Using Airtable as a company “operating system”
This blog post shows how to create a simple CRM on Airtable. This is the first of a series of posts where we will show how you can use Airtable to build your company’s “operating system”. By “operating system” we mean an integrated software tool that captures the most important company data and support its main processes. You can think of it as sort of ERP but simpler, cheaper and tailored to your specific company processes.
We will use Airtable since it is a prominent no-code platform which combines a user-friendly database with the ability to add simple business logic. We also use it internally at Asamby for most of our tasks like: CRM, hours logging, payment tracking, task management, dashboard, …)
Please note that we recommend AirTable for many day-to-day processes and activities except those related to critical data like accounting, invoices, etc.. In that case you could still theoretically use AirTable but it’s much safer to use a dedicated accounting software where the integrity of the data is consistently checked and guaranteed.
What is a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and why you need one
As mentioned at the beginning, in this post we will explain step-by-step how to create a simple CRM (Customer Relationship Management) to:
- Capture leads and contacts
- Model the stage of the sales funnel the perspective clients are in
- Easily organize the leads by status and follow up actions
A typical sales funnel will have these stages:
- Contact: The first interaction with the lead, can be inbound/outbound, via email, phone, in-person, web, etc..
- Demo/Scoping: The perspective customer participates to a meeting or call to know more about a product or service and to share his/her needs and requirements. Depending on the product, it can be more than one session and it can involve more people as well as demo and trials.
- Proposal: Sending a first commercial proposal to the lead for review and discussion.
- Negotiation: Clarifying, discussing and, if necessary, adjusting the proposal.
- Sales: If everything goes well the persective customer is happy with the offer and proceeds with signing the contract or purchasing the product.
Please note that the process described above is typical for B2B and B2C clients where the service/product proposed needs extensive explanation or discussion (e.g. a consulting project or a media agency engagement). Other more standardized offers, like a ecommerce, will have an automatic sales funnel and the CRM will follow the ECommerce development.
The main components of a CRM on Airtable
We will build this CRM step-by-step for an hypothetical product/service company selling to B2B clients. However, this structure is quite general and you can easily adapt it to your specific needs.
In order to get the most out of this guide please make sure that:
- You have basic familiarity with Airtable and have an account (a free account will be enough)
- You know the overall structure of your company’s sales funnel and the actual (or desired) sales process
You can follow along the creation of the CRM on Airtable by checking the actual complete system here. You can also duplicate it and customize it to your specific needs.
This CRM system will have 3 tables:
- Contacts: Capturing the people interested in our offering and providing a point of contact in the company that is a Sales Lead
- Companies: The company where the contact (or contacts) works. It is useful to keep track of different stakeholders in the same company and calculating statistics like recurring sales, etc.
- Leads: The actual sales opportunity under discussion, it involves one or more Contact at a specific Company.
CREATING THE CRM CONTACTS DATABASE
The Contacts table will capture the point of contact of each sales lead and will have the following information:
- First Name (text)
- Last Name (text)
- Company (lookup to Companies table)
- Role (text but could be standardized with a dropdown)
- Email (email field)
- Phone (phone field)
- Notes (long text, could be used for unstructured information like preferences, details on the first interaction, etc.)
- Leads (lookup field to see the leads associated to that contact)
- Sales (rollup conditional field to see the sales associated to that contact)
Clearly the one above is a very simple example that could be enriched with photo, birthday, past companies and so on.
CREATING THE CRM COMPANIES DATABASE
The Companies tables aggregates the Contacts under a single organization umbrella and allows to group the sales statistic by each company.
This table contains the fields:
- Name (text)
- Sector (dropdown with standard industry sector)
- Employees (dropdown with several employees ranges)
- Website (url)
- Contacts (lookup field showing all CRM contacts working there)
- Leads (lookup field showing all leads associated to this company)
- Sales (rollup field calculating the total sales to that company)
Again, this is just the simplest possible representation of a company in a CRM. More sophisticated version could easily include statistics by sector, interaction history, etc.
CREATING THE CRM LEADS DATABASE
This is the most important table of our homemade CRM. In fact in the Leads table capture the actual sales opportunity, the value, the client stakeholder and our dedicated sales person. This is where we see the value of the funnel by stage and which leads are “stale”, in other words, those that have been stuck in the same stage of the funnel for too long.
The fields in this table are:
- Project name (text field, simple identifier of the opportunity)
- Lead contact (lookup field, client stakeholder)
- Sales person (dropdown, internal person dedicated to the opportunity)
- Lead source (dropdown, where the lead came from)
- Date Lead/Demo/Proposal/Won/Lost (date fields to track when the main events happened)
- Sales proposal (link to the sales proposal sent)
- Lead value (currency, value estimated or precise, of the opportunity)
- Notes (long text)
- Next steps (long text with the follow up actions to execute)
- Last status change (date field measuring when the status field was changed last)
- Days since last status change (number representing how many days the lead has been in the same status, useful to identify leads that are “stuck”)
Please note that this table in particular has additional views that facilitate its use as CRM:
- Projects sold, filtering only the leads that ended with a sales (status “WON”)
- Active leads, filtering the leads still active and that need to be processed (status different from “WON” and “LOST”)
- Sales funnel, kanban view to work through the leads as tasks in a Kanban board. Giving a quick view of the leads in each funnel stage
As for the other tables also the Leads’ one could be enriched with many more features like:
- Notification to the sales person when a lead is “stuck”
- Pre-defined email flow to the perspective client with offering information and follow up questions
- Ability to capture all email communications with a customer in a lead history
How to use the CRM in your sales process
So now that you have your CRM how should you and your team use it? The typical flow is very simple and, although varying from company to company, it normally goes through these steps:
- Adding the lead to the Leads page
- If the contact is not present add him/her to the Contacts table
- If the contact’s company is not present add it to the Companies table
- Go to the Leads’ Sales Funnel view and review all the leads by each stage
- Follow up with the contacts and update the status where applicable
- Keep processing and updating the leads with the goal of winning as many as possible while avoiding them to get “stuck”
The process is very simple but this does not mean it is easy. Consistency and adherence to this simple process are necessary in order to be effective at selling. This Airtable CRM is just an additional way to applying this process more easily.
How to improve and refine your AirTable CRM system
We can’t stress enough that this is a basic example meant to show the potential of using Airtable to develop a tool tailored to your own process. Its advantage is also the simplicity, even entry level CRMs like PipeDrive and similar products have many features you may never use and may make adoption by your team more difficult.
That said this Airtable tool is not limited to what we have shown; there are several extensions that can be easily added (and most of which we infact use in Asamby) like:
- Create Leads, Companies and Contacts automatically upon receiving a Calendly booking on our website (Calendly -> Zapier -> AirTable)
- Dedicated table to Sales Reps and Commissions to track individual sales performance and calculate commissions
- Sales Funnel dashboard with conversion percentage by status to understand which part of the sales process to improve
- Automatic notification to a Sales Rep when a lead is more than X days “stuck” in the same status
This is just an introduction on how to create a simple CRM on Airtable. You can do much more with this tool, a few spare hours and a clear idea of how your sales process works (or you want it to work).
Feel free to reach out if you want to know more about how to build a CRM system tailored to your specific company sales.