Getting the Most Out of Your CRM

Creating a high-performing customer relationship management system, or CRM, is one of the most difficult, yet valuable, marketing tools a firm can implement. Not only does it require the support and participation of overstretched seller-doers to be successful, but there is no ONE way to do it. So as a marketer, how do you find the system that’s right for your firm? How do you get people to actually use it? And with all the headaches that come with implementation, what’s in it for us?

Today, we’ll be chatting with Stacey Ho, CPSM and senior marketer with Brown and Caldwell, about the benefits, challenges and rewards of a functional customer relationship management (CRM) system.

They are thinking of this as data entry, and DATA ENTRY IS NOT A DIRTY WORD. This is marketing capital. It’s intellectual capital.

CQ: Quoted from a September 2015 Capterra blog post, “CRM software has been helping sales teams manage their contacts and communication since the 1980s. However, most sales people use a fraction of the capabilities of their CRM and many still hate using it altogether.” What do you think people hate it?

SH: Well, I don’t know if I can speak for the entire B2B world, but for the AEC industry specifically who’s always sort of technology averse and late to the game in terms of everything that we adapt and accept, I think it is a little bit of a technophobia. I think it’s also a bit of a new hat. You go to school to be an architect, or an engineer, or you’ve been in the construction industry for a long time. You don’t necessarily want to be on a screen all the time, that’s not what you went to school for and that’s not really what you aspire to be. You’re asking someone to adapt to an almost social environment. It really is a sharing environment. I think that’s a lot to accept. So, I agree. We’re definitely not using all of it in this industry, and slow to adapt to it, and probably a little bit afraid of it.

CQ:  What are some of the characteristics that you’ve seen of a high-functioning CRM that’s contributing value to its organization?

SH: Well, I’ll tell you what it’s not, to start with. It’s not the specific software. So if anybody ever asks me what the best software is, the easy answer is the best one for you. There is no best software, and I’ve always said that, even when I was consultant and practicing a specific software. Whatever is best for you, is best for everyone. Now that said, your firm usually has to adopt ONE. The most high-functioning is one that adapts to the processes and procedures your firm already has. So, if you already have some meetings or spreadsheets, anything you can do to adapt a system that’s very similar in culture to that, and grows slowly in changing process and procedure, I think you’re going to see is high-functioning. After that, it’s a lot of user acceptance, and the ability to report and communicate easily. If it’s hard, they won’t do it. If it takes to long, they won’t do it.

CQ: On that note, it’s not just about making it easy for the technical staff to use, but also marketers. What’s the difference between how the two will use it, and what have you seen work for both? 

SH: I think you have to assess the culture of your firm. Are the gatekeepers the marketers, or is this a free flowing system for everyone to use? And there’s no right answer there. That really does depend on your system. But I would say you want to adapt towards free-flowing if you can, because obviously that’s going to give you the most bang for your buck, and the most open communication with everyone. So as far as getting the marketers up and running, I think what you really have to focus on is what we can get out of the system that shows results. When you’re setting up the system, you’re going to come up with goals that will demonstrate a benefit for the system, and then you want to be able to easily report on those results. If you can’t easily demonstrate the return on investment, or the benefit for your system, you’re going to probably look like a failure and feel like a failure. So I think really, it’s ease of entry for them, ease of export and reporting for you.

CQ: Where do you typically see organizations failing when it comes to establishing, or even just using, their CRM system?

SH: Well, I think there’s a pretty big laundry list. Number one is trying to do something without buy-in from the top. If you don’t have buy-in from the very top down, I don’t think you’re going to get a whole lot of acceptance. Mainly because there’s no responsibility, there’s no repercussion, and there’s probably a very limited budget and time to do this project. So I would say number one is definitely buy-in from the top. But shortly after that is the process and the procedure that you’re trying to use. That comes well before technology in my mind. So if you have no culture of CRM, if you have no culture of sharing client relationship information, you better start taking some really small baby steps before you even think about what technology you want to purchase.

CQ: Do you have any recommendations for where someone who is not currently using a CRM can go to uncover some of those questions that they need to start asking themselves at their firm?

