At Its Base, a CRM Is Just a Database: Here’s How to Build One


CRMs are simultaneously the most necessary system for a sales team – and the most hated.

They are also often under-utilized and improperly implemented. This not only causes headaches for daily users, but wastes resources – primarily money and time.

So how do you build a CRM that salespeople, managers, and executives love? How do you leverage a CRM to align teams and improve efficiency? And how can a CRM drive organizational change throughout a company?

How to get more value from your CRM

Salespeople normally hate CRMs because the value doesn’t directly impact their workday beyond feeling like they spend too much time entering data. Sales leaders love/hate them because while they like the reports and dashboards, they often don’t fully understand how to access that information or how to make it more actionable.

RevOps professionals love CRMs because they understand how powerful that database of information can be. They also hate CRMs because most of their time is spent chastising sales reps for inaccurate or incomplete data, or building endless reports and dashboards for sales executives that are only minutely different from previous versions. So how do you transform your CRM from an under-utilized database that is the source of headaches across a sales organization to a powerful database that empowers the sales team?

Let’s start from the beginning. A CRM, at its very essence, is just a database of information on your customers. It’s a place in the mythological cloud where you can build this giant set of interconnected data with all the information you collect as your sales team works with customers and prospects alike.

So how do you get more out of your CRM? How do you take it from a spreadsheet with a nicer interface to an integral centralized tool for all your customer-facing teams?

Unleash the power of standardization

The true power of a properly set-up and fully-utilized CRM starts with data standardization, which is one of the most fundamental advantages of a CRM. How many times have you asked someone to complete a form or fill in a spreadsheet and everyone does it differently?

The same thing happens (at a much larger scale) when CRMs are set up without required field rules and thoughtful field types. Open fields and missing rules cause a ton of extra work, compromise data integrity, and result in a lack of trust in the data at all levels of the company. It may sound basic, but non-standardization is one of the biggest small things overlooked in CRM implementations.

There are two key questions to keep in mind when you’re structuring your data: Is this the right field type, and should this be required?

Is this the right field type?

The biggest mistake most companies make is using too many open text fields. Open text fields are not inherently bad; they serve a very important and clear purpose. However, if all or the majority of your fields are open text, you will never be able to glean the insights you need from that data point. Open text fields should only be used when the data point needs to be unique. They are necessary for names, emails, company websites, call notes, products, and more – where the uniqueness of the data being captured is important.

For other types of fields where the data is being used to discover trends or align the customer or company to an internal profile or probability of fit, use drop-downs or pick lists. Use existing customer information or the key indicators that were used to build your profiles to create pick lists for these types of fields. Common drop-down or picklist fields are industry, company size, role/title, location, etc. These fields are used to glean insights and improve the effectiveness of your funnel.

You can utilize other standardized fields to capture sales performance metrics. Consider adding a ratings numerical field for confidence on the opportunity or a dropdown for competitors mentioned in a sales call. Another use case would be to create a pick list of common objections or reasons for closed/lost to help understand why the opportunity didn’t convert.

And then there are very simple standardizations that many businesses forget about. Use your common sense. If this field needs to be a number, make it a number field. If the only answer you’re looking for is yes or no, then create a boolean field. If it needs to be a date, then make it a date field, and so on.

Should this be required?

Don’t be afraid to make fields required, especially at funnel stage transition points (e.g. these four fields must be completed before you can move an opportunity to closed-lost). Salespeople hate filling in data and will do anything to avoid it. Requiring fields at transition points forces them to capture important and necessary information before they can move the deal forward or create the contact.

Be strategic about which field you require and which you don’t. In addition to the necessary sales performance and basic company information the sales team needs, work with your finance, customer success, and marketing teams to understand their must-have information.

It’s important to remember that not only sales is relying on the data that the salespeople are inputting. Marketing is using that information to improve everything from demand generation strategies to lead scoring and qualification methodologies. Your customer success team needs information to understand the pain points and details about the company to help onboard them successfully.

High Impact, high value data capture

It is far too easy to fall into the trap of setting up a CRM to capture every data point someone from the management team has imagined or seen from a previous company. There is an art to capturing the right and right amount of data from your sales team.

If you ask for too little, you won’t have enough depth to gather the insights management needs to track and improve growth and performance. Ask for too much, and your salespeople will resent having to put in the information and your managers will spend even more time trying to get their teams to fill in missing data points.

