Victoria Yu is a Business Writer with expertise in Business Organization, Marketing, and Sales, holding a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of California, Irvine’s Paul Merage School of Business.
Sallie, holding a Ph.D. from Walden University, is an experienced writing coach and editor with a background in marketing. She has served roles in corporate communications and taught at institutions like the University of Florida.
Updated on August 29, 2023
Steps of the CRM Process
What Is the CRM Process?
Why Is the CRM Process Important?
Steps of the CRM Process
As you get your business off the ground, you might be so busy managing the logistics that you forget to focus on what matters the most: the customers.
But customers nowadays need more than good products and prices. As companies churn out near-identical products at competitively similar price points, consumers are increasingly turning to the customer experience as the determining factor of which business gets their patronage.
If you’re a new business still figuring out your sales cycles, the CRM process can help you understand and cater to your customers’ personal needs and build strong relationships with clients to drive customer loyalty. But what is the CRM process, and how can you use it yourself? This guide to examining the five major steps of the CRM process will answer all of those questions and more.
The CRM process is a strategy for providing personalized and meaningful interactions and value to each customer.
By implementing the CRM process, a company can expect to see a boost in customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, and brand reputation.
The five steps of the CRM process are to generate brand awareness, acquire leads, nurture leads into customers, build relationships, and drive customer lifetime value.
What Is the CRM Process?
Customer relationship management (CRM) is a strategy businesses use to build and maintain positive, personalized relationships with customers.
Rather than erratically trying to be friends with every customer to varying success, CRM turns customer relationship-building into a repeatable company-wide process, consistently delivering satisfying customer experiences. By delivering personalized value to each customer, companies that implement the CRM process hope to increase sales and drive customer loyalty.
Though “CRM” is nowadays usually synonymous with “CRM software,” CRM software is simply another means to the same end – building strong relationships with customers. CRM software simply uses technology and automation to complete the CRM process on a much broader and faster scale than traditional analog methods. However, the CRM process can be used to drive customer satisfaction with or without using designated software.
Why Is the CRM Process Important?
Having a repeatable process for managing customer relationships is important because it sets a framework for company excellence in three areas: your customers, your employees, and your industry.
1. Improves Customer Satisfaction
Firstly, the most obvious benefit of implementing the CRM process is that it will make your customers happier. The core focus of the CRM process is identifying customers’ needs and making personalized conversations on an individual basis, ensuring they are more satisfied with both their purchasing journey and their final purchase.
Global managing consultant McKinsey reports that personalized customer experiences raise profits and lower costs, as trusting and loyal customers unreservedly buy more and need less hand holding throughout a sales process that’s become familiar to them.
2. Improves Employee Satisfaction
Next, a clearly outlined CRM process serves as a framework for your employees, guiding them on how to interact with customers. No one likes to feel that they’re an emotionless sales machine selling to a faceless wall, so guiding marketing, sales, and customer service representatives to connect with customers on a personal level will surely improve the emotional satisfaction of their day-to-day jobs.
Your company should also modify its sales playbook and sales scripts to reflect this customer-first mentality, ensuring that your sales representatives are practicing what the CRM process preaches.
3. Improves Brand Reputation
Finally, as customers and employees alike praise how happy shopping and working at your company makes them, your reputation as a company will improve, making you stand out from competitors.
There’s a chance that your loyal customers may become brand ambassadors for your business, singing your praises and encouraging their friends and family to shop from you as well – boosting your profits with less marketing effort. After improving your brand reputation, you may also see workers and suppliers becoming much more eager to work with you.
Steps of the CRM Process
So how exactly can you repeatedly create value for your customers? The CRM process closely follows the life cycle of a customer, but shows it from the business’s perspective. Think of it as providing a backstage view to a magic show, explaining what tools and processes are used by the magician to create an amazing onstage experience.
There are five stages to the CRM process, closely following the stages of the sales funnel that represent the customer journey. In each stage, we’ll go into more detail on how you can personalize your communications with customers.
1. Generate Brand Awareness
The first step of the CRM process is to generate awareness of your brand using traditional or digital marketing and advertising campaigns, kindly introducing yourself to people who may become your customers.
Rather than simply advertising into the wind to whoever comes your way, your marketing team should take steps to conduct market research and segment your target audience, creating promotional materials tailored to the unique tastes of each market segment. To help with this step, it might be helpful to create an ideal customer profile (ICP) or buyer persona, which details your ideal target audience’s demographics, habits, and preferences.
With an ICP or buyer persona in mind, your potential customers will view ads that directly appeal to them and speak to their tastes. They may be more inclined to check out your business, or at the very least will think more highly of you.
2. Acquire Leads
Now that you’ve got people who know about your business and might be interested, it’s time to reach out to individual consumers, turning them into named leads with whom your company can interact with on a one-to-one basis. Some ways you could do this are by asking for names and emails so sales reps can reach out to potential customers, or by setting up a live chat or other platform that allows potential customers to approach you first.
The specifics of how you do this will depend on your business model, but again, it’s all about appealing to the individual wants and desires of your customers and target audience. If you continuously provide them with information and resources that are useful to them, they’ll be more inclined to interact with your business again and again.
