The eight steps in the CRM process

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(Image credit: Unsplash)

Customer relationship management (CRM) software can make a huge difference to your business. It helps you to bring in more customers (opens in new tab), create authentic connections, manage clients at every stage, and boosts your efficiency and revenue. When you’re searching for the best CRM software (opens in new tab), it’s vital that it meets your business processes and needs. 

These needs include defining what your requirements are, how CRM will integrate with your other systems, your CRM software’s capabilities (opens in new tab), and what to do once you’ve installed it. We can help.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through the questions and key steps for finding and implementing the perfect CRM platform. You’ll learn about the CRM process, integration, using CRM in a small business, and much more.

Let’s get into it.

1: What are the main reasons you’re introducing CRM software into your small business? 

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Understand how you'll use a CRM before you invest in one (Image credit: Unsplash)

The first step in choosing the right CRM software is understanding how you’ll use it (opens in new tab). There’s no “one-size-fits-all” CRM platform. Depending on your business intentions and goals, you might: 

  • See your CRM platform as central to the rest of your business, and use it as the main system for managing the majority of your important business processes
  • Intend to use CRM alongside a suite of other, equally important software, with each application dedicated to specific tasks and functions
  • Manage only very specific parts of the customer acquisition and sales process through your CRM, with all of your other client processes managed elsewhere
  • Combine and adapt some of the above, or choose a different approach to CRM altogether

All of these are perfectly valid CRM use cases. Some small businesses, especially service-focused ones, might place more emphasis on a centralized, “do-it-all” CRM platform. Others might have far fewer CRM needs.

What’s important is creating a strategy for how you intend to use CRM in your business (opens in new tab). This will inform and frame all of your other choices. It’s also a good idea to refine and tweak your reasons and opinions, as you discover more about business needs and CRM capabilities. Capture this in a CRM process strategy and specifications document.

2: What are your business problems, needs, and goals that are improved through a CRM system? 

You haven’t decided to introduce a new CRM system “just because”. There’s a problem you want to solve, an improvement you’re trying to make, or a business goal or outcome you want to reach. Your next step is to define what these are in business terms.

You can start at a high level, and then break this down into specific subsections. From there, you develop the requirements that you need a CRM system to meet. At this step, it’s fine to capture these in business language, rather than CRM-specific terms.

Here’s an example.

  1. Your problem is that after showing initial interest in your products, people are not committing to buying them.
  2. You identify this as a problem with your sales and onboarding processes.
  3. Specifically, this is because your sales team is not following up with potential customers, and the customers lose interest.

You’ve captured several requirements as a result: 

  • You need to identify and list all of the customers who have shown an interest in buying your products
  • You need a process for your sales team to follow up with clients
  • Your sales team needs to be reminded of their follow-ups, and to track results

You would capture the problem you’re trying to solve and potential solutions in a requirements document.

Go through this process for each area of your business where a CRM might be able to help, and create a master list of problems, improvements, goals, and specific business requirements for each. Add these to your CRM strategy and specifications document.

3: What are the capabilities of the best CRM software? 

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Learn what you need from a CRM, and evaluate the best services against your requirements (Image credit: Pexels)

CRMs provide a wide range of features for every type of business. Although this software is mainly focused on marketing, sales, and relationships, it can often be expanded into other areas like customer service, contact and appointment management, or analytics. 

Rather than go through CRM capabilities in detail here, read some of our other articles, specifically what is CRM software? (opens in new tab), five reasons why you need a small business CRM (opens in new tab), and seven changes to a CRM for business that drive customer growth (opens in new tab).

It’s worth getting a good understanding of common CRM features, and learning what different types of CRMs can do. 

4: Will CRM software integrate with your existing business software, platforms, and data? 

Unless you’re starting a brand new business, you will already be capturing information across various systems and services. When you introduce a CRM, it’s vital that it interacts with your other systems so that it can effectively create, store, retrieve, and communicate data.

When you’re shortlisting and selecting CRM software, check that it will work across all of your other applications and data stores:

  1. Refer back to step one (the main reasons you're implementing CRM) and step two (the needs you want your CRM software to meet).
  2. Use these steps to understand your current applications, platforms, and data stores.
  3. Identify any other applications, platforms, or data stores that might create, record, store, or manage data.
  4. Create "maps" of how these systems map onto each other and your central business CRM requirements.
  5. Capture this information in your CRM strategy and specifications document.