Unfortunately, there is no magic formula to help determine the data you need to collect. The truth is, it’s an iterative and continuous process that you will always be perfecting. Still, we recommend organizing your data in four buckets:

  • The data that is necessary to the business (name, company, email, phone number)
  • The data that is necessary for marketing to inform their customer profiles they use to help segment and target prospects and leads (industry, company size, role)
  • The data that is helpful for your sales team to understand who they’re talking to and the problems the customer has.
  • The data that sales management needs to understand pipeline health (potential deal size, confidence, stage)

If you’re not sure where to start, interrogate your data. You should be able to clearly articulate how each data point being captured in your CRM is being used. Do some investigating so you really understand the why behind each field.

If no one in your organization can clearly identify the why behind each and every field, it shouldn’t be a data point. Your sales reps spend a significant amount of their time inputting this information so if the data isn’t actually being used, then it really is a waste of their time.

Make the data visible for the entire sales team

Sales managers and executives are not the only ones who can and should be using the data in a CRM to discover insights and manage performance. The number one way to get sales reps excited about a CRM is to allow them to access the value it delivers.

Sales teams can benefit from tailored dashboards that can empower them to plan their day, prioritize their time, and properly prepare for meetings and demos.

Here are a few innovative ways to democratize your CRM data:

  • Ask marketing to show sales how they use the data from the CRM to inform their inbound marketing strategies and improve their qualification techniques.
  • Build a dashboard for each salesperson. Empower them by giving them visibility and ownership into their own pipeline. Help them see which types of customers and companies they connect with by including reports on industry and customer profile trends in addition to sales performance reports.
  • Ask your salespeople what data they find most useful and why. They might have ideas for different profiling questions and will be that much more inclined to input the data if they feel like they contributed to its purpose.

The best sales professionals are curious. Use your CRM to tap into that natural curiosity and empower and enable the entire sales organization to understand and leverage their data.

Take it to the next level

So your data is standardized and you’re using your CRM for more than just a data entry portal with pretty charts, now what? Now, your CRM can really start to work for you and your sales team’s lives better.

You can add in automated workflows to copy data from one object to another. You can create automations based off of innumerable triggers (e.g. an opportunity moves to closed-won) that can reduce time in meetings and facilitate a clean hand off from sales to customer success. You can automate the sales processes that you have been doing manually so that the required tasks across teams are created automatically.

You can also consider tapping into the processing power of machine learning and artificial intelligence to take your team into the next experience of having a helpful CRM. Machine learning and artificial intelligence can be deployed into a structured environment to pull the insights for everyone across all different levels of the organization.

For management, it can be used to generate predictive forecasts, won/loss analysis, or even when their involvement is actually needed for certain opportunities. It can also help sales reps by suggesting their next step to increase the chance of wins based on what has worked in the past. When you reach this level of efficiency and effectiveness your CRM has reached the point where it is not only paying for itself, but it is driving revenue growth as well.

How to get started

Getting more value from your CRM sounds great, but it also sounds like a lot of work. Sales leaders are already stretched thin and honestly, should be focused on sales management, not CRM continuous improvement. That’s where RevOps comes in.

The role of a RevOps team is to understand, improve, and manage the data, processes, and systems used by all the “full-funnel” teams – the trifecta of marketing, sales, and customer success.

A RevOps professional is a valuable partner for sales leaders, marketing leaders, and customer success leaders alike as they are making sure each team has the information they need to do their jobs better. They know how different departments interact with the sales team and how everyone could benefit from the data that lives within the CRM.

RevOps is the connector between teams, the democratizer of data, and the internal evangelist for the systems and processes needed for your business to grow. Over the past few years, we’ve seen major players add this function to their organization because they realized the power of bringing the entire customer story into one system. Having a team that has a full view of your customer – from prospect through evangelist – creates a better user experience for the customer and puts marketing, sales, and customer success together on the same side.

Your CRM can be the catalyst for ensuring everyone from marketing, sales, and customer success are speaking the same language and following the same rules. With a strong RevOps function, you will have the people in place to constantly question the status quo based on how people are using your CRM to continually make it more powerful.

And most importantly, RevOps won’t let you spend a fortune on just a spreadsheet. The good ones will take a CRM and build it to be useful for the daily users, management, and your customers.

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