The Beginners Guide to CRMs

25 minutes

The Beginner's Guide to CRMs

Our goal with this resource is to cover the basics of everything you need to know about customer relationship management (CRM) systems before you go out and purchase or set one up. Even if you are experienced with CRMs, this guide can help you revise the basics and re-learn best practices.

In this guide, we’re going to cover key terminology, CRM data models, how different departments rely on CRMs, different reports and dashboards plus some extra tips.

What is a CRM?

CRM stands for customer relationship management and is a tool used to help develop relationships with prospects, customers and other stakeholders at scale. CRMs work by tracking every interaction you have with a customer from their first interaction (as a prospect) to their current interactions as a paying customer. 

The big benefit that comes with using a CRM is more efficient communication between you and your prospects/customers - this helps with conversion during the sales cycle and retention during the customer cycle. By increasing efficiency and removing roadblocks in communication, you’ll also find that CRM users experience increased productivity.

Here are four examples of how a CRM can benefit your entire organisation beyond just your sales and service teams:

  1. Connecting your reps with new leads
  2. Tracking opportunities through sales stages
  3. Sharing customer information across all departments
  4. Accurately forecasting revenue

Why use a CRM?

According to Nucleus Research, companies that make investments in CRMs find that they pay back $8.71 for every $1 spent and this ROI has been seen to be increasing over the years. The reason for this is a CRM is designed to save time and boost productivity. For example, you’ll see efficiency improvements thanks to:

  1. Workflow automation
  2. Data visualisation
  3. Department alignment

To better understand why these benefits exist, let's start going over the common features you’ll see in many CRM platforms.

  • Contact management - a CRM’s core purpose is to help you organise your contacts based on a user’s needs - this way information is easily accessible to each department.
  • File and content sharing - many business documents can be stored within a CRM and then associated with a specific contact or account. This way all users and your entire organisation have access to the same information and content.
  • Workflow automation - automation removes the need for users to perform repetitive and manual tasks thus increasing efficiency and decreasing chances of human error.
  • Pipeline management - manage deals and customer accounts both visually and in list form as they progress through the different stages of your pipeline.
  • Reporting and analytics - review and predict/forecast performance of both individual users, teams and the organisation in order to make data-driven decisions.

CRM terminology

To help you with this guide, we’ve included key terms and how to group them based on the section number.

  • Workflow - a standardised series of steps that must be taken for an action to be done. In a CRM, a workflow can be automated.
  • Business process - a process carried out by a business to achieve its goals.
  • Automation - a task completed by technology that reduces human involvement and improves process efficiency.
  • Key performance indicators (KPIs) - are metrics your business tracks to determine the degree at which you’ve achieved a business goal.
  • Sandbox - a CRM staging environment where different configurations can be tested out. This is similar to a staging site built for a website before live deployment.

Definitions for Section 1: How to develop a CRM implementation plan

  • Executive sponsor - the individual who is accountable for a project and has direct influence on decisions. In the context of CRM adoption, this individual usually starts by generating buy-in from others in an organisation and drives the big-picture vision.
  • Project manager - this individual spearheads the CRM strategy and manages the implementation process.
  • Administrator - this individual is responsible for the technical setup of a CRM. These are typically experts in that particular platform (e.g. Salesforce Administrator) and outsourced to save on costs.
  • Pilot group - this group of users are employees of your organisation that will test out the CRM configuration (in the sandbox) before it is deployed. 

Definitions for Section 2: Understanding data management in a CRM

  • Data model - a model that describes how different data entities (objects) are related and what other data should be attached.
  • Objects - the different entities or types of records you work with during the course of doing business.
  • Record - an individual entry of data related to a single object.
  • Fields - the different attributes or categories of information that will be stored about each record.
  • Values - the unique information that is input into a field on a record.
  • Relationships - these determine how the different objects in a CRM are connected and related.
  • Lead - a record of a person (not a company) who might convert, but doesn’t have an established relationship with your organisation.
  • Contact - a record of a person you have an established relationship with — whether as a customer, prospect, or partner.
  • Account - a record of a company or other organization that a contact can be affiliated with.
  • Opportunity - represents a pending deal or an activity that has the potential to generate revenue.
  • Campaign - a marketing or sales project. Campaigns can be used to track interactions and ROI.
  • Case - a record of a customer reaching out with an issue or question. 
  • Macros - a shortcut your users can use to automate repetitive administrative tasks.

