How to Choose the Best CRM Software

Wondering about the ways you could get your business a great CRM system? We heard you. In this article, we will walk you through every vital aspect of CRM – right from its terms and types to features and importance – to make it easier for you to buy the best CRM software.

Choosing a good CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software is as crucial for any business as devising an efficient strategy. You have to keep multiple factors in mind. What are those factors? What are its benefits? We will see those in dedicated sections. The first step, however, is to understand the CRM system thoroughly. Similar to understanding the core of your business.

So, let’s get started with the CRM software definition.     

What is CRM Software?

In simple words, CRM software is a business tool, designed to help you manage your organization’s interactions with its existing clientele, as well as prospects. 

Contrary to popular belief, the system is beyond just sales. CRM can also help boost your marketing and operations to track & enhance relationships and upsell customers. 

It can be your go-to system for all the information you need about a particular client or a section of clientele within a few clicks. For instance, email communications, calls, customer preferences, customer details, and sales. The software thus, over time, would hold for you an in-depth history of interactions with all your contacts – minus the conventional costs of business administration.  

But how does it help with prospective clients? 

Well, CRM platform stores and tracks your leads and the communication with them, making it simpler to convert them into actual customers. This conversion process gets even smoother when you combine the technique with automated marketing.

Now let’s consider an example of CRM software. 

Apple, the global tech giant, has CRM at its core in its growth strategy. As you might already know, your unique Apple ID lets you use a range of Apple services – from App Store to FaceTime to Apple Music. In a synchronized way across devices. 

While that spells convenience for you – the user, this, for Apple, boils down to obtaining accurate insights on what users like and prefer. That, in turn, helps the company provide customized services and pursue targeted marketing effortlessly. 

What Does a CRM System Do? And the Reasons Why You Need It. 

You must be getting curious by now as to what exactly a CRM system does for a business? To satisfy your curiosity, here is an easy-to-comprehend list of all the primary things CRM takes care of:

  • Builds the focus on customers

The software presents instant information on any of your contacts, customers, and communication with them. For example, the products they purchased, when they bought it, and how much they paid. Such information helps you provide the best customer service, both pre and after-sales, which ultimately contributes to customer retention and loyalty. 

  • Creates a central information hub

CRM ends the disparate data and processes with its central hub of information. You can find everything you need in one place with complete visibility, minus any duplicate data. 

The system also offers integrations with other systems, streamlining all your business processes. Thus, team collaborations, even for your remote workforce, become hassle-free. Plus, you can even set user-based permissions for controlling access.

  • Boosts profitability and sales

CRM brings automation to your sales operations. Whether it is lead tracking or lead categorization and prioritization, the system tackles it all. That enables you to close leads rapidly, improving the scope of your sales.   

  • Offers reporting and insights

Almost all the top CRM software tools facilitate future projections and analysis of the present data. From insights on your customers and their activities to in-depth reports on your ROI, the system functionalities do it all for you. 

Now that we have explored the use of CRM, it is time to discover why it is essential for your business. 

  • With centralized records of data on your customers, suppliers, and prospects, CRM simplifies detecting the pain points to fill the gaps.
  • The system aids in improving the process efficiency, thanks to its structured information.
  • Since the software stores customer history and analyses their behavior, you can easily carry out targeted marketing and upsell products/services. That boosts your sales and revenue generation.
  • CRM turns your business processes truly customer-focused, creating a positive customer experience – a prerequisite for making your customers feel valued and retain them. 
  • The system gives you accurate data at any given time, including sales and purchases, to determine your business performance. That enhances your decision-making capabilities significantly.

What are the Types of CRM Software?

CRM, at its core, assists your business in gaining a competitive advantage. But you need to select one out of its four specialized types, detailed below, depending upon your business requirements and operations for desired results.   

  1. Operational CRM

Going by the name, an operational CRM software solution helps you better handle the day-to-day customer-centric business processes: sales, marketing, and services. It is the most commonly used CRM platform trusted by businesses of all sizes across industries.

