Article | 17 min read

What is a sales CRM, and how does it help businesses grow?

A sales CRM allows sales reps to seamlessly and easily deliver value to prospects at every stage of the sales process.

By Donny Kelwig, Contributing Writer

Published March 5, 2020
Last updated September 16, 2022

With the rise of digital sales platforms and expanding enterprises, the landscape of sales technology is more varied and overwhelming than ever before. Unfortunately for the Luddites, it’s also more necessary.

According to Nucleus Research, in 2014 the average ROI on CRM software was $8.71 for each dollar spent. In 2021, Dynamic Consultants speculated that this number rose to $30.48 for every dollar spent. That’s a radical jump in impact for a piece of sales software.

In this guide, we’ll cover what a sales CRM is and how integrating a sales CRM into your business can optimize every step of your sales process. By eliminating busy work and solving the most frequent (and painful) process issues, the right sales CRM can dramatically improve your company’s success.

What is a sales CRM?

What is a sales CRM?, person multitasking on laptop

A sales CRM (customer relationship management) tool is software that enables a company to manage and improve its relationships with prospects and customers.

However, customer relationship management itself varies depending on what department you’re talking to. A support team might use a CRM to manage customer tickets, while marketing teams may use the same tool to analyze how consumers respond to online campaigns.

When it comes to sales, a CRM is primarily used to streamline pipeline management. With sales CRM tools, you can safely store customer information, track and optimize your pipeline to drive more sales, and ultimately generate more revenue.

Wondering exactly how a sales CRM can benefit your sales team? Let’s take a look.

1. CRMs simplify sales

A sales CRM is a tool for managing all touchpoints with prospects or customers throughout the sales process. A touchpoint can be any interaction—both direct and indirect—between a sales rep and their leads. CRMs track communication with prospective buyers, automatically organize customer data, and send reminders to follow up with leads.

Essentially, sales CRM software systems simplify customer interactions and improve your sales cycle. A CRM also automates both administrative tasks and data organization. That means your sales reps can spend less time on data entry and more time on building meaningful relationships with prospects.

2. CRMs centralize sales operations

Sales reps spend their days juggling everything from prospect research and cold calls to deal management and field sales. Sales managers also have their hands full with monitoring their sales reps’ performance, conducting ride-alongs, and coaching their team. Without a centralized system for managing day-to-day operations, sales departments can quickly become dysfunctional.

Sales CRMs are one-stop solutions for daily workflow. They integrate with your existing tools and communication channels, making it easy to manage all your tasks from a single, unified platform.

This centralization of data creates a single source of truth (or knowledge base) across your organization. Sales reps can easily find the accurate, up-to-date information they need without going down a rabbit hole of searching. They can also engage with prospects across all communication channels—such as email, phone, or live chat—without having to switch between apps or browser tabs.

3. CRMs improve customer data accuracy

Manual data entry is prone to human error. Say a rep needs to manually record a lead’s contact information. In a rush, they might accidentally enter an incorrect phone number or forget to ask for the lead’s email address.

Sales CRMs minimize these mistakes by automatically recording any action a rep takes, such as initiating a sales call or sending a follow-up email. With Zendesk Sell, those actions are displayed in real-time activity feeds and individual contact cards. If you’re looking for specific information regarding a prospect or event, you can filter your search feed by activity type or user.

Additionally, many sales CRMs come equipped with data enrichment tools. Zendesk Sell, for example, features Sales Engagement Tools (Reach). These tools use online databases to automatically populate and update a lead’s contact card. Not only does this reduce the likelihood of reps obtaining incorrect data, but it also drastically cuts down on time spent researching leads.

Sales CRMs make accurate, detailed lead information more accessible while also helping you identify underlying performance or operational issues that might be affecting your company’s growth.

How a sales CRM can impact the sales process

How a sales CRM can impact the sales process, calculator

By automating repetitive and error-prone tasks, sales CRMs enable your team to put in more face time with prospects and eliminate mistakes. With a strong CRM, your reps aren’t busy with busy work—they’re busy closing deals.

Here’s how CRMs impact a few key sales activities.

