Understanding Data Management in a CRM

Beginner's Guide to CRM

A CRM is a tool that helps you process and utilize all the information you need to reach your business goals. However, the CRM needs a way to understand and display the data for you. The data model within a CRM allows it to do this.

As we discuss the specifics of how data is organized in a CRM, keep in mind that this guide is written from a Salesforce perspective. This means that different platforms may use different terminology and processes to execute the same functions.

The Beginner's Guide to CRM
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What is a CRM data model?

A CRM data model describes how different entities in your data — such as individual contacts and company accounts — are related to one another, as well as what data should be attached to which entities.

A CRM like Salesforce provides a standard data model, which can be highly customized to fit the needs of your business. Throughout this chapter, we’ll explore aspects of Salesforce’s standard data model and some ways you might customize it. 

To help you visualize this concept, think about data in its raw form: a table. A table of data can be imported into your CRM as a spreadsheet. Your CRM then uses the framework of a data model to organize the information, establish relationships between the data, and allow users to manipulate it.

CRM data import

Let’s start out by defining a few key terms centered around CRM data modeling:

  • Objects: Objects are the different entities, or types of records, you work with during the course of doing business. In our example spreadsheet above, objects are represented by the different tabs (or tables) of data — contacts and accounts.
  • Records: A record is an individual entry of data related to a single object, for example, a person or a company. In the table, a record is shown as a single row of data. You have a record for Jane, a record for John, and so on. 
  • Fields: These are the different attributes or categories of information you will be storing about each record. In the example above, fields are represented by the labels on each column — email, phone, title, etc. 
  • Values: A value is the unique information that is input into a field on a record. In the table, field values are shown as a single cell. For example, the value in Jane’s “Title” field is “CEO.”
  • Relationships: Relationships determine how the objects in your CRM are connected and related to each other, for example, how contact records are related to account records. Generally, relationships can be one-to-one or one-to-many. For example, one account can be related to many different contacts.

Because a CRM requires a data model to function, it provides standard objects and fields to help users get started. 

However, it’s inevitable that some users will need to create customizations to fulfill their complex requirements. This is where custom objects and fields come into play; they’re objects and fields created by an admin after they’ve implemented the platform.


As mentioned earlier, objects are the different types of records that exist within your CRM. 

Some standard objects you’ll find in most CRMs are:

  • Lead: A lead is a record of a person who might convert, but they don’t have an established relationship with your organization.
  • Contact: A contact is a record of a person you’ve had an established relationship with — whether as a customer, prospect, or a partner. Contacts must have an account associated with them. 
  • Account: In a B2B CRM world, accounts are your prospect’s or your customer’s organization.
  • Opportunity: An opportunity represents a pending deal or an activity that has the potential to generate revenue.
  • Campaign: A campaign is a marketing project or other organized effort. Campaigns can be used to track interactions and ROI.
  • Case: A case is a record of a customer reaching out with an issue or question.  These cases can be routed to your customer support team.

Because leads, accounts, and contacts are often confused with each other, we like to use a tree metaphor when explaining the differences between these terms.

Leads Tree

The leads would be the seeds because they’re not attached to anything at the moment. You can think of them as a pile of business cards we’ve managed to collect in our CRM.

Once a relationship has been established, an account is created; this would be the tree trunk. The tree branches would be the contacts associated with the account, as the contacts can help us understand their organizational structure.

If you can’t use the standard objects to fit your business’ needs, you can turn to creating your own custom objects to establish relationships there.

However, standard objects typically provide more functionality. So we suggest considering ways to simply relabel and repurpose standard objects before deciding to create custom objects.


Fields are where you establish what information you’ll store about your objects. When building out your CRM architecture, you need to select which fields apply to specific objects. From these fields, you can create customized page layouts — where you choose which fields to display on an object.

There are standard fields that come out-of-the-box to help you build a strong CRM architecture. Note that you can also edit these fields to suit your needs.