Definitions for Section 4: How to create CRM reports and dashboards

  • Report - a snapshot of data that is generated based on your criteria. Reports can be filtered and arranged to provide insight into activities and performance
  • Dashboard - a collection of reports arranged visually to give a broad overview of performance. 

For the remainder of this guide, we’ll be approaching CRMs from the context of Salesforce. However, although some terms may differ between different platforms, the overarching principles and concepts remain the same. 

01. How to develop a CRM implementation plan

Before implementing any new CRM, we recommend creating a plan of action that includes everything from a timeline to who will help test your CRM’s success. 

How to evaluate a CRM

Before going through an evaluation, it’s important to first revisit why you’re looking into a CRM in the first place. Is it so your sales team has a central database of prospects? Is it so your marketing team can get better insight into who to target? Or is it something else altogether? No matter the reason, it’s important to keep the following factors in mind:

  • Features - this is where the ‘why’ comes into play. CRMs are typically geared toward sales, marketing and customer service departments so you can start there. Alternatively, you can look at more general features surrounding reporting, automation, collaboration and file storage.
  • User interface - an intuitive and friendly UI makes it easier for your users to perform tasks and use the CRM. Visual CRMs make it easy for users to generate reports, create dashboards, see how their records move and change over time, and reduce the total actions (or clicks) a user needs to take. 
  • The number of users - larger companies tend to opt for more robust solutions like Salesforce as they’re the most customisable and flexible to an individual organisation’s needs. Due to this complexity, some smaller businesses may choose to go for something simpler like Hubspot or ActiveCampaign.
  • Cost - CRMs are typically priced per license and the number of users so it’s important to plan ahead and think about how many users you will add down the line. 
  • Security - most CRMs are cloud-based which comes with the added benefit that the vendor is responsible for platform security. On another note, we recommend choosing a CRM where you can restrict user access and visibility to certain data. For example, your sales team shouldn’t be able to export data into an excel format but you might want your SDRs to be able to import.

Once you’ve selected the CRM that can address all of your needs at the right cost, it’s time to build your implementation plan. If you’re having trouble selecting which CRM is right for you, you can get in touch with us or explore the following:

  • Salesforce (larger organisations only)
  • Hubspot, Hubspot and Freshworks - perfect for companies looking for a sales, marketing and service solution. These platforms are modular in that you can pay for different hubs to build a more relevant solution.
  • ActiveCampaign and Ontraport - perfect for companies looking for a sales and marketing solution that doesn’t need to be as robust as those listed above. 
  • and Pipedrive - perfect for a B2B business looking for a sales solution. Especially if they conduct a lot of outbound sales. These CRMs require another piece of software like MailChimp for marketing campaigns (unlike those listed above).

Creating your implementation team

As we covered earlier, an implementation team is responsible for building the CRM, guiding the project and testing the prototype before going live. The main benefit associated with implementation teams is the ability to get real-time feedback. A secondary benefit is that the same team can act as mentors post-deployment for new users.

At Fide, we recommend your implementation team contain the following players:

  • Executive sponsor - a senior leader who is accountable for the implementation’s success
  • Project manager - the person overseeing the CRM strategy who guides the entire process. Many organisations choose to hire externally or outsource to somebody experienced in addressing specific business needs and challenges.
  • Administrator - the person responsible for the CRM’s technical setup and customisation. Your admin needs to be knowledgeable of the platform and its capabilities and we recommend hiring specifically for this role or outsourcing.
  • Pilot group - a group of users from various departments tasked with testing out the CRM before deployment.

When it comes to pilot groups, it’s important to consider their attitude toward CRM adoption. While you may generally want people positive about change, you will also want to include people who are critical (and sometimes resistant). This allows you to catch downfalls ahead of time and ensure that all users have a positive experience after deployment.

