09 January 2020
Building an effective inbound marketing system requires having a place to record and track sales lead information.
If a sales lead calls, and the enquiry is never recorded - did it ever happen?
While the name CRM (Customer Relationship Management) implies a focus on customers, it is also used to record information about sales leads (not yet customers), customers, and lapsed customers (those who haven't bought anything for a while).
A disciplined process for attending to all three categories is a key component for effective B2B marketing.
What is a CRM and why it is important
A properly set-up and operated CRM becomes the central source of truth about customers.
Before they become customers, the CRM is the point where sales lead information is captured for later information retrieval and action.
Once they become customers, the CRM is used to record future interactions with customers thus providing service continuity and the data required to ensure transactions are accurate and conform to the customer's preferences - "All deliveries to the side door. Press intercom and wait for a response."
The CRM is an efficient place to store and access information about leads and customers. Clearly, it is an application either cloud hosted or hosted on a local server.
CRMs are often integrated with other business applications such as...
- Digital Marketing Platforms: E-mail and sales enquiry web forms deliver enquiries directly into the CRM capturing not just name and contact details, but also online lead generation analytic data (campaign identifiers, search phrases etc.)
- Telephone systems: Outbound phone calls are initiated by clicking a button rather than keying a phone number. This increases productivity. In addition, for Inbound calls, if the CLI is available (caller's phone number) this is automagically fed into the CRM and the customer's record is retrieved.
- Accounting systems and ERP: Sales orders processed through the CRM are injected into the order processing queue.
A fully integrated CRM forms the basis of sales and marketing automation as well as providing data that can be analysed to reveal which aspects of your digital lead generation are performing the best.
The tool for linking the online world with the real world is the CRM.
Most of us think a CRM is a database for recording sales lead and customer contact information (which might be simplifying and underselling the concept of CRM - but it's a good starting point). See what is a CRM?
CRM's often come with many bells and whistles, and the global leader in CRM systems is Salesforce.com which began as an online lead tracking database but has since grown into a fully configurable development platform with many options and add-ons and a whole consulting and integration eco-system.
Because the CRM is built on a database, means a lot of information can be stored along with the basic contact details providing both the means to stay in contact and ultimately perform analysis to provide insights...
- Where leads are being generated from
- The composition of your customer base (demographics, industry segments, geographic location, customer rank profile)
- Sales team performance
- Sales pipeline analysis etc.
- Generating sales quotes that are then scheduled for later follow-up
The CRM, therefore, is the central piece of an integrated digital lead generation tracking system.
What information should be stored?
The simplest of CRM's should record identification and contact data - who are they? Where do they work? Where are they located? Phone numbers and email addresses.
A contact database becomes a basic CRM when it has the facility to record a summary of the organisation's conversations and other interactions with the contact. Particularly when multiple salespeople and customer service representatives are handling large numbers of contacts, being able to scroll back through past contact notes (a call history) will provide important information and improve the chances of customers feeling valued.
Some CRM's have the ability to add information after each call to indicate if the call was a positive, neutral or negative interaction. Statistical analysis of this information can reveal profound insights when cross-referenced with other data (e.g. customer service agent, postcode, product sales, age of the customer, length of time on-call, socioeconomic group, phases of the moon - the list is endless). Sometimes, the driving factors aren't always obvious; data analysis tools can be used on large data sets to identify less obvious patterns.
The ability to categorise
Being able to add Tags to each contact record enables sorting into useful categories. At the very least, you should be able to separate new enquiries from existing customers. Tagging allows assigning leads to a salesperson for follow-up, categorising the lead according to source, product group, affiliations etc. A good CRM will have the ability to create unlimited categories and provide a tool to produce filtered lists and reports based on Tags.
Categorising enables the sales pipeline
The ability to tag contacts on the CRM is the key enabler to developing a sales pipeline. A sales pipeline categorises each lead (or single sales opportunity) into consecutive categories each representing a milestone on the journey from lead to sale.
Every organisation categorises the milestones (or gates) differently, but here is a typical pipeline...
