In this episode, Carrie and Heather talk about Contact Relationship Management (CRMs) and how that applies to a freelancer or small agency. The discussion covers when you get that customer in the door and launch the project all the way establishing a retainer agreement with them.
Establishing a CRM Project:
- Use a Contact Relationship Management (CRM) tool to manage all the interactions and information around the people interacting with your business.
- A CRM allows one central location for your team and business.
- Information that is collected in the CRM begins at the very basic level of information. (Ex: Name, phone number, type of contact – customer, vendor or lead).
- A CRM tool should allow you to update the customized fields over time to fit your business needs.
- Most CRM tools in the market today should integrate with your current tools to help with automation.
Growing your business with a CRM:
- As your business grows as a freelancer or small agency, the CRM system will help you manage your leads with automatic reminders and integrations to other tools.
- A CRM system is a good investment to manage your clients.
- You can only grow so far as a single owner. A CRM is a great investment for logging all your customer information in a single place.
- Properly adding contacts to your CRM will help you set up and manage your business accounts.
- CRM tools range from basic to robust so choose the system you need based on the features you need along with your budget.
- The CRM can take up a lot of time. You need to eventually “get out there” and win the business.
Choosing a CRM:
- Create a feature list of your customer relation needs before choosing a tool.
- Determine your budget.
- Have a plan before you start importing data.
- Choose a CRM that manages different types of contacts and allows you to sort them for email campaigns, sales follow-ups, etc.
- Select a system that allows you to customize your own fields.
- Choose a system that easily allows you to extract your contacts.
- Look for a system that has the type of interface that you like to work with.
- Determine if reporting is important to you immediately.
- Choose a tool that will automate your workflow and help you manage your customer pipeline.
- Decide on your integration points upfront (Ex: email, eCommerce, automated Drip Campaigns)
- You can purchase a very robust CRM system that will allow you to follow a customer on your site to alert you when a specific action is reached. This action allows the business owner to be very proactive.
To Follow Heather:
About Heather Steele
Heather Steele is the owner and CMO at Blue Steele Solutions located in Denton, Texas. Heather’s been converting coffee to code since 1997 and now makes the code output cash for her customers. Heather has over a decade of marketing experience in a corporate setting and shares her knowledge with Carrie Dils about CRMs.
Carrie: Hey Heather, welcome back to the show. How are you doing today?
Heather: I am doing fantastic. How are you?
Carrie: I am well thank you. Today, I’m going to pick your brain and I hate that phrase, but just to let you know that’s what I’m about to do, pick your brain about Customer Relationship Management, aka, CRM and how that applies to a freelancer or small agency.
[00:00:30] To set some context here, we’re talking about every aspect of a project, from when you get that initial customer in the door, to all the way when you launch their project, and maybe go on into some sort of a retainer agreement with them. The CRM part of that, to me, underlays the whole process. Maybe let’s start by defining what Customer Relationship Management is. I know it’s broad, [00:01:00] but what would you funnel it down into at its essential?
Heather: CRM, to me, is a tool that you use to manage all of the interactions and information about the people around you in your business, whether it be your prospects and leads, the people in your pipeline, your current clients and customers, or even those stakeholders that are outside of your business, but so really key. The people that send you referrals, your vendors, other freelancers that [00:01:30] you work with. It’s really one central location for all of the information that you and your team need to know about all those important players in your business.
Carrie: Okay. You can ax the customer part and say it’s relationship management.
Heather: Yeah. I like to think of it more as a contact relationship management. Certainly, plenty of people use it just for their customers, but to really get the most out of it, I think you’ve already got this great tool working for [00:02:00] you that you’re hopefully used to using on a daily basis, so why not use it as the place to store everything that you need to know about the people who you work with and who influence your business?
Carrie: We’re going to get into some specifics on the tools that you like to use in your business in a little while. Let’s start with what are the important bits of information to you that you’re collecting for, say, a prospect [00:02:30] or maybe another freelancer that you work with or contractor?
Heather: It’s really going to be the information that we need to get at it’s most basic level. We need to know who they are, how to contact them, so a phone number or email, and then we need to know what type of contact they are. We use a field selector where we can say if they’re a customer or if they’re a lead or [00:03:00] if they’re a vendor or if they’re a referral partner. What kind of person is this? It’s the most basic bits of information that you need to have in your CRM.
Based on who they are, any decent CRM these days can customize the fields that you’re able to input. Maybe if they’re a customer, then you need to know more information. You need to know what kind of plan are they on with you? Or what have they purchased from you in the past? If they’re someone who’s in [00:03:30] your pipeline, then that information may be a little bit more general because you don’t know as much about them yet and you want to fill out the fields about their needs and how they work with you over time.
