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CRM is the lifeblood of your business. A Customer Relationship System known as a CRM connects to all aspects of the organization and addresses your hard business realities: slipping sales, poor service, marketing inefficiencies, and other problems popping up across departments.
That means companies need to plan the CRM selection process way ahead and go through an array of criteria like compatibility with your existing software and internal processes, customizations, alignment with your sales needs, storage options, and scalability. And then the CFO has his own concerns: up-front costs, support costs, and implementation costs.
Getting all this at once may seem overwhelming, but you’re much more likely to succeed if you keep in mind a well-thought plan. Find a handy list of “DOs” and “DON’Ts” below to get prepared for picking the best solution from the outset of your CRM journey.
A CRM system is a software system for managing/tracking a company’s relationships and interactions with existing and potential customers. It also helps businesses increase productivity across sales, marketing, and support departments by streamlining all back-office processes into a single platform.
The world’s top CRM systems include Salesforce’s solution ecosystem, Monday, Pipedrive, Oracle, Hubspot, and others.
The first thing companies do when selecting CRM software is assembling a team of experts who will be involved in making the decision. Obviously, this includes leaders of core departments (especially those under whose watch issues have developed), someone from IT, and target users.
The input from the potential target users is yet the most important as they can introduce their pain points and desirable improvements. On the one hand, this will narrow down CRM selection criteria, while on the other hand, the early supporters of a CRM solution will help accelerate adoption among their peers once a new system has been implemented.
The CRM selection process starts not with an external search for a solution but with an internal search for why a CRM is needed and how it can resolve existing problems.
So, when choosing a CRM for a small or medium business, it is wise to narrow down critical problems and rank them according to their importance. Consult with your CRM Selection Team for feedback and put it into a simple table:
|I need to...||Importance|
|Bridge the cooperation gap between marketing and sales departments|
|Deliver personalized marketing campaigns to targeted clientele segments instead of mass-emailing all contacts|
|Cut employee’s time spent on customer data search|
|Improve customer relations|
This will help you to get a clear idea of what set of features you need to look for in a CRM system.
At the same time, this stage of CRM selection requires a great deal of honesty, which, in fact, may be painful and feelings can be hurt. No one wants to hear that the process under his/her control is broken or inefficient, so denial of and neglecting problems is not a rare thing.
While that may postpone the anxieties, it actually sows the seed for far more serious problems in the future. So, it is of foremost importance to take a hard look at broken processes and the best way to fix those with a CRM.
If your business lacks the resources to engage in the business process examination, or the map of your business activities looks too complicated, engage a third-party consultant to help.
Once you have reflected on your problems, it is time to make a shopping list with CRM features you will need. In fact, it would be a wise decision to compile two separate lists: must-have features and nice-to-have features.
While CRM selection criteria for a must-have list will largely depend on the problems and goals you had narrowed down at the previous stage, there are features that you should never leave out.
Must-have features of a good CRM:
Don’t underestimate industry-specific features when choosing a CRM, as these are most likely to become the core of your niche business, whether it focuses on insurance, healthcare, real estate, hospitality, mortgage, call centers, or construction.
Let’s say you’re in the commercial real estate business. Your everyday routine looks like researching listings, interacting with tenants, and distributing promotional materials like flyers, newsletters, and other things. These tasks can become a real headache without proper functionality for advanced property listing management and flyer generation.
That is why the world’s real estate moguls like Cresa and JLL have been using AscendixRE – a commercial estate CRM developed specifically for brokers on top of Salesforce, meaning that you can kill two birds with one stone – get industry-specific features and benefit from the whole range of Salesforce functionality.
See how AscendixRE can help you close more deals and improve your prospecting.
Make sure that your feature wish list caters to each department of your business and incorporates the initial feedback from your teams.
Once you are done with must-have features, you can proceed to nice-to-have functionality, for example, team collaboration tools and advanced search filtering. You might not need these tools now, but you will likely encounter related challenges as your business scales.
So, in your initial CRM selection process, identify some extra features you will need in the future or make sure they are included in higher subscription plans / can be easily customized if you choose an on-premises CRM.
After you have rounded up the final list of features, you need to decide on your CRM deployment: on-premises or cloud-based. Each model has its own positives and negatives.
With a Cloud (Software as a Service or SaaS) platform, you don’t need to employ an in-house team of IT experts as your CRM vendor will take care of your system, roll out frequent updates, and customize functionality if needed.
What is more, you don’t have to invest in costly on-site servers for your data storage, as all information will reside in the cloud. You just simply log in and you’re ready to go. However, if your database grows, be ready to pay a few more bills to add extra gigabytes of storage.
With an in-house solution, your data will reside on your physical servers or third-party storage clouds. The latter means you won’t need to deal with recurrent subscription charges per extra gigabytes as you can simply integrate your system with other external storage systems. This becomes possible with the platform’s API’s (application programming interface).
However, the data flow between those systems is tracked, and when it exceeds certain limits, additional fees may apply. Be sure to check with your CRM provider on how these fees are assessed and what triggers a billable event.