How to create a CRM implementation plan

Once the team has been selected, it’s then about ensuring all members know their place and the steps in the implementation process. Every business and organisation is different so here are some general and recommended steps for creating an implementation plan:

  1. Assess your current process

Take the time to evaluate your current internal processes and those associated with the customer journey. How do you plan on improving these processes with your new CRM? Here you’ll establish realistic KPIs to define success so that in the future, it’ll be easier to prove ROI to both resistant users and sceptics in upper management.

  1. Designate responsibilities

With your goals and their KPIs defined, it’s time to build your implementation team. During the development stages, it’s very important to invest in a seasoned and experienced CRM administrator.  Many organisations choose to outsource administration to gain access to an experienced admin while keeping overheads low. If you’re looking into outsourcing, we’ve covered the top 5 benefits of outsourcing CRM administration in a previous post.

  1. Build a roadmap

For many project managers, this is the fun part. The roadmap should outline the CRM build and test phases along with an estimated go-live date. Be sure to be realistic with your timeline in order to set the right expectations among team members.

At Fide, our timeline consists of four phases:

  • Design Phase - here we define the business’ requirements for the CRM build plus how to address business needs and processes. Key aspects of the CRM architecture including user roles, layouts and automation are done here.
  • Build Phase - our CRM architect (the CRM administrator) then takes the time to build out the CRM in a sandbox environment. The outcome of this phase is a working prototype that can move on to testing.
  • Testing Phase - the pilot group starts to use and champion the new CRM. We ensure that the members undergo rigorous user acceptance testing in a sandbox environment so as to identify as many roadblocks as possible without messing with real data.
  • Deployment Phase - before going live, management will typically review the CRM to identify if any changes need to be made. Furthermore, it’s at this point training documentation is finalised for launch.
  1. Review user profiles

The CRM administrator will create all user profiles and roles based on who from your organisation will be using the CRM. User roles allow admins (and the organisation) to control user permissions which in turn dramatically affects the security of your data. As a result, admins need to ask themselves:

  • What do the departments need to see?
  • What restrictions need to be placed on certain groups?
  • Which groups, if any, should have export privileges?
  • What is the hierarchical structure of the company?
  1. Create a key

Using something as simple as a shared Google Doc/Sheet, create a key that defines what field each team member will be using and how they should be used correctly. It’s important to have it readily accessible so as to ensure all members follow the correct processes and minimise errors.

  1. Configure objects

Objects are those entities in a CRM that allow you to store data. For example, contacts, leads and accounts are objects. Along with their configuration, the CRM admin may also need to customise the page layout. The page layout refers to the fields on display when you view a certain record.

  1. Import data

Now that the CRM architecture has been built, it’s time to import clean data and map it to your objects and fields. We’ve bolded clean because your data should have been reviewed beforehand in order to save time and prevent any outdated or duplicate information. If you’re having difficulty cleaning your database, there are various services on the market that help clean and maintain your data over time. For example, Fide’s data specialists can scrub your data and verify your records before your import. You can find out more here.

You’ll also need to ensure that each record you’re importing has a unique identifier. Most CRMs take care of this for you but it’s important to double-check before importing to avoid any duplicates.

  1. Final review

Before handing your CRM’s keys to your pilot group, perform a final review with upper management and executives to evaluate both your CRM architecture and the user testing process. Once approved, it’s time to start testing.

The CRM onboarding process

After the CRM has been built, tested and approved for launch, it’s time to train all users on how to use the platform. We strongly recommend developing an onboarding process that includes training on how to use the CRM. Be sure to keep your documentation up to date as your vendor rolls out updates and changes to best practices. For this reason, we recommend outsourcing CRM admin and training.

02. Understanding CRM data management

Your CRM data model refers to how different data entities (e.g. individual contacts and company accounts) are related to each other and what data should be attached. Most CRMs provide a standard data model which you can then customise to your business. 

Because a CRM require a data model to function, it provides standard objects and fields to get users started. However, over time it becomes inevitable to create customisations to fulfill a business’ unique requirements. This is where custom objects and custom fields then come into play - these are the object and fields created by an admin post-implementation.