With operational CRM systems, you get all the information in terms of your contacts/prospects in one place. That aids in the efficient management of the entire lead lifecycle, right from capturing to closing leads; boosting collaborations between different teams. 

The highlight, however, of this type of CRM is the automation it brings to your marketing, sales, and services operations with its tools. Here’s how.  

  • Marketing automation  

It automates a lot of critical tasks of your marketing team that are otherwise time-consuming. Some of them, include content offer distribution, coordination of email campaigns, insights on every lead, and tracking of ads ROI. 

  • Sales automation 

It streamlines your business’s sales process, letting your sales team focus more on direct prospect interactions. And ultimately get more clients on-board. The processes it automates, include email scheduling, lead prioritization, task creation, contact delegation, setting up meetings, and record & coordinate sales calls.   

  • Services automation 

It automates services that deal with customers to offer them the best possible experience. Be it resolving their issues or providing necessary information/one-on-one assistance. Live chats, IVR, or ticketing systems are a few of the many ways companies automate their customer services. 

Who should use it?

Operational CRMs work equally well for SMBs and large-scale entities. Any business keen on automating its workflow or having a linear sales procedure can benefit from this kind of CRM tool. 

  1. Analytical CRM 

Analytical CRM is a system that helps make optimized use of the data you collect about your clients, both online and offline. It can be your customers’ preferences, interests, points of contact, channels, and much more. 

In other words, analytical CRM software solutions are nothing but the tools that help you understand your customers in the easiest yet most effective way. 

A majority of analytical CRMs include three key components called data warehousing, data mining, and OLAP (Online analytical processing) tools to offer maximum outcomes.

With these tools, the system analyzes the data collected to achieve a number of objectives like creating targeted marketing campaigns, enhancing sales strategies, and building robust service networks. 

It also gives a broader picture of your entire customer lifecycle – beginning with customer identification and attraction to retention and growth. 

Simply put, the more data you would gather, the more the system would help you understand your clientele and resolve pain points. 

Who should use it?

Analytical CRMs are great for a business interested in optimizing its data to understand the way its clients operate for consistent growth. 

  1. Collaborative CRM

A collaborative CRM is built to streamline communication between various departments of your organization, such as sales, marketing, and support/services. The CRM software here facilitates the free flow of customer information among your internal teams with an aim to enhance the customer experience. 

Collaborative CRMs include two crucial aspects – interaction management and channel management. To offer you a maximum understanding of your customers’ needs and interests. 

The interaction management component monitors each interaction taking place between your business and clients. Be it through calls, emails, social media, or any other medium. You can log these communications, along with the team notes, and share the same seamlessly across your company. 

Channel management, on the other hand, leverages interaction management. It detects and pursues the customers’ preferred communication channels using the data collected and examined through interaction management. For example, it tells you whether you should reach out to Client A via a phone call or a face-to-face meeting, or emails. 

Who should use it?

Collaborative CRMs are ideal for businesses spread across the globe, in the services sector (both B2B & B2C), and the ones that require solid cross-departmental interactions.  

  1. Strategic CRM

In strategic CRM system solutions, the focus is entirely on the consumers. Through this type of software, you can continuously learn more about your clientele – their wants and preferences.  And use that information to offer personalized interactions with each of them to maintain strong, long-term relationships. 

Who should use it?

Any business with a goal of strengthened long-term client bonds can make the most of strategic CRMs. 

What are the Common CRM Terms You Must Know?

After understanding the CRM software basics, it is time to explore the terminology you will encounter while using the system. Although the list of such terms is quite extensive, here we will cover the 12 most common terms you must know. 

  1. Account

Account refers to a group or an individual record for every consumer, entity, or other contacts. It can even act as an address in some instances, instead of the company’s name, in correspondences. 

