A Guide to CRM + Marketing Automation for B2B Small Business
Most people think of CRM, which stands for “Customer Relationship Management,” as a software product, such as Salesforce or other leading tools. While CRM is software, it isn’t just a term that describes a technology or a tool.
CRM is also a business strategy.
CRM is a strategic commitment to maximizing the profitability and positive experience of your client relationships across their entire journey and sales process, from discovering your offering, all the way to engaging with you and advocating your brand. Businesses achieve this through a combination of process improvement, insights and automation using CRM software. When implemented successfully, it offers benefits across the entire company – not just for marketing and sales.
Are you considering adopting a CRM strategy?
If so, this guide will help.
With the wide selection of CRM tools currently on the market, choosing the right one can be intimidating if not confusing. Below, you will find the most important considerations to help small businesses think about, choose, and get the most out of CRM and marketing automation.
For the purposes of this guide, ‘CRM’, means CRM and marketing automation strategies and tools.
Table of Contents
Related Guides and Tools
Why Small Businesses Need CRM
Investing in CRM makes sense for businesses of all sizes and types, especially those that are built upon customer relationships, because CRM makes managing and growing those relationships easier. In fact, CRM and marketing automation makes even more sense for small businesses for two additional reasons:
- Small businesses rely on developing strong and lasting customer relationships to grow – and each relationship gained and lost has a big impact on the business.
- Small businesses have less complexity making CRM implementation easier and faster, offering an advantage over larger, slower competitors.
Adopting a CRM strategy offers a wide range of benefits to small businesses including reduced cost of acquisition (CAC), increased sales velocity, the ability to boost reach, awareness and better convert leads to customers, and improved employee productivity.
CRM and Marketing Automation
Many CRM platforms combine two categories of features: CRM and marketing automation. CRM focuses on managing prospect and customer profiles and your sales process using a database, task management and analytics to measure performance and make improvements. Historically, CRM was used mostly in support of sales activities.
Marketing automation adds additional features closer to the ‘top of the funnel’ such as advertising and website integrations to capture and track leads across multiple channels. Marketing automation also includes tools for using other digital channels such as email, chat, and social media to engage with prospects and customers.
Marketing automation goes way beyond the old days of ‘batch and blast’ email campaigns and newsletters, where all of your prospects get the same content at the same time. Today’s consumers and B2B buyers expect much more, and your competitors are already moving beyond these old approaches of basic email campaigns. Modern demand generation is powered by automated, triggered, multi-step nurturing email sequences that are conversational and personalized to guide your prospects through their decision-making process by delivering the right content at the right time.
Read more: Building a Customer-Centric Sales Funnel
SaaS (software as a service) = web-based
Most (if not all) CRM / marketing automation software products these days are web-based, which means you use them via your web browser. This makes implementation and use much simpler, since there is nothing to install, and no additional computer hardware to purchase. Another benefit of the SaaS model of buying software is that the provider can more frequently update the service to add features which adds value over time. This usually happens at no additional cost to you unless it is a major enhancement.
Usually, SaaS software products are purchased on a subscription basis and priced according to feature tiers and/or the number of users or contact records being managed.
Many of these smaller cloud-based CRM tools can be a very sensible option for small businesses, even with very limited size and budget.
Still Wondering If You Need CRM + Marketing Automation?
Ask yourself the following questions about your business. If getting answers to these questions will help your business, then CRM can definitely provide value.
- Should we spend more on marketing and where?
- Where can we find more clients like [x]?
- How can we reduce the cost and time of acquiring new clients?
- Why isn’t the website converting visitors?
- Which marketing and sales activities should we invest in to meet our goals?
- Why didn’t the [x] deal close?
- Do we know the return on our marketing / ad spend?
Now, here is our step-by-step guide for using CRM + marketing automation in your small business.
Step 1: Plan Your CRM Strategy
CRM, as with any technology, is basically a means to an end. So, before investing in CRM, you must first determine what end you want to achieve by using it. As with other business strategies, it makes sense to start with defining what it is that you want to do and what problems could potentially be solved with CRM. Without clear goals and a way to measure progress, your CRM investment and efforts are not intentional; they are just a laundry list of features, without a clear understanding of what it will do for you and how to get the most return on the investment.
