The Best Time To Set Up Your SaaS Startup’s CRM For Scaling

Kat Busch

Kat Busch

August 23, 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you notice your sales data is out of date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?

SaaS startup founders have so much on their minds, so we thought it fitting to explore one of the most important but often overlooked aspects of scaling a startup - setting up and managing your CRM.

We know this isn’t the sexiest topic, but setting up and managing your CRM correctly from the start is an essential part of growing a successful company.

Founders that have worked within messy CRMs before understand how bad this problem can be, and how bad it can get. The snowball just keeps getting bigger.

There are 665 CRMs listed on G2, and countless other tools in the sales tech stack.  Navigating all of this can be difficult, so we hope to help answer a few important questions on CRMs, such as:

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?

So let’s get into it.

Setting Up Your CRM

So what does “CRM implementation” or “set up” actually mean and involve?

Well, the bad news is that CRMs (including Salesforce) don’t come ready “out of the box” with what modern sales teams need. All CRMs require some sort of customization if you want to track users, activities and outcomes (e.g. email communications, metrics, dashboards, products, deal history, team management, and more).

But the good news is that basically everything is configurable. So you’re going to want to take the way your business model and sales process work and modify your CRM to match that. What we’ve found across many B2B SaaS startups is that their business processes are all fairly similar in what they need from a CRM. While there may be a few specific things to set up (e.g. products, sales process stages) there really aren’t too many differences across startups.

When Is The Best Time To Set Up Your CRM?

Your CRM is meant to be your single source of truth for the company, and that’s why it’s so important to set it up right from the start. If you’ve been using Excel or Google Sheets and your spreadsheets are starting to “break” (you know what I’m talking about) then it’s likely time to purchase and implement a CRM. Your spreadsheet “breaks” when things start to get messy. Here are some examples:

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

That’s how you’ll know it’s time to bring in a CRM. Let’s dig in a little more and check out some of the costs and benefits around the timeline piece.

Costs If You Wait

Just like going past your baby’s due date (the baby keeps growing with each passing day), things get more painful the longer you wait.

The data will get messier. There’s also the operational complexity of getting more people up and running with new tools. And most importantly, if you don’t implement at the right time, it will hurt your ability to sell. You won’t have a clear picture into your pipeline, and as a founder if you don’t have a good view into how you’re selling, then you can’t scale your business. Yikes.

Peacock image

Benefits If You Move Quickly

The sooner you move away from spreadsheets, the sooner you can better manage your sales and growth and have a more sophisticated approach to your sales process. You’ll be able to see who to follow up with and when, easily track your ARR and ACV, your average time to close, see the deals that are stuck in a specific stage, and generally spend your time more effectively.

How Do Most Companies Implement Their CRM?

Historically, the two most common options to setup and configure your CRM included:

Do it yourself
Hire a consultant

Let’s talk through the first one. If you’re a startup founder, do you really want to do it yourself? You have so many things to juggle. Is this something you want to add to your list? It can be very time-consuming. It can be very error-prone.

Now let’s talk about the second option. It can also be time-consuming (and expensive) to work with a consultant. It can take weeks and cost tens of thousands of dollars just to set up and configure your CRM, and they may put a lot of the work back on you instead of guiding you with best practices for the strategic business questions going forward. Some consultants will be incentivized to come back and help you if the initial setup doesn’t go smoothly (aka more time, more money).

What we’ve found is that some consultants may not have the technical background and perspective that’s really important for scaling a company. Here’s the typical scenario. You’ll find an admin that sets up and manages your CRM. Likely, they don’t know enough about data modeling, scaling a company, pain points you’re likely to run into, how you should store which fields on which object, how you should relate different objects together, etc. This requires more complex, technical thought from someone that has spent time making sure their data models are built for scale.

The concept we’re touching on here is called “database schema design.”

Schema design is part of computer science. Database schema design “organizes the data into separate entities, determines how to create relationships between organized entities, and how to apply the constraints on the data. Designers create database schemas to give other database users, such as programmers and analysts, a logical understanding of the data.” This is waaaaay more than picking the fields you’ll want to include in your CRM.

Hint:

if a consultant asks you which fields out of the 100 possible fields you’ll want to include in your CRM - run! Run fast!

You don’t need to know how to code if you’re setting up and managing a CRM or Salesforce. But if your schema design is not well thought out, then your Salesforce can break long-term.

Put another way, why would you hire someone that doesn’t have the right experience to build your startup’s app? The same thing applies to your CRM set up and build out. It’s like product management for your app, where your app is actually your CRM.

So Should I Get Salesforce?

Salesforce is still ranked as the top CRM for small businesses (source) and is the most popular CRM on G2 (source). Salesforce can be expensive for some early-stage teams, but our recommendation is to go with Salesforce if you have the budget for sales tools.

Why?

Because you’ll eventually find that you need it, and migrating from another CRM tool when you have 10-20 sales reps is going to be difficult and expensive. Plus, when you’re hiring your first or second sales rep, they can get started in Salesforce right away and build the right foundation.

As we mentioned previously, there are a ton of CRMs for startups to choose from. On the surface they may look better, feel better, and cost less.

But as your sales team and go-to-market scales, your tech stack has to scale along with it. Unfortunately, those CRMs can’t scale with your scaling startup because they can’t support the complexity that Salesforce can support. We’ve seen so many startups have to make that painful switch.

And that’s why we built Swantide - we help automate the configuration of your Salesforce because we know that eventually you’ll need Salesforce, and we want you to be set up to grow long-term.

Final Thoughts


Building and growing a startup is no piece of cake. But with the right CRM and sales foundation, the experience becomes much sweeter. The sooner you move away from spreadsheets, the sooner you can better manage your sales and growth and have a more sophisticated approach to your sales process.

If you’re looking to avoid the headaches and extra work from doing the set up yourself or working with a time-intensive implementation partner, or if you want to chat more about database schema design (or anything else), we’re around.