Bill Gates once observed: “How you gather, manage and use information determines whether you win or lose.”

Your customer relationship management (CRM) system has the potential to boost just about every sales metric you care about—as long as you use it to its maximum effect.

But a lot of companies aren’t. In fact, many companies use their CRM in such a way that it impedes sales.

Don’t get me wrong, CRM systems are important and a critical piece of the sales process. But they need to serve their primary purpose: Making it easier for your sales team to move deals through the pipeline.

Seems simple enough, right?

But this is where it gets complicated. In their efforts to make the CRM serve that purpose, sales management often start examining their CRM processes and before you know it, they’re implementing “best practices” that might make the sales manager’s life easier…but doesn’t actually help to increase sales.

So rather than talk about generic CRM best practices, I’m going to talk about what really matters for our Principals: The CRM best practices that will more effectively and efficiently move deals through the pipeline to reach your sales goals.

CRM systems are important and a critical piece of the sales process. But they need to serve their primary purpose: Making it easier for your sales team to move deals through the pipeline.

Segmenting Your Accounts

In the world of CRMs, a segment is a group of companies within your database that shares similar characteristics or needs. Segmenting your accounts involves assigning a classification to each account. This can be a record in the CRM that already exists, such as Annual Revenue. Or it can be a field that you create, such as Industry, Size, Annual Spend, or Market Served.

By segmenting your accounts, you segment your market. This helps you concentrate your time, energy and resources on the accounts that promise to deliver the greatest return on your investment. Segmenting your CRM helps you match the right products with the right accounts, and align your sales activities with the needs of your customers.

How to Do it Right

Many sales teams focus on segmentation for its own sake, while leaving an important element out of their best practices: Market trends.

Your reps should have the right tools at their disposal to stay up to date on the latest industry trends so they know what verticals or markets they should be going after.

Your reps should have the right tools at their disposal to stay up to date on the latest industry trends so they know what verticals or markets they should be going after. For example, selling to airlines or cruise lines was probably not a good idea in 2020, but now both of those segments are coming back.

Segmenting target accounts by market conditions means you’ll know when to cool off…and when to pounce.

Keeping Contacts Up to Date

We all know your CRM is only valuable when the data it contains is accurate. This is especially true when it comes to contact information. In a CRM database, a person is a contact, and a company is an account.

Account information (such as company name, address, website, phone) rarely changes. But contact information changes all the time. That prospect you met from Company A? They now work at Company B. That production manager at Acme Manufacturing? They retired last week.

A commonly promoted best practice is to train sales reps to watch for needed updates to contact records every time they phone, email or meet a customer or prospect.

How to Do it Right

Keeping contact records clean and up to date sounds great, in theory.

Instead of making them focus on extra administrative work, let sales reps focus on selling.

We’ve learned over the years that no matter what sticks or carrots you employ, asking your sales reps to keep contact records updated will always be an uphill battle. Instead of making them focus on extra administrative work, let sales reps focus on selling. They’ll know who to ask for – and if all else fails, they can probably find the right contact via LinkedIn or on the company website.

Recording All Activity

Speaking of reaching out to contacts, another commonly embraced CRM best practice for sales reps is to record all activity in your CRM.

On the surface, it makes sense. After all, if a sales rep leaves, a well-updated CRM makes it easy to pick up precisely where the rep left off. And considering that 43% of manufacturing companies have an annual turnover rate of at least 20%, this possibility is not all that far-fetched.

Additionally, a lot of sales managers insist on this practice because they figure it’s the only way to know if the sales reps are doing their jobs.

How to Do it Right

This best practice is a perfect example of the saying, “penny wise, pound foolish.”

Think about it: Unless you have reps regularly quitting without notice, it only takes a couple of hours for a rep to bring the sales manager up to speed on activities before their last day at work, since opportunities should already be in the pipeline. And even if the rep does quit without notice, it still should only take a short time to touch base with the customer or prospect and get the deal back on track.

Tracking is important, but the more activities you require your sales reps to track, the less time they have for selling. Is it really worth them spending all this time on tracking, just to save you a few hours of legwork if a rep leaves?