Objects are the different types of records that exist within your CRM. The standard objects you’ll come across are:

  • Lead - a record of a person (not a company) who might convert, but doesn’t have an established relationship with your organisation.
  • Contact - a record of a person you have an established relationship with — whether as a customer, prospect, or partner.
  • Account - a record of a company or other organization that a contact can be affiliated with.
  • Opportunity - represents a pending deal or an activity that has the potential to generate revenue.
  • Campaign - a marketing or sales project. Campaigns can be used to track interactions and ROI.
  • Case - a record of a customer reaching out with an issue or question.

You’ll notice that ‘leads’, ‘accounts’ and ‘contacts’ refer to three different objects and we can understand that this is confusing. So to help understand the difference, we’ll use the analogy of growing a tree.

Your ‘leads’ would be the seeds that you plant. They’re seeds because they’re not yet attached to anything and haven’t yet grown into anything else. Think of them as a pile of business cards that you’ve managed to collect in your CRM.

Once you’ve built a relationship, an ‘account’ is created - the tree trunk. The tree branches would be the ‘contacts’ as the contacts can help us understand an organisation’s structure.

Now, if you can’t use standard objects to fit your business’ needs, you can turn to create your own custom objects. However, we find that standard objects typically provide more functionality so we recommend considering ways to simply reliable standard objects.


Fields on the other hand, are where you establish exactly what information you’ll like to store about your objects. WHen building out your CRM, you’ll need to select which fields will apply to which objects. 

Just like objects, there are standard fields that come out of the box and just like objects, you can also create custom fields to store even further information.

Some standard fields include:

  • Name
  • Phone Number
  • Email
  • Job title
  • Industry
  • Lead source

Some custom fields include:

  • Job function
  • Pronouns
  • Days in pipeline stage
  • Sub-industry
  • Closed lost reason

CRM data management best practices

It’s important to keep some best practices in the forefront of your CRM workflow to prevent outdated and inaccurate data. This way you can prevent the need to scrub or clean your database and ensure your team is spending their time on reliable prospects.

Use an internal playbook

As part of our documentation, we provide our clients with a playbook to be used internally. This playbook establishes the rules surrounding every dataset that enters your database.

For example, how do you record a state name? Is it ‘NSW’ or ‘New South Wales’? Do phone numbers include an area code, if yes is it via ‘+612…’ or ‘02…’?

Once all of these rules about how data should be collected and recorded are established, they’re put together in a playbook that is accessible to all staff. Most CRMs allow for data validation to help verify whether an entry matches your standards but it’s sometimes not enough to rely on this.

Automate your workflows

Every repeated process should be automated when possible. In Salesforce, this can be done via ‘macros’ and in Hubspot, it’s done via ‘Automations/Workflows’. For example, let's say a sales rep has sent a contract to a prospect and needs to follow up. In Salesforce, you can set up a macro to automatically create a new task that reminds the rep to follow up and even send an automatic email.

Perform regular data maintenance

Depending on your industry, you’ll need to check for data decay and perform maintenance regularly. Otherwise, you run into the risks associated with poor data quality including the big two - wasting time and money. B2B data is especially important as it’s estimated to decay at over 70% a year which means it needs to be revisited more often than B2C data.

Hire a CRM administrator

As you customise your CRM, you should look into hiring an administrator if you haven’t yet already. These need to be certified by the vendor (e.g. Hubspot certified) and know the CRM like the back of their hand. Not only can they help with the configuration of your CRM but they can identify problems ahead of time and address them proactively.

If you’re looking for a CRM administrator, our team is here to help. Be sure to reach out to learn more about our CRM services.

03. How different teams use a CRM

The main benefit of having one system for all teams is that different departments are aligned. This results in a better customer experience that boosts brand loyalty and builds long-lasting relationships.