Identify goals and pain points CRM can address
Review your goals and consider what process and supporting technology your team needs in order to reach those goals. Gather inputs from across your company and especially from the people who will be using the CRM tool. Different functional teams will likely have different needs and priorities that you’ll want to weigh in selecting the right tool.
For instance, if one of your business goals is to close deals faster and improve the efficiency of your sales team, then workflow automation could help. If another goal is to better measure and forecast marketing and sales performance for financials, then analytics and reporting features are what you need.
Build a feature list
Once you’ve reviewed your company goals, determined your business needs, and asked teams for their input, it’s time to put together a list of the most desirable features you want and need in a CRM solution. As you compile the list, try to assign a relative importance to each. A great way to do this is to separate your feature list into ‘must-haves’ and ‘nice-to-haves.’ This approach comes in handy when comparing tools and making tradeoffs between need and cost.
Be sure to get input from your team on what is a must-have feature, so you don’t miss any strategic or industry-specific needs. For instance, a business in the healthcare industry may require HIPAA compliance when dealing with regulated patient data – a hard to find feature in the CRM / marketing automation space. Or, if your team lacks the time and skills to self-manage an implementation, then you may want to prioritize strong account and migration support.
Most common CRM / marketing automation features
To jump start your feature list, here are some of the most common features found in CRM and marketing automation solutions.
Account & Contact Management
- Contact Profiles – Manage, engage and nurture your contacts better by customizing contact types to categorize your business relationships. Track and manage contacts with real-time activity and interaction information.
- Account Profiles – Track and manage the companies you’re engaged with full account history and a comprehensive activity and interaction view.
- Activity Feed – Real-time feed of all interactions and activities related to contacts, accounts and deals in one place.
- Auto-enrich Profiles – Software scrapes internet sources for contact and company information, social profiles, and automatically adds it to contact profiles.
- Tags – Use tags to segment your contacts for additional tracking capabilities and added context on accounts.
- Contact Integration – Integration into tools such as Google G Suite so your leads, prospects, and customers are automatically synced between all your tools.
- Lead Tracking – Spend less time tracking, organizing, and managing your sales prospects—and focus on converting leads to customers.
- Leaderboard – Spark friendly competition with sales leaderboards that show who the top performers are by revenue, meetings set, calls made, and emails sent.
- Opportunity / Deal Management – Track deal progress with visual pipelines from lead to close.
- Sales Activity Management – Sales management tools, automation, and insights that grow your business. Define and create sales stages, forecast future revenue, and identify problem areas in your funnel. Qualify, track, and measure the opportunities in your sales funnel so you can nurture them into thriving customers.
- Sales Workflow – Automate repetitive sales tasks with sales workflow to drive efficiency throughout your sales process.
- Sales Tracking and Forecasting – Track sales data to forecast deal closes and estimate probabilities of hitting sales quotas. Track sales activity by line of business, account, teams, or other parameters. Track goals to see how your sales number is tracking and where you’re going to end the quarter against your goal.
- Pipeline Management and Analysis – Build and customize multiple pipelines to manage different business processes for any team, service or line of business. Track, measure, and analyze sales pipeline metrics to optimize pipeline health.
- Lead Generation
Boost lead generation efforts by capturing, nurturing, and converting anonymous intent — from website/app, social and email channels — to qualified leads and new customers. Manage new leads through a qualification and scoring process to maintain sales pipelines.
- Email Marketing – Build and send professionally designed HTML, mobile friendly email campaigns. Create and custom email templates with merge tags to schedule and trigger personalized messages based on segments and real-time activity.
- Automatic Email Capture – Automatically sync emails and contacts in Gmail to contact records.
- Task Management – Track and manage calls, emails, meetings, and follow ups with automatic reminders to stay organized. Setup, assign and track tasks with notifications and reporting to collaborate seamlessly and ensure tasks are completed.
- Calendar Management – Schedule and manage your meetings with Google Calendar, other calendar integrations and built-in scheduling tool.