  1. Activity 

An activity in CRM system tools points to a history of emails, phone calls, meetings, messages, or other such tasks with respect to the accounts, leads or contacts. The system allows the logging of activities both manually and automatically.

  1. Contact

A contact is a piece of individual information covering a client’s personal details, including name, email, phone number, and mailing address. In addition to that, a contact may also refer to a prospect, an associate, or a company with whom your sales guy has an interaction. 

  1. Campaign 

As you might already be aware, campaigns are marketing efforts, whether online or offline. For example, emailers, print ads, social media marketing, online ads, product launches, and events. 

  1. Lead 

A lead is your potential consumer who may be in need of your business’s products/services. From the perspective of your sales pipeline, leads stand at the first stage. A place where they have shown interest in your products/services but your marketing or sales team is yet to qualify them.

  1. Lead Conversion 

    Lead conversion is a procedure of converting a lead into a customer. 

  1. Dashboard 

Dashboards refer to the home section or a landing page of your CRM system displaying primary information along with the navigation. At the same time, dashboards can also point to a distinct area of the software showcasing performance metrics and other critical data to analysts, c-suite executives, or managers. 

  1. Deals 

Whether you could make a successful sale of your products/services or not, either of the scenarios would be recorded and tracked in your CRM as Deals. A Won Deal if it generated income or a Lost Deal if it fell through. 

  1. Profile 

Profiles in CRMs make reference to the people of your organization who are using the solution. Each profile has a role as well as a set of permissions. For instance, you can provide the Profile editing right only to the HRs. 

  1. Opportunity 

An opportunity is a potential sale of your products/services. 

  1. Quote 

A quote is a formal offer with set pricing for your products or services to prospective clients.   

  1. Segmentation 

The term segmentation in the on-premise and online CRM software refers to categorizing contacts depending upon different criteria, like demographics, into a target market. For example, a CRM system can group consumers in a specific age range to send out emails as part of targeted marketing efforts.  

What are the Common Features of CRM Software?

CRM software tends to have an elaborated list of features to help you run your business smoothly. However, there are some characteristics common to the most popular, highly-functional CRMs. What are those, let’s find out.  

Top 12 Common Features of CRM Systems

  1. Contact Management

Customers, a vital aspect of any business, require the best, personalized services, along with the feeling of being valued. Now that can only happen when you have their records organized. And that’s what contact management offers. 

It enables you to not only organize your contacts effectively but also segment them into groups. So, you can gather and understand consumer data and create compelling marketing strategies accordingly. It also lets you connect with your contacts across channels, promoting stronger relationships.  

  1. Lead Management

Management of leads is essential for even the most basic CRMs. Because it simplifies the entire lead lifecycle, right from capturing leads and automating lead scoring to determining the ones most likely to convert. That, followed by the necessary follow-ups for more information based on psychographic or demographic elements. 

With such accurate lead management, your salespeople can always know which leads are worth pursuing and at what stage.

  1. Opportunity Management 

Like leads, it is equally critical to detect and track which type of customers has the highest probability of a conversion. In formal terms, you can call it the act of quantifying your sales opportunities – a task made simpler by opportunity management. The result is, you get an optimized sales process, increased productivity with a streamlined marketing/sales team.

  1. Email Integration

Switching between different apps to keep a track of your emails can be overwhelming and cumbersome. That’s why many customer relationship management software systems offer email integration with major providers, such as Gmail and Outlook. 

Such integrations make your team’s life smoother as they can manage, organize, prioritize and segment contact lists. And experience seamless collaboration. Missing out on important emails from customers requesting assistance also becomes a thing of the past. Moreover, since all of it is done within a single interface takes convenience a notch higher.

  1. Workflow Automation

Workflow automation, one of the best CRM features, takes significant stress off your head by automating repetitive, time-consuming processes. It allows you to define rules with triggers and events, which, in turn, equips the software to perform actions automatically. That saves a lot of your time and resources.