Enquiry --> Qualified Lead --> Identified Project --> Bid Requested --> Bid Submitted --> Outcome
Many CRM's have fully configurable pipeline systems (you can define how many stages and give each a custom label), and provide reports to tell you not only how many sales opportunities are sitting at each stage, but also Estimated-Value and a Go-Get rate. Aggregating this data arithmetically provides a forward estimate of future revenue and is often used for resource planning (for example, manufacturing forecasts and even cash flow).
Recording "where did this contact come from?"
At the heart of lead, tracking is being able to analyse contacts by their source.
And finally, being able to analyse what is generating contacts then begs the question "what are they worth?"
It's not just their first order that needs to be measured but their future value.
Integration with financial systems
Sophisticated CRM's can integrate with finance software (ERP etc.) allowing salespeople to view the sales order history of customers and their value. Some can even call up product lists, add prices, generate quotes, and process sales orders.
A fully featured, capable CRM, therefore, is the foundation of online lead generation and acts as the interface between the digital sales funnel and the traditional in-house sales funnel
Read more about "What is a sales pipeline?" and sales pipeline management
Many CRM packages provide the ability to store sales quotation information. Many will also support authoring the sales quote within the CRM environment.
It works likes this. A sales enquiry calls, the customer service rep captures the enquiry and ascertains the customer's needs. In many transaction sales ("run rate sales"), a price can be provided immediately. The customer service person types up the quote details and it is emailed to the customer. Several things happen...
- The quote format is standardised (branding) and standard terms and conditions are attached.
- The quote is added to the sales pipeline.
- At a pre-determined future date (based on average sales cycle) the quote is flagged for follow-up. During slow inbound enquiry periods, customer service people follow-up quotes. The simple act of calling "are you ready to place an order/do you need any further information?" - will increase sales closing rates.
For sales enquiries needing more work to produce quotes (for example solution selling) - the request is allocated to an external salesperson, sales engineer or estimator.
Once the quote is complete it is similarly added to the CRM (using a document management system) and scheduled for later follow-up.
Collecting the tracking data
Given the CRM's ability to store data, the opportunity to collect source-of-lead information (tracking data) should not be squandered.
A powerful CRM system will generate reports that identify where leads are coming from, and in a fully integrated marketing system, will also tell you what it cost to generate each lead and how much profit/revenue each lead generated.
Don't feel anxious if your company is light-years from having this capability...
Very few companies have this reporting capability, and the few that do are usually kidding themselves that it is accurate. Still, it's worth aspiring to.
There are several ways to obtain tracking data...
Somehow, the source-of-lead information is injected automatically into the CRM obviating the need for the customer service representative to do this. This is the most accurate source-of-lead system. Online CRM (SAS or cloud-based CRM's) often have the ability to link via API's to other online lead generation or ad delivery platforms to automatically track the source of leads. However, they will not automatically track all lead sources and offline sources; this needs to be done manually. You need to be careful to avoid biased results.
The customer service person is fed the lead-source data by some means, and they manually enter it into the system. This is less perfect, but at least the source of lead is definitive.
The ask-the-question method
The worst option is to train the customer service person to ask the question "how did you hear about us?" - customers will often provide a generic response "I found you on the internet" (which is the modern-day equivalent of "I looked you up in the Yellow Pages") - the lack of reliability comes from both sides. The customer service person will often skip this step, feeling they've taken up enough of the caller's time, or be anxious to answer the next call. Similarly, the caller will tend to provide the easiest credible answer for expediency.
However, it's better than nothing. And thus shouldn't be disregarded.
CRM's as the central point to lead management
Commercial organisations seeking to find new customers engage in marketing activity that results in generating sales leads.
Rather than writing sticky notes, sending emails, or jotting notes on pieces of paper - the CRM (along with an efficient procedure) provides the tool for properly capturing sales leads and thereafter tracking their progress to an outcome (hopefully a sale).
Moreover, should the new contact not result in a sale, having captured their contact details and other information the CRM provides the means to implement future contact with and the delivery of marketing messages aimed at converting them from a lead to a customer.
Thus, a CRM is an essential tool for properly implemented lead management.
Three examples of popular CRM software...