If you’ve heard my position on CRM systems before, it should come as no surprise that I firmly believe marketers should have at least a 50% stake in every CRM system—and perhaps more so if you’re a B2B marketer. CRM systems are one of the most valuable repositories of data for marketers, and understanding how they work—as well as how they might work better—can help you refine your targeting strategy, improve your budget projections, prove out your ROI on marketing spend, and help you make marketing decisions based on data rather than hunches.
This is all well and good if your company already uses a CRM system, in which case you can just march over to the head of sales and provide a laundry list of reasons why you’ll need to be involved in how your company’s CRM system is currently architected and managed (you can use this list here, if you need a starting place). But where should you start if your company is either in the process of buying a CRM or has reached a point of growth where a CRM has become necessary?
How Do I Know If I’m Ready for a CRM?
Let’s start here. You’ll know you’re ready for a true CRM (not a spreadsheet, not an email platform functioning as a CRM, not a cobbled-together chart of accounts and leads—an actual CRM software tool) if the following is true:
- You are struggling to keep track of which leads came from which sales or marketing activity (bonus points if you are actively trying to prove an ROI on marketing spend)
- You have marketing goals that align to sales goals (in which case, you need a way to prove that you did or did not meet those goals)
- You have a sales team of at least three people who are gathering leads from a variety of sources (B2B) or you have multiple avenues of sales you need to keep track of (B2C)
- You want to automated marketing campaigns to segments of your list (in which case, you’ll need uniform data that a CRM is designed to provide)
There are lots of other reasons your sales team will want a CRM—but for the purpose of this post, we’re sticking to what marketers should be asking for.
What Should I Ask Before I Buy a CRM?
First things first, you’ll need to have a relationship with your sales team. Since the marketing department isn’t always part of a CRM discussion, get your boots on the ground early by initiating a conversation with the head of your sales department. One of the primary reasons you (the marketer) should want a CRM is to improve the types of campaigns you can launch from your marketing automation platform, but there’s more to what you’ll get out of a CRM. Using a sophisticated CRM that’s designed to be a CRM, you’ll be able to track your competitive landscape, prove out your marketing spend ROI, understand your marketing value, and lots more (here’s looking at you, companies that are using XYZ software as a CRM, even though that’s not what it’s designed for).
Once you get into the specifics about which CRM is right for you, it will help to know the answers to the following questions:
Can it connect to my marketing automation platform?
Some CRM systems, like Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics, have a broad range of options for integrating to your marketing automation platform (including ours, the emfluence Marketing Platform). The lesser known your CRM system is, the less likely you’ll have an out-of-the-box integration to your marketing automation platform, and that could lock you into a platform you don’t necessarily love. This is particularly true if you select a CRM system that’s industry specific, so be aware that just because it’s made for your industry doesn’t mean it’s made for your marketing initiatives.
Can I customize the fields and views?
If you plan on creating hyper-segmented marketing lists for your marketing automation platform, you’ll need to understand if it’s possible to customize the data fields on a lead or contact record. First think through what data you will need to run segmented marketing campaigns from your marketing automation platform—are their fields your sales team will need to fill in in order for you to retrieve that data? Or an integration point you could use to fill that data from another source?
With regard to views, you’ll want to customize how you look at the data as well—based on the segments you’re targeting or the source of your leads or sales person or territory performance. Be sure your CRM system can deliver a way to view and report on data that you want.
Can I customize the integration to my marketing automation platform?
If you make the decision to collect custom data fields, you’ll definitely want to understand how (and if) those fields can populate over to your marketing automation platform. This is a two-way conversation: first, make sure your CRM and marketing automation platform connect, then make sure your marketing automation platform allows you to customize what data can be populated from your CRM. Note that not all marketing automation platforms do this: many out-of-the-box integrations from a CRM system focus on standard fields alone.
You’ll also want to check on the direction of data syncing. Can you sync data from your marketing automation platform back to your CRM? From your CRM into your marketing automation platform? What do you want to overwrite—and which system will be your source of truth?
How do I get people into marketing lists?
There’s another way to ask this in CRM speak: what workflows and trigger activities will you need in place to get leads (or contacts) into a marketing list? Marketing lists are a way of segmenting data that lives within your CRM system, and some marketing automation platform integrations use marketing lists as a way to sync data back and forth.
As a marketer, you will want to understand how to build workflows and set trigger actions that will put certain people into specific lists—can you set date calculation fields? Can you add people to lists based on inactivity or by completion of certain activities? Ask specific questions about how leads and/or contacts are added to lists so that you can understand what actions and requests you’ll need to make in order to get your lists in order.
What’s the user experience like?
It’s your sales department’s job to encourage user adoption, but YOU need to see the interface to determine if this is a CRM system you can manage on your own. You don’t want to be in a situation where you’re asking for help every time you create a new marketing campaign or need to pull a list from CRM. Take a look at a demo before you buy to understand how much of a learning curve you can expect, and be sure to ask about access to user training videos or manuals or on-site sessions.
How easy is it to reach support?
Some CRM systems are notorious for delivering shoddy support and super-long response times. Ask very specific questions about service-level agreements, average response times, and access to online chats or immediate support, and beware that some CRM vendors will charge extra for access to quick support.
Can I control crucial marketing information?
Make sure you can control marketing sources for leads—and bonus points if you can create actual campaigns that associate campaign cost and auto-calculate ROI (Microsoft Dynamics does this). You will use this information to prove your effectiveness as a marketer!
It’s also helpful to understand if campaign information is a pick list or option set versus a write-in field. You do not want a write-in field! You need a set list of options that only the marketing team can control—this will prevent the sales team from adding marketing campaigns that may already exist or modifying what you have entered. Plus, forcing a set of options will make sorting and segmenting your data a thousand times easier.
How will I get the data out of your CRM?
Yes, this question is related to your marketing automation platform integration. But think beyond that—if you need to run a report, how can you get your CRM data into an analytics dashboard (like Tableau or PowerBI)? Do you need to connect to your accounting software to get actual sales numbers versus projected sales numbers? Does your CRM need to feed any other platforms? And can you pull spreadsheets and data easily out of the system you’re using?
Who will own this thing once we buy it?
CRM systems struggle when no one owns them. Whether you plan to have a dedicated CRM admin on your team or need to assign these duties to a member of the sales or marketing team, select a person who is the go-to for all the things your CRM needs to do. Make sure this person understands the needs of every department using your CRM for data! This person will decide what changes need to be made and how those changes will impact other departments, so pick carefully and choose someone who will advocate for all parties involved.
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