The answer to everything CRM related seems to be, it depends. That’s the beauty of having all these great CRM tools that are very flexible for us to customize, is that we can make the information [00:04:00] that we’re putting in fit our business needs, and then even fit right down into those individual contact types.
Carrie: Is this automated to some degree? Let’s say that you’ve got somebody that’s in your system. You’re exchanging emails as part of a project or maybe you’re using a Basecamp or Consona or something like that. Do you have those things tied into your CRM for cross reference purposes, or are you going to manually make a note every time you have a phone call with somebody?
Heather: Yeah, definitely. If [00:04:30] you’re using CRM that can’t automatically add your emails from Gmail, then you need a different CRM. Most of the tools that are available in the market are going to integrate with the big players in email. They’re going to integrate with most of the project management tools that are very popular. There may some sort of Zapier or if this, then that connection that you can use to get that information pulled in.
You shouldn’t have to be getting into your CRM every single time [00:05:00] that you have an interaction with someone so that you can log that, those days are gone. We’re not using Act, it’s not 1987, we can automate things to make it easier, and even from the point of entry. Getting people into our CRM, for the most part, is an automated process.
When people come to us and want to work with our agency, we have them go through a process of giving us a bunch of information on our website. That information goes straight into [00:05:30] our CRM and creates a record for them, so immediately, right off the bat, we’re taking away that need for manual data entry. All we’re doing is changing slight pieces of information as our relationship matures over time or as our relationship changes once they become a customer.
Carrie: I’m going to ask you a loaded question here. Does a freelancer need such a formal tool [00:06:00] as a CRM, or are file folders in the bin good enough?
Heather: Here’s my take on this. I think a lot of us as freelancers, we feel like we got everything. We can wrap our arms around everything that’s going on in our business and we’re not going to let anything fall through the cracks, we’re not going to forget something. That may be true if you’re getting started or if you have a very, very small client base and [00:06:30] they’re not very needy, they’re not asking you for things very often. In which case, you’re probably not a very successful freelancer yet.
As you get more clients, as you get busier, you will forget things. There’s no way that you will remember to follow up on every single person, that you will never let a lead slip through the cracks, that you will make your contacts that you need to, to maintain your referral partners and your other relationships. There’s not way that you can possibly remember all of that.
Yes, [00:07:00] you could use file folders and kill as many trees as you want to with printing all of that and storing it away under your desk, but you’re not getting the full feature with that of a CRM, where you can build in automated reminders and reporting capabilities so that it tells you what you need to be doing every day to maintain your relationships, and you lose that integration point.
Sure, you could print every email and stuff it in your file [00:07:30] folder, but chances are, you’re not going to do that. You’re going to have disjointed information, it’s going to be all over the place. Most likely, if you’re not using some kind of system, you’re trying to remember it all in your head and that never, ever, ever works, ever.
Carrie: No. My brain is a terribly inefficient place as a file cabinet.
Heather: Yeah. For me, it’s a like a wasteland. Who knows where anything went? It’s the absolute [00:08:00] truth though. By the end of the day, I don’t know anything unless it is right there in front of me. Otherwise, it’s gone. It’s left my brain, I may remember it when I wake up at 2 a.m. or I may never remember it again, but if it’s in my system, if I have the right automation and reminders and I’m using my CRM in the way that I should be, then it’s never lost.
Going back to that freelancer who thinks, this is just me, I really don’t need this [00:08:30] system. I don’t need to take the time and invest my time in setting something up because it’s just me and my clients. I’m going to have everything in my email and I’ll print some information so I can look that up when I need it, it’s not the case. At some point, you will not be able to keep up with it all.
The other problem is, as a freelancer, we all hit this point where we realize that we can only go so far alone. If we really want to make our business successful, we’re going to need help in some [00:09:00] form, whether that’s a VA, whether it’s hiring someone else to help us full time, growing a team.
Even if it’s having someone who can check in for a few hours a week and help you keep projects organized, you’re going to want a central place for all the information about your clients so that you’re not constantly having to tell them and fill them in and everything about your business lives inside of your head, instead of somewhere where you can actually give other people access to [00:09:30] it.
Carrie: Your agency, you’ve been around for a good, long while now. Was this something that you did from the beginning, or was it something that, as you started to grow, you were like, “I need to formalize this a little bit”?
