Purchasing a customer relationship management (CRM) system is like committing to any other big ticket business software. Research and preparation are crucial to the successful implementation of the CRM you select. This guide walks you through the decision-making process and includes a checklist to help track the steps along the way.
While there are many types of CRM software on the market, we’ll focus on solutions for sales professionals and teams. We’ll take a look at everything from what to keep in mind during the initial research phase to making the most of free trial periods and how to make a final decision. Use the checklist during the selection process to keep track of notes, tasks, and vendor contact information all in one place.
1. Review Your CRM Strategy
Before you begin the customer relationship management software selection process, take time to review your CRM strategy. This is your plan for how you intend to use your CRM software to improve customer service and grow sales. If you haven’t already created this plan, set aside some time to review our guide to creating a CRM strategy, which includes a free worksheet to keep you on track.
2. Identify Your Business Needs
Developing a CRM strategy before you begin the shopping process helps you identify your business goals which, in turn, helps determine your business needs. For instance, if one of your business goals is to improve the efficiency of your sales team, then a business need might be a CRM solution that includes workflow automation features. If a business goal is to establish sales goals for your team, then a business need would be a CRM with sales forecasting tools.
You can jump-start the thought process of this step by reviewing the features and functionality of CRM solutions to prompt business need suggestions. Common CRM features and functions include:
- Social media integration: Pulls contact and profile enrichment data from sources like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn
- Mobile apps: Provides sales professionals a means of accessing CRM information while out of the office, on sales calls, or while working remotely
- Email marketing integration: Features tools to send bulk emails to entire or segmented contact lists
- Cross-platform compatibility: Ensures sales agents can access the desktop CRM from multiple operating systems
3. Gather Input From Affected Teams & Departments
For a CRM ecosystem to work harmoniously, each team, division, or department that will use it should have input in the buying process, even if the final purchasing decision rests elsewhere. Therefore, it’s important to poll the needs of all potential users, including employees outside the sales team.
For example, if your marketing, customer support, and accounting departments will also be using the new CRM, they’re likely to have different requirements and feature requests than your sales agents. That’s good information to have before making a big investment on a CRM platform.
4. Create a Feature Shopping List
Once you’ve reviewed your CRM strategy, determined your business needs, and asked teams for their input, it’s time to put together a shopping list of features you want and need in a CRM solution. In fact, it’s even more helpful to create two: a must-have feature list and a nice-to-have feature list.
Must-have Feature List
This list includes mission-critical customer relationship management software feature requirements that mean the difference between a successful CRM implementation and one that falls short. These could include robust contact management tools to keep your growing database of customers and clients organized, or perhaps lead management features are a necessity to keep leads from falling through the cracks.
At this stage, you should also identify any industry-specific CRM features you need that can help eliminate some CRM solutions right off the bat. Businesses that might benefit from the features industry-specific CRMs bring to the table include:
- Real estate agencies: These CRMs typically include listing and advanced document management features.
- Construction companies: CRMs designed for the construction industry include tools for project, proposal, and work order management.
- Startups: CRMs for new or very young businesses are scalable and offer a low (or free) cost of entry. However, the downside is that they’re often available for only one or two users.
No matter what your must-have feature list includes, be sure it takes into account all the teams and departments that provided input during the initial research phase. While it may not be possible to accommodate all requests, keeping a list at hand ensures all teams are equitably considered.
Nice-to-Have Feature List
This list includes a log of features that would be useful to have in a CRM solution but won’t impede the ability to reach business goals if they’re missing. These may include tools like team collaboration tools or cloud storage capabilities that your existing business apps may already provide. Keep in mind that many CRM platforms offer tiered pricing, so nice-to-have features not included in your initial purchase may be available with higher service plans as you grow.
5. Do Preliminary CRM Research
Armed with interdepartmental input and lists of what features you’re looking for, now it’s time to research which customer relationship management software options on the market best meet your needs. You’ll want to take a three-pronged approach to narrow down your options and decide which ones to test drive.
- Get word-of-mouth referrals: Ask peers, colleagues, and other business owners what CRM they use and if they’re happy with it. Find out what they consider its pros and cons to be, and whether they’d purchase it again over other options.