SH: You know, I think a lot of it could be an assessment of the meetings that you have currently that discuss business development. So looking at the spreadsheets that you have and asking:

  • What are you currently tracking?
  • How are you sharing that information?

And it probably should include a dialogue with your operations, your IT, and your finance department. Whether you are tying your CRM and finance system together or not, you need to know who is ultimately the OWNER of the information. Pro to tying the information together is that you may eliminate some disparate systems. But, if there really ARE huge differences between what finance and marketing needs are, you need to think about how can you have two systems that slightly talk to each other but still allow marketing the freedoms to do what they need to do and record what they need to record. I would say that would be an advantage of the disparate systems. You get a little more freedom in what you call things.

CQ: What have you experienced in terms of reasons why leadership push back against establishing a CRM?

SH: “This is insane. You’re asking our project managers to do ONE more thing, to fill out ONE more form. The time it takes for the return that we get, it’s just not worth it. Too much stuff already on our plate.” That’s what I hear number one.

CQ: So how do you combat that? What’s your response?

SH: First of all, that probably means there’s a bit of an education uphill in your firm. They are thinking of this as data entry, and DATA ENTRY IS NOT A DIRTY WORD. This is not something you should think about as your receptionist or admins responsibility. This is marketing capital. It’s intellectual capital. It’s really what you have inside of the brains of all of these people that is going to help you earn revenue. So, you need to educate your firm to change the way they’re thinking about the value of what’s in their head and what they get in return for sharing that more broadly and openly. I think you’ll probably see as you slowly take steps to get people to share information, the more feedback someone gets on how they’re doing with the client, the more you’ll win, the better you’ll do.

CQ: What are some of the things you need to think about as a firm before establishing a CRM?

SH: I tell firms to look at where they are having issues with the most redundancy. Is it that we have six different places where we’re tracking the upcoming projects and that makes it impossible to forecast what’s going on? Then you can start dialing into what software is out there that would fit kind of what we’re doing already, maybe tweak us a little to improve, but gives us customization and flexibility to change in the future. I always advise against buying something that fits you now and won’t grow with you later. It needs to fit you now because you want it to be easy to adopt, but you do want it to let you shift in the right directions.

CQ: How would you recommend marketers approach cleaning up an existing CRM?

The first step of restarting that effort should be reaching out to your service provider. You need to find out what’s new, what’s changed, and what’s different. How you can adapt the system that you have to fit the culture that you have now? Especially if YOU’RE new. You’re just getting a sense of what that culture is at your new firm. I think we all love to diagnose problems, but sometimes having misinformation will open a dialogue to the correct information. Even if you’re relaunching, I’m always a proponent of just getting in there. Let go of the nasty-grams you get that address old and out of date data, and ask instead what THEY can do to help you update that information. Draw them into the software and show them how they can update the information and take ownership.


Want to hear more from Stacey? Listen to the full podcast to hear Stacey’s talk more on how CRMs can help marketers influence strategy and manage change within their organization, the impact of mobile apps, and the value of a good consultant relationship.

Music by SONGO 21 – Studio sessions 2003 by SONGO 21 is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 International License.

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ABOUT Stacey


Long-time marketer for the engineering, architecture, construction industry. Stacey’s passion is helping to develop and implement internal systems and tools that are useful in driving sales and preparing proposals. Stacey strongly believes information and opportunity management are extremely important in a services industry. Good systems allow you to follow up and make bold and custom statements – setting you apart from your competition. Stacey strives to find opportunities to help elevate the role of the marketing team, and loves seeing her peers grow by working smarter and loving their jobs more because the finally have more time to truly strategize and win good work. She lives by her own personal motto “data entry is not a dirty word.”

Have questions or want to chat more with Stacey? Post your comments below or connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.


Join us Thursday on the podcast when Stacey’s back to chat more about her career, including her exciting path to starting her own consultancy and what brought her back to the in-house role.

“Being able to make a difference as an outsider didn’t feel quite as good as the difference I made as an insider.”

Music by SONGO 21 – Studio sessions 2003 by SONGO 21 is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 International License.


Next week, we’ll welcome Catherine DeWitt, CPSM, Director of Marketing at BKM to talk with us about hiring and developing entry-level marketers.