You’re thinking about switching your Customer Relationship Management system (CRM). But before you spend any time on research and vendor comparisons, do a CRM needs assessment. Here are a few best practices and a checklist to help clarify your CRM requirements, CRM goals and assess your existing IT infrastructure and resources.

Start by clearly identifying your CRM goals

Jumping straight into a detailed feature comparison is certainly tempting. A better approach, however, is to carefully examine your goals before spending any time on vendor evaluations. After all, how can you know which CRM features are relevant without a proper understanding of your true needs? Knowing your CRM software requirements, business processes and business requirements is an important first step to selecting the right CRM solution. Doing a requirements gathering exercise followed by creating a requirements document (system and functional requirements) is the formal way to start the process.

One of the best ways to to begin understanding your CRM needs is to set some basic goals:

Primary CRM goals

At the end of the day, why does your company need a CRM? Achieving 100% user adoption is a necessary objective, but is it the main motivator for adopting a new CRM? Of course not. In the long run, you need a CRM that will help you increase revenue and grow business faster with effective use of data.

If you’re a service-based business, your primary CRM goal may be to elevate customer relationships and deliver projects on time and to specification. If you’re a manufacturer, you may be looking for a better way to organize a rapidly evolving web of production, supplies, distribution, customer, and order data.

Start by clearly defining and documenting your high-level “why,” and everything else will start to fall into place.

Secondary CRM goals

With your primary goals defined, it’s time to identify secondary goals. Secondary goals can come in a wide variety of forms. Some are easily tracked, while others require additional data and investigation.

Get some basic ideas down on paper (you can refine and improve them later). Here are a few examples:

  • We want to select and implement a CRM that staff will actually use.
  • Our new CRM will become our central source of truth for all business data.
  • We need a CRM that will help with sales and marketing alignment.
  • We need a CRM that scales and adapts to our rapidly changing business model.
  • In the next 90 days, we want to migrate our legacy on-premise CRM to a cloud-based solution.
  • Our goal is to achieve a 90% MQL-to-SQL ratio.

As you can see, defining your CRM goals has less to do with features and more to do with outcomes. Develop your primary and secondary CRM goals and use them as a guidepost for all future vendor and feature analysis. You will be amazed at how this simple, yet important act will foster greater alignment among stakeholders.

3 approaches for performing a CRM needs assessment

“Smart” goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. What additional information do you need to align your goals with this reality? What is the best way to convert your vision into an actionable CRM needs assessment?

Here are three possible approaches:

1. Top-Down

Commonplace among smaller organizations, the top-down approach heavily relies on senior leadership’s past experiences and knowledge. For example, let’s assume that your company recently hired a chief revenue officer who possesses decades of experience with CRM technology. This first-hand expertise is highly useful to your organization and you’d be wise to use it as a driving factor in the identification and sequencing of your needs.

2. Bottom-Up

Some leaders take a “hands off” approach to CRM needs assessments, deferring instead to sales, IT, and/or administrative staff. The logic is that frontline SDRs, account executives, customer success agents, and marketing staff, etc. will be the primary day-to-day users of the software, not the senior management. In theory, the bottom-up approach sounds good, but in reality, collecting and considering input from every CRM user is rarely feasible—especially for midsize and enterprise organizations.

3. Hybrid

Combining the best aspects of top-down and bottom-up can be a viable solution for many companies. Forming a cross-functional team that includes senior leaders along with mid-level and front-line users can streamline the collection and analysis of input without overwhelming the system. With the hybrid approach, you are considering all aspects—big picture and long-term goals as well as execution process, including daily user experience.

CRM needs assessment checklist

Regardless of who will be performing your CRM needs assessment (be it a senior manager or a committee), there are several key questions that must be answered before going any further:

What is the top reason for considering a new CRM vendor?

Harken back to your primary and secondary goals. Avoid feature talk here. Rather, try to pinpoint how your current CRM may be slowing down growth.missing your business needs, or is misaligned with your business objectives. Perhaps it’s about pricing, workflows, dashboards, or compatibility with your business in general. Does it connect well with the apps you already use in your business? Is there a way to integrate use automation (via an API) to connect with your marketing automation platform and the campaigns?  Other apps like those for social media? You’ll want to map the responses here to your CRM requirements.

What does your current CRM do well (if anything)?

Chances are, there’s something that your CRM does well to support your sales process. It’s OK to be specific and ask your sales team. Maybe converting leads to opportunities is straightforward (e.g lead management), or maybe you like how uploaded lists of contacts appear immediately in the system. Is sales forecasting easy? General sales management? Is the salesforce content with support? Is there a quality knowledge base to use when they get stuck?

What does your current CRM do poorly?

Again, be specific. Make a list of all the ways that your CRM fails to meet your needs. Is is customer data? Email marketing? Lead management? Contact management? Opportunity management? Do you struggle with team member permissions? Is your system installed (on-prem) vs. SaaS? Keep in mind that as your business grows and changes, your CRM needs will too. Would your current CRM scale easily? Do they have the customer support you need?

Do you have a diagram of your current CRM process(es)?

Yes or no. If no, you should create one before proceeding to the next question. If you are doing a formal RFP, this will be requested by many vendors as a part of requirements gathering, so it’s best to get started on it. It may also provide internal clarity to those on the selection team with less in-depth knowledge of the current implementation. It’s a great way for everyone to see the lifecycle of leads, to understand the CRM project as a whole, and to get better insight into the CRM software requirements.

Do you have a diagram of your ideal CRM process(es)?

If technological limitations did not exist, what would be the best CRM to support your ideal buyer journey? Ask the same question for your customer journey and other important processes, such as project delivery, order fulfillment, and CRM user onboarding. Will there be webinars? Templates for the team to use? Different modules depending on role/team segmentation? What will be the messaging around the new CRM implementation internally? When issues can’t be solved internally, who will be in charge of case management?

What data silos do you need to banish?

Data silos and underperforming CRMs often go hand in hand. Carefully examine all of the places where data resides. Spreadsheets, email inboxes, third-party marketing systems, mobile apps, and project management platforms are common examples of segmentation. Is it possible to reduce or eliminate such silos with a better aligned CRM?

Do you have the in-house project management and IT capabilities?

Switching CRMs can be a complicated and time-consuming process. If you decided to switch CRMs today, what additional resources (new hires, consultants, or support packages) would your team need? These are people who are keen on system requirements, operating system limitations, etc. Are there templates for major switches like this that an IT project manager may have access to?

What is the opportunity cost of the status quo?

Yes, your current CRM may have a negative impact on revenue performance. But to what extent? How does this compare to the cost of switching CRMs, training users, and supporting an entirely new platform?

What’s the budget?

If you’re relying on a legacy on-premise system or database, you may not have a true CRM software budget—aside from the ongoing cost to support a non-cloud solution. Even if you’re already using a cloud solution, the cost of switching may be more (or less) than your current subscription. Be sure to define a ballpark CRM budget now (and refine it later) so everyone is aware of the pricing constraints for your new CRM system.

Start with your CRM needs for enhanced results

There’s no doubt that upgrading your CRM can make a decisive impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of your business operations and customer relationships. That’s especially true when internal needs are carefully examined and understood prior to engaging vendors and comparing features.

Need more tips for successfully switching CRMs? Download Insightly’s free ebook.


Download the ebook