What is CRM artificial intelligence and what can it do for my business?


Before ChatGPT came along, CRM vendors started to embed artificial intelligence in their apps.

Customer Relationship Management software vendors have touted AI for several years, but it has not yet been as revolutionary as in other areas, such as content marketing or code debugging.

CRM Artificial Intelligence

So, how does AI apply to CRM software?

According to SugarCRM’s 2022 CRM Impact Report, the most adopted use cases for AI are

  • Automated emails
  • Account intelligence
  • Conversational AI
  • Lead conversion
  • Opportunity close prediction

CRM And Artificial Intelligence

Combining generative AI with CRM allows companies to automate business processes better, develop more personalized communications, and provide customers with the most helpful answers to questions.

In CRM systems, generative AI is designed to be assistive to humans, not work unattended.

At its core, CRM AI helps businesses better organize customer information and access that information more easily. This includes contact details, demographic data, communication history, purchase history, and other pertinent data used to build sales opportunities and better serve customers.

With this intelligence, companies can create finely-tuned segmentation of leads and contacts to nurture better relationships with prospects and customers.

Additionally, AI can help businesses respond faster to customer inquiries and provide more informed answers to requests.

On the sales side, CRM with embedded AI gives users things like:

  • Predictive lead scoring
  • More accurate sales forecasts
  • Recommendations
  • Natural language search
  • Data entry automation
  • Automatically generated follow-up emails

Intelligent case routing may be a coming AI feature on the customer service side.

The goal of artificial intelligence in CRM is to let AI handle the analysis and make intelligent recommendations about a customer or prospect based on all the data about that person the system has collected.

With AI, a salesperson can open a contact record and ask the system for suggestions on how to best connect with that person without spending time sifting through company news and Twitter or LinkedIn profiles.

Unlike the generally available Chat GPT, CRM vendors’ application of generative AI should be anchored on trusted customer data to guard against abusive use of the technology.

Examples of Vendors’ CRM With AI

Not surprisingly, some of the biggest names in CRM eagerly tout their artificial intelligence functionality.

Companies like Salesforce, HubSpot, SugarCRM, Zoho, and Microsoft have all integrated some form of AI into their platforms.

In 2023, these vendors are stepping up their games.


HubSpot has released an alpha version of ChatSpot, which combines GPT-4, HubSpot CRM, DALLE·2, and Google Docs.

In this video, HubSpot co-founder Dharmesh Shah demonstrates AI use cases for sales, reporting, and marketing.


Salesforce’s original AI platform was called Einstein. Salesforce billed Einstein as “a layer of artificial intelligence that delivers predictions and recommendations based on your unique business processes and customer data.”

On March 7, 2023, Salesforce announced Einstein GPT, which “delivers AI-created content across every sales, marketing, commerce, and IT interaction.”

Einstein GPT can be integrated into many facets of the Salesforce platform, including sales, service, marketing, commerce, and Tableau (analytics).

An impressive marketing use of Einstein GPT is its ability to design an event or campaign-specific landing page, including text, image, and web form.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff tweeted this [low res] video on April 17, 2023:


Also, in March 2023, Microsoft introduced Microsoft Dynamics 365 Copilot for CRM and ERP.

Generative AI functionality will be available in Dynamics 365 Sales and Viva Sales, Dynamics 365 Customer Service, Dynamics 365 Customer Insights, and Dynamics 365 Marketing.

A salesperson with an AI bot assistant
A salesperson with an AI bot assistant


SugarCRM’s AI is branded SugarPredict. SugarPredict gives CRM users actionable sales intelligence throughout the selling process.

SugarPredict compares internal CRM data with external data sources to generate predictions not possible with CRM data alone.

Current and planned predictive features include identifying customers most likely to churn, recommending appropriate add-on products during the sales cycle, and improving customer engagement through predictive service case routing.


Zoho offers a “conversational AI assistant” called Zia. Like the voice assistants built into most smartphones, but focused on CRM, “Zia is here to assist with everything from simple data to complex analytics. Talking to Zia is as simple as chatting with her from the bottom of your desktop screen or calling her from your mobile app.”

Zia Voice is included in Zoho CRM plans at the two highest tiers.

A Non-Vendor Perspective

Sam Biardo and I recorded this CRM Talk podcast episode on April 12, 2023. In the episode, we discuss practical AI use cases within CRM systems.

Do You Need CRM With AI?

Do you need artificial intelligence in your CRM system, or is it functionality that won’t provide real value?

As with most things, the answer will depend on your business’s unique situation and requirements.

Organizations already using the full power of their CRM system will likely find a lot to like about AI integration.

On the other hand, companies struggling with basics like CRM adoption may find AI tools unnecessary for the time being.

The more data your business collects about prospects and customers, the more use you will get from a tool built to analyze that data, provide helpful insights, and make timely recommendations.

You can expect a flurry of AI announcements from CRM vendors for the rest of 2023. Only time will tell the most effective, real-world applications of machine learning and AI.

16 Important Advances in Business Technology

Advances in Business Technology

There have been many significant advances in business technology this century, almost all enabled by the internet, ubiquitous broadband, improved software development tools, the scalability and reliability of data centers, and artificial intelligence.

Advances in Business Technology

Here are some technological advancements that have significantly impacted how businesses operate and how business users interact with prospects and customers.

Artificial Intelligence

Author’s note: This added section on artificial intelligence was written by ChatGPT and edited with Grammarly Pro. The section’s image was created with Midjourney. The other sections below were all written by a human.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been one of the most significant advances in business technology in recent years. AI systems can learn and adapt, making them practical tools for businesses seeking a competitive edge.

Some critical applications of AI in business include customer service, marketing, and supply chain management. AI-powered chatbots can help businesses provide instant customer service, while AI algorithms can analyze customer data to provide personalized marketing recommendations.

AI can help optimize inventory management and streamline logistics in the supply chain, improving efficiency and cost savings.

AI CEO and Executives

Another important application of AI in business is predictive analytics. By analyzing large amounts of data, AI algorithms can help businesses predict future trends and make more informed decisions.

For example, a retailer might use predictive analytics to forecast demand for certain products, allowing them to stock up on popular items and avoid excess inventory of slow-moving products.

In the finance industry, AI-powered algorithms can analyze market data and make investment recommendations based on predicted future trends.

Overall, AI has the potential to revolutionize the way businesses operate, leading to greater efficiency, improved decision-making, and, ultimately, increased profitability.

Business Management Applications

With the introduction of its CRM platform in 1999, Salesforce began to popularize the concept of cloud-based, multi-tenant business applications.

Since the Salesforce launch, many other business management categories have followed suit, including ERP, marketing automation, professional services automation, human resource management, and more.

Email and Office Applications

For many businesses, Google Workspace and Microsoft Office 365 have eliminated the need for an in-house email server and even a desktop computer email client — although many employees still prefer to use a desktop email client.

While desktop spreadsheet, document, and presentation applications are still more robust than their cloud counterparts for specific needs, the latter are continually improving.

Integration Software

Due to robust APIs and the absence of corporate firewalls, integration among cloud-based applications can be just a few clicks away with applications like Zapier.

Vendors such as TIBCO, MuleSoft (part of Salesforce), and Boomi are seeing extensive enterprise adoption.

Customer Self-Service

The transition from “live human” customer service to comprehensive self-service has been bumpy.

For years, online self-service left a lot to be desired. However, customers can quickly address their questions and concerns online between dedicated support applications such as Zendesk, FreshDesk, and Zoho Desk.

Customer Satisfaction Software

Applications such as TrustMary and Qualtrix have allowed software developers to enhance the end-user experience based on what they think customers need and what customers say they want.

Web Conferencing

The rapid growth in the usage of applications such as Zoom and Google Meet has provided more salespeople and customer support representatives with an easy way to communicate with prospects and customers visually.

There’s an AI for this: tl;dv calls itself “The meeting recorder to understand & champion your users’ needs.”

Webinar Applications

Cisco WebEx and GoToWebinar were the early webinar applications. BrightTALK created a webinar platform to spread content through a community-based approach.

New solutions such as Demio and Livestorm have emerged in recent years. Kinsta has authored an excellent summary of available webinar apps.

IP Telephony

Brands such as RingCentral and 8×8 have disrupted the traditional concept of a business phone system. Most businesses have moved from landlines to VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). There are several differences between these two technologies.

Microsoft Office 365 shops have embraced Microsoft Teams Phone. Google Workspace users have access to Google Voice as a paid option.

There’s an AI for this: Simplephones can answer a phone number you assign, provide customized prompts, and then route calls appropriately.

Business Intelligence and Analytics

The options for reporting on data from various sources have grown significantly this century.

Business Intelligence also moved down from the enterprise to the mid-market and even to small businesses. Microsoft Power BI, Salesforce Tableau, and QlikSense are popular offerings.

Mobile Apps

Mobile apps for business users have proliferated. Now, business users can use mobile apps to access a CRM system, view or update shared documents, make and receive phone calls via their organization’s IP phone system, participate in web conferences, and more.

Content Management Systems

After the first website was launched in 1991, company websites were hand-coded for several years.

Now that companies can build entire corporate websites on point-and-click CMS platforms such as WordPress, Wix, Squarespace, and HubSpot CMS Hub, almost gone are the days of static websites that require someone fluent in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to create and update.

Businesses of all sizes can easily modify most content without hiring a web developer. However, web design specialists still have a place, as these platforms can be extended in various ways.

Video & Audio Hosting

Business use of Internet video has grown by leaps and bounds in the last 15 years. Many companies are making YouTube, Vimeo, Vidyard, and Wistia an essential part of their sales, marketing, and training strategies.

There’s an AI for this: Synthesia lets you create videos from plain text and uses synthetic avatars.

Podcast shows represent episodic audio content. Shows are hosted on sites like Libsyn and Podbean. Episodes are distributed on platforms like Apple iTunes, Google Play, and Spotify.

Non-episodic content can be hosted on SoundCloud and used as a component of a marketing strategy.

Social Media

While not all companies benefit to a measurable degree by having a presence on social media networks such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and Pinterest. However, many companies generate awareness for their product or service using one or more of these platforms.

Audience engagement on these platforms is critical to company success for certain companies.


E-commerce has come a long way since the first legitimate online transaction happened in 1994. It’s easier than ever for businesses to set up shop online.

Shopify and Magento are leading standalone platforms. CMS-integrated platforms include WooCommerce for WordPress, Wix eCommerce, and SquareSpace commerce.


On-premises computing is still alive and well, but the days of IT staff having to spin up a separate physical server for every application are waning.

IT departments have managed multiple servers more efficiently and with fewer physical resources through server virtualization with products such as VMWare vSphere, Citrix Hypervisor, and Microsoft Hyper-V. With virtualization software, hosting providers can also provision servers more economically.

Remember that it’s as essential to secure your network’s virtual servers as it is to secure physical servers.

Business technology is an ever-changing landscape. New vendors constantly emerge within existing categories.

The 2023 “gold rush” is AI apps.

Startups also invent new categories and tools that creatively help people manage information and collaborate within organizations.

A CRM Database: The Repository Behind the User Interface

CRM Databases

A CRM database is a secure, centralized repository of customer information that stores, tracks, and helps analyze customer data and interactions.

Most business people are familiar with a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system’s front end — the user interface, which consists mainly of lists and forms.

But what does the back end of a CRM system — the database — look like, and why is it useful for a non-technical user or manager to know about it?

CRM Databases

Understanding the database part of CRM software helps with knowing how business requirements can be managed with data.

Relational Databases

Much of modern civilization runs on databases. Most databases are relational.

The relational database concept originated in 1970 in a paper by E. F. Codd, who was with the IBM Research Laboratory in San Jose, California.

