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How to Choose the Best CRM System?

How to Choose the Best CRM System?

Home Blog Digital Marketing How to Choose the Best CRM System?

Adopting a CRM system for your business comes with several benefits, but you need to choose the right one to get the most out of this tool. However, that can be difficult to find the best CRM software, when there are so many options on the market, from well-known brands to up-and-coming software solutions.

Picking the right CRM solution from the beginning requires a lot of time, patience, and extra study, especially if you don’t know where to start. Sounds like a lot of work, but we can help you through the decision-making process by offering some tips on how to choose the best software.

Table of Contents:

What is CRM Software?

CRM is an acronym for customer relationship management, which encompasses any tool that stores and processes customer data. The first CRM system was likely the Rolodex, but digital technology has allowed businesses to pull customer data from any source on the web.

For any business to compete, they need a way to connect different departments, from customer service to marketing, as they all work together to improve overall customer satisfaction. 

That’s why It’s common to find CRM software that integrates with other tools, like automation software (Salesflow), communication software (Slack), and G Suite. Anything that grabs real-time client data is useful to your CRM system, and by extension, your business.

CRM systems connect your team, customers, and integrations

CRM systems don’t just provide unparalleled coordination across teams; they also add something extra to the customer journey. Website personalization is the way of the future, and it’s impossible to offer a unique experience without actionable data and a targeted persona.

Basically, a CRM can find your audience and help you understand them. In the end, you’ll be able to sell more to your customer base or attract more warm leads with the right CRM system.

10 Things to Consider When Choosing CRM Software

Now that you know why your business needs a CRM, we can help you find the right system for your needs. Here are 10 areas you should take into account when choosing a CRM system.

1. Know Your Business Requirements

Maybe you’ve stumbled upon this article because a friend, colleague, blog post, or business partner told you that CRM software is necessary for your company, and maybe it is. 

However, there’s a difference between needing a way to capture customer/client data and requiring CRM software. There are hundreds of tools that can offer this function, but we’ll narrow it down to two: CRM and CEM software. Let’s look at CEM software and why it may work better.


While a CRM system is about maximizing revenues and managing relationships, a CEM (customer experience management) focuses on providing the best customer experience. In other words, a CEM helps manage all interactions with customers across all touchpoints.

CEM and CRM systems serve different but complementary purposes. Depending on your business, you may need both types of tools. But if you can only choose one, ask yourself:

  • Does marketing or sales need more support?: If it’s sales, a CRM is the best option. But if your sales pipeline works and you’re suffering from immediate churn, choose a CEM because your customer experience and marketing materials need improvement.
  • What are your business goals?: If you want to keep it small, local, or you can only manage a small team, choose CEM. If you want to scale quickly, pick a CRM first.
  • How efficient is your sales/marketing team?: Small teams usually need more tools (choose both). Otherwise, pick a tool that helps your team fix what it’s struggling with.
  • Is your business already established?: If you’re just starting out, it’s usually a good idea to use a CRM (unless you’re keeping it small/local). However, if you’re already in a good position, you should favor a CEM but add a CRM if you haven’t already.

To summarize, a CRM carries more features and capabilities, whereas a CEM is more focused and deliberate. For most businesses in the startup and growth stage, a CRM is the best option.

CRM vs. Business Needs

If you decide a CRM is the right option, you can now look at your business needs. Most businesses need CRM software because they’re experiencing the following issues:

  • Difficulty finding or tracking customer data
  • An inability to create or retain loyal customers
  • A long and/or extended sales cycle 
  • Poor agent performance visibility
  • Difficulty managing agent schedules
  • Poor client/customer communication

You may have other customer acquisition challenges, but these bullet points give you a starting point for what features, benefits, and CRM software types you’ll need.

2. Choose Between Cloud or On-Premise

Both cloud-based and on-premise CRM software deployment options have their pros and cons.

With most modern software, you need a way to connect to and from the internet to your personal server. Your server is where your customer information is stored and protected. All CRM solutions either connect to a cloud-based (think Dropbox) or in-house server.

Cloud-Based Server

With a Cloud solution, you don’t need an in-house server, technical expertise, or a large upfront cost from installation or licensing. All you have to do is sign up for a subscription and log in whenever you need the system to store customer data or to access your client data.

Cloud-Based Server
Source: Wiki Commons

Cloud computing allows on-demand availability of computer system resources.

Unfortunately, you’ll need to stay online at all times. If your internet connection fails or the server is down, you won’t be able to use the system at all. Cloud-based servers also cost significantly more than in-house systems over time, making them great for startups but bad for enterprises.

On-Premise Server

On-premise CRM software is hosted physically in your location, giving you access to its servers. If you want to integrate with other customer applications easily, improve the security of your software, or avoid subscription charges, an on-premise solution is perfect for your needs.

However, to operate an in-house server, you’ll need dedicated IT staff for maintenance support. On top of that, the large upfront investment may turn startups away. Still, it’s important to consider your future goals, so choose a CRM system that is flexible, adaptable, and scalable. 

3. Study the Different Types of CRM

No CRM is a “one-size-fits-all” solution, although “operational” CRMs come close and tend to work for most businesses. Here are the three types of CRMs you’ll find in the marketplace:

  • Operational CRM: Basic operational CRM systems are common, centralized platforms that leverage sales, marketing, and customer support automation to collect and store data. They’re ideal for businesses that need all-in-one CRM solutions.
  • Analytical CRM: Designed for processing and analyzing customer data, an analytical CRM uses data mining and pattern recognition to gain insight into buyer behavior. They’re ideal for businesses that want to craft targeted and precise marketing offers.
  • Collaborative CRM: A collaborative CRM connects and shares customer information with internal and external stakeholders. They’re ideal for large teams and budgets.