- Workflow Automation – Setup processes to automate marketing and tasks based on criteria that trigger a set of actions.
- Mobile App – Receive notifications on new activity, ping your team, and update opportunities with iOS and Android apps.
- Customization – Create custom contact fields, tags, segments and parameters to better manage and report on contacts and accounts. Build and save a pre-filtered lists of leads, contacts, companies or opportunities for a quick view into segment details that matter to you. Set up custom activity types to organize sales activities—calls, meetings, presentations, to-dos and more.
- Notifications – Set preferences to receive real-time notifications that indicate when leads, accounts or deals need attention and deliver updated information.
Analytics and Reporting
- Email Analytics
Marketing dashboards to easily monitor marketing campaign performance and sales activities, stay engaged with high priority accounts, and find opportunities to improve pipelines.
- Sales Analytics – Sales dashboards to coach your sales team to success and improve pipeline health. View critical sales insights to keep a pulse on sales opportunities. Quickly see all open opportunities and their associated value in each stage of your sales process.
- Native integrations with leading marketing solutions including WordPress, Google G Suite, Gmail, Google Analytics, Zapier, other CRM/marketing tools, as well as an open API for more customized integrations.
- Services including: phone, email or chat-based support; setup and migration services; web-based learning resources including articles and guides and video tutorials.
Assess business readiness
Before any strategic software implementation, it is always a good idea to assess your business’s readiness to adopt the new software. Ultimately, you won’t get the intended value from new technology unless your business has fully adopted it and is using it to its fullest potential.
First, evaluate skill levels and the need for training across users and stakeholders. This can be done at the same time as getting their input on goals, problems and feature needs. Next, look at your current processes to see if changes and improvements should be made to clarify roles, responsibilities and decision rights. You may find that some processes are inherently flawed and should be streamlined to boost efficiency. Remember, good technology can’t fix bad processes. Your business processes should be in good working order before layering on technology to automation them.
Step 2: Review CRM Software
Armed with a CRM strategy, business assessment and a prioritized list of features, you’re now ready to begin researching the options. There is a wide selection of CRM tools available on the market, so choosing the right one can be intimidating if not confusing. Here are some tips and tools to help you make the right choice.
Read expert reviews
You’ll find that there are a lot of reviews of CRM tools online because they are great for SEO and affiliate marketers can make a lot of money on reviews. Many of them will be provided by the software companies themselves. These can be helpful, but keep in mind that they are probably biased. Instead, try to find independently written reviews by experts. Usually, these are blog posts written by marketing and CRM experts who have evaluated and/or used multiple tools over time. Note: some of these sites are affiliate marketers looking to cash in on links you click from their site.
Another distraction in your search for reviews are generic software review sites, such as TopTen and Capterra. These sites don’t offer much in terms of expert human-generated insight and may be out-of-date. Software review sites are likely the first result for a simple search such as ‘best CRM tools.’ To find a reliable and in-depth review, try a more specific long-tail search related to your business such as ‘CRM tools for small B2B service businesses’ and look for an editorial perspective that isn’t written by one of the software providers.
Top CRM Tools for Small Business (updated for 2021)
Get our 2021 list of the top CRM tools for small business weighing the pros and cons of each platform to help you in comparing all of the options.
Compare and narrow your list
As you conduct research and review each software website’s overview and feature section, make note of how each feature satisfies your most important business needs. CRM and marketing automation software vendor websites will typically offer an overview product page along with a detailed list of features that you can review and compare.
It is helpful to narrow your list based on the most important features for your business. A good number for your short list of best match CRM tools is 2 or 3. Begin organizing your features and software review feedback into a spreadsheet or some other document for easy reference.
We offer a ready-to-use spreadsheet template you can use to document and compare the different tools and narrow your list using an auto-generated scorecard. Our template also provides definitions of the most common features.
Download our CRM / Marketing Automation Comparison Template
Use our comparison template to choose the right CRM / marketing automation tool for your business.