Some common examples of standard fields are:

  • Name
  • Title
  • Email
  • Phone
  • Industry
  • Lead source

Just like objects, there are also custom fields available in most CRMs; you can create custom fields to suit your business’s needs.

Some examples of custom fields we’ve created include:

  • Job function
  • Pronouns
  • Days in stage
  • Closed lost reason
  • Sub-industry
  • Lead source description
Standard vs Custom Fields

With custom fields, you can choose how to display the information. Some common field types include:

  • Text field
  • Number
  • Picklist (dropdown)
  • Checkbox (both single and multiple)
  • Date picker
  • URL field
  • File
  • Calculated
  • + more!

You can use both standard and custom fields to record anything you want. The possibilities are endless, but you don’t want to overcrowd your page layouts with irrelevant information. So be sure you’re mindful of which fields to include.

CRM data management best practices

Because CRM data can get messy and outdated as your database grows, it’s important to keep some best practices in the forefront of your CRM workflow. These practices will help you minimize the amount of time spent cleaning and maintaining your database.

Use an internal playbook

As mentioned earlier, it’s important to standardize every aspect of CRM data collection. You’ll need to establish rules surrounding every dataset that enters into your database.

For example:

  • How to record a state name (e.g. “Texas” vs. “TX”)
  • How to list phone numbers (e.g. 1234567890 vs. (123) 456-7890)
  • How to write down job titles (e.g. “CEO” vs. “Chief Executive Officer”)

Once you’ve established how you collect your data, it’s time to record your processes and expectations in an internal playbook. This playbook should also cover how objects and fields are meant to be used in your business processes.

Some CRMs (like Salesforce) allow you to create data validation rules. A validation rule is a formula you create on a field that verifies whether data that a user inputs meets your standards; otherwise, it displays an error message if data is input incorrectly. This prevents incorrectly formatted data from being recorded.

Be sure to share your playbook with your fellow CRM users. That way, it’ll reduce confusion and improve the quality of your data collection process.

Automate to reduce error

To reduce human error, be sure to use your CRM to automate processes when possible.

One way to do this in Salesforce is by using macros. You can think of a macro as a shortcut your users can use to automate repetitive administrative tasks. Macros require no coding experience, which makes it easier for your teams to implement the macros into their daily work.

For example, say your customer service rep needs to follow up on a customer’s case. You can add a macro to automatically create a new task for the rep to follow up, send an email with a single click, as well as automatically update any relevant fields.

Salesforce macros

Perform regular data maintenance

Make sure to check for data decay and perform data maintenance regularly. Otherwise, you’ll run into all the risks associated with using poor data quality — such as wasting time and money.

Depending on your industry, you may need to clean your database at a higher frequency. For example, the decay rate for B2B data is estimated to be 70.3% per year — meaning you may need to evaluate your data even more regularly than your B2C counterparts.

Hire a CRM administrator

As you customize your CRM, you should look into hiring a CRM administrator — if you haven’t already. If you’re interested in what their day-to-day lives entail, we’ve written about the role and responsibilities of a Salesforce administrator before.

Not only will they know how to configure objects and fields to collect all relevant data for you, they can also identify pitfalls ahead of time and address those concerns proactively.

In the case of NavCare

When NavCare came to EBQ for help, they were looking to implement Salesforce to improve data quality and draw better insights from data. EBQ’s certified administrator configured NavCare’s CRM while helping them standardize their process. Throughout the partnership, we also helped them gain the ability to track high-level reporting and account data.

PDF-NavCare_Case-Study update

NavCare + EBQ

EBQ’s experts helped NavCare implement Salesforce CRM to increase their sales team’s productivity and capture key reporting insights.

If you’re looking for an experienced CRM administrator, our certified experts are here to help. We’ll be able to work out of all your Salesforce apps, such as Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, or Nonprofit Cloud. Be sure to reach out to our specialists to learn more about our CRM Consulting services.

Chapter 4: How different teams use CRM
Now that we established the foundations of CRM, it’s time to take a closer look at how different teams use a CRM. Learn more in Chapter 4.
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