Digital Transformation for SALES: choosing the right CRMS for your workflow

EBS Integrator
Sep 13, 2021,

Once delivered, a promise must be honored – this is one of the main commandments I live by. So here we are – I am Alexandru and today my humble persona will try and walk you through the basics of selecting the best-fitting CRMS for your business workflow. The last time I wrote here, we’ve set a “to-do” list for anyone who is venturing into the deep woods of CRM deployments. If you haven’t read that, I strongly advise you to look back and take a read before diving into this piece of operational nostalgia.

Nobody said it was easy

No one ever said it would be so hard

As stated, choosing your best-fit Customer Relationship Management tool is no bed of roses, and in some instances, you might end-up “going back to the start”. Fortunately, we’ve done some plumbing before venturing into choosing a solution.

1. Define your CRMS goals

All of that “pre”-preparation I suggested in the last post, converges at this stage. Once you understand the slang, your sales workflow/pipeline/inner workings it is easier to set goals. Depending on your needs, your goals might vary.

For instance, if you’re heavily generating leads (hundreds a week), chances are, your focus will somewhat narrow towards lead qualification and scoring. A peer-to-peer model generating “new business” will heavily rely on managing and enhancing account management and opportunity focus – hence could combine nurturing mechanics as well as a closer look to your prospect’s journey.

At the end of the day, depending on your business model, your “Make 1 billion sales per year” will break down in specific objectives and key results or Key Performance Indicators (depending on your business’s Goal-Setting mechanics).

Before venturing into blindly testing a system, define long-term goals and divide them into strategic actions. These are most probably outlined in your sales strategy, but this time, focus on what you want to get accomplished through this system. All of these needs should transpose into functionality within your CRMS of choice(that is of course if data convergence is what you’re looking for).

The product/service will also contribute to what you should focus on. For instance, if one of your goals is to cover multiple markets that feature different competitive edges, chances are your product’s price/components could vary. This means, any short-listed solutions should feature (as a minimum) a “price book” module.

2. Revisit your workflow and mirror it to the CRMS

This step is crucial, as it will further define the requirements for those top 5 CRM vendors you will be testing. Together with your goals, the workflow can point to various automation perspectives as well as core CRMS requirements.

2.1 Task/activity/workflow and communication requirements

At the very minimum, this step will outline the time/task and communication management requirements for your potential CRM choice. The “golden egg” here, lies within spotting automation opportunities in your BPMN charts.

See where interactions/triggers happen and build an action scheme for those. Then outline the minimum Workflow Management Requirements for your CRMS.

CRMS: Lead Assignment Workflow SampleLead Assignment Workflow Sample

This way, you can assess weather your CRM of choice can create tasks, send custom notifications, adjust lead or account-related fields in base of specific triggers. The benefit? You could slash the operational load in half and enhance the experience for your teammates. Data Input is always a chore for even the best sales managers out there – hence minimizing their contribution to inputting metrics is paramount.

2.2  Reporting Requirements

Once you’ve set your goals is time to re-visit your sales workflow and its dependencies to outline performance or focus-area reporting margins.

These will be able to deliver a looking glass for that sales and marketing processes and should be aggregated into a couple of reporting templates that give you insights asper each interest area. Want to supervise the quality of generated leads? – deploy lead scoring, lead to contact conversion or an aggregated “Lead Performance” report. Want a better grip on how often your agents talk to your top accounts? – deploy a “Touches per Account” report – etc.

CRMS: Opportunity/Deal Qualification report sample
Opportunity/Deal Qualification report sample

Place as many goal-oriented questions – chances are you’re going to have one or several report templates on your mind. If your CRM choice is “the right one” –  you won’t need to use spreadsheets ever again (unless you really like making your life complicated).

2.3 Integration Requirements

You’d think: “Why this should matter?” – the answer here is quite simple. Do you want this CRM to integrate with your Office365 or Google mail and Calendar? Should you require a “Live Chat” feature for converting hot leads? Should this CRM integrate with your dedicated Document Management System? etc.

CRMS Integration options setup sampleIntegration options setup sample

Answers to these questions lie within your BPMN map. Transpose them into Functional requirements and you’re all set. Once you have this on hand, selecting your top5 candidates should be a lot easier.

Skip this step and I guarantee: in less than 2 years, you might be on the market for yet another CRM.

2.4 Notifications, triggers, and other User Experience Requirements

Remember why you’ve started this journey in the first place. You want everyone to be in the loop, avoid losing track on your prospects and have a central hub for your sales. What use is the CRM if it’s mostly a passive tool? After all, a task can be overlooked, the same way an e-mail can.

CRMS: Notifications setup sampleNotifications setup sample

This is why you need to define the minimum set of “bells and whistles” that will trigger reminders for a new lead, upcoming meeting or soon to be overdue task. Try to somewhat describe the interface of your tool. Change is difficult. There’s no reason to pile-up onto this challenge by selecting a functional system, with an outdated interface.