Next, you’ll probably want to compare pricing. Most small business CRM / marketing automation software providers make their pricing available on their websites. The most common pricing model will be a monthly or yearly subscription fee based on the number of contacts or campaigns you want to manage. Most also offer pricing tiers, which group different packages of features together at varying price points. Some may also charge a setup or additional fees. Providers usually offer a handy side-by-side pricing comparison with features included in each tier, to make it easier to choose your subscription level.
Watch video overviews
Another great way to get a closer look at CRM / marketing automation software before making a selection are video overviews, how-to’s and reviews. Go to YouTube and search for your short list of vendors by name and add the term ‘review’, ‘overview’ or ‘tutorial.’ You should be able to find several provider-hosted or 3rd party expert videos to get a more detailed look at each product. Some videos even provide a use case scenario showing the software in action as part of the review.
Get word-of-mouth referrals
Another approach is to ask people who have used the CRM you’re considering what they think about it. Find out what they consider as the pros and cons and whether they would purchase it again over other options.
Sign up for free trials
Once you’ve narrowed down your list, then it’s time to start evaluating tools using a free trial. Most CRM companies offer free trials of their software so potential customers can try before they buy. Free trials are great because they usually provide access to all of the features to allow for a full assessment so you can get a real sense of using the software. Most free trials last 14 days, however you may be able to ask for more time.
To get the most out of a software trial, follow these tips before and during each trial:
- Before starting the first trial, have some sample contact records, deals and campaigns ready for upload or manual entry.
- Write up a few test scenarios that combine your most important and common use cases and features.
- If possible, have more than one people on your team use the trial for the widest variety of opinions during this important trial run.
- Document your questions and feedback during the trial so you can remember what you liked and disliked about each.
Step 3: Setup Your CRM Software
Once you’ve made a selection and purchase decision, implementation is the final step. The goal here is to get your new CRM integrated with your business, team, process and other business technology as quickly and smoothly as possible.
Identify a CRM lead
You’ll want to identify who will be in charge of the CRM, i.e., the CRM lead or admin. This person should have the right combination of knowledge about your business, as well as technical skills to conduct business analysis, source, and clean data, and configure the system to work with your business processes, such as marketing funnels, sales transactions, and client service activities.
The CRM lead may also be your long-term administrator of the system, or once the system is set up, it can be used and maintained by someone less technical.
Develop an implementation plan
The CRM lead will likely be in charge of the action plan that drives the people, activities, timeline and budget to launch the new system. Good project management skills and practices are important in this step, as setting up a CRM can involve many interdependent tasks including automating your revenue and client service processes, combining multiple forms of data, and integration of marketing and sales systems.
Another important skill for a CRM lead is evangelism: when implementing CRM software, team buy-in is critical to full adoption and a good ROI. Regular communication, updates and keeping the team motivated and ready for launch help to ensure a smooth implementation.
Training and management
Once your new CRM is in place, you’ll want to create a process for continual support and training for users. The software provider will offer some training and support resources, but they cannot train your team on the intricacies of using the software in context of your business. You’ll want to create training materials and quick reference guides to get everyone up to speed quickly and to maximize adoption.
Another essential element for smooth on-boarding is to create company specific usage guidelines and requirements, in the form of an SOP, or standard operating procedure. Much like a user’s manual, an SOP helps to build good usage habits of regularly updating contacts and deals and using reports to drive sales pipelines, for instance. These guidelines should clearly direct users on what, when and how to perform critical tasks in the CRM system.
You’ve heard of the phrase, ‘garbage in, garbage out?’ Setting clear expectations and providing good instruction on use and information entry will help avoid data quality issues and enable a more reliable, up-to-date view of your client relationships in real-time. Consistent data entry is critical to keeping CRM data clean and accurate. If your team doesn’t know how to enter data into the CRM system, it makes it difficult to do many other things such as track sale progress through sales pipelines, pull reports, send marketing emails to customers, and offer quick and effective customer service.
In short, CRM implementation can make or break the entire strategy, so be sure to plan accordingly. The biggest challenge in CRM implementation usually isn’t the technology: it is your people; so, make sure they are prepared. Adopting CRM in your business usually means making changes, such as re-designing processes, updating tasks, and requiring people to learn new things. Getting input from your team in step 1 (plan your CRM strategy) is important to head off any last mile roadblocks to adoption.