A relational data model meant that, for the first time, database users would have a consistent experience regardless of how the data was organized in a database.

This would later become critical for the large-scale adoption of enterprise systems such as CRM and ERP.

It would also mean that third-party developers could rely on a consistent API and not have to respond to underlying changes in data constantly.

CRM Tables

In a relational database, data are organized into rows and columns.

Each set of rows and columns is called a table. A CRM system, for example, stores information about an organization in a Company table. Each row in a Company table contains information about a customer, prospect, vendor, or another Company type.

Apex IndustriesCustomerActiveCAwww.apexindustries.demo
Global Co.CustomerInactiveNYwww.globalco.demo
Innovate Corp.ProspectActiveTXwww.innovatecorp.demo
NextGen TechCustomerActiveCOwww.nextgentech.demo
Bright IdeasProspectInactiveFLwww.brightideas.demo

Other tables are related to the Company table. At a minimum, these typically include tables for related Contacts, Activities, Opportunities, and Cases (a.k.a. Tickets).

In a relational CRM database, a user sees company names when looking at contacts, but under the hood, this field is an ID that links the Contact table to the Company table.

CompanyFirst NameLast NameTitleEmailPhone
Apex IndustriesJohnSmithCEOjohn.smith@apexindustries.demo(555) 123-4567
Global Co.MariaRodriguezVP of Marketingmaria.rodriguez@globalco.demo(555) 234-5678
Innovate Corp.DavidChenCTOdavid.chen@innovatecorp.demo(555) 345-6789
NextGen TechEmilyPatelDirector of Financeemily.patel@nextgentech.demo(555) 456-7890
Bright IdeasMichaelNguyenSales Managermichael.nguyen@brightideas.demo(555) 567-8901

Different CRM vendors refer to database tables differently. Salesforce and HubSpot call them ‘objects.’ Microsoft refers to them as ‘entities.’

Here are some examples of CRM tables and their purpose.

Table/Entity NameDescription
CompaniesThe organizations your business interacts with.
ContactsThe people your business interacts with. This can include customers, prospects, or other stakeholders.
LeadsPotential customers who have expressed interest in your business’s products or services.
OpportunitiesPotential sales deals. This can include the deal value, expected close date, and other relevant sales pipeline information.
ActivitiesActions CRM users take with customers, such as emails, phone calls, text messages, and meetings.
CasesIssues and questions your customer service or customer support team needs to address.
ProductsThe products or services that your business sells. This can include the product or service name, description, cost, list price, and other relevant information.
CampaignsInformation about marketing campaigns that your business runs. This could include the campaign name, start and end dates, and other relevant information.
QuotesPrice quotes that your business provides to customers. This can include the quoted product or service, list price, and associated terms and conditions.
OrdersCan be generated from won Opportunities. Sometimes integrated with an invoicing system.

The Activity or Task table can contain detailed notes about various Contact interactions, including email, phone calls, text messages, and online and in-person meetings.

CRM UserFirst NameLast NameDateActivity TypeNotes
PeteGJohnSmith2022-02-01Online MeetingHad a productive Zoom demo with John. He expressed interest in our new product line and mentioned that he’s currently evaluating other solutions.
PeteGJohnSmith2022-02-03Outgoing EmailHi John,

Here is the additional information you requested about our product line. Let me know if you have questions.

Had a meeting with John to give him a demo of our product. He was impressed with what he saw and is considering a purchase.
Had a call with Maria to discuss her company’s marketing needs. She was receptive and asked for an initial proposal.
SaraRMariaRodriguez2022-02-10Incoming TextSara – Thanks for the quote. I have not spoken to my boss yet about your proposal, but he’ll return from his trip on Monday.

CRM Field Types

Within each table, a CRM system has a set of default fields. Fields have different types — here is a partial list.

Field TypeDescription
Short TextA string of text with a limited length.
Long TextA string of text that can store hundreds or thousands of characters.
EmailEmail addresses of customers or leads.
PhoneTelephone numbers of customers or leads.
Date/TimeDates and times related to customer interactions or events.
CurrencyMonetary values, usually with a specified currency. Commonly used for tracking sales or purchases.
NumberNumerical values, either whole numbers or numbers with decimal precision. Used for tracking quantities or amounts.
Picklist/DropdownA predefined list of values from which only one can be chosen. An example usage is for Account Status, with values such as “Prospect,” “Customer,” and “Vendor.”
Multi-Select PicklistSimilar to the Picklist/Dropdown field type, but allows multiple values to be selected from a predefined list.
CheckboxStores a true/false value. Can be used for tracking customer or lead preferences or opt-ins and opt-outs.
LookupStores a reference to another record in the CRM, such as a related Contact or Opportunity.

Adding custom tables & fields to CRM

When new CRM applications are first launched, they are typically rigid in design.

For example, an administrator can’t add custom tables.

Adding custom tables to a CRM system means more business value. The ability to create custom tables is part of what makes a CRM system a platform rather than just an app.

For example, a medical device manufacturer may want to track Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) in a custom table.

CompanyAddressCityStatePart NumberSerial NumberLast Service Date
MedTech Innovations123 Main StreetSan FranciscoCAMTI-1001123452022-10-15
BioMed Devices Inc.456 Oak AvenueNew YorkNYBMD-2002678902022-08-20
HealthTech Solutions789 Elm StreetHoustonTXHTS-3003246802022-12-01
Smart Medical Devices101 Maple StreetMiamiFLSMD-4004135792022-06-05
FutureMed Corp555 Pine StreetDenverCOFMC-5005975312023-01-10

Almost all CRM systems, even newer ones, allow administrators to create custom fields of various types.

Custom fields can easily be added to standard and custom tables. However, fields can be overused and negatively affect user adoption.

An analysis of business requirements should always precede adding tables or fields. Otherwise, the database structure can be expanded and complicated without purpose.

Data Validation in Fields

The ability to create custom data validation rules is an essential feature of any database, including a CRM database.

Validation rules result in data consistency and reduce data errors.

A well-known validation rule that’s a default in most systems requires an email address to include an @ sign before the domain name and a period before the top-level domain (.com, .ai, etc.)

Multi-tenant Databases

When CRM first came along, each organization using CRM had its own CRM database running on a server in its office.

When Microsoft’s CRM application also became available as a cloud-hosted web app, each customer had its own SQL Server database spun up in the cloud.

Salesforce introduced the concept of a multi-tenant CRM database in the cloud. Thousands of customers can use a shared database rather than a separate one for each customer (of course, the database is architected such that each customer only has access to its data).

Multitenancy is now the norm for cloud CRM databases.

Adding, Viewing, and Updating CRM Records

SQL (Structured Query Language) is a programming language for creating, reading, updating, and deleting data in relational databases like CRM.

SQL queries can be used to filter data, sort data, and aggregate data. CRM users don’t need to know SQL, but CRM developers do.

A filtered list view a CRM user can create using point-and-click tools uses a SQL query like this behind the scenes.

SELECT Company, Type, Status, Website
FROM Accounts
WHERE State = 'CA';

Salesforce has a proprietary variant of SQL called SOQL (Salesforce Object Query Language).

Sometimes SQL or SOQL queries are needed to extract records that span multiple tables, as point-and-click tools are not robust enough.

For example, let’s say a manager wanted a report of all customers who purchased the “Advanced Cyber Projection Bundle”, sorted by date of purchase and with a calculation of the total amount of money spent.

That SQL query might look something like this.

SELECT Customer.customer_name, Order.order_date, SUM(Order_Products.quantity * Products.unit_price) as total_spent
FROM Customer
JOIN Order ON Customer.customer_id = Order.customer_id
JOIN Order_Products ON Order.order_id = Order_Products.order_id
JOIN Products ON Order_Products.product_id = Products.product_id
WHERE Products.product_name = 'Advanced Cyber Projection Bundle'
GROUP BY Customer.customer_name, Order.order_date
ORDER BY Order.order_date ASC;

Types of Databases Used

CRM vendors use databases like Oracle, MS SQL Server, Azure SQL, and PostgreSQL.

For businesses, the ease of extracting data from the database is more important than the type of database used.

A CRM vendor should provide a native or third-party solution for moving your data to a database you control.

A CRM database contains critical customer and prospect information.

This data allows companies to gain valuable insights into companies, people, and other relationships.

CRM customers can configure database tables, fields, and rules to address specialized business requirements.

What is CRM, and what are its positives and negatives?

What is CRM?

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is many different things, ranging from a strategy to software to a ticker symbol.

We’ve cataloged a variety of perspectives on what CRM is based on how vendors and their customers interact with one another — and how software factors into user, management, and customer experiences.

What is CRM?

Companies invest in a system because they believe the positives will outweigh the negatives — translating into a positive return on investment. 

But what are these opposing forces? We address that below with several sets of contradictory characteristics and outcomes.

But let’s start by looking at CRM from 30,000 feet.

CRM at a high-level

Here are a few different lenses through which to look at CRM.

It’s a strategy

As a strategy, Customer Relationship Management is a holistic approach to managing and improving customer interactions and relationships. 

It’s about providing customers with a consistent experience, no matter who the customer is talking to, emailing, texting, or chatting with.

It’s software

CRM software supports the strategy by housing much data in an organized, easily viewable, and reportable format.

A customer once told me, “CRM is a database with a beautiful front end.”

Combining accumulated data and custom workflows supports a business’s internal and customer-facing processes.

Salesperson Winning Deal CRM

Salespeople, marketers, and customer service representatives are the principal users of CRM software. However, it’s often used by people in operational and finance roles.

It’s a development platform

When a system from a new CRM vendor launches, it usually has a rigid design. For example, administrators can’t add custom tables (a.k.a. objects or entities).

As years pass, vendors transform their products into more of a platform.

Over time, an ecosystem and related marketplace develop. Third-party productivity apps can be dropped into the platform as native functionality.

In-house developers and contracted outside consultants have access to tools to create unique user and customer experiences with clicks and code.

It’s a journey

Another customer said, “CRM is a journey, not an event.” What did he mean?

In a word, he meant “iterate.” Develop a vision, but don’t try to execute the entire vision at once.

Also, be open to the fact that you can’t see around the corner, and new requirements will consistently surface.

It’s a ticker symbol

When Salesforce went public, the company chose the ticker symbol CRM rather than SFDC or something similar.

While the ticker symbol does not align with the brand, the symbol is more representative of the solution the company sells.

CRM software contradictions

CRM software is a set of diverse and sometimes contradictory things.

In many ways, each organization that adopts CRM for the first time or switches systems can control which way the pendulum swings for the following.

It’s free

Some, but not all, CRM vendors offer a freemium model. Salesforce does not. HubSpot does.

Can you roll out free CRM to 100 users across different departments? Probably not. But you can get started with a free edition.

A small business or small department with simple needs may be fine with a free version indefinitely.

It’s expensive

Our CRM cost calculator shows that the tool is expensive relative to other business software categories when you factor in all the costs.

CEO distressed at high CRM invoice

Each year, leaders at some companies get to review eye-watering subscription invoices for CRM.

They ask for evidence that the system still provides a positive financial return.

It’s a game changer

Many companies have figured out how to run their entire business on CRM.

They have leveraged the platform to make it an indispensable operational lynchpin for their organization.

Customers get valuable updates regularly and efficient service when they make contact.

It’s a waste of money

Many companies have squandered tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on CRM software and implementation costs.

The purchased system has had low user adoption and did not produce the hoped-for benefits.

Statistics vary, but at least 50% of CRM projects fail — often because the technology implementation does not follow a strategy.

It’s collaborative

When there’s a collective will to look at CRM alternatives, people from all corners of an organization come together to decide for the greater good.

