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 Josh Bean, Director, Marketing

Published March 5, 2020
Last updated May 27, 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 simple 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 busywork and solving the most frequent (and painful) process issues, the right sales CRM could be key to your company’s success.

What is CRM in sales?

When most people refer to a CRM (customer relationship management) tool they’re referring to software that enables them to manage and improve their relationships with prospects and customers.

However, customer relationship management 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 databases of customer information and drive more sales.

How exactly can a sales CRM 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 could be any interaction—both direct and indirect—between a sales rep and their leads. CRMs track communication with prospects, automatically organize customer data, and send reminders to follow up with leads.

    Essentially, sales CRM software systems simplify potential customer interactions. With a CRM, both administrative tasks and data organization are automated. 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 of managing day-to-day operations, sales departments can quickly become dysfunctional.

    Sales CRMs are designed as 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 the website’s chat box—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. They might accidentally enter an incorrect email or simply forget to enter the contact information at all.

    Sales CRMs minimize these errors by automatically recording any action a rep takes within the app, 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 easily filter your search feed by activity type or user.

    Additionally, many sales CRMs come equipped with data enrichment tools, like Zendesk Sell’s Sales Engagement Tools (Reach). These tools use online databases to automatically populate detailed information onto a lead’s contact card. Not only does this reduce the likelihood of reps obtaining incorrect data, but it 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.

    2021 Gartner Magic Quadrant for the CRM Customer Engagement Center

    Learn why Zendesk was named a leader in the 2021 Gartner Magic Quadrant for the CRM Customer Engagement Center.

  4. What’s the impact of CRM on sales activities?

    Utilizing a sales CRM impacts the sales process by shortening and optimizing every single step of the sales pipeline. By automating repetitive and error-prone tasks along the way, sales CRMs enable your team to put in more face time with prospects, while eliminating mistakes. With a strong CRM, your reps aren’t busy with busywork — they’re busy closing deals.

    Let’s take a look at how CRMs impact a few key sales activities.


    The beginning of 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. In fact, even when companies do find leads, recent studies show that 50 percent of those leads are not even a good fit for the product. What’s a business to do?


    Prospecting comes with a slew of challenges. Perhaps the biggest struggle sales reps have is finding quality prospects amongst an excess of bad leads. That said, even with promising prospects, it’s hard to get meetings in the books. Between busy schedules and devious inbox settings, it’s easy for sales reps to fall through the cracks. You can’t build trust with someone you can’t reach.

    How a sales CRM helps

    Incorporating a sales CRM into your process means that marketing and sales teams can be on the same page about prospects. A CRM aligns your teams’ lead scoring parameters, ensuring that the leads passed from marketing to sales are high-quality leads worth pursuing.

    Your CRM is also a central hub for collecting prospect data. Contact information on a CRM is stored in one location that’s accessible to all team members at all times. With a single source of information for each contact, messaging from marketing and sales can be consistent, cultivating a greater sense of credibility and trust with your future customers.

    Centralized data also makes for a smoother communication process. With a CRM, you can craft personalized content and set up automations for follow-ups so that prospects can move steadily down the sales funnel toward the ultimate goal: the sale.

    Lead management

    According to in-house research by Forbes, a miniscule 27 percent of leads are ever contacted, let alone followed up with. Lead management minimizes the number of leads that end up neglected by helping reps stay on top of potential customers through every step of the sales pipeline.


    Keeping track of contacts as they come in is just plain tricky. Without sales CRM tools, customer data is decentralized and difficult to track—leads too quickly become part of that 73 percent that might never get a call.

    Decentralized customer data also makes it hard to generate quick or accurate insights about leads. Without this information, managers fly blind through strategy development and implement tactics that don’t serve their teams.

    How a sales CRM helps

    By using a sales force automation (SFA) system, CRMs automate numerous steps in the lead management process. Through SFA, leads can be automatically tracked, scored, and assigned to reps. This means each lead has a responsible rep who can then follow them through the pipeline.

    When your sales force automation integrates with your CRM, you’re able to cultivate a sales process centered around the customer experience. Follow-ups and tasks are prioritized according to where leads are in the pipeline, so interactions are always personal and timely.

    Contact management

    The days of the Rolodex are well and truly over. In the 21st century, managing contact information is fully digitized and most businesses track those 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.


    Although contact management software keeps customer data organized, it lacks some of the bells and whistles of a sales CRM platform and doesn’t always measure up on the productivity scale.

    How a sales CRM helps

    Whereas contact management systems only manage contacts, CRMs manage the relationships that you have with those contacts. Sales CRMs track your interactions with prospects and can even use sales automation to enhance individual sales and marketing strategies through in-depth analytics. Tracking these interactions and incorporating automations makes for perfectly timed and personalized communication with all of your contacts—no matter what stage of the pipeline they’re in.

    Sales presenting and pitching

    Even the most experienced sales reps 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.