2.5 Mobility Requirements

Consider that sales are no longer a process locked to a desk or laptop. If your sales reps are mostly on foot, fixing field deals, a dedicated mobile client is no longer a luxury: it’s a requirement. Most solutions have already adapted to this requirement; however, few “self-hosted” options provide this nice-to-have – make sure to consider this edge. Now, about that…

3. Decide if you want a “in the cloud” or a self-hosted CRMS

There are PROs’ and Cons’ for both: self-hosted and SaaS CRMs out there. In fact, I could write an entire new post about this subject. However, the edge here is quite basic. If you have someone in house (or a dedicated team) that can maintain, upgrade, customize and adapt the self-hosted solution to your needs – go with self-hosted. This however means that all of the responsibility lies exclusively on your back.

For Instance, if you want to integrate Office365 with a “community edition” of any given CRM, you’ll need both: an Office365 certified expert that understands the inner workings of that self-hosted CRM you’ve chosen. The best solution here, is the one your expert is familiar with, and can deliver that add-value.

A glimpse into integrating your CRMS with third-party providersA glimpse into integrating your system with third-party providers

The alternative (aka using a SaaS CRM) is easier to deploy and maintain, as long as you have your ducks in a row (process-wise). With a SaaS or “out-of-the-box” CRM, you get dedicated support, and most providers deliver an assisted induction process, for you to leverage the full potential of their product. Now, there’s lots to talk about “Choosing between a self-hosted and a SaaS CRM”. If you want me to elaborate on this one, the comment section awaits your requests.

4. Shortlist 5-6 CRMS candidates

This step should now be “a piece of cake”. Once you have all of your requirements in place, the time has come for a comparative datasheet. Just list all of your requirements in one column and add a couple more to the right, placing it heir header the names of those CRM Contestants. It should resemble something like this:

Once you’ve done this, stop at 3 to 5 options to test. Obviously, you’re going to focus on those that check every requirement.

5. Play around with some real-world CRMS data

Every CRM seems amazing when playing around with it – that is until you feed it real-world data and see that somethings do not add-up. Last time (when I wrote about stuff you should do before even considering CRM solutions) I’ve mentioned gathering all of your data. Well, now it’s the time to shake that input into proper structures. For that, I’ve prepared a few Comma Separated Values (.cvs) models. Just click on this pic and download your zip bundle:
CRMS import Bundle

5.1 Segregate your spreadsheets into sales data

Most CRMs use a common structure dividing data into Leads, Accounts, Contacts and Opportunities related to the latter two. These are the bare minimum elements you’ll need to play around with real-world data. Now, if you’ve never prepared a dataset, let me shortly walk you through it (this is a bare minimum).

5.1.1 CRMS Definition pitstop

Depending on your workflow, the terms might differ a tad, but in essence, most sales processes use this common slang:

  • Sales lead – is information about a person who hasn’t expressed a high acquiring interest. This informational entity should encapsulate all the origin info of the later structures, such as Company Details, phone numbers, e-mails, origin, etc.
  • Account – Is the result of the lead conversion trigger (aka the event that triggers a lead to be converted into an Account, Contact and Deal/Opportunity). This data structure serves as a container for all eventual sales entities (contacts, quotes, contracts, etc; or if the CRM allows Child-Account as sub-containers for sales data).
  • Contact – an employee within an Account. Usually, this dataset holds all the corporate e-mail, phone numbers, or reach details for an Account employee that will eventually have a contract role (CEO, acquisition manager, etc). In case of Retail sales, these entities are a clone of the “Lead” structure, assigned to a “Retail Account” entity – aka a symbolic Account entry that segregates retail clients from corporate ones. and
  • Deal/Opportunity – the dataset that holds metrics to your potential contract and a container for all client quotes delivered over time.

Now, I did not go into deeper sets such as Price Books, Invoices, Cases, etc. This provisioning is intended for a test drive, not a production workflow. Nevertheless, it should be enough for you to get you started and initiate the an essential data import process for test-driving a CRMS.

5.1.2 Lead Conversion or “the event horizon”

Conceptionally, sales data is segregated by a significant event. This one could be triggered by a quote request, demo or any other element that signals a high acquisition interest. At this stage, a lead is archived and converted into related datasets: Accounts, Contacts, Opportunity, and Quotes (depending on your workflow). So, if you have such instances, record a row in the Accounts, Contacts, Opportunity files, rather than in the lead file.