When CRM software integrates departments and functions within a company, such as sales, marketing, and customer service, it can the CRM strategy of providing a seamless and consistent customer experience.

It’s siloed

When each department makes its own software decision, a company can end up with Salesforce for sales, HubSpot for marketing, and Zendesk for customer support.

Customer information is scattered across multiple systems.

Supporting the company’s CRM strategy often requires setting up integrations among the systems.

“Best of breed” vs. single vendor is an ongoing debate.

It’s unifying

When organizations take a disciplined approach to CRM selection and implementation by getting input from various stakeholders and representative end users, a path toward a united front is created.

When a company is dedicated to sales and marketing synergy, this approach fosters a unifying technology.

It’s divisive

One example of division we’ve seen is that the CIO wants to buy Microsoft Dynamics because the company is a Microsoft shop. The CRO wants Salesforce because they’ve used it at several previous companies.

CIO and CRO disagreeing on CRM

Another example is that the CMO wants HubSpot, but the CIO wants to standardize on a vendor with greater longevity in the CRM space.

In these cases, management sometimes looks to a third party to help decide on the best-fit vendor.

It’s easy

When an organization subscribes to a new CRM system, it’s simple and pristine.

An administrator can further simplify the out-of-the-box user interface by removing unneeded fields and objects from the layouts.

It’s complicated

If a disciplined approach is not taken to managing a CRM system, it can quickly become complicated. 

For example, an admin may add many custom fields to the user interface without considering the business case or usability.

The user interface becomes cluttered and more difficult to navigate.

A CRM system is a dedication

Unlike many business apps, CRM is not a “set it and forget it” software — it requires caring and feeding.

It must be actively managed as new business requirements surface and people come and go.

New Sheriff - VP of Sales

Famously, when a new sheriff (a new sales leader) comes to town, that person often wants to make their imprint on how opportunities should be managed and what reporting is required.

CRM does not do well without at least a well-trained part-time administrator.

The administrator should constantly communicate with users and stakeholders to ensure that the system stays on track and that users benefit from logging into the system daily.

There should be ongoing training sessions for new users and existing users who need a refresher.

With the right approach and ongoing attention, CRM can be the promised game-changer.

13 CRM Review Sites For You To Review in 2023

Woman looking at CRM review sites

We have compiled a list of CRM review sites for people considering a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software investment in 2023.

In today’s reviews-driven marketplace, the starting point for many is to look for a CRM review site.

The proliferation of business technology vendors has spawned a cottage industry of business software review websites. According to one of the sites covered below, enterprise technology is on track to exceed $2 trillion annually.

Woman looking at CRM review sites

Some software review sites have hundreds of categories. Categories range from bakery software to heat map software to live chat software.

Specific categories of business software lend themselves to relatively quick buying decisions. SEO software is an example. The options are generally inexpensive. Subscriptions are month to month. Switching from one vendor to another is easy.

On the other hand, for mid-size and enterprise companies, CRM is usually a relatively high long-term investment. CRM involves a longer decision-making process than, say, survey software.

CRM Review Sites & Software Selection

Each CRM review sites include a different set of vendors in their Top 10 or 20 listings. For this reason, it’s a good idea to cross-reference review sites.

For organizations with more complex business process automation needs, factoring the organization’s CRM requirements is an integral part of establishing a CRM software shortlist and making a final vendor decision.

Since CRM is a more significant and long-term investment than many other software categories, we recommend that mid-size and enterprise organizations follow a structured buying process to make the best financial decision.

Of course, a comprehensive CRM review site is not sustainable without a revenue model. For most review sites, that model is to pass a visitor’s contact information along to one or more CRM vendors. These sites are an effective marketing channel for many vendors.


Gartner acquired Capterra in September 2015.

Capterra lists over 100 products in its CRM category.

To distill this extensive list down to a manageable number, Capterra ranks the 20 most popular CRM software vendors using Market Score, which is based 40% on the number of customers, 40% on the number of users, and 20% on a social score that includes both Capterra reviews and the number of social media followers.

Zoho is the leader in the total number of users, with 20 million. This may be in part due to the company’s freemium model. Most other top vendors do not have a free level of service.

Capterra is transparent about its revenue model. CRM vendors pay Capterra when they receive web traffic and sales opportunities. According to Capterra, they list all vendors — not just those that pay them — so visitors can make the best-informed purchase decision possible.

Software Advice

Like Capterra, Software Advice is a Gartner acquisition. The acquisition was announced in March 2014.

For CRM, Software Advice offers a Find the Best CRM Software page. The quadrant is “Powered By Gartner Methodology”. Gartner is well known for its Magic Quadrant.

Visitors to the site can request a quote or a demo. Software Advice also provides the option for visitors to submit reviews.


FindMyCRM helps buyers find the best CRM software for their business.

FindMyCRM provides services across the entire customer lifecycle as a CRM consultancy and implementation agency.

From education to selection to CRM deployment, they deliver results that benefit the buyer and the bottom line. Consumers can educate themselves using the site’s library of online resources, including blog articles, white papers, e-books, presentations, and CRM directories with detailed and professional overviews for 100 CRM systems.

The CRM finder tool is also available as a free resource. FindMyCRM’s expert team has distilled over 20 years of experience into a quick questionnaire. After answering a few questions, users receive a shortlist of CRM vendors that match their business goals. If you are unsure what CRM to choose, you can try the free CRM Comparison Tool.

Fit Small Business

Fit Small Business was founded in 2013 as a digital resource for small businesses.

In addition to having an expert team of writers with real-world business experience, Fit Small Business conducts extensive research to assist small business owners with making informed decisions. The buyer’s guides, “how-to” explainers, and product reviews fill in the gaps on what business owners need to know.

Developing high-quality CRM Software reviews is a huge focus of Fit Small Business’s product reviews section. CRM reviews help small business owners to make educated purchases that play an essential role in the functionality of their businesses.

Fit Small Business’s CRM reviews include recommended software providers, detailed pricing information, key software features to consider, and impactful questions to ask before finalizing a CRM product purchase.


SelectHub opened for business in March 2013.

According to the company, “We’re working hard to dramatically improve technology evaluations and onboarding for both buyers and vendors. With SelectHub, your work is easier — no matter which side of the deal you’re on.”

SelectHub lists over 200 CRM vendors in its Customer Relationship Management category. For each listed vendor, a price quote can be requested, or a demo can be scheduled.

SelectHub shows a partial Leaderboard on the same page. Requesting the full Leaderboard will trigger a call from SelectHub.

SelectHub’s model is to refer visitors who submit a form to several best-fit CRM vendors based on the results of a high-level requirements gathering call. The call is free of charge to the visitor. As with many CRM selection websites, SelectHub makes its money through referrals.

G2 Crowd

G2 Crowd was founded to take the subjectivity out of software selection. End-users rate CRM systems.

As a result, G2 Crowd’s CRM category page gets a lot of organic search traffic.

When both Satisfaction and Market Presence are factored in, G2 Crowd perennially shows Salesforce and HubSpot as leaders in the G2 Grid® for CRM.

For listed CRM vendors, depending on the company’s business relationship with a vendor, G2 Grid variously displays calls to action to Contact Now, Learn More, or Try for Free.

PC Magazine

Not surprisingly, PC Magazine takes the most journalistic approach to covering CRM software options.

In addition to showing a comparative table listing based on what the reviewers consider the top 10 vendors, PC Magazine includes an extensive narrative on evaluating CRM options and what to look for as a CRM buyer.

PC Magazine’s list of the ten best CRM software vendors does not include Microsoft Dynamics 365, which SoftwareAdvice shows as the fourth most popular CRM software.

PC Magazine’s revenue model is to provide a tracked link to a vendor site when the “See It” call to action button is clicked.

TEC (Technology Evaluation Centers)

TEC has been operating for 25 years, helping businesses choose the right software to support their operations and growth. In that capacity, CRM is a significant focus.

In addition to an extensive directory of solutions, TEC also houses large amounts of feature data that can be used to define requirements and analyze them against each CRM solution’s capabilities with complete side-by-side comparison charts and an advanced decision support tool.

This is supported by CRM-focused whitepapers, reports, and other helpful research assets to keep readers informed.

TEC also has a consulting division for a personal touch in the software selection process. Their selection services team has steered hundreds of past projects and is the most surefire way to know that the right CRM software has been selected.


TechnologyAdvice’s CRM category covers over 150 CRM vendors.

The page presents several questions for visitors in the market for CRM software. Vendor recommendations are sent based on the answers to those questions.


SoftwareSuggest has an extensive CRM category. Each listed vendor item has call-to-action buttons, including Visit Website, Get Quote, or Free Demo.


Like PC Magazine, FinancesOnline takes a journalistic approach to CRM reviews. There is an extensive narrative review for each of the 12 Most Popular CRM systems listed on the site.


This is a relative newcomer to CRM review sites. This site has a Top 15 Comparison page.

The site features ten CRM sponsors. It provides a “top ten” CRM software comparison chart and notes what each top ten is best at.

Business News Daily

This site rates over a dozen CRM vendors.

Ahrefs.com estimates this one CRM page gets over seven thousand organic search visitors per month. The site ranks #1 in Google search for keywords such as “Best CRM” and “Top CRM.”

9 Differences Between Salesforce and HubSpot

HubSpot versus Salesforce

HubSpot and Salesforce are both established powerhouses in the areas of data management and business process automation.

Salesforce was founded in 1999 in San Francisco, California. HubSpot was founded in 2006 in Boston, Massachusetts.

Salesforce began as a Sales Force Automation (SFA) system and eventually became a comprehensive suite of business applications, some of which were gained through acquisitions.

HubSpot began as a marketing and content management system. The company later added Sales, Service, and Operations functionality or ‘hubs’ as HubSpot calls them.

Both companies have seen enterprise adoption in their respective flagship categories.

HubSpot vs Salesforce

Like any software platform, having more longevity than competitors cuts both ways. It usually means richer features and functionality.

However, more time in the market can also mean more baggage in the form of ongoing transitions from legacy interfaces and dated ways of accomplishing specific administrative tasks.

We’ll refer to these as positive longevity effects and adverse longevity effects, respectively.

Because of the two companies’ origins, many organizations continue using HubSpot for marketing automation and Salesforce for sales, customer service & support, and custom business applications.

Some companies using both platforms are considering moving entirely to one or another. Companies that use neither platform may be considering one or the other.

For people in these companies, there are several differences between the two platforms to consider.

1. Native vs. integrated marketing functionality

HubSpot began as a marketing automation platform. When HubSpot introduced Sales Hub, the functionality was added natively to the existing platform.

Because of this unified code base, sales and marketing users can share many of the same properties (fields) rather than an admin having to replicate fields in different systems and then set up mapping and precedence rules.

What we refer to as the Awareness to Order journey can all be managed under one roof.

Conversely, Salesforce does not have native marketing automation functionality. However, Salesforce integrates with several marketing automation systems, including HubSpot, ActiveCampaign, and its internal Pardot and Marketing Cloud offerings.

While cloud-to-cloud integrations are better than ever, more ongoing maintenance is required compared to all-in-one systems.

2. The consultant ecosystems

A positive longevity effect for Salesforce is the sheer volume of worldwide administrators and developers.

So many people are involved with Salesforce that in 2021 the company dubbed this global collective the ‘Salesforce Economy.’

While an extensive group of marketing agencies and independent consultants are HubSpot Marketing Hub and CMS Hub experts, HubSpot’s consultant ecosystem for Sales, Service, and Operations Hubs is comparatively nascent.

3. The app marketplaces

Third-party CRM apps are typically in the form of integrations, add-ons, and natively installed enhanced functionality.

HubSpot’s App Marketplace has over 500 apps.