Prospecting stage

Every sales process starts with discovery. You have a product or service to sell, but you need someone to buy it. How do you find the people who need what you’re selling? It’s not easy—even when companies identify leads, recent studies show that 50 percent of those leads aren’t a good fit for the product or service.

Challenges + how a sales CRM helps

Prospecting comes with a slew of challenges, including:

  • Finding high-quality prospects among numerous leads
  • Getting in touch with prospects
  • Scheduling and confirming meetings with prospects

When you incorporate a sales CRM into your process, the above problems are diminished and/or eliminated. With a centralized database of customer information, marketing and sales teams can stay on the same page about prospects.

In the prospecting stage, a CRM will:

  • Align your lead-scoring parameters.
  • Ensure that leads passed from marketing to sales are high-quality and worth pursuing.
  • Create a central hub for prospect data that’s accessible to all team members at all times.
  • Help you establish credibility and trust with your future customers.
  • Enable a smoother communication process and consistent messaging.
  • Allow you to personalize content and automate follow-ups.
  • Encourage prospects to move steadily down the sales funnel.

Lead management stage

According to Forbes, only 27 percent of leads are ever contacted. Lead management helps sales reps easily see where leads are in the sales pipeline and prevents good opportunities from slipping through the cracks.

Challenges + how a sales CRM helps

Managing every lead that comes your way is just plain tricky. You may have a hard time:

  • Tracking all your contacts.
  • Organizing and finding customer data.
  • Generating quick and accurate insights about leads.

But by using a sales force automation (SFA) system, CRMs automate numerous steps in the lead management process. With SFA:

  • Leads are automatically tracked, scored, and assigned to sales reps.
  • Leads have a responsible, dedicated rep who can guide and nurture them through the pipeline.

Additionally, when you integrate your sales force automation with your CRM, you’re able to:

  • Build a sales process around the customer experience.
  • Prioritize follow-up messages and tasks according to where leads are in the pipeline.
  • Facilitate personal and timely interactions.

Contact management stage

The days of the Rolodex are well and truly over. In our digital-first world, most businesses track contacts with contact management software. This software keeps your contacts organized, up-to-date, and accessible while also providing a central contact database for all reps.

Challenges + how a sales CRM helps

Contact management systems only store and organize contacts. They lack some of the bells and whistles of a sales CRM platform and don’t always measure up on the productivity scale.

But when you integrate your contact management software with a CRM, you can:

  • Manage the relationships you have with those contacts.
  • Track your interactions with prospects and use sales automation to enhance individual sales and marketing strategies.
  • Ensure perfectly timed and personalized communication with all your contacts—no matter what stage of the pipeline they’re in.

Sales presenting and pitching stage

Even the most experienced sales reps can feel the pressure when it comes to presentations. For complex cases, a quality demo is crucial to proving why your product or service is the best investment. Getting that presentation right matters.

Challenges + how a sales CRM helps

Sales reps can easily flub a presentation if they’re underprepared or disorganized. Not having the right information at their fingertips can make them feel flustered or frustrated, especially when prospects have questions or objections. Even worse, if a sales rep doesn’t have the latest details on the prospect, they may very well be wasting their pitch on someone who’s not ready to convert.

This is where a sales CRM comes to the rescue. With a CRM:

  • Reps can stay organized when scheduling and conducting meetings during this stage.
  • Reps can readily access their notes during a presentation, enabling them to answer questions right away and recall exactly what information they need to track down for a prospect.
  • Detailed agendas and scripts are on hand to help reps deliver a solid pitch.
  • Customer data is easy to access, giving reps valuable insights into their audience’s pain points, needs, behaviors, and level of interest.
  • Reps can personalize their presentations and close more sales.

Closing stage

In this final stage, sales reps either seal the deal or lose out on hours of work. Reps need to know when a prospect is ready to close. No rep wants to miss a window of opportunity or push for a close too early.

Challenges + how a sales CRM helps

Timing is key. It’s alarmingly common for a sales rep to drop the ball in the final stretch because they’re focused on other leads and tasks at the same time. It’s also easy to forget how important existing customers are to a sales strategy.

