5 Essential Steps in Setting Up a CRM

Sales Funnel Campaign Workflow

In my last post, I talked about the importance of follow up when it comes to not just generating leads, but moving them through the sales funnel. Today, I’m going to cover five essential steps in setting up one of the best tools for follow up: a Customer Relationship Management system, or CRM. When I say “best” I pretty much mean “essential.”

When it comes to developing a process around your sales funnel, it begins with technology. Technology facilitates the process, keeps things moving forward, and hopefully, ensures nothing slips through the cracks.

Perhaps the best investment you can make to do this is to get a CRM, or customer relationship management system. These come in all sorts of styles, shapes, packages, and offerings, and I’ve seen a lot that are haphazard.

Your system needs to allow you to easily capture customer information, and to set up a workflow that makes it easy for your staff to implement. As I noted recently, quoting James Clear in my post about his book Atomic Habits, “we don’t rise to the level of our goals, we fall to the level of our systems.”

CRMs are great. They are systems that allow us to create and manage workflow around sales funnels, but the best CRM in the world is just a rolodex if it’s not set up properly. So, here are five essential things you need to keep an eye on when adopting a CRM for the first time or transitioning from one CRM to another.

Step 1. Set Up: Integrate Your Data

There are three core pain points in adopting a new CRM. The first is the integration, or taking the data you do have and inputing it into the new system.

When I arrived at the the Harley shop, the CRM at my fingertips was an absolute mess. Fields hadn’t been mapped properly, pertinent data was missing or just flat out gibberish. There wasn’t a process to get the original existing data from the Dealership Management System (DMS) into the CRM, let alone set up an integration that automatically connected the DMS to that CRM.

These days, if a pre-existing integration isn’t available, companies like Zapier allow for easy connectivity and integration between two systems. But back then, it was all export and import using CSV files.

It required “mapping” the fields upon import. Mapping is really like aligning like fields: making sure the Name field went to the matching Name fields, Address to the matching Address fields, etc. This can become tricky if one system doesn’t split first and last name whereas the other does.

Why does all this matter? Your system won’t be used if the data is a mess.

Matching fields sounds easy, right? It can be, but it can also fail as it really does require some know-how and a great deal of attention to detail. It’s easy to click the wrong button and concatenate data rather than overwrite old data. If you’ve ever been sent an email with a subject line like the following, that’s what happened:

Andy Andy – Here’s A Product You Might Like…

Step 2. Automate: Build Your Workflow

Next, you need to build your workflow. This step takes a bit of work up front, and it should be in place before you roll it out. Start by defining how data flows into the system, and then determine a process for following up.

The more you can automate, the better. You want to make it easy for your sales or admin team to not just follow up, but to know what to do and when to do it.

At the Vaughan, the e-commerce company, I built a drip marketing campaign with the intent of re-engaging email subscribers who hadn’t purchased in a while. In my current role, I’m doing the same, prompting them to self-segment so I can deliver them content that is more relevant to them in the future and keep them engaged.

The plan is to build multiple funnels based on their self-segmentation.

Each funnels requires its own workflow. Here’s the good news: in many cases, you just need to start with one! Here’s a theoretical scenario on how that might look:

At Harley, we pulled people into service for a free pre-season check. The service department would tag customers with Pre-Season Service Check 2021 and add notes about the bike they own, any service needs found, and other pertinent information.

Service writers used this opportunity as a soft ask to gauge any pain points on the customer’s bike, which could prompt them to push the lead to parts (say, for example, to get a more comfortable seat), or Sales (if the customer had potential to flip for a new or newer bike).

The tag prompts the workflow to begin. From there, the Sales team could take over or the Parts team, depending on the tag and notes. This would include a follow-up workflow those members could essentially complete without thinking.

Photo by Drew Dizzy Graham.

Step 3. People: You Need Buy In From Staff

In my previous example about tagging, there’s a critical component: staff buy-in and know-how.

Buy in from staff comes in two parts. First is training and second is flexibility.

Training is essential. So you need a point person or two who know the system inside out. They need to know the hiccups that might occur (as they will), how to set up other automated processes, and how to do literally everything in the system from easy tasks to complex ones. They also need to excel at people skills, as they will be the one(s) guiding your staff in learning how it all works.

Without this person, you end up depending on the CRM support staff. I have found that with minimal effort, I end up teaching the CRM support staff some new ins-and-outs of their systems. This happened multiple times at the Harley shop.

Getting support from staff requires a culture of trust. They need to be able to go to management with their pain points, so communicating to them that you want to work through these details and refine the system is important. When you implement a new system (or start truly using your existing one), there will be growing pains. Trust and understanding is crucial.

For example, they may come to you and say, I’m not getting any traction when I reach out after only three days. Can we extend it to one week and see if that works better?

Having a staff that is willing and able to come to you requires a bit of psychological safety, because it requires adjustments to the process. Being able and open to adapt, test, and modify the system is equally important. Not having that psychological safety is a systemic failure.

How can you rise to the level of your goals if your staff isn’t comfortable coming to you to with ideas or issues they see within the system you are implementing?

Step 4. Track: Develop KPIs

Alright, so you have the system in place. Your staff is trained and you are flexible enough to make adjustments to workflows based on feedback and input. What next?

I’m all about continuous improvement. I’m also all about data and tracking. So, develop some KPIs (key performance indicators) and build a way to track them. CRMs typically come with standard metrics you can monitor and report on, and you can start there.

While the reports are great, I like to put together my own spreadsheet that allows me to quickly pull the data from multiple sources on a weekly basis and see how it tracks over time.

Doing so allows me to see how different data points connect and relate without overly relying on the framework of reports within the systems I use. It also allows me to build in my goals and projections.

Step 5. Refine: See What’s Working, What Isn’t, and Adjust Accordingly

Note that it’ll take a few months to get started once you begin tracking KPIs. Once a few months have passed, you’ll have a decent benchmark on how the system is working (or isn’t working).

Maybe you’re hitting your goals. If so, that’s great! That means it’s doing what you want it to! Now, what can you do to take it up a notch? Hire another salesperson? Develop a new lead magnet?

Most likely, you’ll see some areas where things could use some refinement. Being able to look at the system as objectively as possible to see where bottlenecks are, where leads are slipping through the cracks, or where conversions are low can help you determine what changes you can make in hopes of improving.

When I first built a new automated campaign based on podcast email engagement from weekly emails I send out, I felt good about accomplishing the set-up of a new drip campaign to build ratings and reviews. A month in, I’m not seeing the results I had hoped. I’m now in the process of revisiting the campaign to see what changes I can make to increase conversion.


Above are five essential steps in setting up a new CRM or better implementing one you already have. Using a CRM is a great tool to grow your customer base, develop better engagement with customers you already have, and move potential customers through the sales funnel.

Don’t succumb to the habit of rotating through CRMs hoping one will stick if the current one isn’t working. The problem likely isn’t the CRM, it’s a failure in one or more of the steps above. The good thing is that all of the above steps can be fixed with a little time, effort, and training.

What are your pain points with your CRM? Is there a step you would add to this list? I’d love to know!

Top photo by Campaign Creators.

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