Why You Need a CRM Strategy — and How to Create One

By Kathleen Garvin

Every business with a CRM solution needs a CRM strategy.

Small and midsize businesses (SMBs) and enterprises use CRM platforms differently. Therefore, you need to consider your company size, budget, and goals before you choose a CRM solution. This will help you decide on the software — not to mention plan size and price point — that will work best for you.

During the decision-making process, you need to formulate your strategy for its use as well.

With a solid CRM strategy in place, you can collect detailed, in-depth customer data and use it to streamline your communications and overall business practices. This data will empower all parts of your company — customer service, sales, marketing, and other departments — and better serve your customers, too.

Let’s jump into CRM systems and strategies, and discover how to create a plan for your particular business.

What Is a CRM System — and Why Is It Important to Have One?

A customer relationship management (CRM) system is software that helps businesses manage interactions and relationships with external contacts, including leads and customers, from one centralized platform. Companies use such systems to store contact information, manage touchpoints, create personalized email drip campaigns, predict future sales, offer tailored recommended products, guide customer service interactions, see a contact’s entire customer lifecycle, and more.

When a company uses a CRM system, it can manage its entire customer journey across marketing, sales, digital commerce, and customer service. Customers experience a smoother path to purchase and more personalized service because the company tracks their history and preferences. Everyone within the company has a single source of truth for customer data, which helps reduce errors, lags in service, and frustration.

This customer data is invaluable for companies, and customers expect companies to act on the  information they give them. In one survey, 63% of customers reported they wanted personalized recommendations and they were willing to hand over their data to get everything from special offers to exclusive deals. Furthermore, Salesforce’s “State of the Connected Customer” report reveals that 62% of customers expect companies to adapt based on their actions and behavior.

Using CRM software provides a win-win situation for both companies and customers. But like the majority of business software, it’s most useful with a strategy to go along with it.

A CRM Strategy Is Essential

A customer relationship management strategy is not one-size-fits-all, especially when it comes to your CRM technology. Depending on how big or small your business is, you want to tailor your CRM strategy to fit your company and best serve your needs. 

For example, it doesn’t make sense for your small business team of five to pay for 50 users, or seats, on a CRM platform. While you want to be able to scale up when appropriate — if that’s in your business plan — you need your CRM software to fit your current needs. Furthermore, small businesses use CRM platforms differently than enterprises do, so those CRM strategies will differ.

One type of CRM system and strategy won’t make sense for all businesses unilaterally. Your platform is like your vehicle, and your strategy is your roadmap.

Three Tasks You Need to Do Before You Create a Strategy

Before you decide on a CRM software, you need to have a firm idea of what you want to do with this system. This seems simple enough, but it’s worth stating. 

Your software won’t do you much good if you implement it and then fail to use it. Now’s the time to get strategy-centric. Before you create your CRM strategy:

  • Outline your company’s goals

  • Identify your customers

  • Understand your buyer’ journey

1. Outline Your Company’s Goals

The first step in building a CRM strategy is to figure out your goals for your CRM platform.

What are you hoping to get out of a CRM system? Your goals can range from those appropriate for a small-time, local store looking for a glorified Rolodex to a large, streamlined, international ecommerce operation. Whether you’re a brick-and-mortar store, an online-only operation, or a hybrid setup, you need to be clear on what you want to do with your information and why.

For example, a neighborhood cafe may want to register customers, keep tabs on return visitors, and institute a rewards program. A global ecommerce site, on the other hand, may have a more complex, multistep process in mind when it comes to courting, retaining, and growing its customer base. The nonprofit National MS Society, for example, organized its team members and crafted a CRM strategy to create a business- and mission-aligned workflow.

2. Identify Your Customers

You want to have a firm understanding of who your customer or ideal customer is. Whether you establish a complete customer profile or put together an overview of who you’re looking to target, you should know some specifics about your audience — for instance, where your customers hang out online. Only then can you appropriately market to and reach them.

3. Understand Your Buyer’ Journey

Related to that last point: You need to map out your customer funnel. 

Is your target consumer someone who needs at least five touchpoints before they make a purchase, or will they convert with a one-time, personalized 30% off coupon? Similarly, can you reach them with ads on social media, or do they respond better to in-person, one-on-one marketing initiatives?

As your customer base grows, you will have different buyer journeys for your different customer segments. This is because you likely have different types of customers who interact with your company differently. Imagine the customer journey for a retired teacher who prefers in-person interactions and wants to learn as much as possible about your products. That journey is going to be completely different compared to the journey of the parent of a toddler who works two jobs and needs the product to work effortlessly.

Research each buyer’s journey. Dial in on their lives and needs so you can best reach them.

CRM Strategies for Businesses of All Sizes

In addition to the differences just discussed, your CRM strategy may differ from other companies’ depending on your industry and business size, not to mention whether you’re an up-and-coming company or one with an already-established community.
If you’re just getting started or are a small or midsize business, here are four important factors you want to settle on.

