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The Savvy Admin’s Guide to Strategic CRM Set-up

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Author photo: Mac Hasley

Mac Hasley


We’re guessing, if you found your way here, you:

  1. Have a CRM, are considering investing in a CRM, or are switching to a new CRM.
  2. Aren’t already an in-the-weeds IT expert—and could use some help starting out on the right foot.

If that’s the case, great! You’re in good company. Having a CRM set-up (the right way) can be a huge asset to your business. And modern, user-friendly CRMs should be easy enough to build out strategically—without the help of a dedicated, database-expert admin.

This guide will get you started on setting up your CRM in a way that will save you headaches, standardize your workflow, give agency to your sales team, and strengthen your relationships.

But first: you might want to hold off on DIY-ing your CRM set-up if...

1. Your CRM isn’t user-friendly (and you’re short on expertise and time).

Some modern CRMs are built with simple interfaces and easy-to-use integrations—meant to be accessible to non-technical marketers, sales teams, and even business owners.

Other CRMs are robust and customizable—but require a decent amount of know-how to get started.

Before you commit to an undertaking that’s over your bandwidth, take a look at what others have to say about your CRM’s ease of set up. It’s also worth considering your CRM’s support response time. If your system will take you weeks to set up and days to resolve roadblocks, bringing an expert on board might be a better bet.

2. Your team isn’t on board yet.

CRMs are meant to provide value for anyone who interacts with your prospects or customers. Your marketing team, sales team, support team, and IT team should all be prepared to transition onto your new CRM—and you should set aside some time to set expectations and train the key players on how to use the system effectively.

3. Your ducks aren’t quite in a row when it comes to data.

You'll save yourself a lot of time if you access, inventory, and organize your existing data—before importing it into the CRM. Delete junk records, update old records with new ones, and set up your existing sources of managing and collecting data to sync with your new system.

4. You don’t understand your business goals or your customer journey.

Your CRM should supplement your strategy, not the other way around. This means before you set up your CRM, you should already have an idea of how it can help you meet your KPIs and improve your relationships with your customers.

Have your bases covered? Great. Then here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how to get your CRM up, running, and supporting your business goals.

1. Get the lay of the land.

You’ll want to spend a bit of time getting familiar with your CRM dashboard. Most will be pretty self-explanatory in the default setting. They should pull useful metrics and alerts. They should include a menu—which will point you in the right direction for making entries, browsing contacts, and viewing reports.

Here are a couple of navigational terms to know before you really dive into set-up:

Leads: A “lead” is a prospective customer—or anyone you might do business with. Your CRM should give you an option to "qualify" the lead—or mark how likely the lead is to become a customer or contact.

Contacts or People: Most CRMs will have a designated way of sorting “people” or “contacts” and/or “organizations.” This is generally used for people, partners, and vendors you already do business with—or leads you’ve “qualified” as ready to formally evaluate your product or service.

(CRMs use different terms for these folks—we’ll be using “People” throughout this article)

Opportunities: An opportunity is a business deal, a sale or an action that has a close date, and a tangible monetary value.

Pipeline: A pipeline represents your sales process from start to finish. Each milestone in that process is known as a “stage”—and your opportunities move through those stages. Everyone’s pipeline will define stages a little differently, just as all businesses will undergo different steps in order to capitalize on an opportunity. Your CRM should give you the ability to customize your pipelines based on your business.

What a standard dashboard looks like in Copper

Here, you've got a high level overview of new contacts, upcoming deadlines, and sales projections upon logon. And you’ll be able to dive deeper, through the left column navigation.

2. Define your leads and contacts.

Your CRM is, at its core, a database of people. So let’s first handle how to import, and classify, someone of interest to your company.

Before you get started uploading “leads,” you’ll want to decide if your business even needs to sort and store contacts in that way. Here are a few quick rules of thumb:

Your business should track leads if…

  • You qualify prospective customers/opportunities before moving them through your sales process.
  • You receive many prospective customers/opportunities at a given time.

Your business can skip leads and just initially store contacts as “people” if...

  • Your sales process starts as soon as you're aware of a prospective customer/opportunity.
  • You receive one prospective customer/opportunity at a time.
Customizing contacts in Copper

Your CRM should allow you to customize the contact and context info for each lead (and give you a way to move them into your contacts) once they “convert” and become qualified for your sales process.

When that happens, they cease to be leads—and they’ll move through your CRM as “People.”

Pro-tip: If you’re working in B2B, you might find it useful to add “companies.” Your CRM should allow you to import business data and then tie each company or organization to your “People” records. That way, you know what businesses have qualified as interested in your product or service—and who you should speak to about moving the deal forward.

How Leads, People, and Companies, and Opportunities are linked and sorted in Copper

3. Define your pipeline.

Once your People are set-up, you’re ready to move them through your “pipeline”—which is defined by milestones, or “stages.”

