If you want a successful CRM implementation, I’ve got one word for you: data.

Data is an integral part of business functions that drive decisions and improve operations. Sales teams need an accurate and holistic view of their data to be able to assess performance, plan for the future, and get an advantage over competitors.

The challenge is collecting, organizing, and presenting the right data.

In a 2018 study about optimizing sales operations, 59 percent of respondents said the area with the most room for improvement was delivering key decision-making data to executives. This includes maintaining both the quality and quantity of data, as well as being able to present it in meaningful ways.

As the center of sales and customer service activity, a CRM is a natural fit to create a data hub that can collect, organize, and deliver this data. That’s because it:

  • Inputs and tracks customer and sales data
  • Sorts and segments data using tags and filters
  • Has reporting and analysis features

To do those tasks effectively, you need to make sure that you set up your CRM to optimize for data collection and delivery.

A CRM can improve sales forecast accuracy by 40 percent, but without the proper data structure, integration, and configuration, your CRM won’t be able to provide the data that decision-makers need to help your small business grow.

I’ll go through the technical considerations you need to make when choosing and implementing your CRM to ensure you’re getting the data you need. These include:


Structuring your CRM data

Setting up your CRM to ensure a viable data architecture is important to a successful CRM implementation. Keeping your data clean and structured means that you have an accurate and organized data set that’s easy to draw conclusions from.

Gartner (research available to clients) outlines three levels of information governance based on the type of data that you have.

Gartner’s 3 rings of information governance

Gartner's 3 Rings of Information Governance

If you intend to make your CRM your data hub, your CRM data will fall into the “most critical content” ring of information governance. This means that you’ll want to pay extra close attention to the quality of your data within this ring. Steps toward maintaining data quality include:

  • Data structuring: This will be how you define the logic and categorization of your data. Think of it as a kind of flow chart showing what type of data will go at each level (see sample data architecture below).
  • Importing data: If you’re making the switch from another CRM or are using Excel and switching to a proper CRM, you’ll want to make sure that you align your new structure with the data you already have.
  • Cleaning and deduplication: If you’re importing data, you’ll also need to take steps to clean it and eliminate any duplicate entries to maintain an accurate data set.

An example of CRM data structure

An example of CRM data structure

Structuring your CRM Data

Benefits of CRM data structuring Risks of CRM data structuring
When structured properly, there are myriad ways to report and analyze CRM data for different teams or decision-makers within the business. Spending too much time trying to define the data structure can lead to an over-complicated structure with useless “buckets” of data.
Data can be more easily aligned across software tools and departments to consolidate data sources and make it easier to see patterns. Duplicate data can pop up if the data structure isn’t created and maintained properly, skewing the results of reporting and analysis.
Labelling and tagging data correctly makes it easier to find the type of data that’s most important for reporting. Saving too much data, especially in the “least critical content” ring, can take up storage space and make mining data a lot more time-consuming.

Integrating your CRM with other software

As already mentioned above, integration is one of the most important considerations of any successful CRM implementation. A CRM integration exchanges data between your CRM software and the other software tools you’re using.

CRM integrations can be native or third-party. Native integrations are those that have been baked into one of the two software tools to allow for a data exchange. Third-party integrations rely on apps such as Zapier to bridge the gap and connect two pieces of software that don’t have the integration built into their system.

Think of it this way: a native integration is like plugging one piece of software directly into another, while a third-party integration is like using an extension cord to connect the two.

At the very least, a CRM should integrate with marketing, customer service, VoIP, and accounting software to ensure that these data sources are being included in creating the data identity of a customer.

  • Marketing: This integration includes details and data about which trackable marketing campaigns have resulted in conversion.
  • Customer service: A full history of customer service interactions with customers or clients can be shared between applications.
  • VoIP: A record of call history for stats about call volume related to sales outcomes gives information about client touch points.
  • Accounting: An exchange of financial data about closed deals or outstanding invoices can give a more accurate picture of a company’s financial state in relation to sales.

Integrating your CRM

Benefits of CRM integration Risks of CRM integration
Data can be pulled in from all areas of the business to create a holistic view of the customer. Missing fields or misaligned tags can cause extra work when trying to consolidate data between systems.
A two-way sync means that data is kept up to date while eliminating the need for duplicate data entry. Data is not transferred accurately between tools, giving an inaccurate picture of data.
Actions can be automated based on triggers set up in integrated software tools, providing better opportunities for conversion. Triggers aren’t updated or revisited often enough, becoming redundant and leading to customer turnover.

Customizing your CRM

Configuring or customizing your CRM to be able to collect and maintain data in a way that’s useful to the entire business is an important part of successful CRM implementation.

Depending on which CRM you choose, the amount to which you can configure it to your needs will vary. Some CRMs let you customize the software to build out the features that you need from scratch. Others are known as “out-of-the-box” and come more or less ready to use with only a few minor tweaks.