Salesforce’s AppExchange has over 7,000 third-party apps.

4. Freemium vs. paid only

While Salesforce gives time and money to many organizations and people, it does not give much away for free to business customers.

On the other hand, HubSpot continues to use an extensive freemium model with much ‘lite’ functionality at no charge. This pricing model means an extensive try-before-you-buy experience compared to a time-limited free trial.

5. Scope of product offerings

Salesforce’s growth through acquisition strategy means that the company has a lot of different offerings outside of the core CRM platform. While product brand names have changed, past acquisitions include Slack, Tableau, ExactTarget, Pardot, Demandware, and SteelBrick.

HubSpot has been much less acquisitive than Salesforce and generally invents and builds all product functionality in-house and on a single platform.

A product from HubSpot that Salesforce does not offer is a content management system (CMS). Customers can build entire websites on the same platform as the other HubSpot apps they use.

6. Validation rules

Data validation rules are essential for data consistency and cleanliness.

Salesforce has had validation rules for over a decade and provides extensive examples of how and where to use these rules.

HubSpot introduced beta validation rules in September 2022. Initially, HubSpot introduced two rules for single-line text properties (fields) and number properties.

Single-line text rules allow for setting a minimum or maximum character limit, restricting values to only numeric characters, or disallowing special characters.

Number rules allow an admin to set a number range or set the number of decimal places.

7. Workflow designer

As business process automation tools, workflow designers have become indispensable to businesses. Today, these tools are a must-have for sales, marketing, service, and custom applications.

One of Salesforce’s adverse longevity effects is the platform has three different workflow design tools. Because of this, Salesforce is phasing out workflow rules and Process Builder in favor of Flows.

HubSpot’s Workflows were initially designed for marketing requirements but have been applied to address similar business needs for sales, service, and operations.

Salesforce’s Flows have more design options and are, therefore, more complex to configure than HubSpot’s Workflows. However, the latter is more user-friendly.

8. Field-level and record-level security

For many organizations, the ability to granularly define who has access to what data is an important consideration. In some cases, it’s just a matter of users not being distracted by viewing meaningless information. In other cases, it ensures that only certain users can see sensitive data.

HubSpot allows administrators to restrict view and edit access for properties (fields). HubSpot’s record-level permissions are managed through team permissions.

An extensive field- and record-level security model is a positive longevity effect for Salesforce. The Who Sees What playlist on Salesforce’s YouTube channel provides a deep dive into all the security options available on the platform. There’s even a certification called Sharing and Visibility Architect.

9. The user experience

User adoption of CRM systems is a perennial challenge. CRM vendors look for ways to improve the user experience.

Salesforce uses a traditional ‘lists and forms’-type interface. While Salesforce Lightning pages offer more design flexibility than Salesforce classic, the record detail appears like a traditional two-column interface with sections and clearly defined fields.

By contrast, the HubSpot record detail view de-emphasizes traditional-looking forms & fields and instead emphasizes activities. For companies that have a heavy focus on ABM and sales pursuit, HubSpot has an excellent user interface.

Salesforce lets administrators create different views of the same record by activating different Lightning pages for different groups of users.

For the greatest success, a thorough analysis is critical before any significant change in CRM software platforms.

It’s not just about the general differences between the two platforms but how respective platforms address your organization’s unique needs.

Because of this, we recommend following a structured buying process.

How to Book & Conduct a Prospect Meeting

Meeting with a prospect

A prospect meeting is a meeting between a potential customer and a salesperson to discuss the potential customer’s needs.

The purpose of a prospect meeting is for the sales representative to learn more about the potential customer’s needs and to see if there is a fit between the customer’s needs and the representative’s product or service.

For B2B salespeople, booking a prospect meeting may be the only path to a sale and a new client for your company.

Prospects are busy people. You need to have a sales process that both makes them want to meet with you and that maximizes the success of the meeting.

Meeting with a prospect

Here are some tips for getting the most out of your meetings.

Clarify your messaging

Sales and marketing need to collaborate on creating crystal clear messaging, including what you do, how it will make your prospect’s life better, how it works, and how they can get a quote or a proposal.

Clear messaging on your website and social media that places a prospect at the center of their own story will improve your chances of getting a request for a call or meeting.

Give your prospects meeting options

Everyone has their preferred way of communicating. For example, some people want to meet in person — while others may prefer a video meeting or a phone call.

You may get a request for a link to your booking page. So, make sure you use an app like Calendly or Google Schedule (part of Gmail and Google Workspace).

With Calendly, your prospect can include their team members in the meeting request.

Since most prospect meetings are either 30 minutes or an hour, make sure to have both options on your booking page.

Position a meeting as a conversation

Avoid framing your meeting as a ‘discovery call’ or a ‘needs analysis.’ These terms may come across as jargon.

Instead, it’s better to say you want to have a conversation to understand the prospect’s challenges and whether your product or service can address them.

Offer to send a meeting agenda to your prospect. Your prospect will either say, ‘yes’ or ‘no.’

Research your prospect’s company and industry

The more background information you can gather beforehand, the better.

Becoming an overnight expert in an unfamiliar business or industry is challenging. However, the more informed you are, the more likely you will hear your prospect say, “good question,”— which brings us to the next point.

Prepare a list of questions

Write up a list of questions to ask your prospect. Questions can relate to needs, wants, goals, budget, and timeline.

Try to memorize as many questions as possible so you don’t appear to be reading off a list. Ask things in a natural way, but if necessary, glance down at your question list.

Make sure to write down the answers if your meeting is face-to-face.

After you’ve gathered enough information, you’ll be in the best position to start talking about your solution and how it would benefit the prospect and their organization.

Offer something of value

When you give upfront value, your prospect is more likely to keep you in mind if they are not ready to make a quick business decision.

One example of value is a pearl of wisdom you’ve gained from working with other clients.

Another form of value can be connecting your prospect with one of your customers that may be a candidate for the prospect’s product or service.

Log your conversations

The more precisely you can log details of your conversations into your CRM system, the better.

If a meeting is by phone, there’s an app called AutoPylot that can automatically push a conversation transcript into CRM.

You can also verbally annotate the meeting notes with items such as the next steps.

What Does CRM Actually Cost?

What Does CRM Actually Cost?

Trying to determine the actual CRM cost for your business can be a daunting task.

In a perfect world, every vendor would list their prices with a per-user breakdown. It isn’t a perfect world; not all vendors are fully transparent about their prices.

What Does CRM Actually Cost?

This can be especially problematic for someone trying to calculate CRM software pricing. On top of that, the initial per-user CRM cost can vary depending on your region, data storage requirements, optional features, and quantity discounts.

The only way to determine an exact price for some vendors is to speak with a salesperson or a partner representative.

For someone doing preliminary CRM research, who just wants to get a basic idea of CRM cost, that can be too much of a time investment.

So, to help get you started, we’ve assembled a general pricing guide for many of the top CRM vendors.

While not complete, this guide provides an idea of an initial CRM license investment.

The prices listed below are generally for more sales-focused packages. Many vendors have separate pricing for other user types, such as customer support representatives.

CRM subscription cost is only one of six levels of CRM expenses we’ve identified. If you are with a mid-sized business or an enterprise, you might be interested in reading about the other five levels.

CRM Vendor Pricing

Since CRM pricing plans can change more frequently than New England weather, we’ve added links to vendor pricing pages at the end of each section.

Salesforce Subscription Costs

Salesforce provides a straightforward, per-user pricing scheme for all of its editions. The following is the pricing for Sales Cloud. The minimum subscription term is one year.

EditionPer User Per Month Cost
Lightning Unlimited$300
Lightning Enterprise$150
Lightning Professional$75
Lightning Essentials (up to 5 users)$25

Salesforce Sales Cloud pricing

Microsoft Dynamics 365 License Costs

Dynamics 365 Sales pricing plans are as follows:

EditionPer User Per Month Cost
Dynamics 365 Sales Professional$65
Dynamics 365 Sales Enterprise$95
Customer Engagement Plan$115
Microsoft Relationship Sales (Minimum of 10 users)From $130

Microsoft also offers the Dynamics 365 Plan for $210 per user per month.

This downloadable PDF explains Microsoft licensing in detail.

HubSpot Sales Hub™ Pricing

Sales Hub is one of five ‘Hubs’ that HubSpot offers. Buyers can create their own bundles to determine the pricing for additional functionality, such as marketing, customer service, and a CMS.

EditionPer User Per Month Cost
Enterprise$1,200 (10 user minimum)
Professional$450 (5 user minimum)

HubSpot pricing page

Vendor-Agnostic CRM Services
Strategy. Requirements. Vendor Selection.

Learn More →

SugarCRM Pricing

SugarCRM has multiple options, all showing “starting at” prices. A conversation with a salesperson is required. Each addition has a minimum of three users.

EditionPer User Per Month Cost
Sugar SellStarting at $49
Sugar ServeStarting at $80
Sugar EnterpriseStarting at $85

SugarCRM has a minimum subscription term of one year.

SugarCRM pricing page


Creatio (fka bpm’online) offers a free trial for each of its CRM software editions.

EditionPer User Per Month Cost
CRM Bundle“Contact Us”

Creatio pricing page

Zoho Pricing

Zoho is one of a few vendors that lists a free version on their website. Of course, in the world of CRM, nothing is truly free. Their paid versions are:

EditionPer User Per Month Cost

Zoho allows for “pay as you go” monthly subscriptions.

Zoho CRM pricing page

Copper CRM Cost

Copper is a Google Workspace-compatible CRM system. While Copper allows for monthly payments, there’s a 29% discount for annual payments. This table shows annual pricing.

EditionPer User Per Month Cost

Copper pricing page


Apptivo also offers a free version (limited to three users) called Starter. The costs for the company’s CRM versions, when paid annually, are:

EditionPer User Per Month Cost
Enterprise“Contact Us”

Apptivo pricing page

Keap Pricing

Keap (fka Infusionsoft) has two dimensions to its pricing — number of contacts and number of users. The following is the pricing for 500 contacts.

EditionPer Month Cost For 1 User

Additional users are $30 each per month.

Keap pricing page


GreenRope only has one edition of its small business CRM application. The one edition includes Sales Suite, Marketing Suite, and Operations Suite. Because GreenRope has its roots in CoolerEmail, the product’s pricing is based on contacts rather than users. All pricing plans have unlimited users and unlimited emails.

EditionMonthly Price

Greenrope pricing page


Nimble has the most straightforward pricing page of any vendor listed on this post. Nimble CRM is $19 per user per month when billed annually.

Nimble pricing page

Getting What You Pay For

It’s important to note that these prices are accurate as of this article’s publication date. Vendors may update products and pricing at any time.

While the monthly per-user cost is important, many other factors are part of the CRM selection process.

Many vendors don’t include initial startup costs, maintenance fees, the cost of additional data storage, and other hidden expenses in the per-user charge.

Some of the CRM vendors have many third-party businesses in their ecosystem. Customers of those vendors often purchase add-on apps in addition to the core CRM software.

The best way to know exactly how much your overall CRM software cost will be is by contacting the vendors (or one of their partners) and requesting a formal quote.

CRM Requirements Example Document

CRM Requirements

Starting a CRM (customer relationship management) requirements document from a blank slate is difficult.

While every business is different, the following set of example CRM requirements, based on a fictional kiosk manufacturer, provides a framework for the type of information that can be given to a would-be CRM implementation company.

CRM Requirements Session

A document like this will give your prospective CRM service providers a substantial amount of the information they need to estimate the scope of required CRM services more precisely.

They may want to pose additional questions before providing an estimate for services.

This approach goes beyond a traditional RFP, which is usually too general and is often more a checklist of features than a set of requirements.

