SEOs and CRMs: How To Use Your CRM to Optimize Your Sales Pipeline

If you’re an SEO, chances are that managing your leads is not very high on your “favorite things to do” list. At UpBuild, we’ll be the first to admit that we’re not sales people, but we’ve found that keeping a well-organized sales pipeline is absolutely vital for our company’s success. 

Customer Relationship Management systems (like Hubspot or Zoho, to name a few) are recommended by UpBuild for digital services and many other types of businesses, particularly those with a lead generation model. While  CRMs vary in cost and capabilities, most offer a solution that will greatly improve your efficiency in handling new leads, following up with potential clients, and ultimately closing more deals. CRMs create a sales roadmap to reduce those “paralysis by analysis” moments when you’re second-guessing whether or not it’s a good time to follow up with that lead, or when you’re debating how much new business you need to hit your revenue goals, for example. The idea is to let your CRM do the heavy lifting to help you streamline, and even automate, your sales workflow. 

You might already be familiar with the benefits of a CRM, and you might even be using one to manage your leads, but are you taking advantage of all of its features? Keep reading for some tips on how to get the most out of your CRM as an SEO.

Improve Communication Internally and Externally 

When it comes to lead nurturing, communication is the wind behind your sails. Communication is a key element when it comes to moving your leads in the right direction. Your CRM will allow you to develop and analyze your communication methods to give you insights on the optimal strategy to keep leads engaged throughout the sales cycle. Here are some tips on how to utilize your CRM to improve communication with leads:

Integrate Your Email

Most of the leading CRMs allow you to integrate your email, along with your team’s emails. Speaking from experience, the integration process can be a bit of a chore, but once it’s set up, you’ll have all of your communications with a company or individual in one place. Organizing your emails in your CRM will eliminate the time wasted when you’re sifting through your inbox trying to remember where you left off with a particular lead. You can also see your team members’ communications with the lead, so everyone stays on the same page. 

Create Email Templates

Spinning up a new email message, whether it’s an initial email to a new lead, a follow-up, or even a break-up email, can be somewhat time-consuming and mentally taxing. Take some of that stress off your plate by creating templates within your CRM for the scenarios you find yourself in most often. Use variables within the email that you can easily customize to address the lead and their needs.

Example from Hubspot

Schedule Follow-Ups

When you don’t have a regimented follow-up strategy, some leads tend to fall off your radar. Following up with leads is important. Sometimes even the most improbable leads can turn into new business when you follow up at the right time, and keeping these communications organized in your CRM will help you make sure nothing slips through the cracks. 

Start by creating a regimented follow-up strategy for each sales cycle stage in your pipeline (we’ll get into how to create your sales stages later). At each stage, you should develop a communication strategy specifically geared toward guiding the lead to the next stage. For example, if you have qualified a lead, email them once a week asking if they would like to hop on a call where you’ll collect more information about their needs. Set reminders in your CRM so you always know exactly when to send your next communication. 

Keep Your Team In The Loop

Keeping your team’s conversations regarding a particular lead organized in one place is super helpful. You can keep notes that are visible to the team members involved with the sales process, so that everyone is up to speed at all times and can move the conversation forward as necessary. Many CRMs allow you to create tasks such as following up with a lead, requesting access to Google Analytics and Google Search Console, or drafting a proposal, so you can assign and track the team’s progress. 

Measure Your Productivity

Here at UpBuild, those of us working on the sales side of things try to break up our workload to 75% SEO, 25% client discovery and sales. That split works well for an agency like ours, and I would recommend that as a rule of thumb especially to freelancers handling their own SEO work while also maintaining a healthy sales pipeline. With that breakdown in mind, you can see why it’s important to make sure you’re not wasting your time when you’re handling leads. Some useful metrics to track to measure your productivity are: 

  • Number of leads created
  • Emails sent to clients
  • Emails received from clients
  • Tasks completed
  • Notes created

Most of the more popular CRMs allow you to track these numbers. Take some time at the end of each month to compare your productivity to previous months. If you notice a downward trend in any of these areas, you’ll know that it’s time to dedicate more resources to that effort. 

