We all have a contact list to manage and a few ways to do it: Go old school with a Rolodex, store business cards with Evernote$12.00 at Evernote, or use the address book on our smartphones. While these options are easy, they don’t do much beyond simply listing names, addresses, and a few personal details. Successful businesses make the most out of every personal relationship, and for that, you need more than just a contact list.
Customer relationship management (CRM) software is a contact list with a brain. It not only records your customers’ contact information, it remembers the details of your relationship and every interaction, whether by phone or email. That information is a gold mine of opportunity, allowing you to identify prospects for up- or cross-sell, convert existing customers to new products or services, target new marketing, or even track invoices. Choosing the right CRM software for your business can dramatically improve your team’s collaboration and productivity, increase sales, and even heighten customer satisfaction.
CRM software can deliver those benefits because they organize and record the institutional knowledge all businesses maintain about their customers. Employees might use a spreadsheet to pass on information about past sales or share email threads that show a customer has been a loyal patron. But such information is often left to casual word of mouth, which means it’s often missing when needed or entirely forgotten. CRM software keeps this information in one place, efficiently organizes it, and makes it possible to take immediate action upon, such as sending a loyal customer a gift card on their birthday or offering an up-sell opportunity to a platform from which you know their business can benefit (based on previous conversations). The key is to select the software that’s right for the way your team works. The last thing you want is to see employees fighting new software instead of interacting with the customer.
CRM software isn’t just about tracking and maintaining contact information. While most look to CRM software as primarily a sales tool, it’s moved beyond that space. Marketing and customer service departments can dramatically improve their offerings and operations with CRM as well by using its data to more effectively segment demographics, and record and reuse customer incident information. CRM software also helps coordinate interdepartmental actions. For example, the sales team can take advantage of something a customer service representative discovered in a separate transaction. Depending upon the software you choose, you can set and measure sales goals, deliver and track email marketing campaigns, or keep an eye on what people are saying on social media.
What to Consider
Price can be a significant factor when evaluating CRM software but that analysis should focus on more than just the upfront costs. Most packages offer per-user pricing but check what’s included in that price. Training can eat up a chunk of the budget as can upgrades and ongoing support. Consider how much it would cost to integrate the software with existing systems and whether or not you would need additional equipment. That mobile implementation looks slick on the vendor’s website but will it still look that slick once you’ve designed the customized CRM forms your business will use every day? Does it mean the sales or customer service teams need new smartphones? Well, that’s another matter.
As CRM software has grown more sophisticated, it has branched out into many different directions. There are plenty of options for implementing your CRM Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) or for deploying it on-premises by using your own server. You can look for the software that has deep hooks into social media management and analytics platforms so you can record customer interactions on Facebook or Twitter, or you can choose a platform that integrates with your phone system if capturing call information is more important to you. Look closely at your business processes, discuss with employees what they need and want, contrast that with your bottom line, and you’ll quickly have an accurate picture of the right CRM software for you.
It’s tempting to forgo this homework and simply pay for one of the big, all-inclusive CRM software packages just to have access to every feature you might need now or in the future. But that approach will almost certainly wind up costing you more in both time and money, while probably delivering less flexibility than you’d expect. That’s because these large CRM software packages are often platforms rather than tools, which means those myriad features they advertise are really the product of integrating with a host of third-party solution providers, not options you can simply turn on. Third-party integration means not only added licensing dollars but also new integration costs.
A better approach is to understand how your employees have to use the software as well as how they want to use it. Think about what tools your team is currently using and what processes they follow. Figure out how those tasks map to the CRM software you’re evaluating. Consider what some of the most common tasks are. For example, if the users have to dig through menus and sub-menus every single time they want to log a call or email, the tool will actually complicate their jobs instead of simplify them. Form a small group of users who understand these day-to-day issues to help you in your evaluation. You don’t want to impose a tool that actually makes key tasks more difficult or complex just so you can pay a premium for features those same employees may never touch. More and more CRM tools are also combining the email and sales experience into a single smart inbox or centralized dashboard view to manage all or most daily communications and tasks, without leaving the CRM tool.
Also, remember that new technologies, while slick, aren’t automatically pervasive. For example, social media is a game-changing technology for interacting with customers. But as much as social and collaboration apps such as Slack$8.00 at Slack are catching on, that doesn’t mean email is dead. Most customers still expect to interact with you via email, and an email can still capture much more data than a Facebook post or a tweet can. Understand how your company interacts with customers over email and make sure your CRM software acts as a complement to that relationship, not as a hindrance. CRM software should automatically capture data from email interactions, not force your employees to manually enter email data. Similarly, integrating your CRM software into your email platform means that entering the customer’s name or ID in one platform automatically brings up data from the other.
