When is the right time to set up a CRM?

Ryan Baer

October 13, 2021
you notice your sales data is out of date
you feel like you lack clarity on current pipeline
you want to see reports on booked and forecasted revenue but can’t
you missed an important action item for a potential customer
you expanded your sales team and it’s hard to see who owns what account
you’re seeing duplicates in the data
What does “CRM set up” mean/involve?
When is the best time to set up your CRM and why?
What are the costs if you wait?
What are the benefits if you move quickly?
How do most companies implement their CRM?
Should you get Salesforce or another CRM?


The CRM is the foundational piece of the go-to-market tech stack, and managing it thoughtfully is key to building an effective sales organization.  Thoughtful management extends beyond selecting the right piece of software and requires a clear understanding of the sales org’s goals.  Effectively designing and implementing a CRM is especially important for early-stage startups, where the earliest employees are responsible for creating the infrastructure that will support the sales org as the company scales.  This piece will discuss the optimal time for startups to implement a CRM, key considerations and challenges during CRM setup and management, and the importance of building a strategic sales foundation early on. 

When Is the Best Time to Set Up a CRM?

In the earliest days of a startup, many founders use tools like Google Sheets or Airtable to track key details on sales opportunities and set reminders for next steps.  This will suffice while there are few sales opportunities to track, but will quickly become untenable as the business grows and the sales pipeline balloons.  CRMs provide a more robust way of tracking all of this information.  A few signs that it’s time to implement a CRM for the first time include: 

  • Sales data is stale and outdated
  • Lack of clarity on key metrics related to sales pipeline and past sales results 
  • An important action item for a potential customer is missed
  • Unclear ownership of accounts and sales opportunities as the sales team expands
  • Duplicate data

It’s time to invest in a CRM when these issues begin to occur, as their negative impact only compounds over time. Moving quickly to implement a CRM soon after (or even before) these issues start to emerge enables more strategic management of startup sales operations.  

CRM Setup

The process of setting up a CRM is often an arduous one, as they don’t come fully ready to use out of the box.  CRMs function as platforms that require customization to generate optimal results, and it’s important to be thoughtful about sales operations from the outset to avoid constantly rebuilding these processes as the company grows.  A few areas that require upfront customization are:

  • Transferring data from legacy systems (e.g. Google Sheets, Airtable etc.) into a CRM like Salesforce
  • Designing a representation of your data and sales process 
  • Figuring out which specific information about the company’s sales process and business model you need to track to make your sales team productive and give you the data you need to make smart decisions
  • Visually designing page layouts to easily access key information 
  • Building out reports and dashboards that provide insight into key metrics in your sales process (e.g. pipeline, quarterly sales performance, etc.)
  • Integrating with other sales tools (e.g. Outreach, HubSpot, LinkedIn Sales Navigator, etc.)

Setting up a CRM effectively requires 1) a deep knowledge of your business, 2) an understanding of sales ops best practices and how to perform tasks within the CRM, and 3) resources to support CRM setup and ongoing maintenance.  Many startup founders and sales leaders, especially those who have not managed this process before, are lacking on points 2 and 3, and therefore outsource this process to a third party, such as a consulting firm or a software provider.  Those who opt to set up a CRM by themselves often end up working with consultants in the end anyways, as issues inevitably emerge as the company grows.  Leveraging experts in this manner enables startup leaders to focus their time and energy on more strategic issues facing the company and helps build the infrastructure to scale the sales organization.

A CRM also requires further investment of time and energy after the initial setup period.  Companies often want to automate repetitive tasks, track and report on new metrics, refine their sales process, and iterate on pricing, among other things, as the company evolves.  The additional complexity that comes with more users, data and reports requires additional effort to maintain as well, a point that is especially relevant for venture-backed startups with an accelerated growth trajectory.  

At the end of the day, the CRM is the source of truth for a company’s sales data and is a driver of growth if managed correctly; however, doing this effectively requires an ongoing investment of time and effort.

Building a Strategic Sales Foundations

A strategic sales foundation is built on an understanding of sales data, which is why tools like CRMs are so critical.  Effective sales organizations leverage this data to improve metrics that matter, such as length of sales cycle, win rates, and total sales.  Some common data points that startup sales orgs should be tracking include:

  • Weighted pipeline (established by defining stages of the sales process and associated win probability)
  • Lead source of highest value customers and fastest to close customers
  • Industries and verticals that lead to the most wins
  • Product usage data (especially relevant for bottoms-up sales motions as a way to target expansion/upsell opportunities)
  • Length of sales cycle for won and lost deals
  • Target buyer profile (e.g. function, job title, etc.)

Tracking and understanding these metrics helps sales leaders project revenue more accurately and identify the highest leverage areas to source leads.  This is especially important as the sales org expands and leaders are tasked with improving rep productivity rather than leading every aspect of the sales process.  Common ways to improve rep productivity include:

  • Ensure they have sufficient high quality leads.  This can be done by analyzing the shared characteristics of your best customers and purchasing lead lists of prospects who resemble these customers (from sources like ZoomInfo, Seamless.ai, etc.) and by enhancing your marketing efforts. 
  • Enhance the sales tech stack by purchasing tools which automate processes (e.g. marketing automation tools like HubSpot or Outreach), provide more data (e.g. enrichment tools like Clearbit), or add channels for contacting leads (e.g. LinkedIn Sales Navigator) 
  • Provide coaching and feedback to improve performance.  This can be done through traditional management techniques and can be augmented by software (e.g. Gong, Chorus.ai, etc.) and by tracking the data behind your sales process and the inputs to your rep performance (e.g. emails/calls made, opportunities advanced through the pipeline, etc.)

How Swantide Can Help

Swantide will help set up and configure your CRM in a way that’s built to scale but meets you where you’re at today.  Our Salesforce module and data model is built on engineering principles and designed with feedback from sales professionals at companies such as LinkedIn, Dropbox, Square, Stripe, Asana, Optimizely, and more.  

We assist with cleanly transferring legacy data into Salesforce and work with you to define the processes and workflows that your team will use in Salesforce.  We also train your team members on core Salesforce functionality and Swantide packages.  On an ongoing basis, we act as your Salesforce Administrator.  For every change in your sales process, there is a corresponding change that needs to be translated into your CRM - we handle that piece. 

Swantide helps your company build a strategic sales foundation by supporting the following areas:

  • Syncing product usage data into Salesforce for companies with a bottoms-up sales motion
  • Pipeline tracking and reporting on key SaaS metrics such as ARR and MRR 
  • Marketing attribution for multi-touch campaigns
  • Reports, dashboards and workflows built for every member of the sales organization
  • Built-in tools that support good data hygiene
  • Deal-based and activity-based compensation
  • Setting up territories to route accounts based on location, size and industry
  • Integration support for tools across the sales tech stack, including marketing support, data enrichment, lead generation, etc.
  • Permissions and security

Consultants are the most common way that companies build this functionality in their CRM today.  However, they usually charge a high implementation fee and expensive retainer (usually several thousand dollars per month).  A significant agency problem exists here as well, where consultants are incentivized to push unnecessarily complex implementations of Salesforce because they bill on an hourly basis. 

Conversely, Swantide charges a flat rate and can get you up and running in Salesforce within 1 week. We’re a venture-backed SaaS company ourselves, and we’re making it easier for other startups to set up and manage Salesforce. If you’d like to learn more, please reach out to us at hello@swantide.com - we look forward to hearing from you!

Get Swantide updates, tips and insights delivered straight to your inbox

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.