations, SharpSpring on usability and price in our opinion. As we are mostly in the financial services space, where there tends to be a little less sensitivity to price and if they want FinTrx-like integrations, we’ll favor HubSpot. If that’s not the case, SharpSpring. 

One Last Thing 

We want to make sure we are not too dismissive of the ‘spreadsheet’ tracking methodology, because there are tools that look like spreadsheets but have relational database capability built in. AirTable comes to mind, as does Monday. As you are reviewing your options regarding different platforms, we recommend you have settled on what you want to accomplish, how you want to deploy it in your company, and your commitment to making the change. And by “you”, we mean the entire leadership team. A team that understands what these systems can do, the level of commitment, and the benefits to the organization will remain solidly behind the decision. 

To learn more about CRM systems, please contact us at 

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