5.1.3 Entering your segregated data

Whatever template you use (those provided here or by the CRMs you’re testing), make sure to enter one record per cell. For instance, if you have multiple e-mails, never enter them into one cell. Instead, add another column with the header “Alternative e-mail 1”. Otherwise, you won’t be able to import your sales data for real-time testing. Your efforts should resemble something like this:

CRMS CSV Overview

Note that some of those entities contain relationship edges. For instance, in the contact and opportunity files, you need to declare the “Account Name” and “Account ID”. These metrics are paramount in avoiding manual linking of the opportunities and contacts to an account, even more so when testing various systems. Some CRMs might prefer to link these related records via name, others via ID, hence it only makes sense to have both of these on file.

A perspective view of the proto-relationships between your sales datasetsA perspective view of the proto-relationships between your sales datasets

You don’t have to segregate all of your data at this point. 100 leads, a couple-dozen Accounts, some 50 contacts and 10 Opportunities should suffice for the testing purpose.

6. Test-drive everything within those CRMS

Once you’ve segregated that data it’s “Hammer Time”! Aka import all those CSVs’ into your top5. Most of reputable SaaS or self-hosted CRMs should have an import module. Read The Freaking Manual (¡RTFM!)of that one, and you’ll surely get there. Usually, whenever you’re in the Lead, Account, Contact, or Opportunity view, you’ll have the “Import Records” option there, under the “Create New” submenu.

One thing though! Always follow this import order: Leads, Accounts, Contacts and only then, Opportunities.

A generic import process should look like this:

a) choose your dataset (in this case: the leads.csv file)

Import step 1

b) Map correspondent fields. Here is where our model comes in handy. Regardless of the CRM choice, you’ll be able to link the system’s specific fields to the universal ones I’ve deployed in the test structure:

Import step 2

You can always “Auto-Map”, but If I’d be you (especially when linking contacts with accounts; and opportunities with accounts and contacts) I’s stick to the manual linking. It’s a one-time process and you’re making sure everything matches with your structure.

Once you repeat the import process for Accounts, Contacts and then Opportunities (or deals), you’re *almost ready to do the “A/B testing“.

Get the manual for each of those pre-selected solutions and attempt to integrate, whatever you can, to ensure every competitive edge is there. For instance, Microsoft Dynamics works natively with Office365, while Salesforce requires some elbow grease. Other solutions might be even trickier, even more so if you’ve chosen to go with an in-house deployment.

7. Do a primitive “A/B test”

Once you have the bare minimum set-up, use-up  those 14 days of trial in full. Exploit those solutions as if they are your daily driver. Get some of your teammates enrolled and assign an account and some leads as per each participant, on each platform. Once those 2 weeks are done, take notes and run a survey to identify the best candidate for deployment.

CRMS Test-Drive

8. Choose your winner aka “the right CRM”

Now that you have all of the data on hand: survey results, monthly costs per license, required resources, etc; your decision should be somewhat straightforward. You’ve seen how these can integrate with your existing tools. You have tested the real-life scenarios. You even spotted some bugs (just maybe). Everything is laid out: Just pick one and stick with it.

9. Pre-sell it to your team

Once you’ve picked one up, the story ain’t over just yet. Build a Knowledge base for your teammates and explain the workflows in details. Make a department presentation, show everyone how each process is transposed into an action within the CRM and screen all of the benefits those actions result in. Chances are, during that open conversation, you might spot some other automation opportunities that can translate into a rudimentary workflow in the CRM, but make dozens of operations easier.

10. Deploy, maintain, use!

This… This one is tricky. If you went with a SaaS, you pretty much have to focus on continuous nurturing of your team (aka organizing 2 hours of CRM trainings for newbies and anyone who wants to use it) and maybe, adjusting to new features (organize workshops to identify optimization opportunities). The rest: platform update, maintenance, security provisioning, high load – is the provider’s concern.

However, if you’ve chosen to go with a self-hosted solution, consider increasing your CyberSec, DevOps, and consultancy budgets. There’s no other way, and my colleagues spent over a litter of ink writing about that.

Make sure EVERYONE uses the CRM. As a data-centricity first-step, it will bring a culture shift and maybe get you ready for the next step of your company’s DX. Once sales jumps on this wagon, other departments, one-by-one will join in and soon enough – you’ll be ready to deploy your first ERP, data banks and other flows of centralized stats that powers your decision making.


Truth to be told, there is no silver bullet. Most SME’s will find this helpful and may dodge the 70% failure black hole.  Others, despite their best efforts, might get sucked in, faster that expected. The rule here is one: if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again. You’ll only learn from that experience, and every time, you’ll get closer to THE objective.

Now, not every grass is as green as it seems. If your business model is too specific and does not fit any of those CRMs out there, there’s always the custom approach. For more about that, you’ll have to reach my colleagues; but until then, you have a comment section to exploit.

If you have a different roadmap in mind, or if you want me to elaborate on anything CRM-related – hit me up and I’ll be happy to level with you.

Until then, I’ll release this blog from my claws, and borrow my friend’s quote here: “Stay classy business and tech nerds!”