Heather: Yeah. I’m pretty lucky in that my very first role as a marketer, we had a really strong business intelligence team. They were very set on every interaction, everything that we did going through our sales force [00:10:00] account. I came into the business world with a little bit of a different experience than most do because it was so indoctrined into everything that we did, that it didn’t exist if it wasn’t in our CRM.
Our sales team, they didn’t get paid commissions on deals that weren’t logged properly. Our contracts didn’t actually go into effect until they were properly added to the CRM. Everything came back to that, it was truly the lifeblood of the business, and so it was [00:10:30] ingrained in me very early on. It would be almost as important to me as email.
I wouldn’t dare think about having a business and not setting up a business email account. For me it was, if I’m going to start my own business, then I really need to have a way to manage all of those people related to my business, and so setting up a CRM was square one.
Carrie: That’s awesome that you had that experience going into it. Maybe we can save someone who’s listening – if they’re just starting out – save them [00:11:00] the heartache of all those Post-it notes and sheets and sheets of emails printed off in folders under the desk, and have them do a CRM from the get-go.
Heather: Yes. That should be number one. Before you even go register your LLC, go figure out which CRM solution you want to start with, and start putting everyone in there.
Carrie: Let’s talk about some of these tools and solutions out there. I know that is ranges the gamut of [00:11:30] … I’m sure there’s some free database out there you can use, all the way up to a sales force or something that’s really robust. Can you break down what’s available and who’s most appropriate for a particular solution?
Heather: Yeah. First of all, just to back up and talk about CRM at it’s core, if we think back to the original [00:12:00] CRMs, like I mentioned, Act was one of the first popular name brand solutions that you could buy and install onto your computers. That really, truly just managed contact information. We’ve grown so far outside of that.
Now, CRM solutions can do so much more. We can add on pipeline management, we can add on automation, we can integrate in our help desk. We can even, in some CRMs, add on project management, so there’s a lot of things that can [00:12:30] be bolted on or come bolted on to these different CRM solutions.
The very first thing that people should do is, think about their needs. Someone that’s getting started out can start in a much more simple place than a larger, established agency that may need a lot of these other pieces hooked in and working automatically.
When it comes to the different solutions that are on the market, I think it’s more important than thinking about which tool to use, to think about what features [00:13:00] do you really need. What do you need it to do for you to get by? Make that feature list first.
Figure out this is my bare minimum and then these are nice to haves and then this I’m willing to pay a premium for. List those features out, create your own pro, con or whatever works for your style. Figure out what you need and figure out what you can budget.
If you’re really looking for something free, that’s obviously going to limit your options, but think about, by saving [00:13:30] this amount of time, what can I really invest back into a solution?
Carrie: Can I interrupt you real quick just to ask, what are some those features? If someone is completely unfamiliar with these, are features things like reports or types of integrations you can do? What would be some of those things that you want on your list?
Heather: At its most basic, I would say, you want to have a CRM that can manage different types of contacts. You can have a way of [00:14:00] sorting contacts either by tags or by some sort of field. You also want to be able to customize your own fields. You don’t want to start with something that just has a set field for all of your contact data, you want to be able to go in there and add your own fields so that you can really customize it and make it yours.
The other thing that should be an absolute must have is that it’s got to be super simple for you to export all of your data, preferably to a CSB file, so that when it comes [00:14:30] time upgrade or move, you can easily do that.
Some features beyond that, that may depend on your workflow and how you like to do things, could be the way the interface works. Do you like something that’s more of a visual card style layout, or are you more of a list style layout type of person? Do you like to sort things by tagging, or are you more of a category type of person? Do like to have more of an open structure, or do you really [00:15:00] want to create a standard set of categories that you can select from, so that you don’t get too broad?
Is reporting something that will be important to you at this point? Not everyone needs to be able to run reports, so if you don’t have anything to report on yet, if you’re really just needing a place to store information, then that may not be a high priority at this point.
Some of the other features that we get more into an established CRM solution, where you’re really starting to tack on the other features [00:15:30] would be, do you need a place where you can manage your pipeline? Do you have leads coming in, people you’re working through the sales process that you need to be able to track?
From that point, do you just need to be able to see where people are at so you don’t forget about them, or do you have a requirement to do some kind of forecast report, so that you can go out and get funding, and so that you can know when you’re going to be able to afford to hire your next employee?
Those are the kind of things that you really need to be thinking about from [00:16:00] a features’ standpoint. What does this thing actually need to do? Maybe even looking at some of the integration points you may need. Do you need it to integrate with email? That’s a yes, regardless of who you are. Don’t say no to that one, you want your emails added.
