How Companies Choose CRM Software

October 27, 2022
11 min

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.

What is CRM System?

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.

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What Companies Focus on When Choosing a CRM: Selection Checklist

 

1. Assembling the CRM Selection Team

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.

 

2. Ranking Business Needs According to Their Importance

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 
Automate workflows 
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.

3. Making a List of Must-Have & Nice-to-Have Features

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:

  • Sales Force Automation (improve sales pipeline tracking, centralize contact and interaction management, etc.)
  • Marketing Automation (analyze customer behavior and implement personalized campaigns, track them and generate detailed reports on the campaign performance)
  • Customer Support Automation (provide customers with intuitive self-service and live chats, automatically route tickets, etc.)
  • Enhanced Security (authentication and encryption, cloud-based system backups, and advanced user permissions).
  • Industry-Specific Features.

 

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.

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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.

 

4. Choosing Between On-premises vs. Cloud-based CRMs

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.

 

Choosing a CRM Based on a Deployment Model
 
Cloud-based CRMIn-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.

Build vs. Buy CRM Implementation Analysis

Learn how to choose a CRM implementation model based on multiple CRM selection criteria like upfront costs, user adoption, and control.

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5. Narrowing Down Suitable CRM Software Providers

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:

  • Peers that already have some experience in choosing a CRM – word-of-mouth referrals might become your best CRM tips.
  • Trustworthy review websites like Capterra and G2 where users share their feedback and evaluate the functionality of different software. You can also use these portals to monitor CRMs by chosen feature.

 

6. The Key Points to Consider When Signing Up for Free Demos

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:

  • Does the CRM vendor provide a complete service package? This should include CRM software implementation, training, technical support, and future maintenance and upgrades. Some CRM software providers like Salesforce don’t offer the complete package, but you can always turn to certified Salesforce partners like Ascendix that can help you customize your CRM system to match your business niche, integrate the new CRM with your existing tools, or develop new apps from scratch to be launched on AppExchange.
  • Has the vendor attempted to learn as much as possible about your business needs? To come up with actionable recommendations on the right CRM package, a CRM provider must learn about your current challenges and its capabilities to tackle them.
  • Does the vendor communicate clearly about the value of the system for your business? Beware of CRM software providers that just show you the plain features without explaining how those can help your business.

 

7. Requesting Free Trials

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.

 

8. Choosing a CRM and Implementing It

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 Importance of Choosing the Right CRM

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:

  • Paying for unused licenses
  • Paying for outside experts
  • Missing out on the financial benefits
  • The cost of doing it all over.

 

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.

Mistakes to Avoid When Choosing a CRM

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.

 

Failure to know what you need in a CRM system

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.

 

Choosing a CRM that cannot scale

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.

 

Choosing a CRM that doesn’t adapt to your business

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.

 

Selecting a CRM that doesn’t match your level of technical experience

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:

 

Do's and Don'ts When Choosing a CRM
Do's
Don'ts
Consult your CRM Selection Team at every stage of the selection processMake a choice on your own
Take your timeRush
Consider your short- and long-term goalsChoose the 1st CRM system you like
Make a list of must-have and nice-to-have featuresPut the price in the 1st place
Test several systemsNeglect the feedback of potential CRM users
Engage your colleagues into testing various CRMsExpect to come up the perfect CRM right away
Request free trials and demos
Import sample data into each of the CRMs you like

How Ascendix Can Facilitate Your CRM Selection Process

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:

  • Analyze your current sales and business processes
  • Recommend you the best CRM system based on your needs
  • Advise you on the most suitable optimizations and customizations
  • Train your team on how to set and configure basic features
  • Consult on the best user adoption strategy to ensure that your teams use the new software to the fullest extent.

 

Looking for an ideal CRM system now? Contact Ascendix Team and get your questions answered today!

What are questions to ask when choosing a CRM?

Some of the questions to ask when choosing a CRM include:

  • Does the CRM vendor provide a complete service package?
  • Does the CRM vendor specialize in your industry?
  • Does the sales representative try to find out more about your challenges?

What are CRM selection criteria?

The most essential CRM selection criteria include:

  • Your budget limits
  • Technical experience of your team
  • Number of business processes you need to move to a CRM
  • Desired deployment model: on-premises or could-based
  • User-friendliness of interface
  • The integration with your existing software.

Which CRM is best for me?

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.

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