Selecting the right customer relationship management (CRM) software is a major decision that can have a significant impact on your business’s ability to effectively manage customer interactions, improve processes, and boost productivity. With so many CRM solutions on the market, it can be challenging to determine which system best aligns with your specific business goals, workflows, and budget.
By evaluating key factors like features, vendor reputation, implementation, and cost, you can zero in on the ideal CRM platform for your unique needs. Here are 12 essential considerations when choosing a CRM solution for your organization.
CRM software has become an invaluable tool for managing all aspects of customer relationships and interactions. The right CRM centralizes customer data, enables sales and marketing automation, and provides insights to improve customer service. This leads to increased sales, higher customer retention and loyalty, and a competitive advantage.
However, the landscape of CRM solutions is vast, with systems scaled for companies of all sizes and industries. Prices range from free tools to enterprise-level platforms costing thousands per user. With so many options, selecting a CRM that fully aligns with your business needs and long-term strategy requires careful evaluation.
By focusing on must-have features, total cost of ownership, ease of use, data integration, scalability, and other key factors, you can ensure you choose the right platform to achieve your customer relationship goals now and in the future.
1. Identify Your Business Goals and Requirements
The first step in your CRM software selection process is defining your specific business goals, pain points, and functional requirements. Key questions to consider:
- How do you plan to leverage CRM software to achieve objectives? For instance, do you aim to improve sales productivity, automate marketing, or enhance customer service?
- What are your biggest challenges related to managing customer interactions and data? Where are current inefficiencies or gaps?
- Which areas of your customer lifecycle need the most improvement or automation? Lead management, opportunity tracking, quoting, customer support, retention, etc.?
- Which teams and roles will be the primary CRM software users? What functionality, access permissions, and workflows align with their needs?
- What customer data and systems need to be integrated into the CRM platform? Identify must-have integrations.
By outlining your business drivers, pain points, and detailed functionality requirements at the outset, you can zero in on CRM systems that are purpose-built for your needs.
2. Choose Between Cloud-Based or On-Premise Solutions
A key decision is whether a cloud or on-premise deployment model better suits your needs:
Cloud-based CRM software:
- No hardware needed – accessed via web browser
- Faster implementation with no software to install
- Automatic updates and maintenance by the vendor
- Scales easily with company growth
- Accessible from anywhere on any device
On-premise CRM software:
- Install and host the software on your servers
- Upfront costs may be higher, but monthly fees may be lower
- Complete control over software, updates, security, customization
- Can integrate with on-premise data and apps
- Meets compliance needs for on-site data storage
For most businesses today, a cloud-based SaaS CRM model provides the most flexibility, fastest rollout, and lowest total cost of ownership. Leading CRM vendors like Salesforce, Zoho, and HubSpot are cloud-based.
3. Evaluate Leading CRM Software Vendors and Systems
The top CRM software vendors dominate the market due to the maturity and sophistication of their platforms. Consider leading solutions like:
|Salesforce Sales Cloud||The top CRM software worldwide, Salesforce pioneered the cloud-based model. Sales-focused with extensive features and third-party integrations.|
|Microsoft Dynamics 365||Combines CRM software with ERP and AI capabilities. Strong option for Microsoft-stack users.|
|HubSpot CRM||Freemium model great for small companies. Intuitive UI with sales, marketing, and service features.|
|Zoho CRM||Comprehensive features with affordable pricing. Customizable workflows and reporting.|
|Insightly||Designed for small to midsize businesses. Intuitive interface ideal for no-training rollout.|
|Pipedrive||Sales-centric platform with pipeline visibility, lead management, and reporting.|
|SugarCRM||Highly customizable open-source solution. Capable modules with 100+ integrations.|
|Keap (Infusionsoft)||Complete sales and marketing automation for SMBs. Designed for service businesses.|
The right fit will depend on your budget, target market, size, and industry. Compare capabilities, reviews, ease of use, implementation, training, and overall ROI.
4. Assess Integration Capabilities and Ecosystem Support
Given the central role CRM software plays, integration capabilities are vital for unifying data across sales, marketing, e-commerce, accounting, and other systems.
Key considerations for assessing integrations:
- How many pre-built connectors and integrations does the CRM software offer?
- What APIs and developer options exist for custom integrations?
- Can the software connect bi-directionally to sync data in real time?
- Does their app marketplace offer integrations for surrounding martech and business apps?
- What level of vendor support is provided for integrating the CRM software with your tech stack?
