Table of Contents

CRM 101: A Complete Guide

Today’s sales pipelines can have dozens of touchpoints. Keeping up with your customers is a challenge for any business, and even more so for small businesses and solopreneurs.

But with customer relationship management software, you can bring all the data you’ll need for your sales and marketing strategies into a single platform. It boosts your efficiency and productivity and gives your customers a more personalized experience.

Sales CRM

What does a CRM system do?

A CRM integrates with other platforms and tools to help you track and create a complete image of what your customers do online and offline, helping you create better experiences for your customers and leads.

crm infographic answering the question what is a crm system
All the components that make up a CRM system.

69% of customers appreciate personalization, but only if based on data they’ve directly shared with the business. And 53% of businesses say first-party data is of higher quality than third-party.

A CRM helps you aggregate first-party data and deliver these personalized experiences effectively.

How exactly does a CRM help you?

  A CRM’s main purpose is to help businesses manage and maintain interactions with their customers and potential customers but there are a plethora of additional benefits you’ll see when implementing one.
  • Track and compile customer data across channels: By integrating with other services like an e-commerce platform or social media tools, a CRM gets access to user actions in real time across channels.
  • Track, nurture, and score leads: Use these additional data points to score leads and assign them to the right sales reps.
  • Contact management: Store and provide easy access to relevant contact information for all leads and customers.
  • Build and manage sales pipelines: Create processes that make it easier for your sales team to close deals at scale.
crm pipeline showing To Contact, In Contact, and Follow Up fields
ActiveCampaign's CRM makes it easy to distinguish between deal types and move them seamlessly down the funnel.
  • Track customer actions to provide a personalized experience: Integrate with e-commerce platforms, websites, and point of sale systems to track your customers’ purchases and other actions and use that data to personalize your sales and marketing efforts.
  • Gather, analyze, and report on data: More easily make data-based decisions about adjusting your marketing messaging, target market, etc.
  • Incorporate automation to speed up sales/marketing tasks: In a hectic workday, it’s easy for sales reps to forget to send a message or leave a note. CRMs let reps  automate tasks like post-call notes and tags or notifications to senior sales reps when certain actions take place.
  • Breaks down barriers/silos between departments: One issue many companies face is a disconnect between sales, marketing, and customer service. With CRM, you can integrate data from the departments’ various tools —destroying silos and improving cooperation.

Who can use a CRM?

Do you run a business that sells a product or service to any level of customer (whether business or consumer)? Any company with a sales, marketing, or billing team can use a CRM. 

A CRM tool can help you better understand your customer needs and optimize your sales, marketing, and customer support efforts. It can help you streamline your efforts and deliver a unified customer experience across channels.

Just 24% of businesses say they are successfully doing omnichannel personalization, with silos and infrastructure as key barriers.

A CRM can help you bridge that gap.

Benefits of a CRM

CRM use cases for sales teams

Sales teams often struggle to give customers the experience they want. 77% of B2B buyers say their last purchase was difficult or complex. A CRM can help simplify it. 70% of sales professionals say a CRM system is very important in closing deals.

example of a contact in ActiveCampaign's CRM

What a customer profile looks like inside the ActiveCampaign Sales CRM.

Sales teams can use a CRM to:

  • Identify and track leads and prospects
  • Automate lead scoring and evaluation efforts
  • Prioritize VIP clients and high-value potential customers
  • Build/manage/optimize sales pipelines
  • Find opportunities for cross-selling and up-selling
  • Offer seamless transitions when customers move between sales reps
  • Collaborate and share data with marketing departments to provide a better experience
  • Create a complete image of every customer journey and all their interactions with your business.

CRM use cases for marketing teams

Marketing departments often work from vague personas rather than a real-time image of their customers.

Marketing departments can use a CRM to:

  • Qualify and nurture leads to send to sales
  • Segment customers and prospects based on gathered data
  • Plan, execute, and automate personalized campaigns
  • Automate tasks like drip campaigns and follow-ups
automated workflow in activecampaign
In the ActiveCampaign CRM, you can set up an automated workflow for nurturing high-quality leads before sending them on to sales.

CRM use cases for customer service teams

Customer support teams have crucial insights into customer issues and needs but often don’t get included in marketing, sales, and product conversations. An integrated CRM makes support data visible to everyone and leads to a more complete image of your customers.

Customer support teams can use a CRM to:

  • Track support ticket resolution across channels
  • Identify common problem areas for support content
  • Solve issues and complaints quickly
  • Streamline administrative tasks
  • Flag major issues for sales/marketing/product teams to remedy

Top benefits of CRM software​

CRM solutions can help you address various core business needs, from better managing customer data and bridging silos to delivering personalized experiences for each customer.