Most startups will prefer using operational CRMs, but if you plan to scale from the get-go (aka, you have a lot of investment capital), an analytical CRM is the better option. Collaborative CRMs are mainly for bigger teams, so only upgrade to this option after your business scales.

4. Consider the Software’s Core Features

CRM software should be collaborative, customizable, easy-to-use, secure, and mobile-friendly as a rule, but your solution should be equipped with tools that do the following:

  • Manage leads across the buyer’s lifecycle
  • Manage, organize, and store contact information
  • Automate leads, workflow, and sales tasks
  • Manage campaigns and measure their effectiveness
  • Track email campaigns and analytics
  • Manage social media insights and audience interactions
  • Populate real-time reports on customer trends
  • Have a mobile app that lets you access data 

You can locate a CRM’s features on the company website under the “prices and features” tab or something similar. Oftentimes, a company will combine their prices and features on one page.

Consider the Software’s Core Features Zoho example

As you can see, Zoho combines the company’s price list with its features.

If you staff employees, you should find a CRM solution that tracks employee activity and performance. The ability to give your employees their own account can allow you to track tasks, hours, sales numbers, meetings, goals, and more in a separate management dashboard. 

5. Examine System Integrations

System integration is one of the most important things to consider when choosing a CRM.

You’re not buying a CRM to add another tool to your collection; you’re purchasing a software solution that connects your whole business together. CRMs are supposed to streamline company operations, so if they don’t connect to the following, pass them up for something else:

  • Word Processing Software
  • ERP or Accounting Software
  • HRM Software
  • Your Website
  • Billing and Ecommerce Platforms
  • Social Media Accounts

Keep in mind that the above integrations are the bare minimum. You’ll likely need to connect to more software solutions, especially as your company grows and requires more customer data.

6. Compare the Software’s Costs

The cost of CRM software depends on the deployment method (servers) and subscription plan. 

The most affordable options are cloud-based CRMs or free software, but if you want the best features, you’ll need to upgrade to a paid solution. But don’t just buy the first CRM that offers the features you need because you may pay much more than your budget allows.

A better way to compare the total cost of software is by selecting two to three features you absolutely need before removing solutions you don’t need. For example, if you need a CRM with email tracking and campaign automation, subtract CRMs that don’t offer these features.

Then, narrow down your options further by feature quality. A CRM may track email, but it may not offer total visibility over your campaign clicks, message opens, and read time.

Now, consider the features you can manage without, at least for now. Some CRM solutions offer package rates that lock out certain features and you need to make sure what you need isn’t behind a bigger paywall. After narrowing down your options, you can accurately compare costs.

On average, paid CRM systems cost $12 per user per month for startups. Advanced packages range from $50-$150 per user per month, and enterprise CRMs cost 300+ per user per month.

7. Check for Customization and Training

One often overlooked aspect of CRM software is customization and training, especially when it comes to total costs. If the software vendor offers little to no technical or product training, your staff will have to troubleshoot the software themselves, leading to a loss in productivity.

Check for Customization and Training example offers full, in-depth training modules and support

What’s more, CRMs that don’t allow customization could disrupt your sales process, marketing strategy, and customer service activities. Your CRM should complement your business and be easy to configure, but you first need to know how to work within the software’s default settings.

Check if the vendor offers in-house seminars, online courses, webinars, or a training program within the software. If it does, you’ll be able to learn the software quickly and reduce downtime. 

8. Read Up on the Vendor

Researching the CRM company or vendor is just as important as the software itself. You’ll be replying to the company for customer support and assistance for the total time you’re using the software, so the vendor must be reliable, dependable, and available 24 hours a day.

Check if the vendor has multiple customer service support channels, such as email, phone, live chat, social media, mobile, etc. Are they available to paying customers? Do they prioritize their enterprise clients, or are they quick and supportive of all their visitors/clients? 

Another important point of research is your vendor’s industry. Do they commonly work with companies similar to yours? Do they work with small businesses or enterprises?

Finally, make sure you research customer reviews on sites like Google and TrustPilot. Regardless of how honest a company tries to be, they may still operate under their own biases. 

9. Make Sure the System has GDPR Features

The GDPR, or General Data Protection Regulation, is an EU privacy law that affects all companies selling to and storing information about European citizens. That means that American companies have to abide by these privacy laws or suffer a multi-million dollar fine.

Businesses have to have GDPR-specific features in place, or they run the risk of failing to comply with these laws. That means your CRM software has to generate personalized reports of each customer individually or delete all of the individual’s data if a customer requests it.

Instead of manually removing or compiling customer data in a painstaking process, you should find a CRM with GDPR functionality to ensure your company stays compliant. 

10. Take the Software for a Test Drive

Once you’ve narrowed down your choices as much as possible, it’s time to take your software for a test drive. Most CRM vendors will offer a free trial of their software, and we highly recommend taking the opportunity to get a feel for your CRMs features and user experience.

Take the Software for a Test Drive Zendesk example

Zendesk offers a 14-day free trial to new customers

You lose nothing by experimenting with each CRM software you’re eyeing. If you dislike the software, you can cancel and move on to the next one. If you love it, you can shift from a trial to a paid version. Either way, you narrowed your choices further or picked the perfect CRM.

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Jessica Perkins

Jess is precisely what she was born to be - a growth hacker. She helps SaaS companies grow their inbound leads through lean marketing strategies focusing on content marketing and advertising. It's perfect because it combines two things she loves best - writing & growth!

Guest Blogger @Mention