New customers are necessary to the success of any business, but it’s a lot less expensive to retain customers than to convert new ones. The probability of selling to a current customer is between 60 and 70 percent, while the chances of selling to a new prospect are a chilling 5 to 20 percent. Ensuring sales reps stay on top of different types of deals is a hefty challenge.

CRM sales software serves as a sales rep’s personalized coach, keeping them focused all the way to the finish line. CRMs are there to:

  • Help reps keep track of timing and tasks that must be completed during closing.
  • Send reminders about documents that still need to be signed or handled.
  • Create opportunities for upselling and cross-selling by reminding reps to stay in touch about new products and features that fit a client’s needs.

Reporting and analytics

Working in sales means accumulating massive amounts of data. But data doesn’t mean much unless you’re able to organize and analyze it in a way that benefits your business.

Challenges + how a sales CRM helps

For companies that don’t use a sales CRM, analyzing performance issues can be a big challenge. Their teams waste valuable time compiling data into spreadsheets and wrestling with Excel formulas just to make sense of a few numbers.

The beauty of a sales CRM is that it handles data analysis for you. The best CRM automatically compiles customer information into real-time reports, which provide insights into how your sales department is functioning as a whole.

Zendesk Sell’s reporting capabilities, for example, include the following:

  1. Sales funnel analysis

    This report shows you where prospects are currently sitting in the sales pipeline and how many are dropping out of the pipeline.

  2. Conversion reports

    These reports assess how well individual reps are moving prospects through the pipeline. They can also reveal general conversion rates across your sales team.

  3. Forecasted sales

    This report predicts expected revenues by analyzing the value, estimated close date, and win-likelihood of sales in your pipeline.

  4. Activity overview reports

    These reports provide a breakdown of your team’s activities, including the number of calls made, emails sent, appointments held, and tasks completed.

  5. Goal reports

    These reports track your team’s movement toward revenue goals. They can be customized and filtered by pipeline stage, sales activity type, or individual rep.

    It’s up to you how granular you want to get with your reports, but one thing’s for certain: If there are any bottlenecks in your sales process or performance issues with reps, your sales CRM will find them.

Performance management and activity tracking

A sales manager’s job isn’t easy. Overseeing a sales team entails onboarding new recruits and coaching experienced reps while also managing sales strategies to make sure the department is aligned, efficient, and productive.

Challenges + how a sales CRM helps

When sales reps are in the weeds, they can lose their objectivity. Meanwhile, managers are forced to rely on their reps’ reports, which can make accurate forecasting difficult.

Managers need to balance the personalities, egos, and morale of their team members, too. The way reps feel about their progress doesn’t always line up with their data, so managers must be able to track their team’s activity accurately to provide the most effective coaching.

CRMs provide:

  • A quick and precise snapshot of the sales pipeline, so managers can see how sales are progressing.
  • More accurate forecasts to share with higher-ups.
  • Customizable reports that are fast and simple to generate.
  • Correct data so managers can identify where each rep has room to improve.

Sales management CRM software improves efficiency, engagement, team morale, and productivity—all of which ultimately contribute to higher lead conversion rates.

Improve your sales process

A good sales process is the foundation of any successful sales organization. Learn how to improve your sales process and close more deals with this free guide.

Tips on how to choose sales CRM software

Tips on how to choose sales CRM software, adding item to cart

Whether you need a CRM fit for a small business or require an enterprise-level solution, there are several factors to take into account. Some, like cost and ease of use, are fairly straightforward, but others need a more thorough investigation. Here are our best tips for what to consider when choosing sales CRM software for your needs.

1. How easy is it to use?

A CRM software system may be the most high-tech on the market, but that doesn’t mean anything if it’s too complicated for your staff to understand and operate effectively. CRMs are meant to save time, not cost your team time while they struggle to find the right window or run a report.

Assess how user-friendly the CRM is, and if possible, ask for a demo so your sales team can try it out. Are they picking it up quickly and intuitively? If so, then that solution might be a great fit for you.

2. Is it customizable?

Every company is different and will have specific needs and requirements when looking for the right CRM. No software will come perfectly set up for your business; however, the best CRMs are customizable, so you can adjust them to fit your needs.

Look for a CRM system that allows you to add custom fields and lists, set up individualized dashboards, modify the projected sales pipeline, and tweak the general settings.

