The B2B guide to CRM systems

Every B2B technology business needs a CRM system, that’s a given, it should be at the core of your B2B Martech stack. Many companies already have one but they aren’t happy with it, or they don’t have one and are worried about the cost of implementing it. It’s not usually at the top of the priority list, but it should be. 

We’ll talk through the main points and provide some useful tips for successfully implementing a CRM system in your business.

organised desktop

What is a CRM system?

CRM stands for customer relationship management. It’s the act of managing your customers in an effective way across your whole business in a joined up approach so that you provide a better customer experience.

CRM software is all about customer experience, it’s the unsexy tool in any marketers toolbox that never gets used as often as it should. In fact, you’ll find most B2B marketing teams will admit to having problems with the data in their CRM systems.

On a basic level, a CRM tool could be as simple as keeping a list of your contacts in a little black book, you might even make a note against each contact everytime you talk to them.

Of course little black books don’t scale like technology does, CRM software, or CRM systems as they are often called are found in nearly every successful B2B technology company around the world because they do this and so much more on an enterprise scale. Some examples used by B2B technology companies are:

Do I need a CRM system?

Yes. A CRM system is an essential part of any B2B digital marketing strategy. If your company isn’t investing in one then there are some serious questions to be asked. The most basic CRM systems are fairly inexpensive so you can get started very quickly for very little risk. For example, HubSpot offers a free version of theirs with 1,000 contacts as a starting point.

“91% of businesses with over 11 employees now use CRM, compared to 50% of those with 10 employees or less.”

Ok, which CRM system should I use?

It depends on your business size and budget, but for B2B technology businesses you can’t go far wrong with HubSpot (disclaimer we’re a partner so are a bit biased here). Salesforce is probably the most popular, but it’s often overkill and underused as it is completely customisable.

But, you don’t need customisation, you just need to know the basics, and do them well. You can build complexity on top later.

You can also look at what other companies use if you would like some social proof. If you want to know what everybody else is doing then install the BuiltWith Google Chrome Extension. It does a pretty good job of telling you what the website is built with and what technologies are integrated with that website.

If the company has integrated their website with their CRM system (which any successful B2B tech company will have done), then it should show up on the list. In fact you can pretty much see any company’s marketing technology stack using this tool.

Here’s a screenshot of Intercom’s website with the Chrome extension open. From here you can see they use Marketo, Optimizely, Clearbit and Hotjar, and that’s without scrolling down! 

How much does a CRM System Cost?

For HubSpot, it ranges from Free to thousands of pounds/dollars a month depending on the complexity of the product. If you are just looking for contact management then a CRM can cost next to nothing.

There’s a useful blog article written by Capterra which talks about costs for a number of different CRM systems.

Who will use a CRM System?

In a large multinational organisation, every department could be a user of your CRM system. Most typically, the heaviest users are anyone who is communicating with your clients and/or your prospects. This can include: Marketing Teams, Business Development, Fee-Earning Consultants, Customer Success Teams and Customer Support/Service teams.

In a B2B technology company, the users will typically sit across all of these categories with a specific focus on sales and marketing teams.

What can you use it for?

Marketing teams use CRM systems to manage contact data, send marketing communications and for reporting purposes to name just a few. Most modern CRM solutions have built in more advanced marketing tools over time so you can run whole marketing campaigns in the software, and integrate all your other tools into it as well.

We use ours to store all our marketing documents and for email marketing too. Sales teams typically use the software to manage the sales process and their pipeline. They can keep track of all activity on any lead that comes in and record all the information in one central location so anyone can pick it up if required.

In larger businesses, a system can be used by HR to manage staff details and send internal communications. It’s also useful for managing things like Alumni programs when people leave the company and you still want to maintain relationships.

Example use cases

CRM enables companies to provide a better customer service and experience. Customer service starts the moment you pick up the phone to a prospect, that is possibly the first impression that person has of your company. A CRM system is as important for pre-sales as much as it is for marketing to existing clients and retaining current ones.

CRM for Outbound Sales

Imagine you’ve just joined a new company as a business development or sales consultant. You’ve been given some ambitious targets and access to the companies data or lead list to get to work cold calling. 

You pick up the phone, introduce yourself and wait for the initial questions. But the first thing you hear is: “i just spoke to someone else from your company last week”. This doesn’t look great, it shows a lack of professionalism from the start. 

A CRM strategy using a system would have notified this person that they had already been called, it would even given them the time and date, and who called them.

Of course there is a level of organisation and communication that can easily resolve this problem, but what if you have 10 new sales reps all of them manage their workload differently in personal calendars and to-do-lists? What about when they leave and someone else has to take over.

It’s worth mentioning that depending on your role in a business, you’ll either be swayed to a sales-led CRM system like Pipedrive or a Marketing-led system like HubSpot. The benefit of a more sales-led approach is that you can separate your marketing system from your CRM a bit more so you can be a bit more nimble.

CRM for Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing is one of the most popular digital marketing strategies for B2B technology businesses. What happens when someone fills in a ‘download now’ form on your website?

Ideally it should feed directly into a CRM system if the correct information has been entered. If this is the case you can set up an email drip campaign that sends a marketing message to the contact 7 days after they completed the form.