Let’s say, for instance, when you receive a message, the CRM software can send an automated predefined response as an acknowledgement of the message. Or you can set up automatic follow-up reminders to your prospects/opportunities. 

  1. Customization 

When it comes to CRM, there is no one-size-fits-all. As every business is unique, it has its own distinguished requirements. Thus, a majority of CRMs come with customizable features that adapt to your distinct needs. 

So what all can you customize? 

To start with, the way you view the information gathered, currencies, languages, and data collection methods to the dashboard layout. It’s all about the ease of use and productivity, after all. 

  1. Forecasting

As the name suggests, forecasting helps you make precise future projections leveraging the present and past data, as well as trends. It can be about your business sales for the next quarters and even revenues. The predictions facilitate objective decision-making and resource allocation. You can then compare these forecasts with the actual results to determine performance and outline future actions.    

  1. Dashboards and Reporting

Having smooth access to your data and reports is of utmost importance for any business. That is one of the reasons why CRM systems now include personalized dashboards and reporting tools. With this feature, it becomes easier for you and your team members to view and access critical data with real-time updates from varied portals. That nurtures data-driven decisions, giving your business an edge over competitors. 

  1. Analytics

Analytics is necessary to find out how your business has fared on various fronts during a particular timeframe. Hence, it makes sense if we say CRMs are incomplete without it. With analytics, you can ascertain how each of your sales activities has performed, break down quotas into targets, obtain summary sales reports per week, month, or even a day, and much more.  

  1. Mobile CRM

Since everyone seems to be on their phones almost all the time, many CRM software solution providers offer mobile CRM apps and programs. In simple words, a mobile CRM feature allows you and your team to receive alerts and access CRM data on your smartphone, regardless of where you are. That empowers your business to offer prompt and quality services.

  1. Third-party Integrations

A business typically relies on more than one system to achieve streamlined operations and increased functionality. Hence, any leading CRM software offers third-party integrations with other relevant software, including accounting, email clients, and marketing automation software. That enables you to work with multiple solutions without any hassles.

  1. Security 

As there is going to be a large chunk of data, of your customers and your firm’s, CRM systems tend to provide you with the highest security standards. From role-based permissions on data access and data security to privacy compliance, security has become a top priority.

What are the Benefits of Using CRM Software?

Using customer relationship management software (CRM) is like having an organized set of pieces to solve a puzzle. You already have a headstart with all the things at your disposal, fully structured, putting you at an advantage. A CRM system makes you proactive that way. The platform empowers you with alerts on your prospects’ and clients’ activities, helps target new audiences and maintain relationships with the existing ones. And those are not the only benefits. Following is the list of how CRMs help you in more ways than one:

  1. Increased Customer Satisfaction

We now know how customer management software keeps everything related to maintaining your client relationships in one place, from client data to notes to metrics. That enables your sales, marketing & help desk teams to cater to customers in a more personalized, systematic, and effective way. If any issue arises, your team can find a quick resolution, thanks to the centralized customer data. That, as a whole, contributes to elevating client satisfaction. And their trust in your products/services remain intact.

  1. Improvement in Customer Retention

As you provide prompt and quality services with personalized attention to your clients, they are more likely to remain loyal to your brand. The more loyal clientele you have, the higher the customer retention ratio. 

Apart from that, a CRM software solution also helps you identify the at-risk accounts at the appropriate time to resolve their issues proactively. That, again, increases the chances of conversion and in turn, retention.

  1. Finer Internal Communication 

With a CRM in place, you can bid a farewell to the miscommunication and lack of coordination that often take place among different departments. The CRM software will provide seamless access, data sharing, and communication channels to disparate teams. In fact, numerous CRMs also come with built-in tools for collaboration. Multiple people can work simultaneously on a file, for instance. Such shared records ensure everyone on your team has access to the latest details all the time. 