  • Basic configuration: This involves being able to change things such as labels, tags, filters, and workflows. (Depending on which tool you use, these names might vary.) It’ll let you customize to your own company’s naming conventions, funnel stages, or processes so that the CRM is basically just a more organized extension of your sales activities. Most CRMs offer some form of customization based on the pricing tier that you’re on.
  • Adding modules: Some CRMs offer additional modules for more advanced functionality. This can include customer service or marketing modules that let more departments use the same piece of software for better alignment and oversight into overall business activities.
  • Software integrations: As already mentioned, integrations are important for a successful CRM implementation. Depending on whether they’re native or third-party, there will be some configuration needed to ensure that the data is being transferred between tools accurately.

Customizing your CRM

Benefits of CRM customization Risks of CRM customization
Workflow processes are reflected in the CRM and give better oversight and tracking into sales activities. Too much time is spent customizing the software when processes could be adapted or improved instead.
Custom tags and filters allow for better sorting of data and make it easier to draw conclusions. Too many custom tags cause redundant categorization and provide less value when it comes to analysis.
Additional modules can extend the functionality of a CRM to provide more value to a small business. Too many custom functions can confuse CRM users who don’t need all of the features and will instead stop using the software.

CRM options

GetApp’s Category Leader ranking for CRM scores apps based on five factors, including reviews, integrations, mobile app availability, functionality, and security. Keeping in mind the CRM considerations mentioned above, I’ll go through the criteria for integrations, functionality, and security to give you the three highest scoring apps for each.

A snapshot of GetApp Category Leader ranking for CRM

A snapshot of GetApp Category Leader ranking for CRM (See entire ranking here)

For more detailed information about the scoring methodology used for Category Leaders, check out the methodology section at the bottom of the Category Leader ranking for CRM page.

integrations iconIntegrations

Integration scores are based on the number of integrations that an app has. Other considerations include whether the app has an integration with popular integration platform Zapier, as well as whether or not it has an open API.

These are the apps that rank highest for integrations:

  • Salesforce Sales Cloud: As the Category Leader for CRM, Salesforce is known for its extensive integrations, with nearly 800 listed on GetApp.
  • HubSpot CRM: Along with its over 300 integrations, HubSpot also has its own integrated system of apps for sales and marketing.
  • Zoho CRM: The Zoho family covers all areas of the business, including accounting and customer service, and integrates with over 200 other apps on GetApp.

Functionality iconFunctionality

The functionality score of an app is based on a combination of user ratings and the range of functionality offered by an application. Fifty percent of the score is based on user ratings of functionality, while 50 percent is based on the extensiveness of an app’s feature set.

Each app is assessed based on a defined set of features for that category, which are identified as “core,” “common,” and “optional”

Core features Common features Optional features
  • Contact management
  • Interaction tracking
  • Lead management
  • Email marketing
  • Workflow management/automation
  • Forecasting, reporting, or analytics
  • Call management
  • Lead scoring
  • Customer support tracking
  • Channel management
  • Social media integration
  • Document management
  • Contact list management
  • Marketing automation
  • Product catalog
  • Quote management
  • Referral tracking
  • Territory management

Apps with more functionality can extend the use of a CRM to other departments and have the potential to add more insightful data to the system.

These are the apps that rank highest for functionality:

  • Salesforce Sales Cloud: Salesforce is known for its extensive feature set, which includes marketing automation, channel management, and a social CRM.
  • Zoho CRM: Zoho’s functionality includes a product catalog, quote management, and referral tracking.
  • Microsoft Dynamics CRM: Microsoft Dynamics has features for lead scoring, document management, and territory management.

Security iconSecurity

Security scores are based on a vendor-completed survey of 16 questions regarding the security protocols and features of a software application.

Security can ensure that data is being backed up, being accessed by the right people, and that the developer is taking proper steps to protect itself from outside threats of attack.

These are the apps that rank highest for security, based on information provided by the app vendor:

  • Agile CRM: Security protocols for Agile CRM include role-based access for administrator activity, encrypting data at rest, and letting administrators set password policies.
  • Vtiger: Security protocols for Vtiger include multifactor authentication, audit logs when users access data, and role-based access control for accessing sensitive data.
  • Teamgate: Security protocols for Teamgate include supporting data backup in multiple locations, not retaining customer data after service cancellation, and supporting HTTPS for all of its pages.

Next steps for a successful CRM implementation

Having accurate CRM data makes it easier to make predictions and forecasts for sales, map the customer journey, and implement successful marketing campaigns. If you want your CRM efforts to go far, you need to keep data considerations top of mind.

During the CRM selection phase, you want to make sure that you’re also taking into account data-driven factors such as:

  • Reporting features: Consider the types of analysis and reporting features that a CRM has. You want to be able to present this data to decision-makers in the most effective way.
  • Storage: Ask application vendors where data is being stored and how much of that storage space you’ll get before you need to upgrade to a pricier payment plan.
  • Third-party implementation: Depending on how much data you have and the complexity of your system, you might need to hire a third-party specialist to implement your CRM and clean or organize your data.

If you’re ready to start the CRM selection process, read more about budgeting accurately when choosing a CRM, especially when it comes to data.

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