9 steps to choose the best CRM
A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system is the nerve center of all your customer-facing operations. CRM systems facilitate frictionless transitions from leads to prospects to customers by mapping customer relationships.
A CRM solution is an essential part of your company’s digital transformation. You can eliminate redundant interactions, departmental silos, and customer frustrations. You can maintain all your customer data on one central platform. And you can create new assets like dashboards, visualizations, and apps with incredible speed.
For example, your sales team leads can view individual interaction maps and know exactly where prospects are in your funnel. You can track each prospect’s unique paths through your marketing and sales pipeline.
Most importantly, you can use a CRM to develop and maintain long-lasting customer relationships.
Define your CRM needs
Before committing to a CRM solution, identify the business needs it should address. Determine the aspects of your current sales and marketing system you want to maintain. Next, ask yourself which goals you’d like to accomplish. And finally, answer these critical questions:
- How do you currently track marketing prospects and sales leads?
- How do you manage ongoing customer/client relationships?
- Do you use the same CRM software for all front-end operations?
- What redundancies exist between your current systems?
- What will it take to switch CRM platforms?
- Which new technologies do you want to leverage? Consider customized dashboards and visualizations, app development and deployment, and AI data analysis, forecasting, and machine learning.
Once you’ve answered these questions, here’s what you need to do next to get started.
1. Assemble a cross-functional team
Because your CRM software will affect a wide array of stakeholders, you need a cross-functional needs assessment team. This group should represent senior leadership, middle managers, and the front-end staff who will use your new CRM every day. Invite specialists like IT people and CRM admins – as well as generalists and creative thinkers.
Choose a leader for this group who has an excellent understanding of all your customer-facing operations. This person will take responsibility for the project, ensure team member accountability, and deliver a data-backed decision. Consider operations or data managers, sales leaders, or IT leads for this position. Most of all, this person should balance details with general perspectives and have excellent communication skills.
2. Collect feedback from future users
Your new CRM software will integrate all your front-facing operations into one system, so touch base with everyone who will use it. Have leaders ask their teams what functionalities they value in your current system, what customer experiences they wish you could offer, and what workflows and interactions they wish you could track?
Create a comprehensive needs list like this:
- Secure customer data management
- Lead management
- Project management
- Workflow automations, integrations, and customizations
- Sales automations like product and price catalogs, quote books, territory management, etc.
- Marketing automations like campaign management, email marketing, lead scoring, etc.
- Data analytics and reporting
- Mobile CRM access
- Data management during the transition to this new CRM
- User training and ongoing support
- Implementation requirements and total cost of ownership
3. Analyze and synthesize feedback
Meet with a small group of stakeholders and parse your feedback data. Look for similarities between ideas, issues, and feature requests that may signal important trends. Group these into categories such as important features, cost and licensing, scalability, integrations, and support.
4. Prioritize your CRM needs and wants
Choose a CRM solution that meets the needs of your customer-facing teams. As you review your analysis, differentiate between each department’s “must-haves” and “wants.” Look beyond the needs of any single group to be sure your new CRM is easy to scale up as your business requirements grow and change.
Assess CRM vendors
To properly assess all the CRM solution vendors available, consider some key questions, including:
- Which one offers the right mix of features for your organization of all the CRM companies out there?
- Which CRM tool allows access to real-time customer relationship data?
- Which contact management suite tears down the invisible barriers between your marketing, sales, and support teams?
- Does your CRM software map interactions in real-time so your team members can speak with confidence and relevance? For instance, your sales manager may want to follow up with current customers to track relationships.
- And most importantly, how will your new system protect your customer’s personal information?
5. Identify solutions that fit your needs
Every department will need different features from your CRM. For example, your:
- Marketing teams may want CRM features like custom dashboards and detailed lead management visualizations.
- Sales managers may want to know how far prospects have progressed through your sales pipeline.
- Content creators may require clearer perspectives on the email and workflow builder, and its content creation interface.
By determining all the features your company needs, you can compare CRMs and make the best decision for your company.
6. Keep an eye out for CRM costs
Big names don’t mean big savings and every feature you require. Some legacy CRMs may include features that don’t meet your business needs. Alternatively, these older CRM solutions may not have the new technologies necessary to increase your market share.
CRM providers typically offer tiered pricing per user that facilitates scaling. However, look out for hidden fees and ensure the features you want are in the tier you choose.
7. Hop on trials and demos
After comparing the benefits of the CRMs on your list, pick two or three to examine in depth. The most efficient way is to schedule live demos and sign up for free trials.
Have your tech team test out integrations, customizations, and add-ons. Ask your marketing team which CRMs provide the conversion statistics they need to get the most from your ad budget. Have sales teams test out custom ticket automations and role-based permissions.
8. Remember these essential CRM characteristics
As you’re testing potential CRM solutions, consider the following essential factors that may matter most for everyday use:
- Implementation—Choose someone who understands team workflows and tech logistics to create a new CRM implementation plan. Although you probably want a CRM software suite with comprehensive functionality across many departments, you also need a CRM system that integrates with your existing software and data.
- Adoption rate—While a CRM software suite with comprehensive functionality across many departments is a wise choice, you also need a CRM system people will actually use. According to this 2019 report, experts differ on the causes of low adoption rates, such as bad experiences, poor onboarding, and negative preconceptions. However, the data shows that users engage more with systems that are easy to use, and include mobile apps.
- Customization and workflows—Even though a particular CRM software package may look like the right one on the surface, be sure to dig deeper, so have your teams test the limits of dashboard customizations, email design tools, and analytics.Make sure your new CRM can handle everything your teams throw at it during their daily workflows. Do a few test runs with salespeople playing the part of customers. That way, you’ll know you’re making the right choice.
- Support—A CRM system is only useful to your organization if users can quickly and easily get the help they need. From salespeople to tech people, everyone eventually needs help. Be sure the CRM you choose provides comprehensive customer service and support.
- Integration: A unified platform—You can save big bucks with a single, unified CRM solution that eliminates redundancies and helps you create efficiencies. However, integrating all your client-facing operations into one system can be difficult. So have your tech teams work closely with team leads to ensure your CRM can deliver on its all-in-one promises long before deployment day.
- Scaling and growth—Your CRM is the central hub of your customer-facing operations. Adopting new CRM software can put a massive strain on your teams. Be sure the platform you choose will easily scale to your growth. That way, you’ll avoid massive headaches by not having to change CRMs every time you expand.
- Smooth transitioning—Your new CRM software should seamlessly integrate with a wide array of third-party applications. Make sure your CRM works well with the tools you use now and the tools you’ll rely on as you scale up.Of course, your CRM will also need to integrate with your existing system. It’s crucial to preserve your current customer relationship data as you transition to a single, unified CRM.
- Compliance—Your organization needs to show it meets all current digital privacy requirements for the countries in which you’ll be operating. Be sure the CRM software you choose has powerful and up-to-date customer information protections. Nothing matters more than building and maintaining customer trust, so your CRM should be able to support those goals.
- Ease of use —Although your team needs to feel comfortable using your new CRM platform, consider how it looks to your customers. Find out if their experience is pleasant? Does your CRM software feel intuitive? Have team members play the role of the customer. They’ll learn a lot about each CRM’s UX by opening emails, clicking through funnels, and filling out forms.
9. Choose the best CRM system
Ultimately, you need to discover what feels right for your workflow and your teams. Take your time, test potential new CRMs, and check in with your colleagues. Together, you’ll find a set of tools that supports all your organization’s front-facing teams.
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