If after 3 emails they don’t engage, you can automatically set the lead status to “on ice” or an equivalent. You can use this principle and many other conditions to prioritise your leads coming through the website and therefore ensure the sales team are focused on the most qualified lead.

Another example would be to automatically build a list in your CRM system of all contacts based in London. This can be used for a targeted email blast or, it can be used to build a lookalike audience in a digital advertising platform like LinkedIn or Facebook

What are the main benefits of CRM?

There are many benefits of successfully implementing a CRM system in a B2B technology business. Overall, you’ll find everything runs much more smoothly than it did before. Here are a few key benefits that are often seen:

  • Onboarding new sales employees becomes easier
  • Full 360 view of sales and marketing activity on any contact
  • Clearer hand off between marketing and sales
  • Understand engagement levels of your database
  • Surface opportunities when contacts move companies
  • Lead qualification becomes easier
  • Allows detailed segmentation of your data
  • Ability to personalise your marketing content

As your company grows larger, the benefits will compound and you will see more and more, as long as you implement it correctly.

Getting started

Well, first things first, if you have a CRM system already you can skip a few parts, but if you’re looking at switching CRM software then this may still be relevant for you. 

To be able to implement a successful CRM strategy in a B2B technology business you’ll need some software.

Without a CRM system it is going to be impossible for you to scale your business. There is always a tricky initial question about, when is the right time to invest in a CRM system? The answer is now. It’s never too early and there are plenty of free versions of CRM software you can use as an introduction to it before you start paying.

The ever expanding list

There are thousands of CRM systems available for the budding CRM enthusiast. It’s not really about which is best, it’s about which one you feel most comfortable with and will do the job well.

“CRM software is now the biggest software market in the world and the growth isn’t slowing down. In fact, CRM is now expected to reach more than $80 billion in revenues by 2025.”

18 CRM Statistics You Need to Know for 2020 (and Beyond)

How to implement a B2B CRM System in 7 steps

There are many variables when it comes to implementing a CRM system but we’ll talk through 7 of the most important steps to cover when putting one in place for your business.

1. Map out your Martech stack 

It’s important to make sure when you invest in any marketing technology that it fits in with the rest of your technology and isn’t duplicating work in any way. There are thousands upon thousands of pieces of software for B2B marketers and everyone feels like there is something they are missing out on.

We’d advise you to map out your marketing technology using a flow diagram so you can understand how they work together and you can see where a CRM system would fit in, or where it already does.

There are lots of different interpretations of how to map out your marketing technology, don’t worry about which one is right, just do one that makes sense for your business. For example it doesn’t matter if you haven’t included Adobe for creative content as it doesn’t sync any contact data.

2. Get buy-in from all stakeholders

This is an on-going task but it’s really the most important when it comes to implementing a CRM system. CRM implementations are only successful when everybody is onboard. Many companies implement tools like HubSpot and Salesforce and then only 20% of the business actually use them, in which case you lose nearly all of the benefits.

You need everyone to buy into a CRM system, it’s an all or nothing implementation. This means a bit of internal selling and management to ensure everyone is engaged and understands the benefits for them, from the start.

Think about what’s in it for the leadership team and try to get a sponsor, this is a senior person who enforces the use of the technology in the business. Big multinationals use these approach and it works.

3. Plan your CRM data fields

Once you have everyone onboard and you have your chosen system, you need to plan out what data is going to be stored and how it’s going to be stored.

Storing the right information is key. This is where you should look at your key buyer personas and think about the information you need to be able to market and communicate to them effectively.

A tip here is to stay away from free text fields as much as possible. You want to be able to standardise and normalise your data easily and then segment your it just as easily. For example you may decide you need the following information:

  • Name
  • Email
  • Job Title
  • Industry
  • Software Used
  • Company Name
  • Website Domain
  • Number of Employees
  • Country

Don’t forget you can always add to this list over time, but start small and build from there.

4. Integrate with your existing software

Another step missed by many businesses. Integrating your CRM system is essential, especially for marketing teams. Email lists are a common pain point for B2B marketers, keeping these up-to-date and in one location can be difficult if your CRM system is not integrated correctly with your email marketing or other contact database.

Integrating a CRM system is made a lot easier by the first step we mentioned, mapping out your technology. Once you have an understanding of the data-flow between your different pieces of software you’ll be able to see where and how you need to integrate each part.

For example, if you use MailChimp and HubSpot, you may decide you want to ignore HubSpot’s email feature and retain MailChimp. In which case you need to ensure the email lists in MailChimp are synced correctly with your lists in HubSpot and visa versa.

Integrating your website into a CRM

For any lead generating B2B website, an integration to your CRM system is essential. There are plenty of free plugins on content management systems like WordPress and options like Zapier  to allow you to integrate your website.

Again, the key here is to know the information you want to collect before you do the integration. There’s no point syncing the two things together if you’re not getting the information you need when someone submits a form.

5. Cleanse your data

In a perfect world you would only allow data into your CRM that is as clean as a whistle but in reality you will always find bad data creeping through.

