Any business, big, small, growing or established, needs a CRM tool. It’s simply a must.

Eventually, your business will reach a point where managing your customer base using post-it notes or Excel spreadsheets becomes unrealistic, disorganized, and hard to maintain. While this is a good sign for your business (this means your customer base is growing in size and complexity), the thought of discovering the perfect CRM tool for your business can be daunting.

How to choose a CRM tool

Putting significant effort into choosing any software is a good idea, especially one as important as a CRM. As you hunt for your ideal software vendor, you will find yourself obsessing over the following thoughts:

What kind of qualities am I looking for in a CRM?

How much am I looking to spend?

What are my standards for features and capabilities?

Let’s find answers to those questions and map out how to find the CRM that best fits your business’ needs. There are nine key factors you need to consider.

The reason you need a CRM

The first thing you need to do when selecting a CRM is identify why you need the solution in the first place.

Before looking at the array of CRM options available to you, you need to determine the outcomes you are looking for in a software. Ask yourself what you want to achieve, and then match those goals with features of your ideal software tool. This will make it a lot easier to narrow down your options and find the solution that works best for the needs of your business.

Understand why your business needs a CRM and identify how you will achieve your desired outcomes. Once you have answered those questions, you can clearly pick out the best solution for your business.

Deployment

Software deployment refers to any and all activities that make a software system available for use. There are two options for CRM deployment: cloud and on-premise.

A cloud deployment, also known as on-demand, Saas or online, is an internet based subscription. To use your CRM with a cloud deployment, you need access to the internet. All of the information within your CRM is held within the vendor’s server and you access it through the internet. This deployment typically involves a subscription pricing model.

With an on-premise CRM, you buy the solution and it is physically hosted at your location. You have direct access to the server at all times. On-premise CRM is paired with a one time payment, but you are responsible for all technical support.

The CRM deployment you choose should depend on your internet accessibility, capacity to handle recurring payments, and technical support capabilities. Keep in mind, however, that one deployment style might work for you today, but your business’ needs can change a year from now so think long term.

Features and functionality

Your business most likely has a unique set of processes, customer base, and growth activities that will require a multi-faceted CRM that can adapt to your changing business.

When investing in a CRM, you will likely start with a simplified version with just a few features. Make sure the vendor you choose has the option to upgrade to a different version with more features than you started with. The needs of your business will change over time, and your CRM should be able to adapt as well.

On the other hand, you don’t want to overestimate the features your business needs. Unnecessary software spend is a budget killer, so make sure you are being realistic when evaluating the aspects your team will use.

The one-size-fits-all deal might sound appealing and convenient, but your best bet is finding a CRM with customisable features.

Free trial and demonstrations

You wouldn’t buy a car without test driving it first, right? You also shouldn’t commit to buying a CRM without getting a sneak preview and free trial.

Go through a value demonstration of the product and then move onto a free trial. During this trial period, it is important that you use the product as you would if you selected it as your CRM. This will give you some insight into what it is like to actually use the product, bringing up constructive questions and concerns.

Make sure to do this with more than one vendor. It might seem as if the current CRM you are trying out has it all, but there might be a better option out there.

Integration

The purpose of having a CRM is to streamline all of your processes and uncomplicate things, not add another tool that will cause a ruckus.

Make sure the CRM tool you choose is able to integrate well with your other software applications. Here are some key applications your CRM needs to seamlessly integrate with:

A key part of CRM integration is transferring all of your contacts and syncing information back and forth into the tool you decide to use – make sure the process for this is as automated and seamless as possible.

Industry specific vendors

It is worth checking to see which types of companies a specific CRM tool specializes in. Businesses like yours might have seen success with a particular vendor, and that is important to note when checking out your options.

A CRM vendor’s website will likely reveal the industry and business size they are most accustomed to working with. You can also check out third party review sites like G2, where vendors are rated based on verified user reviews.

Customization and training

Training is necessary. It’s as simple as that.

When you spend money on a CRM tool, you don’t want to just have to “figure it out” without proper training. Ensure that there is hands-on, continuous coaching involved with your CRM implementation. Training will dramatically impact adoption and the success of your CRM initiative.

You might also reach a point where you start thinking, “This is just too complicated.” And that’s okay. Software can be confusing, and sometimes it is worth it to switch over to a tool that is easier to configure. The point of a CRM is to propel you forward, not hold you back.

User experience

Perhaps the most obvious thing you need to consider when choosing a CRM is the user experience. It might seem obvious, but sometimes other contributing factors can overpower it.

Does the CRM actually help you? Is there something about it that frustrates you or slows you down? A good practice when testing user experience is to count how many clicks it takes to get you to a certain page. Are the steps easy to follow? Can you assume the path you need to take to get to a certain point?

A lot of business happens on the road nowadays, so make sure the CRM vendor you choose has a mobile option, and maybe even an app.

If you get the feeling that the interface is too complicated, you can’t get the hang of it after you complete the training, and you have limited access, trust your gut and take your business elsewhere.

Invest in your software

Making an impulse purchase when buying a CRM solution is a big mistake. It might become tedious and time consuming, but invest yourself into the buying process. It will only help you, your business, and your customers in the end.

About the Author

Mary Clare Novak is a Content Marketing Associate at G2 in Chicago. A recent graduate, she is happy to be back working in her favourite city. In her free time, you can find her doing a crossword puzzle, listening to cover bands, or eating fish tacos.

From time to time guest contributors write on the Workbooks Blog – have something to say? Email Emma at emma.wright@workbooks.com.