Let’s take a closer look at the seven top benefits of using a CRM platform. 

1. Data from multiple channels in one platform

CRM solutions can help you address various core business needs, from better contact management and bridging silos to delivering personalized experiences for each customer, improving their customer satisfaction.

2. Eliminate silos between departments

Give teams that work together, or in adjacent areas, access to the same CRM data and an easy way to collaborate. Marketing, sales, and support can all document their interactions with a customer so the next person can pick up where the previous one left off.

A consistent experience is key to driving customer loyalty

3. Deliver personalized experiences

By using deep customer information and real actions, you can create custom segments and personalize your marketing and sales efforts.

For example, Australian-based social-research firm McCrindle uses ActiveCampaign to track event attendees and deliver tailored sales messages through a BigMarker integration.

McCrindle also relies on the ActiveCampaign API to attribute lead sources like Facebook Ads or LinkedIn to any new leads that come in through its campaigns. These processes help reveal 900 qualified leads every month, like clockwork.

An effective CRM strategy helps you tailor marketing messages based on where leads come from, and actions they take — like attending events or downloading a case study.

4. Become more remote-friendly with a cloud CRM

More sales and marketing teams are working remotely. In 2021, 53% of sales professionals worked from home at least 50% of the time. 67% of sales managers said managing remote salespeople was more challenging than expected.

In the old days of CRM technology, you’d have to install an on-premises solution and maintain the system yourself. That also made it hard to access and use the CRM while out of the office.

Luckily, the world of CRM has mostly transitioned to software-as-a-service (SaaS) by now. A cloud-based CRM can be accessed from anywhere, and with security features like 2-factor authentication and end-to-end encryption, your customer and internal data is safe.

The best CRM software makes it easy for your employees to collaborate and deliver a consistent customer experience even when working from home. 

5. Automate tasks to increase efficiency

The sales process used to include a lot of menial tasks like collecting customer information into spreadsheets and sending emails to set up sales calls.

A CRM lets you automate things like data collection and analysis, lead scoring, lead nurturing campaigns, and even appointment setting. You can also use automations to ensure your sales reps always contact the hottest leads at the right time.

For example, you can set up automated notifications to deal owners when their leads take certain actions on your site — like downloading a white paper. 

6. Identify new sales opportunities

With access to detailed real-time data, you can find ways to cross or upsell to existing customers. For example, you might notice customer complaints about issues that an add-on product can solve.

Plus, lead scoring and nurturing help your sales team only work with leads that are ready to buy, maximizing the return on every sales call. That way, you can focus on red-hot, high-value leads. 

7. Optimize the sales cycle and customer experience

With access to a centralized dashboard of customer data, you can methodically work through and optimize your sales cycle.

You can improve everything from which reps handle what type of leads to your entire lead nurturing process and sales activity dashboard. With access to feedback from customer support, you can also implement changes to product, marketing, and onboarding to drive a better customer experience.

Every customer engagement is a chance to learn more — and a CRM makes it possible. 

Illustration of the ActiveCampaign user dashboard.


Get started with best-in-class CRM today with a 14-day free trial of ActiveCampaign.

manage everything in one place

Get started with best-in-class CRM today with a 14-day free trial of ActiveCampaign.

How does CRM automation work?

CRM automation speeds up manual admin tasks and empowers your sales teams to close more valuable deals by automatically highlighting high-value leads.

Examples of sales automation include:

  • Automatic lead scoring based on actions
  • Automatic lead nurturing based on scores and customer engagement
  • Segmenting customers based on demographics, actions, and more
  • Personalizing promotions and email templates for customers and free users
  • Automatic post-sales follow-up emails

To take advantage, you need a CRM with powerful workflow and sales automation tools built into the platform. Then, you can use the automation builder to create workflows that enhance and speed up your sales cycle:

  • You can add downloading a case study as a trigger for sending an email to schedule a sales call.
  • You can automatically segment marketing list audiences based on interactions with your website, like viewing a holiday gift guide.

These types of rules can help businesses market more effectively and reach leads when they’re ready to buy. By striking while the iron is hot, you also reduce the risk of leads falling out of the pipeline without buying.

By using these types of automations, American sales consultancy Smart Gets Paid grew its number of contacts by 27x and reduced time spend on admin tasks by 50%. The company also uses automation to segment leads based on their purchases, downloads, and other actions that leads take on the website.

Automation in ActiveCampaign that streamlines your sales process

With ActiveCampaign’s drag-and-drop automation builder, you can easily create workflows even more advanced than this.

Segment your audience based on a combination of location, demographics, and customer interactions to start personalizing your marketing message today. That’s the first step to creating a solid email marketing strategy for your business.