If you opt for a physical server, you will likely need to hire in-house IT personnel to keep your system working smoothly. This will obviously involve extra expenditure on equipment, workstations, and social payments.
|Cloud-based CRM||In-house CRM|
|Data is stored & handled in the CRM vendor’s cloud (additional fees for data storage may be applied)||Data is stored & handled locally (data can reside on a third-party storage cloud, but the flow of traffic between those systems is monitored by your CRM provider)|
|Recurrent subscription charges||No subscription charges|
|Cost for support services is included in the subscription||Need to hire in-house maintenance team = expenditures on equipment, workstations, and social payments|
|Customizations will involve fewer costs as CRM software providers implement those on their end||All customizations will require hiring in-house specialists or outsourcing development to a third party|
Your decision in favor of one of these models will shorten the whole CRM selection process and help you cut some CRM solutions right off the bat. If you still can’t decide on the desired deployment model, check our e-book on the Build vs. Buy CRM comparison matrix.
When you have arrived at a conclusion of what features you need and how you want your system to be deployed, it is time to make a list of CRM vendors that you will evaluate in action afterward.
There are two main channels of how companies select CRM software and gain feedback:
Most CRM vendors offer free trials and demos to show their software in full action. So, when you have arrived at several candidates on your potential CRM software providers list, don’t lose that chance.
We recommend starting with demos – online sessions where a salesperson will guide you through the product’s functionality and show you how to use it. Prior to it, the target CRM provider may contact you to ask about your challenges.
Here are some questions to ask when choosing a CRM software provider at this stage:
Signing up for free trials is the most practical and engaging step in the CRM selection process as you can literally play around with your potential tool to see its strengths and weaknesses. Pay attention to interface user-friendliness, ease of scale, and key features.
But keep in mind that trials are usually designed to showcase the full set of features included in higher subscription plans. Make sure you can get by with just basic functionality and take your time to decide if it is worth paying a bit more for the whole package.
To maximize the number of trials, assemble a team of your core department representatives that will likely use the CRM.
Once you’ve purchased a long-awaited CRM, you need to implement it. This step is just as important as the CRM selection process before, so make sure you read our guide on the CRM implementation process from A to Z.
The CRM selection process might be really slippery if you don’t plan your steps ahead. More than that, if you come up with the wrong CRM, it might result in outright CRM failure and dozens of unwanted bills. Some of the cost components of choosing the wrong CRM system include:
So, if you don’t want to waste your time and money on something that will likely become another “shelfware,” start planning your CRM selection process in advance and do sorrow research when evaluating potential CRM tools.
It is easy to get wrong at any of the above-mentioned steps of the CRM selection process, even if you involve your best IT professionals. That is why it is important to analyze what obstacles your peers face when selecting a CRM.
We’ve compiled this list of common mistakes to avoid based on our customers’ CRM selection & implementation stories.
Are you looking to improve your customer relations? Do you want to optimize your workflow? Or skyrocket your marketing campaign? No matter what it is, it is definitely worth it to sit down with your team and work out your feature wish list.
If you select a CRM system that supports only small companies’ needs, it might not fit you when your contracts and client profiles start to pile up. So, one of the best CRM tips we can give you is to consider not only your current challenges but your future evolution. Ideally, your CRM should be able to support your business’s 2x, 5x, or even 10x growth.
A lot of companies face the reality of trying to change their business model to suit the CRM. However, such CRM won’t benefit you in any way if it doesn’t reflect the nature of your business. So, when evaluating a CRM, make sure it is flexible and customizable enough to serve your business needs to the fullest.
While some CRMs are straightforward and easy to use, some systems are designed for more tech-savvy users. To ensure good adoption of a new CRM, you’ll need to train your team (which will result in extra costs) or choose a less complicated system.
In a nutshell, here is a takeaway of what you should and should not do based on what we have already outlined in this article:
|Consult your CRM Selection Team at every stage of the selection process||Make a choice on your own|
|Take your time||Rush|
|Consider your short- and long-term goals||Choose the 1st CRM system you like|
|Make a list of must-have and nice-to-have features||Put the price in the 1st place|
|Test several systems||Neglect the feedback of potential CRM users|
|Engage your colleagues into testing various CRMs||Expect to come up the perfect CRM right away|
|Request free trials and demos|
|Import sample data into each of the CRMs you like|
While a small-sized company can get by with a simple tool, bigger companies need to invest a lot more time and money in CRM selection. If you want to avoid associated pitfalls, delegate the CRM selection process to an experienced CRM partner, like Ascendix.
With 26 years in the CRM space, we help businesses find, implement, customize, and integrate CRM systems across different industries, from nonprofits to finances.
Ascendix CRM professionals will:
Looking for an ideal CRM system now? Contact Ascendix Team and get your questions answered today!
Some of the questions to ask when choosing a CRM include:
The most essential CRM selection criteria include:
The CRM that is best for you should reflect your business nature, perfectly adapt to your business processes, and be easy to use at all times.
Alina is a forward-thinking writer specializing in Salesforce Consulting, Ascendix Products, and best commercial real estate practices. She shares her insights in engaging yet informative posts to help businesses get the most value out of the latest industry news and trends.