An excellent customer relationship management (CRM) system helps businesses efficiently manage customer data and streamline sales processes. However, choosing the right provider entails a careful decision-making process to maximize time and financial investment. Various aspects, including pricing, features, ease of use, and your own business objectives, must be considered before committing to a particular provider.
Pro tip: Remember, you don’t necessarily have to choose the best and most advanced CRM in the market. Ensure that you pick a provider that best suits your business needs and is aligned with your budget and priorities.
Free Guide to Choosing a CRM
To help you choose your new CRM provider more efficiently, we’ve developed a free guide that covers essential areas you should look into. These areas include identifying your CRM needs based on your business goals, listing out your must-have features, and narrowing down your most ideal options.
Then follow these five essential steps, which will help you stay organized while choosing the best-suited CRM for your business needs:
1. Know Your Business Goals & Requirements
If you’re searching for CRM software, chances are you want to address specific business requirements or solve existing operational problems. To find the best CRM for your business, you need to set objectives and think about the pain points you want your new CRM to address.
Before you begin the selection process, take a look at your yearly business performance reports and review the goals that you’ve set for your company moving forward. Ideally, you should identify goals in the coming one to two years. These goals can include anything from growing your year-on-year sales to expanding your product portfolio.
Pro tip: The best goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART). Read our article on utilizing SMART goals. You’ll also find some useful examples and a free downloadable template.
After identifying your goals, think about the tools your team needs to reach them. For instance, if one of your business goals is to improve the efficiency of your sales team, then a business need could be a CRM tool that includes workflow automation features. If a business goal is to establish sales goals for your team, then a business need could be a CRM tool with sales forecasting tools. This process is also known as defining your CRM strategy.
You can jump-start the thought process of this step by reviewing the features and functionality of CRM solutions to prompt business need suggestions. Under Step 3, we’ll discuss some fundamental CRM features you can consider for this exercise.
For more in-depth instructions on how to identify the best features and functionality in support of your business goals, check out our guide to creating a CRM strategy, which also includes a free worksheet.
2. Gather Input From Various Teams & Departments
For a CRM ecosystem to work seamlessly, various teams that will use it—including sales, marketing, and service—should have an input in the decision-making process. While the sales team usually drives the use of the CRM, it is important to ask for feedback from all potential users so you arrive at a decision that benefits the team as a whole.
For example, if your marketing, customer support, and accounting departments will also use the new CRM, they’re likely to have different requirements and feature requests than your sales agents.
Page two of our guide includes a list of important features and a space where different teams can provide their inputs to give you a total picture of how they will use the CRM. This ensures the CRM you select includes all the essential tools your team requires. It will also save you from paying for features that no one needs.
3. Make a List of the Essential Features You’ll Need
Once you’ve reviewed your company goals, determined your business needs, and asked teams for their feedback, it’s time to put together a shopping list of features that you 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. Use the sorting and filtering tools on page two of our guide to automatically create these lists for you.
When creating your feature lists, there are two areas you don’t want to skimp on: data security and customer support. When selecting a CRM provider, make sure it includes features to keep your data safe, like two-factor authentication and advanced user permissions. It must also be backed by reliable customer support that’s easily accessible across multiple channels. It should offer live chat, email, and phone support so technical assistance is available when you need it.
Feature Wish List
This list contains mission-critical CRM software feature requirements, determining the difference between a successful CRM implementation and one that falls short. This list includes robust contact management tools to keep your growing database of customers and clients organized. It can also contain excellent sales forecasting features, helping you come up with realistic revenue targets.
Some of the most common and essential CRM features include the following:
- Contact management: This lets you keep track of all your contacts in a centralized directory, storing important data such as contact information, business details, and social media profiles.
- Lead and opportunity management: Provides a systematic process to evaluate and nurture incoming and active leads, increasing the chances of converting them into paying customers.
- Sales pipelines: Offers a visual representation of your sales process and reflects which stage a lead is currently at.
- Sales reporting: Gives you a holistic view of your sales performance, including incoming revenues and won and lost deals.
- Email marketing: This allows you to automate sending marketing materials to your contacts, as well as monitor their interaction with the emails you send.
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 industry-specific CRM features include:
- Real estate agencies: CRMs designed for real estate professionals typically include property listings and advanced document management features.
- Construction companies: CRMs designed for the construction industry include tools to manage projects, proposals, and work orders.
- 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.
This list includes a log of features useful to have in a CRM solution but that won’t impede the ability to reach business goals if they’re missing. You may list features like team collaboration tools, storage capabilities, and time tracking. These are functionalities that you may not need or are already being addressed by other existing apps you’re using.