3. Is it secure?

Sales CRMs ensure all your client information is available on the cloud. This is ideal when your team needs centralized data access, but it also means sensitive data could be at risk. It’s very important to pick a CRM that exemplifies strong security standards and adheres to the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR).

4. Is it scalable?

Hopefully, your business will expand and flourish in the near future, so it’s crucial to have a CRM that can scale with you and prevent any growing pains.

Does the CRM you’re considering support the number of employees you have today? Great! Will it continue to support a team that doubles? Triples? Becomes an industry leader? Think about your long-term goals, and choose a CRM that can handle not just where you are now but also where you plan to go.

5. Does it come with personalized support?

No matter how intuitive a CRM is, there will always be a learning period when a sales team adopts new tools. A software company reveals its true hand when you hit bumps during implementation, so it’s critical to do your research. You want to invest with a company that cares about your success with their product, not one that makes the sale and disappears.

Read reviews that mention the company’s customer support team. Are they available 24/7? If they’re only available during certain business hours, do those hours align with yours? Do they offer an online chat for quick questions? Make sure the vendor offers comprehensive support that suits your needs before you buy.

6. Will it give you the most value for your budget?

Ultimately, the price point is a determining factor in your decision to buy or not buy a certain sales CRM. You need something in your budget. But you should also do your due diligence to ensure you’re choosing a CRM that meets all your requirements.

Identify the things your software must do for you. Does it need to be mobile-friendly for sales reps on the go? Does it need to integrate with other software? Focus on the features that you want as well as your budget. Spending less is still spending too much if the product can’t do what you need it to do.

Types of CRMs

Types of CRMs, three hands holding different shapes

Let’s explore a few different types of CRMs that may be appropriate for your company.

Cloud-based CRM

A cloud-based CRM is a CRM hosted on the provider’s servers. Unlike installed software, a cloud-based CRM typically has fewer upfront costs and doesn’t require a dedicated IT specialist to run.

Cloud CRMs can be less secure, though. Security measures and updates run digitally through the provider, which means your company doesn’t directly control your data security. Additionally, because your data is stored in the cloud, it’s accessible anywhere your team might be—and anywhere a hacker might lurk.

Mobile CRM

The importance of mobile capabilities for CRMs is ever-growing. By the end of 2021, 54 percent of all global website traffic came from mobile devices. A mobile CRM means reps can be on the go and take their “office” with them. Plus, your team members can all work from the same platform, so there are no compatibility issues to worry about. The office is where you need it to be.

Customizable CRM

A customizable CRM system is an out-of-the-box platform with customizable features designed to fit most business models. This means customizable dashboards, pipelines, reporting, call analytics, and more.

It’s important to note, however, that a customizable CRM is different from a custom CRM, which is built from the ground up to exacting specifications and runs at a much steeper price point.

Intuitive CRMs

Your reps will be happier and more productive if the sales CRM software you choose is easy to use. A clean, user-friendly interface is important for functionality, and it also fosters a positive user experience. The real highlight of intuitive software is the shallow learning curve—it results in faster time to value.

Integratable CRMs

Think about the business apps you use daily. Those apps should integrate seamlessly with your CRM so you can transfer data instantly from one platform to another. Integrating a sales app with your CRM also means that no matter where your customer data is collected, it will automatically end up in your CRM.

For example, a valuable source of customer data can come from the customer service team—such as a buyer looking for a complementary product or more comprehensive features—which can help a salesperson cross-sell and identify common pain points. Every customer interaction with customer support results in actionable data, and a good CRM makes that information easy for sales reps to access.

Try Zendesk Sell

A sales CRM needs to automate administrative and data analysis tasks, manage and track customer interactions, and keep sales reps organized. Zendesk Sell is a CRM designed to do all that and more. Sell helps teams establish meaningful customer relationships in less time so reps can move leads through their pipeline with ease.

Start a free trial today and experience how a quality CRM can transform your sales process.

Improve your sales process

A good sales process is the foundation of any successful sales organization. Learn how to improve your sales process and close more deals with this free guide.

Improve your sales process

A good sales process is the foundation of any successful sales organization. Learn how to improve your sales process and close more deals with this free guide.

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