Structuring Your CRM

Structuring Your CRM
Kyle Morris is a CRM expert who’s run sales ops for a team of 130+ sellers at Gigya, and advised dozens of B2B software companies through his sales ops consultancy, Kicksaw. In this guide, he outlines how different customer-facing teams should interact with a company’s CRM, and how to design a CRM instance to maximize insights and minimize headaches.

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Questions covered in this guide

Why does it make sense to invest in thoughtfully structuring your CRM?

A CRM is the hub for all of the data for your business – a well-structured CRM is a central place for all of your company’s sales, marketing, customer success, and finance data. If you don’t make good decisions early on, you’ll stifle the ability of your team to execute.

By what size/stage should a company make a bigger investment in structuring its CRM?

When it’s getting beyond founder-led everything – when you’re handing the baton off to another person to execute (in sales, CS etc.) and you need to be able to measure what they’re doing, you need a CRM. If you set it up right, you’ll have reporting that provides visibility into what they’re doing.

If you haven’t already, design your CRM structure when you take a round of funding – this is when you should take full advantage of that funding to make your processes more simple. 

What are the different CRMs do you recommend for SaaS businesses, and when does each make sense?

Salesforce – if you’re selling mid-market to enterprise deals, I really recommend Salesforce. The customizability of Salesforce is valuable because you’re likely going to need a lot of structure around bookings goals. You’ll also need multiple teams including sales reps, sales development, customer success, account managers, etc. using the system.

Hubspot – tends to be for companies that are more inbound heavy. It’s more limited than Salesforce because it doesn’t have the same level of maturity. They’re adding features and functionality, but they’re behind because they started as a marketing automation platform. It tends to be best suited for more transactional deals. You’ll need a different platform if you want to create custom objects, automation, or notifications that go out for X,Y, Z. You can get away with Hubspot for a couple of years if it’s just you and a co-founder, but switching can be painful. 

Occasionally Dynamics, Zoho, – Zoho can be a cheaper price point, but it’s not as robust. is becoming a bigger player; they’ve taken on a lot of funding to move toward Salesforce with new functionality.

What other tools get integrated into the “hub” of your CRM?

Data enrichment – you’ll want to integrate tools that will help you find contact information and verify emails on some sort of a cadence, so if they bounce they’ll get removed from the list. Good tools include ZoomInfo, DiscoverOrg.

Marketing automation – e.g. Marketo, Pardot, Hubspot, should be integrated to link in your marketing processes and campaigns.

Quote-to-cash automation – an example would be if you sign a new deal and need a DocuSign to go out with it, along with all the items that are synced to it. Or, if you signed a four year deal that has variable revenue month-to-month. How do we forecast all of that out? You’ll want to be as automated as possible to save you time.

Who’s responsible for maintaining the CRM, and who needs to be involved?

Early on, founder or CEO – at the very beginning the CEO may be the only person for the job.

Handoff to VP of sales when you hire one – when your sales team is small, its leader will be responsible for the CRM, but your head of sales shouldn’t be the long-term CRM owner.

Hire or assign someone for sales ops when you have around 50 people – you want someone who’s in the trenches and understands the struggles that salespeople are facing everyday. You want them to be able to make the process easier for everyone.

When should you get specialized sales ops, and what does that person do?

Hire early, because there’s never time to go back and fix it later – it’s going to take them time to learn the systems and processes and ramp up. They certainly won’t be able to start building new features to make life easier until they’re ramped. 

Many companies go from 1 to 2 sales ops people quickly – you need an executor (more of a Salesforce admin) and you need a strategist. If you’re going to hire one, you should probably hire the other so they can learn together depending on the experience level. If you’re at a 20-30 person company, you probably don’t need both, but if you’re at a 400 person company you definitely do.

My bias is to have sales ops report to finance – for unbiased reporting, I want ops to report to finance so that they can be more objective. They need to not have a dog in the fight. Sales is going to say, “let’s maybe nudge this here, or yeah, they canceled but you know, they kind of bought from us.” They’re gonna find ways to make it look better, where good ops should be much more objective and independent. The exception would be if sales ops doesn’t own reporting, and is just focused on making life easier for salespeople.

What are the key reports to think about?

Volume reporting – e.g. how many meetings did you set? How many emails did we send? How many opportunities did you close?