That instills a sense of team spirit, making the whole workforce more collaborative, which ultimately, improves the overall productivity. 

  1. Optimization of Marketing Efforts

Marketing campaigns, if done the wrong way at the wrong time, yields no result. However, a CRM system helps you steer clear of that road. 

With CRM software, you are better aware of your customers’ behavior and needs. You can even segment them into groups, identifying the most profitable ones. That allows you to create and execute targeted marketing efforts based on the individual or the group’s interests over and over. At the perfect time, with the most relevant campaigns and promotions. The outcome? You can carry out more optimized marketing programs in a cost-effective manner.  

  1. Better Business Decisions

A CRM software solution provides you with all the right data, metrics, and trends you need – whether it is sales, marketing, generating leads, or revenue – to determine your business performance. Such regular, in-depth analysis puts you in a position to make not just informed but data-driven business decisions. And eventually, that results in opening up avenues for consistent business growth.  

  1. Greater Efficiency

The modern CRM software automates a lot of your traditional, repetitive processes with its advanced technologies. You can set up automated follow-ups with prospects, leverage chatbots, prioritize leads, schedule emailers, make automated data entries, and much more. That improves efficiency across your organization, saving you considerable time to invest in other vital matters.     

What are the Factors to Consider When Buying CRM Software?

Choosing the best CRM from the sea of available options can get a bit overwhelming. More so if you’re investing in your first-ever such software. The only savior here can be the knowledge of factors that make up an effective CRM software solution. What are those factors? Here’s a quick but comprehensive list.

12 Factors to Look For in a CRM Software 

  1. Seamless Accessibility 

An ideal CRM system offers seamless access, across devices, no matter where you are. It comes in with multiple platform accessibility and mobile-friendly design so that both your remote and in-office workforce can easily find the information they need, on-the-go. 

  1. Scalability

Is the CRM system you are contemplating to go ahead with flexible enough? It is something you need to ascertain before giving your final nod. The CRM solution you choose should be able to meet your growing business’s rising demands, such as adding more users or custom features, without any hassles.  

  1. Ease of Use

Who said the best-performing software has to be complicated to use? The best CRM software are those that are easy to use, even for a layman, yet pack in the highest functionality to get things done. The solution should consist of a simple interface and smooth navigation, letting you easily move around different functions. Moreover, it should have a shorter learning curve.

  1. Customization

Since your business is going to have its unique set of requirements, ensure that the CRM tool you select is customizable to adapt to them. From features to dashboard to views and reporting, the CRM software should be able to give you a personalized feel when you’re using it across all your devices.   

  1. Reporting

CRM will store and keep a track of a significant amount of your business data. The whole point of collecting this data is to be able to put it to work. Therefore, make sure that the CRM system packs in smart analytics and reporting tools, letting you review your business performance from time to time. 

  1. Not Just Sales 

To gain the maximum out of a CRM solution for SMBs, you must determine whether the software is designed to enhance each component of your business. In other words, the CRM should go beyond sales and include capabilities to optimize your marketing, customer services, and account handling practices. That will bring in greater outcomes and streamline operations, improving efficiency to a great extent. 

  1. Integrations

As a business, you must be using some software already like accounting, HR, and project management. Getting another system on-board doesn’t mean you’d stop using the other systems. Hence, it is important to select a CRM solution that offers smooth integrations with other software. Such integrations are essential to craft effective business strategies, save time and improve communication within your entity.  

  1. Vendor Reputation

The most vital factor when selecting a CRM software is to find out whether the software and its vendor have enough credibility and stability. A lot of reviews suggest that bigger is not better always or a lower cost doesn’t guarantee an effective system. Thus, you need to do a bit of homework by double-checking a few things; the most important being – if the provider has a proven, positive track record, the services they offer, the features, post-sales support, and training. 

  1. Support

Purchasing CRM software for business is not the end of the story. In fact, it is the beginning. The system should come with active support and after-sales assistance. That will help you find quick solutions to any issues that may occur in the future. 