CRM Strategy for SMBs

If you need more of a 101-type of approach to CRM strategy, here are some points you want to address.

    1.  Get Your Employees on Board

If CRM software is new territory for your team, introduce them to the platform. Once they become acquainted with the platform and how it works, establish it as a fundamental organizational tool. Offer extensive training and assign one or multiple team members the role of CRM expert. When anyone has a question about how to use the platform or its features, they can go directly to their in-house expert for fast explanations.

    2.  Establish Your Why

Make sure your colleagues know why it’s important to collect lead and customer information, keep it accurate and updated, and know how you want to use it. This is especially useful across departments; if marketing knows certain information that can improve retention and logs it in the system, this is beneficial for the whole company. You can also implement a commission calculator in your CRM platform, adding a clear incentive for the sales team. A team that understands the benefits of a CRM will certainly be more dedicated in using it.

    3.  Fine-Tune Your Tone and Messaging

Depending on your organization, you may want to delegate this task to the executive team or an in-house professional, or outsource it to a specialist. Because your CRM platform can be used throughout the customer lifecycle, you want to set your tone before you start crafting email messages and other customer-facing content. Your company’s tone is how you speak to customers: Is your company serious, sarcastic, funny, or optimistic? Do you ever use internet-friendly abbreviations such as “lol” or do you stick to strict grammar rules? Make sure a certain standard is kept the same across the board.

    4.  Establish KPIs and Core Processes

Determine your key performance indicators (KPIs) and share them with your team. That way everyone understands what’s being tracked and measured to identify success.

You should establish who’s in charge of what, whether it’s entering customer information, programming email drip campaigns, writing customer service responses for chatbots, and more. Once your staff knows who or which department owns what, they are further empowered to better collaborate and communicate with one another.

CRM Strategy for Enterprise Businesses

Once you’ve mastered the ins and outs of introducing a CRM platform to your team, you’re ready for the next step. Alternatively, perhaps you’re a larger, more established organization that needs additional pointers. At that level, it may also make sense to onboard a more robust system to streamline customer data, deliver multichannel experiences, and create a single source of truth.

Either way, here are six next-level considerations to address in your CRM strategy.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

AI is now built into CRM platforms and helps the software perform functions and calculations automatically. AI helps leaders make more accurate predictions and takes care of tasks in the background to free up employees’ time. Examples include automated touchpoints based on customer actions, instant sales forecasting, chatbot systems that respond to user questions, and more. In creating your strategy, consider how you can use the AI features in your CRM platform to improve your company.

Predictive Analytics

According to Allison Witherspoon, “Predictive analytics allows businesses to predict what is likely to happen in the future by looking for patterns in the information they already have.” With this technology, your CRM system can predict outcomes based on data for a range of uses, from individual customers to the company as a whole. Predictive analytics powered by artificial intelligence elevates the data crunching to another level, and can help your company make highly competitive decisions. Keep in mind that predictive analytics may replace or change your business reporting for the better, and will likely affect some of your business processes.

Systems and Data Integration

A CRM strategy must include plans for systems and data integration. In order to ensure all your teams work with the same customer information, you must integrate your platforms and software. Data needs to flow from different sources into your CRM platform. For example, if your marketing efforts are completely separated from the rest of the data, or incomplete data is transferred into the CRM system, no one has a robust view of the customer without toggling back and forth between screens. Proper integration and data flow makes your software run smoothly and keeps all your data up to date.

Employee Empowerment

Your strategy should take into consideration employee empowerment. A CRM system can empower your employees by breaking down business silos, improving communication, and connecting all of your departments around your customers. It can help employees make decisions confidently. CRM platforms also serve as the foundation for building employee autonomy, because when your team members have the complete picture in front of them, they can make the right decisions without delays. Additionally, include plans for employee education about the CRM itself, business processes, reporting, analytics, and more.

Single Source of Truth (SSOT)

According to MuleSoft, a single source of truth, or SSOT, is “the practice of aggregating the data from many systems within an organization to a single location.” With proper systems and data integration your CRM platform serves as the single source of truth. In your CRM strategy, outline processes that will make this a reality, including employee education, keeping data error-free, and data integration.


The future of CRM is about connecting all of your departments around the customer in a more holistic way. This won’t happen without careful planning. Devon McGinnis writes, “Being customer-centric means putting the customer at the heart of everything you do as a business, from marketing to sales to customer service touchpoints across every channel.” Your CRM strategy should be largely focused on using this software to help you connect with customers in a more personalized way.

Implement Your CRM Strategy to Use Your CRM Platform to Its Fullest

Outline your goals, key performance indicators (KPIs), messaging, and a host of other factors in order to help your company develop a solid customer relationship management strategy. With this information, you can serve your current customers, discover new opportunities, and create a workflow that will help your business recognize its potential.

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