To get to this point, we recommend first going through a structured approach to gathering and prioritizing business requirements.

Business Overview & Current State

Abbott Ltd. has been in business since 1995. We sell kiosks directly to commercial and government accounts in the United States and Canada. We have a distributor in Europe and a distributor in Asia.

In the commercial arena, customers include retail chains, independent retailers, and hotel chains. Kiosks are installed in retail stores, hotel lobbies, airports, and other places. We currently have over 300 customers, with an average of 25 locations per customer. Many locations have more than one kiosk.

Our addressable market is over 10,000 companies.

Airport Kiosks


We have ten outside account executives (AEs), most of whom work from home offices. There is one AE for each of the nine U.S. census regions and one AE for Canada. Three inside sales development representatives (SDRs) support the AEs. SDRs are not currently paired with AEs. Any SDR can work with any AE.

There are two regional sales managers (RSMs) that the AEs report to. One RSM is responsible for the east plus Canada. The other RSM is responsible for the west. The RSMs report to the VP of Sales.

Two sales engineers (SEs) also align with the two regions. SEs accompany AEs on sales calls when needed.

One major account representative works on a dozen or so large accounts. This person reports directly to the VP of Sales.

Salespeople are currently using a combination of a contact manager, spreadsheets, and email address books to manage their contacts. The adoption of our current contact manager by field users is low.

Some AEs have PC notebooks, and some have Macbooks. Some AEs use iPhones, and some use Android devices. Half of our AEs use a tablet computer.

Salesperson looking at iPhone

Our AEs are responsible for managing existing accounts, developing net new business on their own, and following up on leads handed off to them by SDRs.

AEs identify critical players within target organizations, assess requirements, and ultimately create proposals. Our proposals are 8 – 12 page documents with embedded pricing spreadsheets. Our quoting process is complex, as kiosks need to be engineered for specific customer requirements.

In companies with many divisions across different territories, the account may be split up among multiple AEs.


We have a marketing manager who reports to the VP of Marketing. About half our leads come from four different landing pages on our website, 20% come from trade shows, 20% come from webinars, and 10% come from referrals/word of mouth.

We have a contract blogger who writes informational posts relevant to anyone who purchases or manages kiosks. Our CEO is a thought leader in the kiosk industry and periodically writes blog posts. Calls to action at the bottom of posts drive visitors to landing pages where visitors can download additional informational content in exchange for information such as their name, company name, email address, and phone number.

New website leads are currently emailed to all three SDRs. SDRs enter the lead information into our contact manager and follow up via phone and email. We currently have five different email templates that our SDRs can choose from when communicating with leads.

We use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and SlideShare to drive people interested in information about kiosks to our blog.

We use Zoom to run our webinars. Invitees and attendees are managed outside of our contact management system.

Other types of leads, such as trade show leads, are manually imported into our contact management system. SDRs select from new leads, assign themselves as the manager of the leads and make calls.

When an SDR qualifies a lead, based on five qualification criteria and their general sense of how viable the lead is, they send an email to the AE responsible for the corresponding region. AEs periodically email SDRs with updates on leads that have been handed off to them.

We currently send a monthly newsletter to selected contacts at customer accounts. This is being done outside of our contact manager.

Customer Support

We currently have three inside customer support representatives (CSRs) who report to a customer service manager. We have direct, online access to 90% of the kiosks in the field and can remotely diagnose and resolve about 75% of issues.

Customer Support Agent

Kiosk issues are reported in various ways:

  • Automated emails from the kiosk with diagnostic information
  • Emails from a customer contact
  • A filled-in form on our website
  • Phone calls from a customer contact (usually from someone at the kiosk location)

Support issues are currently logged into a shared Microsoft Access database. Our customers are encouraged to include the serial number of the kiosk in question whenever they report an issue. If they do not provide the serial number on submission of the issue, a CSR will always request the number.

Emails and form submissions currently go to all three CSRs. An available CSR takes ownership of the issue to try and resolve the issue via remote access to the kiosk. If a software issue can’t be solved, the CSR will forward the email to one of our engineers or call an engineer.

If it is determined that a part needs to be replaced, the part will be shipped to the customer site. Customers can replace some parts. Other parts can only be replaced by a field service representative (FSR). We have contract FSRs who CSRs can dispatch.

We have a homegrown knowledge base that our IT department maintains. Customers are encouraged to check the knowledge base before submitting a support case. Our CSRs will sometimes email links to specific knowledge base articles to more technically savvy customer contacts as part of the issue resolution process.


We currently use Microsoft Office 365 for our email. Our PC users are using Outlook 2016 on the desktop, but we have a variety of email clients across the organization, including:

  • Outlook Web
  • Mac Mail
  • iPhone Email Client
  • iPad Email Client
  • Android Email Client

We have a legacy, in-house ERP system that runs on SQL Server. Our IT department manages our ERP system. Our IT team can create daily CSV exports. They also have the tools to write ERP data to a web services endpoint.

Project Success Factors

Based on our experience with under-utilized systems, the following are some of the success factors we’ve identified for our current CRM initiative:

  • End-user input into the design process
  • Third-party recommended best practices
  • An initial focus on the highest-value functionality
  • A comprehensive view of customer information from a single interface
  • Easy access to key information from multiple platforms (PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, Android)
  • Internal ownership and support of the application after the initial rollout
  • An ongoing training strategy

Vendor-Agnostic CRM Services
Strategy. Requirements. Vendor Selection.

Sales, Marketing, and Support Processes

Lead Generation and Lead Management

We have four different landing pages on our website. One example is: https://offers.abbott-ltd.demo/how-to-spec-out-a-kiosk

We want to directly capture leads from this form and three other forms into a CRM system. New leads should be distributed to our SDRs in a round-robin fashion.

To support our business model, the SDRs should be able to view and maintain the following information for leads.

  • Lead Source (website, tradeshow, webinar)
  • Landing page name (for leads that came from our website)
  • Lead Status (New, Working, Qualified, Disqualified, Customer)
  • Reason Disqualified (Too Small, Unserved Geography, Bad Information, Competitor)
  • Number of locations
  • Currently using kiosks? (Y/N)
  • Current kiosk vendor(s) (link to competitor company records)
  • Personal LinkedIn profile URL
  • Role (IT, Executive Management, Marketing)
  • Rating (A, B, C) The rating will be calculated based on various data points in the lead

If a lead’s company already exists in the database, the SDR should be able to add that person to the existing company record.

When an SDR qualifies a lead, the SDR should convert the lead to an account/contact and assign the account to the appropriate AE. The AE should receive an email notification that the account has been handed off to them.

SDRs should not create sales opportunities.

AEs should only create opportunities after discussions with one or more key contacts at the customer or prospect account.

Customer and Prospect Management

To support our business model, we need to track both office locations and locations where kiosks are installed in a parent/child relationship.

We need to track the following information at the company level.

  • Customer Accounting ID
  • Type (Prospect, Customer, Vendor, Competitor)
  • Customer Sub-Type (Business Office, Kiosk Location)
  • Status (Active/Inactive)
  • Number of locations (in parent company record only)

Customer Related Information – Sales Order History

For our AEs to easily see recent sales orders, they should see a list of sales order header information for the last two years when looking at an account. AEs do not need to see sales order detail, but they should, at minimum, see the following information for each sales order:

  • Salesperson
  • Territory
  • Sales Order Number
  • P.O. Number
  • Order Date
  • Ship Date
  • Total Dollar Amount

When looking at a customer account record, our AEs and other CRM users should also be able to see the following financial information for the customer.

  • MTD Sales
  • YTD Sales
  • Previous YTD Sales
  • Credit Limit
  • Amount Past Due

Our IT team can schedule a daily CSV export of new sales orders from our legacy, in-house ERP system. They can also schedule a daily CSV export of customer financial data. These files can be posted to an FTP site.

Location Related Information – Kiosks

We need to track the kiosks that are installed at each location. Our IT department can provide an export file of kiosks at each location with the following data points:

  • Serial number
  • Model
  • Operating System
  • Software Version
  • Date Installed
  • Warranty Expiration Date

Initially, we will manually enter or import new locations and kiosks into CRM.

Customer and Location-Related Information – Support Cases

Our AEs, our SEs, and our major account representative should have visibility to any open support issues when viewing a customer record.

Contact Management

There is information about contacts that we want to track and that may not be in the standard CRM configuration:

  • Role (picklist – map values from leads on lead conversion)
  • Email 2 (many contacts in our contact manager have more than one email address)
  • Holiday Card (checkbox)
  • Status (Active/Inactive)
  • Personal LinkedIn profile URL

While viewing a contact record, our users should be able to see the account’s Status and Type without navigating to the account record.

Opportunity Management and Forecasting

AEs should create opportunities in CRM for:

  • Potential add-on sales to existing accounts
  • Potential new sales to new accounts

We need to track the following:

  • Type (add-on or net new business)
  • SDR (if the opportunity originated as a lead so the SDR can be credited with a sale)
  • Expected close date
  • Expected revenue
  • Stage (we have a five-stage sales process)
  • Commit (Yes/No)
  • Competitors (there could be zero, one, or several competitors on a deal)
  • Reason Lost (there are five general reasons that we lose deals)


The existing web forms on our four existing landing pages should be replaced with new web forms, which, upon visitor submission, will automatically create new lead records in the CRM system.

We want to send our monthly customer newsletter directly from the CRM system and allow users to view opens, clicks, and unsubscribes. We are not committed to any particular email marketing solution.

While we have had success with GoToMeeting, we are interested in a webinar platform that integrates with CRM so that we can accomplish the following:

  • Have webinar registrants be automatically added into CRM as new leads (also – update leads or contacts if they already exist, rather than creating duplicates)
  • View which live webinars each lead or contact attended
  • View which recorded webinars each lead or contact viewed
  • View engagement for each of the above (what percentage of the webinar they viewed)

We will evaluate marketing automation systems later this year and want to ensure that the systems we are looking at will integrate with the chosen CRM system. The leading candidates are HubSpot, Marketo, and Pardot.

Customer Support

We want to manage our support cases within the CRM system.

Emails that go to support@abbott-ltd.demo should automatically create new cases in the system. When a case is created, our three CSRs should all be notified of the new case. All email communication with the customer contact who submitted the case should be managed within the case.

We want to replace the form on https://offers.abbott-ltd.demo/support with a form that, when submitted, creates a new case in the CRM system.

If a high-priority case is not resolved within 24 hours, the customer service manager should receive an email.

The following is the information that we would like to track within the case:

  • Type (Hardware, Software)
  • Priority (High, Medium)
  • Location (link to location/account record)
  • Serial Number (link to kiosk record)
  • Customer Contact (link to contact record)

Reports & Dashboards

The main goal for the use of reporting and dashboards is so that management can ensure:

  • We are consistently feeding the top of the funnel with new leads
  • New leads are being worked on in a timely fashion by the SDRs
  • Lead conversion continues to grow over time
  • Management has visibility to new sales opportunities
  • Management knows what the highest-value opportunities are
  • Customer service issues are being handled expediently
  • User adoption can be monitored, and under-adoption can be addressed

The following is the initial set of reports that we have identified:

Lead Reports

  • Number of new leads created QTD, by month (bar chart)
  • Current status of all leads – Open, Working, Qualified, Disqualified (bar chart)
  • Leads created this month by lead source MTD (pie chart)
  • Lead conversion rate this month vs. last month

Opportunity Reports

  • Top five open opportunities closing this quarter (text)
  • Opportunities by stage, closing this quarter, grouped by month (stacked bar chart)
  • Opportunities by lead source, closing this quarter (pie chart)
  • The dollar amount of opportunities expected to close this quarter, grouped by salesperson (bar chart)
  • Number of lost opportunities, YTD, grouped by lost reason (bar chart)
  • Average time to close deals (previous four quarters)

Case Management Reports

  • Currently open cases by stage
  • Cases solved MTD and QTD by Type
  • Average resolution time (this quarter and the previous two quarters)

Adoption Reports

  • Recent logins by user
  • New Accounts created YTD, by month (line chart)
  • New activities created YTD, by month

Email Integration

We currently use Microsoft Office 365, but only some users use Outlook 365 on their desktops.