However, every team uses CRMs differently. For example,

  • Sales teams use CRMs to manage their pipelines
  • Customer service teams use CRMs to provide customer support
  • Marketing teams use CRMs to track and improve ROI

Role of CRM in sales

Traditionally, CRMs are thought of as sales tools as this is how they’re typically marketed (and used) within most companies. With a sales CRM, you’re able to zero in on your pipeline and analyse what strategies and techniques have been working along with what improvements need to be made. Some examples of popular sales CRMs include Salesforce Sales Cloud, Hubspot Sales Hub, Pipedrive and 

Qualifying leads

Once a lead enters your CRM, the lead owner (usually an SDR) is automatically assigned to the lead. This automatic assignment means that leads don’t slip through the cracks as at least one salesperson has visibility of the lead’s progress.

From there, your salesperson can alter the view of that lead using filters based on specific criteria - for example, territory or industry. This helps them work more efficiently as they know who to connect with strategically throughout the day.

Once the lead has been qualified, it can be converted into a contact and associated with an opportunity.

Nurturing and closing opportunities

Beyond qualification, a crim improves the nurturing process as it stores all interactions in once place. If you have a pod or multiple reps working on the same contact, notes and tasks of all conversations are beneficial to everyone.

Notes allow reps to identify how they should highlight your solution’s value in a more personal way. You can also mention how soon to follow up on a lead using notes along with what channels work best.

As a rep speaks with prospects, the opportunity will continue to move through the pipeline stages. An advantage that comes with CRMs is that your entire organisation can visually see the opportunity (or deal) progress through each stage. This also gives salespeople a quick way to identify which opportunities should be prioritised. 

You can also include requirements for your sales team that determine whether or not an opportunity can move between stages - this helps standardise your sales process. 

Finally, a big benefit that comes with sales CRMs is the fact that you can easily forecast how many deals will close based on your stages. We’ve explained this in great detail in our Guide to Sales Pipeline Management. By using probability and forecasting, you can accurately predict if your team will meet their quota.

Role of a CRM in customer service

Where sales are mostly concerned with the acquisition and nurturing of new business, customer service are focused on retention and customer experience. Great examples of CRMs that help customer service teams be efficient when engaging with customers are Hubspot’s Service Hub and Salesforce’s Service Cloud.

Assigning tickets and routing

When customers raise an issue, your CRM will automatically create a ticket for your customer service team to respond to and resolve. To ensure these are resolved efficiently, CRMs can automatically assign and route tickets to available customer service reps.

This process of assigning and routing tickets to the correct rep is automatic. For example, issues relating to payments can be automatically diverted to the billing team and issues relating to exchanging items can be diverted to customer service.

Without a CRM, these tickets will need to be manually screened and then assigned to the correct queue. Straight away, this results in delays and potential human errors - both of which harm customer satisfaction and retention.

Case management

Most CRMs also allow for case management which prevents a customer from needing to repeatedly explain their situation to customer service reps. The reason this is made possible is that CRMs are designed to track all customer interactions thus allowing your reps to get a full picture of the customer’s pain points.

The key benefit here is that cases can be more efficiently managed. This in turn makes your customers feel heard and improves your relationship.

Role of a CRM in marketing

Marketing teams are in charge of understanding both how to communicate with prospects and how to get in front of them. To make this possible, marketing teams need to collect as much data as possible about their customers and how they’ve responded to different channels, messaging and strategies. With a marketing CRM such as Hubspot’s Marketing Hub or Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud, marketing teams can benefit from:

  • Marketing automation and integrations
  • Sales and marketing alignment
  • Attributing marketing ROI

Marketing automation and integrations

Many CRMs provide apps and integrations specifically for marketers. For example, Salesforce has both the Marketing Cloud and Pardot - one built for B2C customers and the other for B2B. Similarly Hubspot as the Marketing Hub that allows for campaign creation and workflow automation. 

Most CRM marketing platforms have a heavy focus on email marketing and assist with some workflows surrounding inbound lead generation in the form of contact forms and landing pages. This allows marketing teams to take their time in nurturing leads until they become qualified for sales (SQLs) and then automatically route these SQLs to the appropriate sales rep.

Sales and marketing alignment

At Fide, the biggest advantage we see with using a CRM is that it’s the single point of truth - you have complete visibility of the impact of a marketing campaign and its impact on your sales pipeline. 

Furthermore, marketing teams are able to view all interactions between a prospect and sales rep including changes to lead score and pipeline progression. This allows for better audience segmentation and data on what sales collateral is working best when moving a prospect along their buyer journey.