    Sales reps can easily flub a presentation if they’re underprepared or disorganized. Not having the right information at their fingertips can lead to feeling flustered or frustrated, especially if prospects have questions or objections. Even worse, if a sales rep isn’t up to date on the prospect, they may very well be wasting their pitch on a lead who’s not ready to convert.

    How a sales CRM helps

    In the presenting stage, a sales CRM ensures reps are organized when scheduling and conducting meetings. Reps can even take notes during a presentation directly in their CRM platform. This allows them to answer questions right away and recall exactly what information they need to track down for the prospect.

    Having the right information on hand—such as detailed agendas and scripts—gives sales reps the confidence they need to land a solid pitch. Because CRMs track interactions and log customer data, sales reps gain critical insights into their audience’s behavior and level of interest. This information helps them identify a lead’s pain points and needs so they can frame their presentation accordingly and move toward closing.


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


    Timing is key. It’s alarmingly common for a sales rep to drop the ball in the final yards 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 an existing customer is between 60-70 percent, while chances of selling to a new prospect are a chilling 5-20 percent. Keeping sales reps on track with different types of deals is a hefty challenge.

    How a sales CRM helps

    CRM sales software helps reps keep track of timing and tasks that need to happen during closing. If paperwork needs to be signed, not only will your CRM provide reminders, but integrations in the sales CRM will also let clients e-sign documents remotely.

    The impact of CRM on sales is not to be underestimated. By keeping track of existing customer data, sales reps can stay in touch about new products and add-on features that fit that client’s needs. These methods of upselling and cross-selling can even be automated in the CRM to target certain customers.

    Reporting and analytics

    Working in sales means accumulating massive amounts of data. That said, all that data doesn’t mean much unless you’re able to compile and analyze it to your company’s benefit.


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

    How a sales CRM helps

    The beauty of a sales CRM is that it handles data analysis for you. The best CRM automatically compiles customer information into real-time “smart 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 within the pipeline and provides insights into lead churn.

    2. Conversion reports

      These reports assess how well individual reps are moving prospects through the pipeline. They can also be used to view 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 the activities being performed by your sales reps, including number of calls made, emails sent, appointments held, and tasks completed.

    5. Goal reports

      These reports track your team’s movement towards revenue goals. They can be customized and filtered by pipeline stages, sales activity type, or individual rep. It’s up to you how granular you want to get with smart reports, but one thing’s for certain: if there are any bottlenecks in your sales process or any performance issues with individual reps, your sales CRM will find them.

    6. The benefits of a sales CRM are endless. Between automation, lead enrichment, and smart reports, your sales team gains everything they need to work more efficiently, and more productively.

      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.


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

      In addition to guiding strategies and making forecasts, managers need to balance the personalities, egos, and morale of their team members. The way reps feel about their progress doesn’t always line up with their data, so managers need to be able to track their reps’ activity accurately in order to provide the most effective coaching.

      How a sales CRM helps

      CRMs provide a quick and accurate snapshot of the sales pipeline, which lets managers quickly see how sales are realistically progressing. They can then use that information to make more accurate forecasts to higher-ups. Your CRM’s reporting options should be customizable, so that those reports are fast and simple to generate.

      Sales managers can also utilize CRMs to observe how each member of their team is performing. Accurate data means a manager can identify exactly where each rep has room to improve. We can’t all be Ted Lasso, but sales management CRMs can certainly get us a lot closer.

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

      How to choose sales CRM software

      Whether you’re hunting for a CRM for a small business or you need enterprise-level solutions, there are several factors you need to consider. Some, like cost and ease of use, are fairly straightforward, but others need a more thorough investigation. Here are a few different types of CRMs you might want to consider depending on 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.

      However, cloud CRMs can be less secure. Security measures and updates run digitally through the initial software company, 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. Because this lets all your team members work from the same platform, 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

      Choosing sales CRM software that’s easy for your reps to figure out means that they will be happier and more productive using it. Having a friendly and clean interface is important for functionality, but it also fosters a positive user experience. The real highlight of intuitive software is the learning curve. Simple software means quick adaptations and more productivity.

      Integratable CRMs

      Think about the business apps that you use on a daily basis. The apps on your list should integrate seamlessly with your CRM solution so you can transfer data instantly from one platform to another. Integrating a sales app with your CRM also means no matter where your customer data is collected, it will automatically end up home in your CRM. For example, a valuable source of data comes from customer service, 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 tool makes that information easy for sales reps to access.

      Try Zendesk Sell

      A sales CRM needs to automate administrative tasks and data analysis tasks, build customer relationships, and keep sales reps organized. Zendesk Sell is a CRM designed to do all that and more. With Zendesk, meaningful relationships can be established in less time, with more prospects, allowing reps to move leads through their pipeline with ease.

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

2021 Gartner Magic Quadrant for the CRM Customer Engagement Center

Learn why Zendesk was named a leader in the 2021 Gartner Magic Quadrant for the CRM Customer Engagement Center.

2021 Gartner Magic Quadrant for the CRM Customer Engagement Center

Learn why Zendesk was named a leader in the 2021 Gartner Magic Quadrant for the CRM Customer Engagement Center.

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