At a minimum, our users need to be able to attach sent and received emails — from whichever email client they happen to be using — to lead and contact records in CRM. When an AE emails a proposal, we want the AE to be able to attach the proposal to the contact record for the primary contact and also attach the proposal to the Opportunity record if possible.

Users should optionally be able to synchronize their CRM calendar to their Outlook calendar.

Smartphone Access

Our AEs and SEs use a combination of iPhones and Android devices. The most critical required functionality for smartphones is:

  • iPhone and Android device compatibility
  • Search for contacts to access phone numbers and email addresses
  • Log detailed meeting notes after on-site meetings
  • Attach SMS text exchanges to contact records
  • Search for accounts and review recent calls, meetings, and email activity
  • View MTD and YTD sales totals for customers
  • View any open support cases

Data Migration

We only need to migrate the key information in our contact management system. We plan to keep the contact management system active and accessible for as long as necessary in case users need to refer back to information that was not migrated.

Contact Information:

  • Record ID
  • Company Name
  • Contact Name
  • Title
  • Role
  • Phone Number + Extension Number
  • Mobile Number
  • Email Address (our current system allows for multiple email addresses per contact)
  • Street, City, State, ZIP
  • Status
  • Annual Revenue
  • Last Result (only for reference. We do not need this field moving forward)

Related Information:

  • Email History – going back to January 1, 2015
  • Notes – going back to January 1, 2015

We do not need to migrate:

  • Secondary Contacts
  • Cases
  • Opportunities
  • File Attachments

Each of a customer’s multiple locations is in our ERP system as separate Ship To addresses. We plan to extract a CSV of all customer locations, and we would like these to be added as separate account records in the CRM system, all with a relationship to the parent record.

Record and Field Permissions

The following are the general permissions needed:

  • Customer Accounting ID should be read/only to all users except administrators
  • SDRs should have read/only access to opportunity fields
  • Each AE should only see accounts that are in their territory
  • RSMs should only see accounts that belong to their AEs
  • AE’s should be able to share specific accounts manually
  • Case and Kiosk fields should be read-only for all sales users

Internal Systems Support

We are looking for an implementation partner for our Phase I implementation. As part of the commitment to a new CRM system, we plan to have our current contact manager administrator and another person trained in CRM system administration.

We are also interested in having at least one of our in-house developers attend a developer training session for the selected CRM system.

Subsequent Phase Requirements

The following are some of the areas we would like to target in subsequent phases after the initial rollout:

Additional ERP Integration

Automated updates of Ship To locations and kiosk information from the ERP system to the CRM system.

Automated Case Creation from Kiosks

Our kiosks can send alerts with multiple diagnostic data points. Eventually, we would like these data points to be written directly to fields within support cases to intelligently prioritize and route support cases when they are created.

We want to learn about AI-enabled case routing.

Knowledge Base

While our current knowledge base is working, we would like to ultimately have the knowledge base be a part of the CRM system.

6 Ways to Give Value First in Sales & Marketing and Why

Giving Value
Giving Value

You may have recently started a new business. You might be a salesperson who wants to close more deals. Perhaps you’re a marketer who wants to attract and convert more website visitors.

Whatever your situation or business goals, here are some ideas about what you can give first to help achieve those goals.

1. Giving value first in the sales process

Jeffery Gitomer is a long-time proponent (video) of giving value first in the sales process. According to Jeffrey, simply believing you are giving value is not enough. Value has to be perceived by the recipient. He also says that you should give without expectation.

People like to buy. They don’t like to be sold. When you give value first, you are not selling (yet). You are building trust and making it more likely that someone will want to buy from you.

Of course, you may still need to go through the selling motions of presenting, quoting, and negotiating. But the selling process will flow more naturally and require less time and effort.

2. Giving value first in your marketing content

On the marketing front, an inbound approach revolves around giving value first. Greenlight Guru is a shining example of leading with value.

Greenlight designs Quality Management Software for the medical device industry. If you happen to be in that industry, Greenlight offers a plethora of free content to help you run and grow your business.

Much of the content is not directly related to what Greenlight sells. However, on the surface, it appears that Greenlight has created an environment that induces more buying activity and requires less selling activity on their part.

3. Offering backlinks first

Backlinks from authoritative domains are vital for building your website traffic. Blogger Adam Enfroy says that links are “the currency of the internet” and calls link-building a value exchange.

However, many people send out bulk cold emails simply asking for backlink handouts — and they offer nothing in return.

If you first give a backlink from one or more of your guest posts before you ask for a backlink, you will be more likely to, in turn, receive a backlink. Enfroy calls this a “pre-linking strategy.”

4. Promoting others first

Some marketers only promote their own products and services on social media.

But why not socially promote other people and companies first—and your own company second?

This can be done with no more of an expectation than getting on someone’s radar. Here are some ideas:

a) Share and comment on the LinkedIn posts of thought leaders in your industry

b) Follow your customers and share their social posts across networks

c) Retweet the content of those who could potentially refer business to you

A nearby wine storage company consistently retweeted the wineries located in their geographic area to get on the radar of those wineries.

Here’s an example of sharing someone else’s LinkedIn post with a comment:

5. Referring a prospect to someone first

There are three general types of business referrals.

a) Sell leads for cash. This is the business model of software review sites such as SoftwareAdvice.

b) Handoff leads to partners in exchange for a referral fee only paid if the lead becomes a paying customer.

c) Refer leads out to people in your network first with only a slight expectation that you’ll get something in return.

Unlike the first two approaches, the third requires no formal program or tracking. The more you refer out, the more likely you’ll receive something in return. This approach works best if you are part of a network of business people who sell into the same markets.

6. Giving away some of your time first

Years ago, if someone wanted to break into an industry such as radio or television, they would start as a free intern.

Unpaid internships are less common than they used to be. But they still exist and are legal as long as the intern, not the employer, is the “primary beneficiary” of the work arrangement.

Some people in the early stages of their new business give part of their time for free to gain traction.

Even established businesses give their employees time away for free as part of the 1-1-1 model. In the case of Salesforce, 1-1-1 was a foundational principle. Last I checked, this approach hadn’t hurt Salesforce’s business.

Why give away anything first?

Nothing may happen if you give something first with little to no expectations.

On the other hand, you may realize unexpected returns with unexpected timing. Examples:

a) Your average sales cycle may get shorter over time

b) Someone you promote or refer a lead to may think of you, your product, or your service months or years down the road and send you a referral

c) If you’re a marketer, you may find yourself with an increasing number of leads to send to your company’s sales team

What Do CRM Professional Services Cost?

CRM Professional Services Costs

CRM user license costs are only part of the initial cost of a CRM system. Another cost is CRM professional services.

Some companies make the decision to self-implement their CRM system. This is usually because there are people in-house who provide a combination of CRM-related business analysis experience and the right level of technical aptitude to manage tasks ranging from system configuration to data migration.

CRM Professional Services Costs

Many companies look to third parties to perform some or all of their CRM implementation. Unlike the cost of CRM user licenses, the cost of CRM services is not based on straightforward unit pricing.

In fact, there is a very large range in what organizations pay for CRM professional services. Some companies use CRM with only some minor changes to the systems’ out-of-the-box configuration. Other companies consolidate functionality from multiple legacy database systems into their CRM system and develop custom integrations. These companies can end up spending well into five figures over the course of time.

Part of determining how much is spent on CRM professional services is how malleable the platform is. Often, a new entrant to the CRM space will have limited configuration and customization options. As the system matures, the configuration and development possibilities become more extensive.

There are several ways that CRM professional services can be quoted by service providers.

Flat Rate CRM Professional Services

CRM implementation firms sometimes quote a flat rate for what is variously called a QuickStart or a JumpStart package. The CRM vendor will tightly define the deliverables to protect themselves from scope creep. There may be a limit on the number of custom fields. It could be a defined number of training hours.

The price of a QuickStart package can range from $5,000 to $10,000 depending upon what’s included.

This quote type can appeal to a CRM customer, as it’s very predictable on the surface. Remember that any service work outside of the QuickStart’s parameters will normally require a change order.

A QuickStart-type package generally works best for smaller organizations. Mid-market companies and enterprises usually don’t fit into a QuickStart box.

Time and Materials Estimate

Even though there obviously aren’t materials involved with implementing a CRM system as there are with remodeling a house, the term “T&M” is often used for quotes that aren’t fixed prices.

A T&M estimate is usually crafted after one or more conversations.

Sometimes, the CRM customer will have defined and documented their business or functional requirements first. The more detailed the requirements are upfront, the more likely the CRM services vendor will be to provide what turns out to be an accurate estimate.

This is a sample template that was our starting point for estimates when we were in the CRM implementation business. We would estimate the level of effort for each task based on what we knew to that point. Invariably, there would be a “rob Peter to pay Paul” factor, as some tasks took less time than expected and others took more time.

CRM Professional Services Estimate Template

All professional services organizations have their own style in terms of how detailed they are in their pricing and how they describe the services that are to be delivered.

Some professional services organizations charge the same rate for any type of consulting service, whether it’s business analysis, system architecture, custom programming, or training.

Other organizations vary the rate based on the type of service or skill set. A senior consultant may command a higher hourly rate than a junior consultant.

A Pre-Purchased Block of Services

Certain CRM professional services organizations will sell a block of consulting hours at a reduced hourly rate. For example, if their normal hourly rate is $200, they may sell a 20-hour block for $3,600.

This is most useful after the initial CRM implementation when there’s a series of ongoing requirements that come up — but it’s not known in advance exactly what those requirements are going to be.

8 Ways Your Business Can Benefit From ActiveCampaign Integration With Salesforce

ActiveCampaign Salesforce Integration Mapping

ActiveCampaign’s built-in CRM is sufficient some organizations. However, other organizations that use ActiveCampaign need the full power of Salesforce. While Salesforce is generally perceived as a high-end CRM, Salesforce Essentials is an affordable option for small business.

Conversely, for Salesforce small to mid size business customers that have made the decision to adopt a marketing automation system, ActiveCampaign is a surprisingly powerful customer experience platform that’s worth considering. It also comes at a lower cost than other popular marketing systems.

ActiveCampaign released direct integration with Salesforce in 2019.

Tailoring the ActiveCampaign Salesforce integration

The AppExchange app for Salesforce has a number of integration options. You can decide whether to synchronize only Salesforce Leads with ActiveCampaign Contacts or to also sync Salesforce Contacts. You can choose which standard and custom fields to map between platforms.

ActiveCampaign Salesforce Integration Mapping

Layering On More Value

Through the use of custom fields, Salesforce Lightning Process Builder and ActiveCampaign Automations, you can add a lot of business value to the stock integration between the two platforms—without the need for hiring a developer.

Part of this value is pre-baked into freely available ActiveCampaign recipes.

The following will serve as examples of how the integration can be tailored. You will likely come up with your own set of requirements and resulting configurations.
1. Qualify website Leads before sending them to Salesforce

If a visitor to your website submits their information through a form and is then added to an ActiveCampaign list, you can require that the Contact take further action before they’re synchronized to Salesforce as a new Lead.

For example, the Contact must open a follow-up email or they need to make a return visit to your website before they are passed through to sales.