Success rate reporting – of opportunities created, how many were won? Establish key conversion ratios to start to track how they change over time.

Operational reporting – use this for areas where you have control and want to improve. For example, when we have an inbound lead, what was our time to respond – one minute, one hour, or one day? 

What factors around your company type, sales motion etc. should be taken into account in designing your CRM instance?

Size of deal – this will be a big factor in how you structure it. You need to structure your CRM, sales team, outbound process, and how you function from a renewal standpoint based on how big the deals are. 

Inbound or outbound or a mix – if you’re pure inbound, you don’t need to track sales stages. You’re going to need to track very different things like the speed to respond. 

Amount of post-sale implementation – if you simply sign up and you’re logged in, then the customer is done, that’s a very different situation than, “we’ve got to train everybody and we have to come on site for a week to ensure that everyone adopts.” 

What are the different teams who leverage the CRM at different points in the customer journey?

Marketing = leads – marketing is a top of the funnel holding tank for leads that are not yet qualified. Leads may or may not live in the CRM; sometimes there’s a “walled garden”, where nothing comes into the CRM until it gets to MQL status. Marketing needs to define what a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) is, and then pass those qualified leads to sales. Marketing will re-enter the picture after the account has signed with the company because we want to market to these customers and deepen our engagement with them. 

Sales Development and Sales = opportunities – sales will then jump on qualified contacts and start prospecting – they own opportunities through signature. It’s important to clearly define what an opportunity is – for me, it’s a meeting with a qualified prospect who can generate revenue for the business by signing a deal. Existing customers buying new products or a different division within a customer buying should also be treated as new business sales opportunities.

Implementation = custom object – if you have an implementation process post-sale, I recommend an implementation object with its own stages (e.g. stage 1 is a kickoff meeting, stage 2 is outlining requirements, etc.).

Account Management = renewal/upsell opportunities – account managers should be working out of opportunities just like sales reps do, but they should have their own opportunity record type, with its own stages, fields, page layouts, pick-list values, etc. Account managers don’t care about all the things that pre-sales cares about, so you should exclude those. You might have different opportunity record types for renewals vs. upsells vs. renewal/upsell combinations.

How should you think about access for the different people using your CRM?

It’s always easier to give access than remove it – everybody gets testy when you start to take things away from them. Plus, if you give everyone broad access, it becomes difficult to later figure out who needs what, and depends upon other permissions.

Give people the minimum access you can for them to do their jobs – any more than that bogs them down or creates confusion. People should have the least amount of privileges they need to be effective in their job and no more than that. Add access when people complain that they don’t have something they need.

How do you capture good data and maintain high data quality, without driving your team nuts with inputs?

Your response should be “hell yes” or no – it should be like the end of the world if we don’t have it or we’re not adding it. It’s hard to remove later on and no one’s gonna know why we added it. I think it should be so painfully obvious that everybody’s screaming for it, or you don’t do it at all. 

How should you think about establishing a clean master ID?

For leads or contacts – the unique identifier should be email.

For accounts – I like to use website; there should only be one website that matches up with the one you have in your system.

Pick a system of record and stick with it – when it comes to tracking customer IDs, pick one system of record and link everything back to it. It could be Salesforce or your back end, but you need to pick one and make it the master.

How should parent-child relationships in accounts work?

If a company can sign an agreement independently, it should be its own account – for instance, I’ve sold into Disney, and they own a million companies: ESPN, Walt Disney parks, Walt Disney Studios etc. They can all buy independently, so we made them different accounts. But know that you may end up with a single Master Service Agreement (MSA) down the road.

Where are the most obvious places to take advantage of automation?

Anything anyone does that feels tedious or slow or painful – if they have to do it over and over and over, then automate it. 

Data enrichment is a big one – before an AE or SDR sends an email out, we should ping some tool (like ZoomInfo) to verify the email address. Don’t make reps check every single record that’s in there.

What are the most important pieces to get right?

Avoid duplicates – you need to define what should be unique in your system and this shouldn’t be hard. In the example of emails, you don’t want three different sales reps reaching out to the same email account three times because it’s in your system in three different places. It creates a really bad experience for the potential customer. 

What are the common pitfalls?

Making everyone a system admin – you don’t want just anyone to be able to go into your CRM and create new fields for companies. This will cause chaos. It needs to be strictly regulated on who has access to do certain things. 

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