The biggest challenge in CRM implementation usually isn’t the technology: it is your people; so, make sure they are prepared.
Getting the Most Out of CRM + Marketing Automation for Small Business
The combination of CRM and marketing automation features allows a small business to optimize performance in several ways. Here are some use cases to get the most benefit from a CRM strategy over the long-term.
Focus on the most important customer relationships
Not all your customers are equal in terms of value to your business. Some represent more profit than others. Others might even waste your time so much that you should let them go. According to the Pareto principle: 80% of your profits likely come from just 20% of your client accounts. Use CRM analytical tools to find and focus on your highest value accounts. Then, use marketing automation to target prospects that look like those high value accounts. You may also find ways to boost earnings potential from low value accounts with the right attention. With these insights, you can boost retention, better manage your workflow, and better target more of the customers you want.
Deliver tailored service experiences and more relevant content
One of the best ways to convert a prospect to a client is by treating them like one. Likewise, treat existing clients as if you’re still trying to win their business. CRM makes it a lot easier to deliver a more personalized and helpful sales process and service experience. This goes beyond just adding a name to emails. Personalized service acknowledges the customer’s context, including previous interactions and issues, and factors in the varying priorities of a set of decision makers in the buying process.
Automate cross-channel engagement
Engagement is the sum total of all the ways you connect and communicate with your customers: through emails, phone calls, conversations on social media, events and of course in-person. Being able to reach and respond to customers in a timely fashion across all of these channels is important because most B2B buying processes involves a lot of back-and-forth and communication across several people involved in the buying decisions. Coordinating all of these communications is made easier with features such as data integrations, analytics and reporting.
Boost productivity by automating tasks
Task management capabilities streamline your workflow and help you stay on top of the most important activities to manage the sales process. Automate manual follow-up tasks and create follow-up touchpoint schedules to stay in touch with leads and nurture them through their purchase path. This helps to maintains a consistent cadence of touchpoints and lowers the risk of important follow-ups falling through the cracks.
Accelerate the sales cycle
Do you know if the things you do to win a sale are actually working? Do you know which touchpoints lead to the most conversions? Many businesses don’t. Simply modifying a tactic may boost your conversion rate and accelerate the sales cycle. Each action you take with prospects, and their responses to them, can be logged manually, and/or is automatically tracked in the CRM system. You can test a few small changes with a few accounts, monitor if it works, then scale it across the business.
Optimize advertising spend
Do you know how well your ads are generating interest from prospective customers? And do you know which new clients found your business from ads? CRM and marketing automation can help answer these questions. It is very important to monitor lead quality and sales activity and use those learnings to optimize ads and return on ad spend (ROAS) over time. This insight also helps to identify potential sales process issues getting in the way of converting new clients.
Get a single, clear picture of the customer relationship
Having the complete customer purchase path in one place makes it easier for different individuals and teams to share information and act on it collectively. This is made possible by having a central source of information for tracking business data. It also aids collaboration by coordinating efforts within your team to ensure that everyone is on the same page. CRM systems typically provide an analytics dashboard with real time visibility into your most important metrics such as sales attained and forecasted, deal status at different stages, outstanding tasks, and touchpoint / content performance.
Continually gather customer intelligence to optimize the business
CRM systems are full of data gathered from touchpoints and transactions with prospects and customers such as sales calls, emails, website usage, and chat sessions, and buying patterns. This vast intelligence is rarely used to its full potential. CRM provides valuable customer insights about your customers, how they are marketed to and how they respond, so you can turn those insights into successful business decisions. With this data readily available in a dashboard and downloadable reports, it becomes easy to analyze purchasing habits, discover new offer opportunities and drive more efficiencies across the business.
Want to know more about how CRM + marketing automation can help your business?
We would love to help! We usually start by asking a few questions to understand your customers and your business. After an exploration of your goals and what data you have available to fulfill them, we will design a tailored CRM strategy and implementation plan to maximize the potential of your customer relationships for growth and competitive advantage.
Let’s get started!