Instead, focus on the information that provides the most value. If you want to optimize your pipeline and improve your sales forecasting, you must track where each opportunity is in your pipeline.

Here at Durrie Sales, we use our CRM to identify prospects, qualify them, and move them through the sales process. As we do this, we track the deal stages weekly and monitor win/loss ratios to make sure we have enough in the pipeline to reach our sales goals. Tracking this type of high-level activity gives us enough information to keep tabs on deals and know right away if we need to make any course corrections.

In Salesforce, you get this view with their Pipeline by Month and Opportunity Stage report. It looks like this:

The left axis shows you the total dollar value of all opportunities, and the bottom axis shows these opportunities by close date (the month when the deal is estimated to close). The shaded areas represent the opportunity stages.

Look at January to see the value of this report.

Sure, there’s $50,000 in the pipeline. But $25,000, or half of those opportunities, are still in the prospecting stage. None of the opportunities are in the negotiation stage – which means missed targets.

If you want to stay on top of your pipeline, run this report weekly. By staying on top of your opportunity stages, you will stay on top of your pipeline.

By staying on top of your opportunity stages, you will stay on top of your pipeline.

By the way, another CRM best practice for sales teams is to keep your opportunity stages simple, and to have them reflect your documented sales process. They should look something like this:

  1. Identify Prospect
  2. Qualify
  3. Send Proposal
  4. Negotiate
  5. Close

Using Tasks to Keep the Sales Conversation Going

One of the greatest challenges sales teams face is inertia. Pipelines stall through lack of information and activity far more often than through lack of buyer interest.

The key to keeping your pipeline moving is to engage with buyers at every stage of their buyer journey. But salespeople are busy and may not prioritize follow-up calls. To keep leads from dying on the vine, a common best practice is for reps to schedule follow-up tasks in the CRM at each stage.

Just sent a proposal? Log it and schedule a follow-up.

Had a discovery call? Log it and schedule a follow-up.

Followed up with a lead but they’re still not ready? Log it, and…well, you get the idea.

The point is to have your sales team always create a follow-up task after each activity, and to give each task a description and a due date.

This way, your pipeline is always getting those helpful nudges that keep it from stagnating.

How to Do it Right

Again, you don’t need to force your sales reps to enter every single task into the CRM, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t still be setting reminders to follow up with opportunities regularly.

The key is to give your reps the tools they need and letting them choose how they want to do this.

The key is to give your reps the tools they need and let them choose how they want to do this. Some reps live and die by their Google Calendar. Others prefer phone reminders, or even an old-fashioned paper calendar. After all, the entire point is for the rep to follow up and keep the conversation going, and as long as that’s taking place, great! At the same time management has visibility of the pipeline stages.

CRM Best Practices + Great Partnerships = More Sales

When it comes to your CRM, the typical “best practices” aren’t always best.

Why? Because so many of them have been created not to increase sales…but to make it easier for the sales manager to micromanage and monitor everything. And to be frank, the more time sales reps are spending updating information…the less time they have to sell.

Your CRM is simply a technology tool. The value it delivers depends almost entirely on how well your sales team uses it. To sum it up, you can get much more value out of your CRM if you:

  • Keep things simple and streamlined. If a CRM best practice is more about your process than your pipeline, then it’s not a high-value activity.
  • Don’t create extra work just for its own sake. As long as your reps are scheduling their follow-ups and moving deals along through the pipeline stages, why make them log every single “just touching base” voice mail or email?
  • Take a broader view of performance metrics. Rather than tracking every single activity, we use a scorecard method to track weekly productivity, performance and win/loss ratio, which allows reps much more autonomy in how they sell.

By the way, a great way to optimize your pipeline and grow revenue is to partner with an industrial manufacturers’ rep firm like Durrie Sales. We have earned the Industrial Supply Association SalesWerks 2.0 Certification, making us even more effective at helping you streamline your sales prospecting processes, onboard new customers, grow sales, and cultivate solid relationships with distributors and end-users.

If you have questions, read our guide, Is Outsourcing Sales Right for Your Company?

Why Outsource Sales? Read the Guide.