A trick for getting potential customers to step out from the safety of the crowd and reach out to your business as an individual is to offer them something in return, such as a lead magnet. To do so, you’ll need to return back to your target audience market research and determine what sort of tools or educational materials they’d prefer.
If you have a CRM system, the software can help you keep a list of the numerous leads you generate, as well as trawl through online databases and profiles to help flesh out the details of each lead’s personal traits.
3. Nurture Leads Into Customers
Once you’ve identified individual leads, sales representatives should continuously reach out to those potential customers and nurture them into becoming a sale. This is the step where you can truly start building individual relationships with customers.
Though your product will be aimed at solving a general pain point and members of your target audience will have broadly similar features, each customer will have slightly different situations, use cases, and personalities. It’s up to your sales reps to qualify your leads, learn about your customers as individuals, and act as personal consultants and friends to ensure that their final purchase decision suits them perfectly.
Depending on your product, nurturing a lead into a customer might take weeks on end of regular conversation. Part of a pleasant customer experience is not being rushed into a sale, after all. While guiding leads through the purchasing process, sales reps should take great care to overcome any objections and answer any questions the lead may have.
This is also the step where a CRM system would be the most useful, as CRM platforms act as historical databases for all of your customer interactions and information. With the CRM platform storing their notes, sales reps can more easily focus on customer conversations and gaining more knowledge about each customer over time.
4. Maintain a Relationship
The monetary transaction is only the beginning of a company’s relationship with a customer. Once the sale is complete, your company should work to maintain or strengthen customer relationships by frequently reaching out to see how their purchase suits them while providing superior customer service across multiple channels to address any questions and concerns.
Though there may not be a clear financial advantage to this behavior in the short term, offering such comprehensive and thorough support builds the customer’s trust in your brand, driving customer loyalty. The more satisfied a customer is with their relationship, the more likely they are to return for a repeat purchase.
A CRM platform can help service agents maintain a relationship with customers by, again, acting as a central repository of customer information and transaction history. CRM systems can also schedule reminders to follow up with each customer, ensuring that no customer is lost in the cracks post-purchase.
5. Drive Customer Lifetime Value
Finally, as leads are turned into loyal patrons and lifelong friends of a business, you can continue driving value to both them and your own company by upselling or cross-selling related products to them.
A customer makes their original purchase based on the original need they experienced at the time. But as their situation changes or they try out their current purchase, the customer may feel that something is missing: maybe the product doesn’t have certain features they didn’t know they needed, or their need has outgrown the product’s current capacity.
By maintaining communications with customers over time, sales reps can easily touch base with each customer about their current product satisfaction and help them identify areas where a complementary product or product upgrade may improve their purchase satisfaction. Not only does this result in more sales for a business, but it also ensures that customers feel more satisfied with their purchase and the company over time, boosting their appreciation and loyalty to the business.
Through the CRM process, businesses can focus on personalizing the care they give to customers through the purchasing journey and beyond, seeing both the forest and the individual trees by focusing on each customer’s individual traits, needs, and wants.
By having a repeatable process for managing your customer relationships, your business can keep employees happy, build a loyal customer base, stand out from competitors, and drive revenue, all at once. Your customers will walk away with more than a new product – they’ll walk away feeling recognized and content like they’ve just made a new lifelong friend.
Should I buy CRM software?
Though we’ve mentioned CRM software quite a few times in certain steps of the CRM process, it isn’t strictly necessary for all businesses. As a broad statement, CRM software is more useful the more leads you have, as it keeps track of all those peoples’ personal and purchase details in one place.
On the other hand, if you only have a dozen leads at one time and focus heavily on customer lifetime value, it may be simpler to assign an account manager for each customer instead, and complete the CRM process manually.
Alternatively, if you need more help particularly with the first two stages of the CRM process (generating brand awareness and acquiring leads), you might want to look into marketing automation or lead generation software instead of relying on the manual process.
Who are some vendors of software that can help me with the CRM process?
As we mentioned in our response to the previous FAQ, marketing automation software such as the ones from Campaigner, Campaign Monitor, and Mailchimp could also prove useful in delivering customized marketing communications en masse, generating lots of leads with a click of a button.
What’s the difference between the CRM process and the sales funnel or sales pipeline?
As you look over the steps of the CRM process, you might be thinking to yourself that they look awfully similar to the stages of the sales funnel or sales pipeline. That’s because all three of them follow the customer through their interactions with the company from beginning to end, so they’d naturally follow the same broad strokes.
However, the difference between the CRM process and the sales funnel and pipeline is that while the sales funnel and pipeline focus on the end goal of making a sale, the CRM process focuses on the end goal of building a close customer relationship. In other words, they’re two lenses through which to see the same process.
For example, let’s think about a potential customer who’s deliberating on whether or not to buy an item or not. In the sales funnel, the goal would be to answer all of their questions and persuade them that the product matches their needs in order to make a sale.
On the other hand, while the CRM process might also answer questions, there’s no explicit sales motive – using the CRM framework, the service rep could instead help the person come to the conclusion that the product isn’t suited to their needs, or that they might be happier with another solution. While this means a sale won’t be made, the consumer may be grateful for the honest advice and grow to trust the company more, leading to a closer relationship in the future.