  1. Cost

Everything comes at a price, and CRMs are no exception. Your budget will have a huge influence on your selection. And hence, you must review what all features the pricing of the CRM may cover and what might require additional stakes. Also, find out if the future upgrades would come at an extra cost. Considering all these components, along with the training, customization, and after-sales support, you may need to rethink your budget.    

  1. Data Ownership

Data ownership, one of the most indispensable factors, is at the center of your business operation and growth. Without the data, no business can run smoothly. That’s why it is valuable to ensure that the ownership of your data will remain with you, even when you opt for a cloud CRM software solution. Also, ascertain what will happen to your data if, in the future, you choose to end your current cloud subscription or migrate to another provider. 

  1. Social CRM Functionality

With the growing use of social media platforms to generate leads and interact with consumers, it makes sense to invest in CRM software that offers such capabilities. That would help you track brand mentions as well as communicate promptly with your customers.

What Questions Should You Ask Vendors Before Buying CRM Software?

Buying a CRM system is one of those one-time investments you will make for your business. And hence, you cannot afford to go wrong with it since migrating from one CRM to the other is both costly and troublesome. Plus, different CRM vendors offer different features and services. That makes the entire selection process even more confusing. 

Then what should you do? 

Have a detailed Q&A with the CRM vendors. 

But what questions should I ask?” 

Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Here’s a carefully assessed checklist of the questions to ask vendors before buying a CRM system. 

  1. Is this software ideal for my business niche or company size?
  2. How would you rate it for ease-of-usability?
  3. What will be the learning curve?
  4. Does it come with customization of features? If yes, how long will it take to implement them?
  5. How does the software fare in terms of security?
  6. What are its sales managing capacities?
  7. Would the software integrate with the other systems that we already use, let’s say marketing automation, for instance? 
  8. How does the client database work? 
  9. Does the software offer smooth management of activities?
  10. What kind of reporting does this CRM solution provide?
  11. Does this CRM include business intelligence characteristics?
  12. Would the system equip my team to provide active customer support?
  13. Does this CRM system offer social media integration? 
  14. Is the software capable enough to grow along with our growing business and its needs?
  15. Would there be additional costs for future upgrades?
  16. Do you offer 24/7 support? In what ways?
  17. What are the maintenance standards and terms if any?
  18. Does the software allow data imports/exports?
  19. How much would the solution cost? 
  20. Who would be the owner of the data the software would hold?  
  21. Is there anything that is not mentioned yet but I should know about the software?

How Much will a CRM Software Cost?

Pricing plays a significant role in choosing a good CRM system. And since there are plenty of systems from recognized vendors out there in the market, you will be able to find the one that fits your needs and budget. 

The cost of a CRM largely depends upon the features, support, and scalability it offers. And that’s exactly why you would come across substantial variability in its pricing. CRM software for small businesses may cost less than the one meant for larger organizations. Or a CRM with specialized features may have higher pricing. 

To give you an approximate idea, the pricing starts from about $10 to $12 per month per user for a fundamental CRM for small businesses. The advanced systems for bigger enterprises may range from $40-$50 to $150-$160 a user/month approximately. Some extensive CRM software may cost around $300 to $350.

If you are worried about the costs, there are free CRM software available as well from well-known vendors. For example, HubSpot CRM. You can also opt for a trial version before upgrading to a paid package. 

In the end, it all comes down to what your requirements are against the features. 

Closing Thoughts

Using a CRM software is no longer a luxury but a necessity for today’s businesses. After all, it puts the focus back on your customers, helping you to understand their needs, behavior, and interests in the most organized way. You get a reliable channel of communication, strengthening your customer relationships even further. All that while optimizing your business processes and backing you up with solid data and analytics. To let your business thrive through effective decisions. 

Are you already using a CRM solution? What are the benefits you have experienced? Feel free to tell us in the comments.