5: Identify and shortlist the best CRM software platforms that could meet your business needs 

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If you review what you require from a CRM during the process, you can then evaluate which service is best for your business (Image credit: Unsplash)

It’s time to start bringing all of your research and thinking together. At the moment, we only need to do this at a high level—we’ll get into the details in the next step. 

Review your CRM process strategy and specifications document—this will contain your overall thinking about CRMs in your business, the needs you want to meet through CRM, and a list of existing systems you need to integrate with.

This document is your starting point for reviewing specific CRM platform features and matching them back to your business needs. There are hundreds of CRM platforms available, so you need to narrow them down. We’ve got a great starting point for choosing the right CRM (opens in new tab), and you’ll want to explore these and other options.

Visit the websites for each CRM vendor, and note down the key features and functions of each CRM. This is quite an involved process, but it’s time well spent. Aligning your overall needs with CRM platform capabilities means you’ll choose software that’s a good fit for your small business.

Repeat this process until you can shortlist around three to five CRM platforms for further investigation.

6: Establish detailed business needs, and map each one to CRM features in your shortlist 

It’s time to get into the weeds. Now that you have a shortlist of CRM vendors and platforms, break out your strategy and specifications document again. 

  1. Create a table, with your CRM platforms as columns and your business specifications as rows.
  2. For each business requirement, review your shortlist and identify the specific features of each CRM platform that will help you meet that specification.
  3. Make a quick note in the intersection between your specifications (rows) and the CRM platform (columns).
  4. Capture any additional features of each platform - you might decide to widen your CRM capabilities later.
  5. Once you've completed this for all of your specifications and shortlisted CRM platforms, you can scan your table to find the software that will best meet your needs.
  6. Select the top two or three vendors.

7: Test out your top CRM software 

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Testing out your preferred CRM platforms with staff can help you narrow down your choices (Image credit: Pexels)

You will want to try out your top two or three choices before committing to one and implementing it in your business. Most CRM vendors will let you try out their software for free, usually on a feature-limited or time-limited trial. You can even find CRM platforms that are completely free (opens in new tab).

Test out one CRM system at a time. Create a team of CRM testers within your small business. These should be the people who will get the most use out of a CRM, or those who run your key customer-facing business processes.

Create a series of scenarios and tests based around your business specifications. Get your team to put the CRM software through its paces, and see how it meets your business needs. Check that the platform integrates with your other systems, and that you can manage your data in an effective way.

Get feedback from your team on speed, ease-of-use, suitability, and how well the software meets business objectives. You can even score the software against certain criteria.

Once you’ve rigorously tested one CRM software platform, do the same for your other shortlisted vendors. At the end of this CRM process, you should have a clear idea of the one CRM application that bests meets your business needs. Yay!

8: Implement your CRM software 

Now, you can implement your CRM software, confident that it can meet the needs of your growing business. Although implementation processes will vary between businesses, make sure you cover the following areas: 

  1. Let your staff know about the new CRM platform, including the reasons you chose it and the benefits they are likely to see.
  2. Inform any partners or other third parties that need to know about your CRM changes.
  3. Talk to the CRM vendor about how they've handled CRM implementation before, and make sure you get the support you need.
  4. Create a training program for your employees to get them up to speed quickly.
  5. Establish a feedback mechanism, so that employees can ask questions and provide comments about the new CRM system.
  6. Introduce the new CRM system, and closely monitor how people are using it.
  7. Follow up with staff and ensure they're comfortable with the new software.
  8. Track your CRM process and business needs to ensure they're being met.
  9. Make changes and improvements as needed.

That’s it. We know its been a bit of an epic and involved process to get here, but we think it’s worth it. With so many choices out there, it’s vital to choose a CRM platform that can meet your small business needs—not just right now, but as you expand and scale into new marketplaces and audiences. 

The perfect CRM will see you through many stages of growth, allowing you to bring in new customers (opens in new tab) and see your business thrive. 

Further reading on CRM software

We explained what a CRM in real estate is (opens in new tab), and ranked the best CRM for real estate (opens in new tab), if you're looking for a CRM in this particular niche market.

Paul is a professional writer who creates extensively researched, expert, in-depth guides across business, finance, and technology. He loves the challenge of taking complex subjects and breaking them down so they are easy to understand. He can quote 'The Princess Bride' in its entirety and believes the secret to good writing is Earl Grey tea.