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.
4. Research the Best CRMs That Match Your Needs
Armed with interdepartmental input and lists of what features you’re looking for, now it’s time to research which CRM options on the market best meet your needs. 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 to be its pros and cons—and whether they’d recommend it to you or not.
- 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: One of the best ways to assess if a CRM is worth considering is by reading existing online reviews from its customers.
Use page three of our guide to track recommendations, collect individual contact information from vendors, and keep notes on your interactions with each company.
Sign Up for Free Trials & Live Demos
Most CRM companies offer free trials of their software so potential customers can try it before purchasing. The best free trials provide access to all features, allowing for a full assessment and giving enough free trial days for you to get a thorough sense of the product.
A productive way to maximize free trials is to assemble a trial team composed of members from the various teams that will use the CRM. Ask one or two members from each department to participate in the free trial run so you can gather well-rounded feedback from your end-users.
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?
Pro tip: Free trials are often designed to showcase a CRM’s premium features, helping upsell the platform. Make sure to check which features are available in the lower-priced plans and take a few days to test out whether you can get by with only those features before trying a higher-priced plan. This helps you prevent signing up for services you don’t need.
While doing the free trial run, you can also request a live demo from the CRM provider and ask the members of your trial team to attend. This gives your team the opportunity to ask questions about the software and learn about its features. Most CRM providers are happy to do this as it gives them an opportunity to show you how the various features work and explain the differences between the pricing tiers.
5. Select the Right CRM for You & Roll Out 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 just as important as the steps that came before it. It is so integral to the overall success of the CRM experience that we’ve created a guide on how to complete a CRM implementation in eight steps.
From assembling your CRM team 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.
The Importance of Choosing the Right CRM
Choosing the right CRM to implement in your business is not a straightforward task—no matter how big or small your team is. Various CRM providers have unique offerings that target specific consumer needs, so it’s important to do your research before committing to using one.
Doing your research will also help you avoid pitfalls in choosing the wrong CRM, including the following:
Failure to Meet Your Business Requirements
The CRM’s purpose is to help you address essential business needs based on your objectives, which may include centralizing customer databases or automating marketing efforts. Not matching these needs to a CRM tool with the right features can result in a poor fit that is an expensive investment.
Lacks Important Features You Need
A CRM tool’s menu of features sets it apart from other providers. One CRM’s features may be skewed toward social media management, while another may be focused on email marketing. As such, learning their strong points and matching them to the CRM features you need will help lessen pain points down the road.
Doesn’t Match Your Level of Technical Experience
Some CRMs are straightforward, simple, and easy to use, while some are highly technical and require an in-house technical person to operate and maintain them. Assess your team’s level of technical experience with using a CRM tool before making a purchase to ensure it can be utilized properly.
Low Adoption Rate Among Users
The biggest gauge in measuring whether you have successfully chosen the right CRM is the level of CRM adoption among your target end-users. Hence, it is important to take into consideration their feedback and input in the process of choosing the right CRM for your business.
Top-rated CRMs to Consider for Your Business
With so many CRMs on the market to choose from, it can be challenging to know where to start. 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 the six best CRMs for small businesses.
Freshsales is a user-friendly, customizable CRM that offers essential features like lead management, visual sales pipelines, time-based workflows, and sales reports. It also has a robust in-app telephony system. Freshsales provides a free plan with unlimited user allocation, while its paid plans start at $15 per user, per month.
Check out our Freshsales review to explore other features that this platform offers.
Zoho CRM is a simple and intuitive all-in-one CRM solution that offers lead and opportunity management, Kanban-style pipelines, and excellent analytics tools. It has robust social media functionalities, such as content scheduling, content pipeline visualization, and social analytics. It offers a free plan with an allocation for three users, while its paid plans start at $14 per user, per month.
Check out our Zoho review to explore other features that this platform offers.
HubSpot CRM is a full-featured CRM that offers essential functionalities, such as email marketing, deal and pipeline management, and sales reporting. Its CRM is forever-free with unlimited user allocation, while its Starter Sales plan starts at $45 per month for two users.
Check out our HubSpot CRM review to explore other features that this platform offers.
Choosing the right CRM entails careful research and planning. There is no one-size-fits-all CRM solution, and each caters to specific business needs. Ensure all essential aspects are taken into account, especially your business goals and needs. Involve your team and identify critical features that set you up for success. Taking the time to follow the steps we’ve outlined will save you time and money—and help you make the right choice for your small business.