Do you need to have some sort of Deep Tracking so you can see how they’re using your website? Do you need to have an ecommerce integration so you can see the items purchased through your website? Do you need some sort of automation built in, so that you can put them in drip campaigns [00:16:30] and send emails out automatically through your CRM?
Carrie: Wow, thank you.
Heather: It’s a lot of stuff.
Carrie: No, but that’s good. That gives me a great idea there. Let’s say you have all this wonderful information, you’ve been collecting it along the way. You mentioned setting up notifications and that sort of thing, but how have you used this data to help you [00:17:00] get new work from an existing customer? How has it actually helped in your business?
Heather: Being able to get the data that’s available through a CRM type solution is definitely very valuable. One thing that we use is with our Deep Tracking on our website. Basically, our CRM, we use ActiveCampaign. It can determine when people are coming to our website and how frequently.
[00:17:30] With our established clients, who are on some sort of retainer agreement or they’re doing the same thing ever single month, maybe we don’t even talk to them that much, we have that once a month check in, and then outside of that, we’re really not having a whole lot of day-to-day conversation with them.
I probably shouldn’t even be telling you this because they might hear this, but I’ll go ahead and share this little nugget. We have built into our system that if one of those clients – they’re tagged in a very specific [00:18:00] way, that they’re one of our retainer clients – if they access our website a certain number of times, within a certain time frame, then I get alerted to that.
I can’t remember off the top of my head exactly what we set, but let’s say they’ve accessed our website five times within two weeks. If they’re coming back to our site, they’re looking at our blog posts, or they’re digging through and looking at our services, then that’s something I want to know about.
If that happens, it alerts me and I can shoot them an email or call [00:18:30] them and say, “Hey, let’s chat, let’s catch up. It’s been a while, I want to hear how things are going. What’s new in your business?” Nine times out of ten, they go, “Oh my gosh, that’s great timing because we’re actually looking to do X, and I wanted to see if you all can help with that.”
We can get in front of new potential business much faster and make sure that we get that business and they’re not going to someone else because we haven’t initiated the right contact.
Carrie: Oh, that’s freaking awesome. You can be really proactive, and [00:19:00] they’re like, “Oh my gosh, what timing you have.”
Heather: That’s what we like to call Just-In-Time Sales. It’s using data about how people are interacting with your website or interacting with you online, and then making good decisions and reaching out to them appropriately based on that data.
Carrie: That’s very cool. I guess, too, you’re keeping some sort of data about when you’re getting conversions off of those. I don’t know if conversions is the right word, but let’s say [00:19:30] you send out that email, and you said nine out of ten times, they’re wanting to engage in some sort of new work with you. Are you using the CRM to connect the dot for reporting purposes, like, “Hey, this follow up led this business?”
Heather: I wouldn’t say that we’re that good. That nine out of ten is definitely a gut feel statistic. You could, you definitely could make that connection. We haven’t set up that level of reporting and automation [00:20:00] at this point, but you definitely could. Especially if you had a larger sales team, where you really wanted to be able to refine what they’re doing and get the highest return on their efforts that you can, then you could certainly factor in that type of reporting.
Carrie: Let’s be clear, Heather, you are that good.
Heather: I, at least, have the ideas or I know how it could be implemented. Whether or not we’re actually going to go as far as to implement that one, we’ll [00:20:30] see if we have some time, maybe later this year. You can definitely also turn your CRM into a huge time suck because it can do so many things, but you have to draw the line.
At some point, you have to get out there and win business and actually deliver on that business. Figuring out that balance of how much time do you invest in setting up these systems and then how much time do you spend actually doing the work that sends people through the systems is a delicate balance.
Carrie: I’m so glad you brought that up, because that’s true [00:21:00] with any tool. Right now Google Analytics is top of mind. You can spend a lot of time in Analytics and then going and tweaking your website based on what you’re seeing, but at some point, there are high value activities there, and then there are some that are low value that are really not worth the time, the endless tinkering, but I’m glad you brought that up.
As we move on here, do you have any tips [00:21:30] – and we’ve talked about a lot – for someone who just now, they’re hearing this and they’re like, “Okay, I need to get into this. I need implement some sort of a system here.” Any tips for getting started?
Heather: Yeah. I think making that priority list of what are the bare basics that you need a system to be able to do for you and start with that. Get that down, get your basics very solid, [00:22:00] where you’re comfortable using the CRM, you’ve found a good solution for you, it’s fitting into your workflow, and then start layering on the additional features. Don’t try to go full force and make it the behemoth monster of a CRM that you want it to eventually become. Grow that over time.