Here are a few examples of how different companies may design their pipelines:

Traditional sales company - Qualified → Follow-Up → Presentation → Contract Sent → Negotiation

Business development - First Meeting → Partner Meeting → Negotiation → Term Sheet

Recruiting -
Phone Interview → First In-Person Interview → Second In-Person Interview

→ Reference Check → Offer Letter

Your pipeline might look different from the examples above. In fact, if you’re just using your CRM for contact management, you might not need a pipeline at all.

But if you do have a sales cycle, write down the steps within it from start to finish. These’ll make up your pipeline.


  • What is the common starting point for an opportunity?
  • What key stages will each sales pass through?
  • What does the conclusion of a deal look like?

You may have multiple answers—which means you may need to build out multiple pipelines.

To see how it all ties together: here’s a quick .gif demonstrating how a lead moves through a pipeline on Copper.

Pro-tip: Evaluating the opportunities in your pipeline is instrumental to predicting your deals closed and diagnosing your sales cycle health. If your CRM allows you to input a “Win Probability,” use it! It’ll add layers of depth to your reporting and help you track your progress.

4. Customize.

With your leads, people, and pipeline set-up, you’ve got the skeletal structure of your CRM. But to give it life and maximize its effectiveness, you should add custom fields that make sense for your business.

Your CRM will have default fields already established that prompt you to include basic contact information as you add a person or company.

But ask yourself: what do you need to know about your leads? Your people?

Surely it’s more than just their first and last name. How do you want to group and sort them within a system?

Here are three quick questions you can ask to determine which custom fields are worth including:

  • What data are you hoping to collect from leads, people, companies, and opportunities?
  • Of that data, what isn't already available in the default fields?
  • What reports do you want to build to measure success?

For example: if your sales team talks to prospects differently based on their industry, you might want to add an “industry” field. Then later, when you look at your reports, you can also track how people from different industries are responding to your sales tactics or moving through your pipeline.

5. Get the team set-up and decide on your permissions.

At this point you’ve already:

  1. Added your contacts to your CRM either as leads or People.
  2. Defined your opportunities and built your pipeline.
  3. Customized your CRM to make your reports richer and your sales team’s life easier.

It’s time to bring everyone onboard.

The question is: “onboard to what?”

Does your sales team need to see your new employee onboarding pipeline—or should you leave that to HR? How can you add your team to your CRM without cluttering up their workflow?

Do you have records that should be restricted to certain users? What about team emails? If you’re syncing your emails to your CRM—and want that done privately—it’s important to establish that in your settings ahead of time.

Deciding on a visibility status is important—and bringing your team onboard should be easy. As an admin, you should have full permissions to include "users" by email. From there, you can decide to give them admin status as well, or to restrict their access.

Here’s how that looks in Copper:

Pro-tip: Most CRMs will allow you to group your new users by “teams.” This is a huge time-saver when it comes to establishing visibility permissions. Likely, if one member of your sales team or customer support team doesn’t need access to a record, the others don’t either.

5. Import your data.

You know how to add new leads and people manually. But no matter how easy your CRM makes it, we’re sure you’d agree: uploading your existing data in the same manner would be a nightmare.

Luckily, just about every CRM will offer you a way to import your existing data via a .csv or Excel file. And just about every CRM will have a slightly different process for importing those fields.

But essentially, they all go something like this:

  1. You clean up your data in a .csv or Excel doc so that the categories match those that your CRM can read on an import.
  2. You add the custom categories in your CRM to match up with any other spreadsheet columns you don’t see represented in your CRM’s defaults.
  3. You upload, import, and wait.
  4. Double-check to make sure your fields match up and handle any errors your CRM might have notified you of.

At Copper, we accept a pretty wide range of fields, as long as text fields stay under 255 characters. More info on that here.

Pro-tip: Make sure you designate one person on your team to be responsible for importing data—otherwise, you’re likely to end up with duplicates. Usually this falls on the admin.

6. Check in, and look forward.

Now, your CRM should be all set to…

  • Store your existing data
  • Capture the data that matters to your team
  • Be accessible to the people who need access
  • Help you organize and optimize your process through a pipeline.

At this point, it’s safe to say, “You did it.” But not safe enough to say, “You’re done.”

You’ll want to schedule routine times to check in to make sure your CRM is running smoothly and that it stays up-to-date.

You’ll find it worthwhile to look into how other companies in your industry are managing their customer relationships to see how your processes and results measure up.

Take a bit of time to train your team on how to use your CRM most effectively, and continue to optimize your CRM to grow with your company’s needs.

And you deserve to take a second to congratulate yourself. Introducing a CRM into your company is a huge leap forward—one that should make you more efficient, and make your company relationships more rewarding.

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