- Read trade magazines and websites: Online and print publications related to your business or trade can be a great source of information and give you an idea of what CRM software is popular in your industry.
- Check out user reviews: The best way to get a sense of how good a CRM may be is by reading reviews from its customers. Visit the CRM reviews section of our site to see top-rated providers, compare features, and read user reviews.
6. Talk to CRM Vendors
Once you’ve narrowed down a list of CRMs that seem like a good fit, contact each one’s sales team for detailed information about their product. This is your chance to ask what the CRM can do for your business specifically, verify pricing, and learn what sales or promotions may be available. Things to ask include:
- How many customers do you serve in our industry?
- How do you see your software advancing in the coming years?
- What new tools and features are you working on?
- What types of customer support do you offer?
- Are there any one-time or recurring costs besides the price of the service plan?
- Describe how you keep user data safe.
Keep copious notes while talking to CRM vendors and take your time during this phase of your selection process. Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions; you’re making a big investment and want to be comfortable with your purchase.
Vendors will ask you a number of questions as well to guide you toward the right service plan and feature set for your business. Common questions include the size of your company, the number of users you expect to have, what processes you currently have in place, and what expectation you have for the CRM you select.
7. Sign Up for Free Trials
Most CRM companies offer free trials of their software so potential customers can try before they buy. The best free trials provide access to all features to allow for a full assessment and include enough free trial days for you to get a real sense of the product. If possible, have multiple people in your company use the trial for the widest variety of opinions during this important trial run.
Things to look for during a CRM trial period:
- Do the features work as described?
- Is the CRM easy to use regardless of technical knowledge?
- Are the mobile apps full-featured enough to be useful in the field?
- Is there any noticeable lag in the software?
- Is the user interface intuitive?
8. Final Selection & Implementation
Once you’ve selected and purchased the CRM, implementation is the next step. While it may be the final phase of the process, it’s equally important as the steps that came before it. Indeed, it’s so integral to the overall success of the CRM experience that we’ve created a guide on how to complete a CRM implementation in just five steps.
From creating an implementation plan to establishing your CRM’s settings and integrating it with other business apps, the steps are outlined in detail to help you get your CRM up and running as effortlessly as possible. Once in place, you’ll want to regularly measure its effectiveness to make sure it’s delivering as promised and establish an ongoing training program to increase user efficiency.
Top-rated CRMs to Consider for Your Business
With so many CRMs on the market to choose from, it can be difficult to know where to start shopping. Here are three solutions to consider that represent a variety of price points and a wide range of features. For more choices, check out our list of 2020’s 10 best CRMs for small businesses.
Freshsales: Best Fully Featured CRM for Small Business
Freshsales is a user-friendly and customizable CRM with a robust set of features like multiple sales pipelines and configurable dashboards. It also includes a built-in phone system that allows sales agents to make calls without leaving the platform. Freshsales offers a free basic plan and three paid options from $12 to $49 per user, per month, and a generous 21-day free trial. Read what customers have to say about this CRM on our Freshsales reviews page.
Zoho CRM: Best CRM With Social Media Integration
Zoho CRM is a comprehensive, all-in-one solution that includes social media integration for tracking interactions and publishing on several social platforms. It offers a free forever plan that’s limited to three users and paid plans starting at $12 per user, per month. Zoho CRM’s free trial period extends 14 days and includes access to all the features of the paid plan. Read more about this CRM’s service plans and features on our Zoho CRM user reviews page.
HubSpot: Best Free CRM With Support for Unlimited Users
HubSpot is a full-featured CRM that offers a forever-free plan for unlimited users with features like email tracking, deal pipelines and management, and reporting dashboards. Add-on modules with additional sales, marketing, service, and content management features start at $40 per month. For more information about HubSpot’s plans, features, and benefits, check out our HubSpot reviews page.
Customer relationship management software is a critical component of a sales team’s success. It helps keep contact data organized and offers a host of features from email marketing tools to robust sales pipeline management. Selecting the right CRM software can mean the difference between closing a deal and letting it slip away. Whether your company chooses a free or paid service plan, this step-by-step guide will help you select the perfect CRM solution.