This will allow your salespeople to focus on the highest quality leads.
2. Enrich website leads prior to and after sending them to Salesforce

Before an ActiveCampaign Contact is passed through to Salesforce as a Lead, additional information can first be added to that Contact. This information can be synchronized with Salesforce. Upon Lead creation in Salesforce, a Process can be used to add even more information to the Lead.

For example, the name of the form that the Lead filled in can be added and synced to Salesforce. The Lead Source can be set to “Website Form” on Lead creation.

Your salespeople will be better informed when following up with Leads.

ActiveCampaign Salesforce Lead Enrichment
3. Allow your salespeople to add a Lead to an ActiveCampaign email sequence

A salesperson has a conversation with a Lead. The Lead’s organization is a fit for your products or services, but the timing is not right. You may want to send an informative email out to the Lead every month or quarter to stay top of mind.

A salesperson has access to a button that lets them select any ActiveCampaign Automation that has been labeled “Salesforce.”

Send Salesforce Lead to ActiveCampaign Nurture
4. Allow salespeople to subscribe a Lead to your blog

If you manage your blog subscriptions in ActiveCampaign, with the Lead’s permission, a salesperson can add a Lead to your blog subscription list.

This is another way to keep your brand in front of a Lead or a customer.

Subscribe Salesforce Lead to Blog
5. Halt an automated follow up series of emails when a salesperson makes progress with a Lead

A website visitor downloads a checklist or other digital asset in exchange for their name and email address. You have set ActiveCampaign to automatically send two or more follow up emails. But if a salesperson gets into direct contact with the Lead, the automated emails should be suspended.

You can instruct ActiveCampaign to halt an automated email sequence when a Lead progresses to a Status such as “Contacted”, “Working” or “Qualified” in Salesforce.
6. Automatically add Contacts at new customers to targeted email lists in ActiveCampaign

An Opportunity is marked Closed Won in Salesforce by a salesperson. You now have a new customer. The new customer Account has associated Contacts with different roles within their organization. Moving forward, you want to keep Contacts current with information that’s relevant to their role.

For example, “buyer” contacts can receive upcoming renewal notifications. Technical contacts can receive security alerts and similar notifications.
7. Inform salespeople of customer website activity

If you add ActiveCampaign tracking code to your website, the website activity of Leads and customers can be displayed in Salesforce.

Salespeople can use the information about someone’s website engagement to direct the next email or conversation.
8. Manage partner referred Leads

If you receive leads from referral partners, you can create an efficient end-to-end process for capturing and tracking partner referred leads. You can also ensure that partners are compensated for those valuable referrals so that partners keep the referrals coming.

In a future post, I’ll outline the mechanics for capturing and managing partner referred leads using ActiveCampaign and Salesforce CRM.

Sales and marketing agreement on functionality

These are just a few examples of how you can take the ActiveCampaign to Salesforce integration to the next level.

There should be ongoing conversations between the sales and marketing teams to define and refine the rules that determine what information is transferred between systems and under what conditions.

If you’d like to discuss integration requirements specific to your business, please contact us.

Behavioral Segmentation for SMB Marketers Made Easy

Marketing Segments

Marketing SegmentsBehavioral segmentation is the process of grouping an audience based on how they interact with your emails, your website posts & pages and through other actions that you can measure.

The idea is that once a group is created, members of that segment can receive more targeted and relevant (to them) communications in the future. This, in turn, can increase engagement, improve customer retention and generate more sales opportunities.

Read more

How to Set Up a WordPress Blog Subscription Using ActiveCampaign

Subscribe to WordPress Blog

Subscribe to WordPress BlogMany company WordPress blogs do not offer an email subscription to readers. This is a missed opportunity for better engaging those who have found benefit to your blog content.

Companies that do offer email subscriptions may be using the subscription feature of Google Feedburner (as we did until recently). While Feedburner’s subscription function is convenient, marketers can take greater control of the process by managing WordPress blog subscriptions within their marketing automation system.

Read more

Visual Workflow Builders: ActiveCampaign vs HubSpot vs Pardot

Marketing Automation Visual Flow Builder

Marketing Automation Visual Flow BuilderMany marketing automation vendors have added visual marketing workflow builders to their platform at one point or another.

Three vendors with similar offerings on this front are ActiveCampaign, HubSpot and Salesforce Pardot.

Aside from making the implementation of rules & logic easier for marketers, these builders help ensure that the right person gets the right message at the right time. They also allow marketers to perform their own behavioral segmentation.

Read more

Why Effective B2B Marketing Segmentation Is Difficult and What to Do About it

B2B Marketing Segmentation

B2B Marketing SegmentationMany B2B marketers are guilty of blanketing a wide variety of prospects with the exact same outbound content, regardless of a prospect’s industry, job role or company size.

Similarly, a lot of marketers send the exact same email message to all customer contacts, regardless of a contact’s role or which of their company’s products or services a contact’s company is currently using.

In both these cases, there’s low to no marketing segmentation—which means one big target for each.

When too many email recipients frequently receive irrelevant (to them) information, there are several consequences. One consequence is a high unsubscribe rate. The other is fewer email opens. A low ratio of opens to sends can lead to an overall decline in sender reputation for a company.

Segmenting B2B leads and contacts into smaller groups and creating more diverse content results in more relevant, targeted communications. But effective B2B marketing segmentation is easier said than done.

Let’s first look at what factors make B2B segmentation difficult. Then we’ll look at some potential solutions.

Barriers to effective B2B marketing segmentation

The data source for marketing segmentation is often a combination of a CRM system and a marketing automation system. Many businesses use best of breed CRM & MA solutions and synchronize them with one another.

But even with these tools in place, effective B2B marketing segmentation can require a lot of time and effort. Here are some of the reasons.

People’s job titles are all over the map

Customer Happiness ManagerIf you target customer service managers with one of your products or services, wouldn’t it be great if every customer service manager in your target list had the exact same job title on their business card?

Try exporting a list of contact titles from your CRM system and then pivot on the titles in a spreadsheet. You will likely be surprised by how many job titles in a list are unique from the rest.

I recently pivoted on one of a customer’s target contact lists and found out that all but 18 of 383 contacts in the list had a unique title.

Buyers in different size companies have different job roles

B2B marketers may need to target different job roles in companies of different sizes.

For example, while the CFO at a smaller company may be directly involved in the purchase of one of your company’s products or services, this may not be the case at a larger company.

B2B companies sell into multiple sectors

Another dimension for many B2B companies is industry or sector.

Some companies have different flavors of their offering for different industries. It’s common for a product or service to solve different types of problems across sectors.

Different buying responsibilities across target companies

Buying decisions for the same product or service may be made by different roles, depending on the organization.

A example is CRM buying. Sometimes CRM is a purchase driven by the VP of Sales and sometimes it’s an IT purchase.

A lack of online profile data

As consumers, we’re constantly providing a valuable flow of our demographic, psychographic, behavioral and geographic data to B2C marketers. Where we drive, what we purchase, what streaming series we watch, who we vote for, what we post, and a lot of other inputs—this is all data that is being collected, fed upstream, and used by B2C marketers to digitally target us.

But as business employees or owners, we’re not feeding nearly as much useful data upstream. The B2B marketer’s vision of us is much more obscure.

Incomplete business data

If customer purchase history is locked up in an ERP system and not available in a CRM system, it’s very difficult to target people based on what product or service their company has from us—and, more important, what they could be buying from us.

❓The CEO may have asked why we are not selling more B widgets to our A widget customers.


Not enough time to strategize and plan

For busy marketing departments with many competing priorities, it can seem that there aren’t enough hours in the day to strategize on a segmentation approach.

A lack of internal resources

Even if there’s a solid strategy and a plan for segmenting contacts, a company may not have the resources to make all the necessary record updates.

Also, the beauty of sending the same message to everyone is that only one message needs to be authored. With segmentation comes a greater content development effort and therefore more resource requirements.

Approaches to Better B2B Segmentation

SegmentsOne level of solution is to devote resources to consolidate and normalize the important dimensions in CRM and marketing automation databases.

When it comes to the available data values for a given dimension, less is often more for better segmentation.

Role buckets

If you distill an unmanageably large number of different job titles into a much smaller number of roles, it will be easier to target the right people with your marketing messages.

Step 1 is to define the roles and then Step 2 is to map titles to roles. This takes a lot of manual effort but may be worth it in the long run.

Automatic role assignment is a good use case for artificial intelligence. An AI could consume existing mappings and learn from those to perform future mappings.

Company size (revenue or number of employees)

Revenue is a dimension that can have a large number of different values. If the company size or revenue field is a dollar amount, there could be 100% unique values across records.

In finance, simple company segmentation is small cap, mid cap and large cap. Consider dividing your market’s company size into two or three buckets.

Industries or sectors

Different big data sources can have varying names for the same industry.

Start by coming up with the right set of target industry or sector names as they apply to your company. Then map external data source names to your naming conventions.

Your internal list of target industries or sectors may differ substantially from the default list of industry values that your CRM system comes with. You can effectively ignore a CRM system’s out of the box industry pick list values.

Behavioral segmentation

Hubspot Workflow Sample ActionsWith the right tools in place, email recipient and website visitor behaviors can be captured.

Whether you’re using actions in a HubSpot Workflow, a Pardot Engagement Program or an ActiveCampaign Automation, there are many ways you can turn behavior into useful data points for refining segments.

Tools like these allow for automatically updating Contact records with new field values, tags, list membership, campaign membership and more.

🎯 Behavioral segmentation is an underutilized “secret weapon” that’s available to many marketers within their company’s marketing automation system.


Allocating time & resources to pull it all together

If marketing can make a business case that more targeted outbound communications will result in more marketing qualified leads and more cross-sell opportunities, it will be easier to allocate time and obtain resources.

One approach is to start by segmenting contacts on one dimension and then measure results. If there are positive results, expand segmentation to other dimensions.

CRM Cost Calculator

CRM Cost Calculator

CRM Cost CalculatorUse this CRM cost calculator to estimate your organization’s total CRM investment over the number of years you specify.

The total cost of CRM is more than just the CRM subscription fees. We have taken multiple levels of expense into consideration.

The fields contain default values. You can input/select your own values.

If you do not plan to subscribe to any add-on products you can set that cost to 0 or blank.

This will vary depending up on which CRM you select. See what popular CRM vendors charge here.
Many organizations subcribe to add-on products. Learn more about add-on products here.
The estimated per user cost of professional services for CRM implementation. In mid-sized companies and enterprises, it's not uncommon for this to be at least $1,000 per user.
The estimated per user cost for ongoing CRM modifications after the first year.
All CRM systems involve some level of ongoing administration. If you plan to have a full time administrator, this should be 100%.
According to Salary.com, the median salary for a CRM administrator is $85,000. You can change the salary.

Remember that the per-user cost of implementing CRM can vary widely depending on how customized the solution is.

How To Set Up Salesforce Files Connect for Google Drive

Salesforce Files Connect for Google Drive allows specified users to add Google Drive files to the Files section or a Lightning Page component of any record.

The Salesforce Files tab will show Google Drive as a Connected Source. A custom tab called Google Drive can be created. This tab can have list views like any other tab.

Google Drive Files on Lightning Page Component

Setting up Files Connect for Google Drive requires administrative access to both Salesforce and the Google Cloud Platform console (the same admin login as Google Workspace).

The same username should be used for logging into both. This may mean temporarily making a Google Workspace admin a Salesforce System Administrator or vice versa.

While the following may seem like a lot of steps, the ability to set up secure server-to-server integration in about 30 minutes represents a small sliver of time compared to setting up other types of system integrations.

📝 Cloud vendors frequently make changes to their user interfaces, so what you see in Salesforce and the Google Cloud Platform console may not precisely match all the screenshots below.