Prioritize must-have integrations for workflows, data synchronization, and accessing insights. With robust integration support, your CRM software becomes the intelligence hub for all customer data.
5. Review Mobile and Omnichannel Options
In today’s digital landscape, a CRM platform must provide omnichannel experiences and mobile capabilities:
- Mobile apps and responsive design: Allow sales and field teams to access CRM software on the go from any device. Offline access options.
- Cross-channel continuity: Unified customer profiles and histories across email, phone, chat, social media, and in-person interactions.
- Field service options: Scheduling, dispatching, ticketing, and field tech enablement.
- E-commerce integration: Share customer order data from your e-commerce platform into the CRM software profiles and workflows.
- Marketing automation: Orchestrate customer journeys across multiple digital touchpoints based on behaviors and preferences.
Mobile and omnichannel support ensure a consistent experience at every touchpoint and greater productivity for field teams.
6. Consider Customization, Scalability, and Extensibility
While pre-configured CRM platforms simplify implementation, you may require certain customizations. Consider:
- Custom objects, fields, and modules: Can you add new CRM software objects and fields to capture specialized data?
- Workflow automation: How easily can you build custom workflows and business logic without coding?
- Third-party apps: availability of apps to extend functionality for specific needs
- Scalability: How easily can the system scale with rapid company growth or a surge in data?
- Development options: APIs, SDKs, and integration platforms for advanced customization.
Also assess options for extensibility like app marketplaces, consulting partners, and professional services.
7. Evaluate Data Migration Approach and Resources Needed
Moving your existing customer data into a new CRM software system is a major undertaking you’ll need to plan and budget for.
- What import tools and data mapping features does the vendor provide? APIs?
- Should you engage a partner for help planning and executing the migration?
- How can you best cleanse, consolidate, and organize data during migration?
- What internal resources can you dedicate to data migration?
A flexible, automated migration approach saves time and money while also improving data hygiene going forward. Partnering with the CRM vendor can streamline the process.
8. Understand Ongoing Management and Administrative Requirements
While the CRM software manages your customer data, that still requires oversight. Consider needs like:
- Administrator training on permissions, rules, fields, workflows, reporting, and alerts
- Clear responsibilities for ongoing system administration, maintenance, troubleshooting, and monitoring
- Regular data audits and cleaning to maintain data accuracy
- Technical resources to manage integrations and customizations post-launch
- Training programs and change management to drive user adoption
Plan and budget for at least part-time CRM software oversight once the system goes live.
9. Compare Pricing Models and Total Cost of Ownership
CRM software ranges from freemium tools to platforms with yearly contracts worth tens of thousands per user. Crunch the numbers on:
- One-time license fees vs monthly/annual SaaS subscriptions
- Charges for storage, bandwidth, additional users, and features
- Implementation costs including data migration, customization, training
- Ongoing costs for maintenance, support, and licenses
Watch for potential “hidden” fees above the base price. Calculate total cost over a 3 to 5 year period based on projected needs.
10. Assess Implementation Timeline and Project Plans
A phased rollout can help streamline launching a new CRM software. Consider:
- Starting with a minimal viable product (MVP) launch focused on essential workflows
- Rolling out to select teams first before organization-wide rollout
- Setting realistic timelines for each phase, factoring in data migration, training, and change management
- Developing success metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) for monitoring progress
An agile, iterative approach prevents overload while still delivering value quickly. Partner with the CRM provider for guidance on rollout.
11. Evaluate Customer Support and Training Options
Success with a CRM software depends on adoption. Ensure options like:
- In-depth administrator, user, and technical training programs
- Online knowledge bases, communities, and documentation
- Phone, email, and chat support at various pricing tiers
- Necessary training and support for any third-party integrations
Plan and budget for ongoing education to maximize usage. Change management also helps drive adoption.
12. Prioritize Data Security, Privacy, and Regulatory Compliance
For any SaaS-based CRM software, security is paramount. Consider needs such as:
- Data encryption, access controls, and activity logging
- GDPR, CCPA, and data privacy compliance capabilities
- Industry regulations like HIPAA for healthcare, PCI DSS for finance
- Vendor security certifications, audits, and best practices
- Data protection and backup for disaster recovery
Review third-party audits, compliance standards, and security features before committing.
Selecting the right CRM software is a complex undertaking with long-term implications. Moving beyond basic feature checklists to consider factors like business alignment, ease of use, scalability, and total cost of ownership leads to the best decision. Approaching CRM selection as a process rather than a one-time decision enables you to secure the technology foundation to build customer relationships and drive growth for years to come.