Attribution marketing ROI

As we mentioned above, CRMs can measure campaign performance and the effectiveness of the sales cycle. With this, you can generate reports to track campaign spend versus the ROI of different campaigns. This data allows you to identify what strategies have been successful and which need to be benched or adjusted.

  1. How to create CRM reports and dashboards

One of the huge advantages that come with using a CRM is the insight you gain into your marketing and sales efforts via dashboards and reports. Dashboards and reports allow you to track progress, make data-driven decisions and forecast performance.

CRM report examples

Unlike Google Sheets and Excel, CRMs automatically create reports based on the criteria you specify. This saves your company time from having to export data and manually create the relevant reports.

Reports allow you to track progress and performance in a quick way whilst increasing transparency and productivity. This is because you’ll have the data you need to draw conclusions on what’s working and what needs improvements.

Standards reports that you’ll typically need to include:

  • Pipeline reports - this shows how leads are moving along the buyer’s journey and the status of all opportunities/deals
  • Forecast reports - these enable you to identify if your company is going to meet targets by using current data and deal probabilities
  • Performance reports - enable management to see how successful teams and individual reps have been with closing deals
  • Lead source reports - enables marketing teams to identify where leads are coming from

How to create a CRM report

All CRMs come with report templates out of the box that can be used by various teams to get most of the data you need. However, most companies will need to create their own reports to ensure they’re getting all the information they need without being overwhelmed. 

When creating any new report, we recommend you ask yourself the following:

  1. Who is going to be using these reports?
  2. Why do they need these reports?
  3. Who is going to view the data?
  4. Why is this data so important?
  5. What’s the overarching purpose?

Answering these questions allows you to determine how the report should be structured, filtered and stored. This also helps ensure that your dashboards only contain reports that serve a purpose so as to prevent being overwhelmed with unnecessary information.

From here, you’ll want to create the report using the following steps:

  1. Determine the data source - here you identify where your data is coming from. Are you reporting on leads, opportunities or something else?
  2. Add fields to the report - you want to then specify what information about your records you want to display.
  3. Customise filters - here you’ll filter out data you don't need to keep your report focused. For example, you may restrict the time period to the last 30 days rolling.
  4. Change the chart type - here you’ll select how you want your data to be presented. Do you want a table, pie chart, graph or a mix?
  5. Save and share the report - here you’ll save and export your report and share it with the correct people.
  6. Add it to a dashboard - here you’ll include the report in a dashboard with other relevant reports.

How to create a CRM dashboard

As mentioned above, dashboards are a collection of reports displayed on one page. Unlike reports, dashboards are more high-level which means you’ll need to be selective with which reports you to include.

When creating any dashboard, here are our recommended steps:

  1. Create all relevant reports - ensure that you’ve taken the time to set up every report you plan on including in your new dashboard
  2. Configure how each report displays - because dashboards are high-level, you will want to customise how your reports are displayed to prevent any excess information from being presented.
  3. Design and organise the dashboard - just like a report, you can design how your dashboard looks. For example, you may want certain reports to be at the top of the page or larger than others.
  4. Educate users - train the relevant users on how to use your new dashboard

Similar to reports, you need to be intentional with how the dashboard looks overall. To ensure its easy for users to scan important information, here are some best practices:

  • Keep the most important metrics at the top 
  • Avoid cluttering your dashboard with too many reports
  • Include historical, predictive and real-time insights
  • Take advantage of size and colour customisation to draw attention to the more important reports

At Fide, we believe that creating the relevant dashboards have a huge effect on increasing user adoption. THis is because all users can immediately see all relevant data at once thus helping them understand how close they are to hitting their targets.

CRMs are tools to help you

The team at Fide hopes this guide was helpful and valuable to your CRM journey. Now that you understand the basics of how a CRM could help your organisation, you’re now ready to start implementing the CRM of your choice.

If you need extra guidance, our team of certified CRM experts can help with Salesforce, Hubspot, ActiveCampaign,, Pipedrive and Freshsales implementation and ongoing support. Contact us today to learn more

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