⚠️ Access to Shared drives is not officially supported.

Salesforce Files Connect Setup

In Salesforce Setup, search for the words files connect. Click on the Files Connect result.

Search for Files Connect

Enable Files Connect with the following settings:

Files Connect Settings

Salesforce Permission Set Setup

In Salesforce Setup, search on the word permission. Click Permission Sets.

Salesforce Search Permission Sets

Create a new permission set named Files Connect. Leave the License field value as None.

Files Connect Permission Set

In the Permission Set, select System Permissions. Click the Edit button.

Files Connect System Permissions

Check the Files Connect Cloud checkbox and then save.

Files Cloud Connect System Permission

Assign the permission set to users:

Assign Files Connect Permission Set

Salesforce Auth. Providers Setup

In Setup, search on the word auth. Click on the Auth. Providers result.

Salesforce Setup Search: Auth. Providers

Create a new Auth. Provider.

In the Provider Type field, select Open ID Connect. In the Name field, enter Google Drive. Add placeholder values to the four required files shown below. Click Save.

Salesforce Create New Auth. Provider

After saving, a Callback URL will be assigned in the Salesforce Configuration section.

Salesforce New Auth. Provider Callback URL

Copy/paste the Callback URL into a text editor.

Callback URL Text Editor

Google Cloud Platform Setup

In Google Cloud Platform, click on Select a project (or an existing project name) and then click New Project.

GCP Create New Project

Name the project Files Connect Google Drive.

GCP - New Files Connect Project

Search for and select the Google Drive API.

GCP - Search For Google Drive API

Click the Enable button to enable the Google Drive API.

GCP - Enable Google Drive API

While still in the Files Connect Google Drive project, click the Create Credentials button.

GCP Project - Create Credentials

Select OAuth client ID.

GCP - Create Credentials

Click the Configure consent screen button.

In the consent screen, under Application Type, select Internal. Give the application a name, such as Files Connect for Google Drive.

GCP - OAuth Credentials

Under Authorized domains, add salesforce.com. Click Save.

GCP - Authorized Domains

Select Web Application. In the Name field, enter Salesforce. Paste the callback URL from your text editor into the Authorized redirect URIs section. Click the Create button.

GCP - Creat OAuth Client ID

A client ID and client secret will be created.

GCP OAuth ID Client Secret

Copy the client ID and paste it into the Consumer Key field of the Auth. Provider Edit screen. Copy the client secret and paste it into the Consumer Secret field.

Salesforce Auth. Provider URLs

Copy and paste the following URLs into the corresponding fields in the Auth. Provider Edit screen (above).

Authorize Endpoint URL: https://accounts.google.com/o/oauth2/auth?access_type=offline&approval_prompt=force
Token Endpoint URL: https://accounts.google.com/o/oauth2/token
User Info Endpoint URL: https://www.googleapis.com/oauth2/v3/userinfo
Default Scopes: openid email profile https://www.googleapis.com/auth/drive

Salesforce External Data Source Setup

In Setup, search on the words external data. Click External Data Sources.

Salesforce Setup - Search on External Data

Create a new External Data Source.

Salesforce New External Data Source

In the New External Data Source Screen, enter the following values:

External Data Source: Google Drive
Name: Google_Drive
Type: Files Connect: Google Drive
Authentication Provider: Google Drive

Leave the default values in the other fields.

Salesforce Google Drive External Data Source

Click the Save button. You will be taken to the Google Workspace sign-in screen. Select your Google Workspace account and enter your password if prompted.

Sign In With Google

After logging into your Google Workspace account, you will be returned to External Data Sources and will see your Google Workspace username in the Administration Authentication Status field.

External Data Sources Validate Sync

Go back to the Files Connect permission set and add the External Data Source you created earlier to the right-hand Enabled External Data Sources column.

Files Connect Permission Set External

Salesforce External Object Setup

In the External Data Source for Google Drive, click on the Validate and Sync button. This will synchronize the Google Drive schema to Salesforce. Don’t worry, it will not synchronize files into Salesforce.

An External Object will be created and the bottom section will appear.

External Data Sources External Object

Click the Edit link under Action. In the edit screen, give the Google Drive external object a user-friendly label such as “Google Drive”.

Salesforce External Object Google Drive

Salesforce Google Drive Tab Setup

In Setup, search on the word tabs. Click Tabs.

Salesforce Setup Search Tabs

Click the New button.

Salesforce New Custom Tab

In the Object picklist, select Google Drive. Select a tab style or upload your own icon.

Salesforce Custom Tab Object Style

Complete the setup by assigning the tab to the appropriate Profiles.

Users will now be able to add Google Drive files to Salesforce Files. They will also be able to create list views of Google Drive files in the Google Drive tab.

Sales and Marketing Synergy: How Can it Be Achieved?

Sales & Marketing Synergy

Sales and marketing synergy is a regularly covered topic in business media. The concept is often discussed within organizations.

Over the years, sales and marketing departments at many companies have been at odds with one another. In some businesses, the relationship between marketing and sales is downright contentious. Each complains about the other behind their backs.

Sales & Marketing Synergy

It’s a well-documented problem. Many have written about breaking down “the wall” between sales and marketing. Ultimately, the two departments are on the same team.

As professions, marketing, and sales tend to attract different types of people — people who operate differently and are incentivized differently. Marketers and salespeople don’t always spend much time hanging out together at the office or outside of work.

Sales may feel that marketing is not communicating the right message in digital collateral like PDFs. Marketing may feel that their developed messages are not adequately communicated to buyers.

There can be financial tension between marketing and sales. Sales may disagree with the size of the marketing budget. Sales may also feel that products are priced too high.

Defining “Synergy”

Sometimes, the term “improve sales and marketing alignment” is applied to the idea of resolving conflicts and differences.

Alignment is defined as “arrangement in a straight line, or in correct or appropriate relative positions.” This definition seems a little narrow for the optimal end game.

Synergy means “the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.”

The strategy should go beyond getting marketing and sales to see eye to eye. The strategic goal should be a whole that’s greater than the sum of the parts.

The Differences Between Marketing and Sales

To understand how to achieve sales and marketing synergy, it’s essential first to identify and accept the fundamental differences between marketing and sales roles—and, therefore, why a wall exists in the first place.

English businessman John Edmonds asked over 300 managers and business owners whether they knew the difference between marketing and selling.

According to this video, about 90% of business owners and managers could not articulate the difference between selling and marketing.

Edmonds says, “Marketing is bending product and services supply towards the mind of the customer. Selling is bending the customer’s mind towards product and services supply.”

In addition, marketing has a much broader scope in most organizations than sales. For product companies, the marketing department is responsible for everything from product design to production to pricing to distribution.

The activity of selling has a much narrower scope. Edmonds goes as far as to say, “selling is a small part of marketing and not the other way around.”

Ways to Achieve Sales and Marketing Synergy

So, how can actual sales and marketing synergy occur?

First of all, senior management needs to have a clear idea in their own minds of the difference between marketing and sales. Management should, in turn, internally communicate these differences and explain the complete role of the respective group to members of the other.

Marketers can tell salespeople whom they’ve identified, through research, to be the ideal buyer for a given product or service.

Marketing relies on sales as the final leg in the journey from product inception to a new customer to a repeat customer. Salespeople rely on marketing to make their job as easy as possible.

Salespeople can provide valuable insights to marketers about the customer’s mind, as they’re having daily conversations in the field.

Salespeople should have a way to communicate to marketing what they believe they need but are not getting.

Here’s a humorous look at how sales and marketing can be in “a strong, healthy, loving marriage.”

There must be a forum or vehicle for this information to be exchanged. The conversations are not going to just happen on their own. Monthly or bi-weekly meetings should be arranged.

These meetings should focus on resolving differences and on proactive sessions such as jointly strategizing on growing major accounts.

Technologies such as Slack can be leveraged for more ongoing sharing of information and feedback.

Marketing to Sales Lead Handoff

Marketing should never blindly feed salespeople all incoming leads. The marketing team should only hand off to sales those people who have expressed a need for the company’s product or service or who likely have a need.

When a website visitor’s contact information is captured, marketing can use big data sources to enrich leads and to let salespeople know which person they should ultimately be approaching within an organization that the visitor represents.

The visitor may indicate a product or service need within an organization, but that person may not be the best sales contact.

Marketing technology has opened up new avenues for sales and marketing synergy. It’s easier than ever to control the lead flow.

With closed-loop reporting, marketing can understand what sources, content, and offers ultimately resulted in the highest close rate.

The data from integrated marketing automation and CRM systems can facilitate more significant synergies across marketing and sales.

A Combined Marketing and Sales Funnel

One of the symptoms of the long-standing division between marketing and sales is that each has its own funnel representation.

If both departments are working toward a common goal and are in regular communication, there’s no reason that there shouldn’t be a single combined funnel that represents a continuum of marketing and sales stages.

Marketing and Sales Funnel

A starting point for greater sales and marketing synergy within your business could be to develop a combined visualization of the sales and marketing funnel.

Marketing to Your Influencers vs. “Influencer Marketing”

Influencer Taking Selfie

Influencer Taking SelfieInfluencer marketing is a long game that involves outreach to “important” people, most of whom will ignore you.

You could always try Gary Vee’s approach to Instagram influencer marketing…

…or maybe not. Especially if you’re in B2B marketing or sales.

This post, therefore, is not about influencer marketing. It’s about marketing to your existing influencers—mainly via content.

It’s unlikely that any of your existing influencers are scantily-clad celebrities. However, you already have a lot of fully and well-dressed, non-celebrity influencers. Your important people include:

  • Customers
  • Vendors
  • Social Media “Acquaintances”
  • Former Co-workers
  • Friends & Family

We often think about content marketing as marketing to people we don’t know. What about creating valuable content for people you do know? Can this produce results for your business or for your sales efforts?

Marketing to Your Influencer Customers

In what ways can a customer be an influencer? Well for one, they can refer you or your company to someone they know.

Your content for this group of influencers should not be all about “upsell/cross-sell.”

It should be about staying top of mind with your customers by supplying them with valuable information.

We are a business customer of The Hartford. The Hartford doesn’t pummel us with upsell/cross-sell promotions. They consistently create and share solid advice around many facets of running a small business. As a customer, we in turn share a lot of their content.

Marketing to Your Influencer Vendors

If your company resells vendors’ products, who at those vendors can influence your success? Do vendor salespeople bring you into deals?

If so, how can you help these influencers with your content?

You can create content that helps them with their sales efforts—content they can share with a prospect that helps them penetrate a new account or move a deal over the goal line.

Achieve either of these and you’ve got their attention.

We got some mileage out of this approach by working in close collaboration with one of our marketing customers.

Marketing to Your Social Media Connections

Your social media connections are a very broad audience. This group includes people you don’t know. But it also includes your former co-workers, your vendors, and your friends & family.

Curating and posting other people’s quality content along with your own content will keep many of your connections more engaged.

On LinkedIn, you can periodically remind or update this group of influencers about what you’re up to.

And if you must message someone on LinkedIn whom you don’t personally know, please make it a two way street. If you ask for something, offer something in return—as Jim Dickie did here:

Sales Mastery Survey

Marketing to Your Friends & Family Influencers

This isn’t a reference network marketing—no, you’re not selling them The Dream.

But you can keep your friends & family current about what you’re up to in the business world.

Other Types of Known Influencers

Depending on what industry you’re in, you may have other groups of influencers. For example, structural engineers are often influencers for people in the construction products business.

Physicians are influencers in the medical device world.

Maybe it’s time to rethink influencer marketing. Especially since you are already surrounded by a community of influencers.

Theseare the important people.