The other thing I would say is, have a plan before you start importing your data. If you’ve got contact lists and customer lists that you’re ready to put into [00:22:30] a CRM, really plan out, how do want to categorize them? How are you going to keep things separated? What fields do you need to build into the CRM, so that all of that information has a place to live. Figure all of that stuff out on the front end before you go and start importing.
It’s a lot easier to work with a clean starting slate than it is to import data, and then try to manipulate it and manage it from within the CRM. It’s easier to do all of that in Excel, [00:23:00] clean it up there, and then import it.
Carrie: Yeah, that makes sense. I’m thinking of, recently, all of the email systems I’ve used, and I’ve jumped around several times over the past couple of years, which I wish I hadn’t had done in retrospect, but it’s testifying that it’s easier to clean that up in a spreadsheet before importing into MailChimp.
Heather: Yeah. None of these tools are super easy to actually manage mass [00:23:30] data. It’s more about that one on one relationship with you and your client. Managing the data and cleaning it up and deduping will always be easier to do in a spreadsheet.
Carrie: Do you do lead scoring?
Heather: I do not for myself, but for some of our clients we do and I think it’s incredibly valuable.
Carrie: Yeah, break that down really quick. Explain what it is, and when you say it’s really valuable, why that is.
Heather: Okay. Lead scoring is basically [00:24:00] the process of awarding points or taking away points to a lead or a contact, based on how they’re interacting with your emails, your website. Sometimes you can even use social media interactions to manage those points.
Maybe if they open and email that you send them, then that’s one point. If they click on a link in that email, maybe that’s two points. If they fill out a form on your website, [00:24:30] then that’s five points. These are all very generic points that I’m throwing out here. There is no set system of how many points each activity should be worth.
Basically, what we do is, over time, we want to award points and create a score for each lead, so that if I’m looking at a whole bucket of leads … I’m talking more about people who are cold, haven’t really moved forward, haven’t been assigned to a sales person yet, they’re really sitting [00:25:00] in a bucket, being warmed up through emails or a newsletter or some kind of automated process. What we would do is look at all the activities that they could potentially take with us and assign points to those activities. Even negative points for if they’re sent an email and they don’t open it, then we may take away some points.
We want to set a score of, once they’ve accumulated enough points to get to X – let’s say it’s 100 – they’ve done all these things with us, they’ve opened [00:25:30] our emails, they’ve clicked the links, they’ve gone to the website, they’ve tweeted us, they finally get up to 100 points. Then we say, “Okay, now they’re ready and we can actually hand them off to a sales person.” If it’s small business, then we can call them ourselves at that point.
This takes a lot of the time that you or your sales person might have spent chasing down people who aren’t ready to have contact with you, and you turn that into an automated process. Once they get ready – we refer to that as sales [00:26:00] ready – once they’re sales ready, then we can assign them out, but until their score has come up to a certain point, it may not be worth that sales person or worth your time to actually interface with them directly.
A lot of people who sell digital products and then do email marketing based off of that, drip campaigns, this is how they really determine when they’re ready to reach out to someone. When you get that call from HubSpot after you’ve downloaded one of their forms, [00:26:30] they’re typically waiting until you get to a certain score and then they actually turn it over to a real human to reach out to you and see if there’s some way that they can sell something to you.
It’s incredibly valuable because you’re saving time, you’re also using an automated process to get someone to a point, where they’re actually ready to talk to a human being, and then the sales process from that point on should be shorter and it should be much more successful because you’ve already determined that they’ve got [00:27:00] some interest and they’re ready to interact with you.
Carrie: That is awesome. I need that in my life.
Heather: For us, it’s not something that we’ve implemented because we just haven’t for ourselves. There’s not really a specific reason for it, but for someone who does a lot of content marketing like yourself, it’s definitely a great indicator of someone who may need your help or maybe they’re stalking you online. One or the other, but then [00:27:30] you could make their day by calling them because they’ve been following you everywhere and they’ll love you even more for that.
Carrie: Wow. On that note, where can people stalk you online to find out more about you or follow up?
Heather: Our website, bluesteelesolutions.com, we publish a blog post once every week or two over there, lots of great marketing related topics. I am also on [00:28:00] Twitter. I don’t tweet much, but I do lurk quite a bit, so I’m out there, @heathersteele03. Those are the best places to grab me.
Carrie: I’m guessing Heather Steele 01 and 02 were taken?
Heather: I like the number three, so I don’t know if I even tried for those other two. I’ve always used 03, I don’t know why, but that’s me.
Carrie: Awesome. Thank you so [00:28:30] much for sharing your time and experience with us. I appreciate it and I will see you on the interwebs.
Heather: Awesome. Thank you so much Carrie.