What do we mean by bad data? Well for the context of a system, bad data would be incomplete information or data with incorrect characters. An example would be an incorrect email address, a very common problem, especially when people move companies.

When implementing a new system we recommend having your data in Excel or a Google Sheet so you can plow through and make some quick decisions.

It’s worth mentioning that sometimes, you’ll need stakeholders within your company to tell you whether or not the data is useful. This is why stakeholder engagement is key, your sales team will be able to tell you pretty quickly which customer data can be deleted.

6. Prepare & Import your data

Once you have cleaned your customer information then it’s time to import the data into your shiny new CRM system.

Most software will have an import template for you to follow when it comes to importing data. CRM systems like HubSpot also have a mapping phase when importing data that allows you to map your fields to the CRM fields. 

Make sure you name your data fields appropriately and in a way that can be easily understood by someone else. This will make the import process a lot easier. 

7. Training your team

Keeping your CRM system working efficiently requires a good working knowledge of the system itself. You need to make sure that when the sales team are inputting data and editing elements that they are doing so in the right way.

Some companies have whole internal teams looking after CRM data and training staff members on it. This means that when a new employee joins they have a training session with somebody to talk them through the processes they need to know.

You don’t need a whole team, you just need to include it in the induction process for any new starters in your organisation.

CRM B2B best practices

We’ve briefly covered the basics of implementing a CRM system, but I wanted to cover a few more elements that are additional benefits from having successfully put something in place.

How a CRM system can enable personalisation

Once in place, a successfully implemented system can help B2B marketing teams put in place powerful personalisation and marketing automation workflows.

Personalised marketing messages require you to have the right information about your contacts. The wrong data, or a lack of data makes personalisation basically impossible or at best very generic.

For example, if you have segmented your data by software used, you can automatically create lists of contacts that use a piece of software in a certain location and run a targeted campaign based on this information.

Another example is showing a different piece of content on a web page or within an email depending on the data you have on that contact. Personalisation is a lot more interesting than data, but unfortunately you can’t do it without data, and that data needs to be stored and maintained in a centralized database, like a CRM system.

Personalisation based on intent rather than data

There is a caveat here and that is, with GDPR laws and the crack down on storing of personal data – advertising and marketing platforms are moving to a more, intent focused approach.

If you consider Facebook Ads, they allow you to target based on interests rather than any individual data points. Google Ads also allow you to know target In-Market Audiences, where people are searching for something in particular.

There is a case to say that based on intent being identified at the acquisition stage then you don’t need to personalise the website based on individual data.

Enriching your data

The easiest way to ensure you have great data is to use a reliable data enrichment tool. A data enrichment tool uses its own database and updates your data based on what they know about the same contact or company. There are plenty of tools available for this, some of them I’ve listed below:

The problem with data enrichment for a scale-up business, or even a business with a tight budget is that it can be expensive. Your best bet is to try to implement great data yourself and then as you scale you can afford an enrichment tool.

Activity Tracking & Your Inbox

One of the main benefits for the sales team is activity tracking. This means you can see the company-wide activity on any contact or account. And, depending on the setup, this means the sales team can see, for example, if someone opened the last 3 marketing emails, or what was said on the last call with a colleague.

A lot of tools also have browser extensions and inbox plugins like this one from HubSpot that enables you to track emails and see when someone has opened it or clicked on a specific link.

huubspot inbox plugin

Automate data manipulation

Another useful thing to do with a CRM system to save you a bit of pain is to automate any further data manipulation based on certain conditions. For example, assign a piece of data to a client based on certain conditions being met.

This can be useful for automatically populating fields on a contacts record, like the persona. If for example you know their Job Title, Company Size and Industry you can probably categorise them as one of your key buyer personas, in which case you can automatically assign a persona based on these conditions without having to do it manually every time.

Report on your sales pipeline for investors

Being able to see what your sales pipeline is easily and forecast revenue goals is a key function of a CRM system. You can see and track on your conversion rates from one stage to the next.

This is a real winner for the leadership team as if you’re working in a business that is funded, or is looking to get funded. Being able to review the pipeline and predict growth is a must. It doesn’t look great if your forecasting is poor.

Putting it into practice

It’s all very good talking about it from a theoretical perspective, but how do put that into practice?

If you’re looking for help with a tool like HubSpot then you can speak to a HubSpot Partner agency or just get cracking yourself.

Salesforce is a bit more complex, I would recommend working with a consultant to make sure you implement salesforce correctly, there are plenty of them around as Salesforce has a huge community.

More than a CRM System

Although a lot of these tools are called CRM systems, Modern CRM software doesn’t typically just manage contact data, most of the popular pieces of software like Salesforce, Zoho and HubSpot all have lots of different elements attached to them now that enable you to do so much more than just keeping track of your customer interactions and contact management.

When you invest in a piece of CRM software today you’re likely investing in email marketing, marketing automation and analytics software too. Just be careful about overlapping systems and investing in ones that are scalable for your business.

The one recommendation I would have is to always keep your website CMS separate from your CRM, Marketing Automation Software. Although tools like HubSpot offer website development too, you’ll become too entrenched in one platform and it will be difficult to migrate to another one in the future.

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