Create Milestones For Your Leads In Your Pipeline

Your CRM should visualize your sales pipeline. The most intuitive way to set up your pipeline in your CRM is to create milestones that represent the different parts of the SEO sales funnel. If you’ve worked in SEO for a while, you probably know that the sales process can be relatively long. Over time, you can analyze and tweak your process, not just to be more efficient, but to align more cohesively with your preferences as an SEO. 

For example, at UpBuild, part of our process for qualifying leads is to hold a team vote where every team member has the opportunity to give their opinion on whether or not they believe the client is a good fit. We do this to make sure everyone on the team is confident that we’d be able to do our best work for the client, depending on their specific SEO needs. If a lead does not pass the vote, we’ll refer them to someone else who can be more of a help. As such, we created milestones in our CRM so that we stay consistent with our steps during the voting phase of the process. Here are the sales stages in our pipeline at UpBuild:

  1. New Leads
  2. Worth Pursuing
  3. In Discussion (Pre-Vote)
  4. Building Proposal (Post-Vote)
  5. Unqualified Leads
  6. Proposal Sent
  7. Awaiting Kickoff 
  8. Closed: Won
  9. Closed: Lost
  10. Follow Up Later
  11. Referred Out
  12. Poor Fit
  13. Dead Lead
  14. Lost

By keeping your leads categorized by funnel position, you’ll give yourself an excellent starting point to analyze the efficiency of your sales strategy. It is up to you how granular you want your milestones to be, but the more milestones you can identify will likely give you the ability to identify more precise areas of your process that need improvement. Once you’ve created these milestones, calculate the number of opportunities you need at every stage to hit your revenue goals.

Let your CRM Drive Your Sales Strategy With Data Insights

Now that you have your milestones set up, you can analyze over time how well you’re transitioning leads from one end of the pipeline to the other. Among the greatest advantages you get with a CRM are the reporting capabilities. Just like you use your clients’ data to optimize the way they do business online, you can use your own data to optimize the way you handle leads. Here are some useful data views that will help you measure and improve your process:

New Leads Per Month

Just like any business, a consistent stream of new leads is important. Use your CRM to see how many leads are entering the funnel. Are you getting enough attention from new leads to keep your pipeline full? If you’re noticing a downward trend here month-over-month, then you’ll know that you need to focus on your lead generation efforts. 

Referral Sources

As an SEO, you wouldn’t want 100% of your client’s site coming from Google because one algorithm change could spell disaster. Similarly, if you rely too heavily on one referral source for leads in your pipeline, such as your personal network or your website contact form, there’s a chance that your opportunities will dry up if something goes wrong. That’s why keeping a good mixture of referral sources is something to strive for. Your CRM should allow you to store this information so you can evaluate your ability to diversify when it comes to finding new leads. 

Qualified vs Unqualified Leads

It feels good to walk away from that networking event with a big stack of business cards that have all become new leads. By keeping track of the percentage of leads that are unqualified for your services, you can figure out how to articulate what makes a business a good fit for what you do, and actively seek out those types of contacts next time. Similarly, you can use this breakdown to compare the quality of leads coming from various digital sources, to help you understand where you should focus more or improve your digital marketing tactics. This is a great way to use your CRM to keep improving your conversion-to-sale rates, and minimize time spent on unqualified leads.

Time In Deal Stage

Setting goals for how long a lead should be positioned in a deal stage is the best way to use this metric. There’s no ideal length of time that a lead should be in one deal stage, but using this report will help you track progress with your leads, and give you a heads-up when a lead has been stagnant in one place for too long. Start with goals for each stage that seem reasonable and align with your sales process, and take action on leads that haven’t moved in a while.

Conversion Rate

Converting leads from one sales stage to the next is the name of the game. In regards to your sales funnel, the conversion rate refers to the percentage of leads who progress from a given stage to the next toward closing a deal. Most of the widely-used CRMs provide this data in their reporting, but you can also calculate this manually by simply keeping track of the number of leads that enter that stage and convert, versus ones that are lost during that stage. This is an excellent metric to use when analyzing your sales funnel, because it will tell you where your leads are dropping off during the buyer’s journey.

Ready, Set, Optimize!

As SEOs, optimizing is what we do! Your sales pipeline shouldn’t be an exception. Hopefully you found this information useful, and you now have a better idea of how to use your CRM to close more deals. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments!

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