This is only scratching the surface of what you can do with CRM automations. You can also:

  • Go beyond customer engagement and smooth out various internal business processes, like reporting.
  • Automatically create performance reports for different platforms, including the lifetime values of real customers.
  • Use data from multiple channels along with the real sales data in your CRM
  • Forecast the return on various campaigns and plan your marketing spend more efficiently. 


Like in general digital marketing, a CRM in real estate allows you to get to know each individual customer, deliver personalized marketing materials, and grow your relationship.

You can go beyond the mere demographics and see how they interact with different properties on your website, helping you develop a better sales strategy.  

Frequently asked questions

Curious about how sales software like a CRM solution can benefit your business? Check out our video breakdown on choosing the right CRM for you and a list of common questions that might be at the top of your mind. 

Can small businesses use a CRM?

Yes, small businesses, startups, and even solopreneurs can use and take advantage of a CRM. A CRM integrates different tools and apps, centralizes data, and helps one person manage their different business tasks more effectively.

As a small business, the trick is to find a flexible and easy-to-use platform that doesn’t require a massive development team to code integrations from scratch. For example, ActiveCampaign features over 870+ native integrations that you can set up with a few clicks. 

Take your business to the next level with a CRM

A CRM helps you keep up with your customer relationships (and future customer relationships), building loyalty and improving your bottom line. From sales to marketing to customer support, every part of your business can benefit from a CRM with sales and marketing automation

CRM features make it easy to personalize every email, social media message, and phone call. It’s the cornerstone of any marketing, sales, or service strategy that puts the customer first. You can streamline your entire sales cycle and make your existing customers happier.

Try the CRM trusted by over 150,000 customers in 170 countries

Start a free trial of ActiveCampaign and try CRM automation for yourself, no credit card required.


Dependable & predictable

“Before ActiveCampaign things slipped through the cracks with both client account management and prospects. Now we have dependable and predictable systems to prevent that from happening.”

— Mark B., 5-star G2 Crowd review

{ "@context": "", "@type": "FAQPage", "mainEntity": [{ "@type": "Question", "name": "What is a CRM?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "CRM, or customer relationship management, is the software, tools, and strategies that help you build and maintain relationships with your customers." } },{ "@type": "Question", "name": "What does a CRM system do?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "A CRM integrates with other platforms and tools and helps you track and create a complete image of what your customers do online and offline, and helps you create better experiences for your customers and leads." } },{ "@type": "Question", "name": "Who can use a CRM?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "Any business with a sales, marketing, or billing team can use a CRM." } },{ "@type": "Question", "name": "Can small businesses use a CRM?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "Yes, small businesses, startups, and even solopreneurs can use and take advantage of a CRM. A CRM integrates different tools and apps, centralizes data, and helps one person manage their different business tasks more effectively." } },{ "@type": "Question", "name": "What is CRM for digital marketing?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "In digital marketing, customer relationship management is focused on personalizing experiences. The goal is to send the right message to the right person at the right time." } }] }
{ "@context": "", "@type": "VideoObject", "name": "How do you choose the right CRM?", "description": "This is Growth Decoded — a show that helps you grow your business by figuring out the customer experience, 1 piece at a time. In this segment, Ernie and Tabitha investigate how a CRM helps you organize all of your current and prospective customer relationships and how a business should go about choosing a CRM. Then once a business has chosen a sales CRM — how should they approach the implementation process? Ernie then sits down with Leah Neaderthal of Smart Gets Paid to gain some additional insights. Leah explains her best practices for evaluating and choosing a CRM, as well as tips for how businesses should approach the CRM implementation process. Smart Gets Paid is an organization that helps women learn to consistently and comfortably land new clients in their B2B consulting and coaching businesses. Through tools, programs, and coaching, women land the clients they want, get more yes’s, and get paid dramatically more for every client engagement. You can learn more about Smart Gets Paid on the website, or by listening to the Smart Gets Paid Podcast: To sign up for updates on future episodes of Growth Decoded, and for opportunities to get exclusive content, visit: And join The Grow Team today! Connect with ActiveCampaign on social! LinkedIn: Instagram: Facebook: Twitter: #SalesCRM #Salesautomation #CRM #EmailAutomation #EmailMarketing #MarketingAutomation #EmailDeliverability #SalesSoftware #MarketingSoftware #Email #GrowthDecoded #Newsletter #CustomerExperience #CustomerExperienceAutomation", "thumbnailUrl": "", "uploadDate": "2021-05-28T16:20:04Z", "duration": "PT9M16S", "embedUrl": "", "interactionCount": "198" }