Take the time to properly evaluate the mobile app; this should be considered a separate app, not just as a mobile “capability,” and you also shouldn’t be asked to pay anything extra for it. Mobile devices are an entirely different breed from desktops or notebooks. Employees use them differently and software renders on them differently, which means business processes that involve them will behave differently. Make sure your CRM software of choice can support the mobile device platform your team uses, and carefully evaluate what the app can do. Some apps offer a read-only view of your sales pipeline or contacts so that you can look up the relevant information while out and about. Those apps won’t let you make updates until you get back to a computer. Others offer a seamless and responsive experience, letting you do everything you would do on a mobile device that you would with a computer (but usually presenting tools and features differently, which can be difficult for some users to get used to).
Automation is perhaps the most valuable aspect of CRM, and it’s a shame that not all software packages offer it—though they’re all beginning to get there. Automation is the software’s ability to remind sales and marketing representatives to follow up with customers at the right time. Automation reminds you—or in some cases, actually handles the task for you—of needed activities such as following up 30 days after a sales purchase with a coupon, or calling the sales prospect 14 days after the individual signed up for a trial of the software.
This also extends to lead management, a core capability of all CRM platforms, which tracks and manages prospective customers (often called leads or “opportunities”) across lead generation and acquisition, and throughout the sales pipeline. Lead management can be executed in more of a hands-on manner through tracking progression in a sales pipeline dashboard or reports, or some CRM providers use a greater degree of marketing automation to trigger actions and sales stages based on lead progression. Lead management is a part of all CRM platforms but how the provider handles it can make a big difference.
Don’t Forget Security
Invest in security. When you are working with the sales pipeline and customer data, make sure security is top of mind. You should feel comfortable with the company’s security requirements. It is a warning sign if your CRM software lets you select a password but doesn’t generate an audit trail whenever someone makes a change, or if it doesn’t let you define the access controls for each user. Customer data is an extremely valuable commodity especially now that customers are more reluctant to part with it. Securing it isn’t just about maintaining privacy; it’s about protecting profitable relationships that directly impact your bottom line.
But don’t get distracted by CRM capabilities you won’t use. Make sure the software you ultimately select captures the information that’s essential for your business, allows effective follow-up, and is easy enough to use that your team will work with it, not around it.
Putting 10 Top CRMs to the Test
In this roundup, we tested some of the most popular CRM software packages on the market today. We’ve worked hard to evaluate this CRM software with the aforementioned criteria in mind, so check out the reviews below to figure out which package is right for you. The 10 CRM platforms tested for this roundup are Apptivo CRM, Base CRM, Bitrix24 CRM, Infusionsoft, Insightly CRM, NetSuite OneWorld, Pipedrive CRM, PipelineDeals, Salesforce Sales Cloud Lightning Professional, and Zoho CRM.
All have their strengths and weaknesses—some are geared more toward small to midsize businesses (SMBs) while others have broader email marketing capabilities (or, in NetSuite OneWorld’s case, enterprise resource planning (ERP) capabilities) for enterprise-scale businesses. Some CRMs are easier to use out of the box, with simple navigations and standard workflows, while others offer deeper and more complicated degrees of customization. Some are dirt cheap while others can be quite expensive when you start moving up tiers, scaling up your sales workforce, or adding premium functionality.
Our favorites are Apptivo CRM, Salesforce Sales Cloud Lightning Professional, and Zoho CRM, each of which earns an Editors’ Choice designation. Though, depending on your business needs, the size and scope of your sales team, and the means by which your organization aims to engage and grow its lead and customer base, any one of these CRM platforms might have the right combination of price and features to work for you.
FEATURED IN THIS ROUNDUP
$15.00 at Insightly Overall, Insightly is a beautiful and powerful CRM tool that is not only affordable for the sole proprietor, but is also loaded with team-friendly features.
$20.00 at Zoho Zoho CRM’s fresh, responsive dashboard and user experience update rolls its sales, email marketing, reporting, and customer service power for small and medium-size businesses in a modern, intuitive package at an affordable price.
$25.00 at salesforce.com If you’re willing to pay top dollar, Salesforce gives SMBs a mature, robust, highly customizable CRM platform that’s second to none in performance.
$199.00 at Infusionsoft Infusionsoft is a capable, easy-to-use CRM and email marketing platform geared toward small businesses with up to 25 employees. It’s not the cheapest or the most in-depth, but the goal-oriented platform succeeds at helping targeted businesses hit measurable sales and marketing goals.
$24.00 at PipeLineDeals PipelineDeals offers an easy to use and highly customizable customer relationship management (CRM) solution to manage your sales team, though it doesn’t offer extensive integration with third-party software.
$999.00 at Netsuite NetSuite OneWorld is an easy-to-use, comprehensive financial application that can be quickly scaled to a full enterprise resource planning (ERP) suite suitable for most any large organization.
$99.00 at Bitrix24 While Bitrix24’s functionality is a lot to take in, it has the potential to be the one-stop CRM and collaboration tool for your business.
$12.00 at Pipedrive Pipedrive’s CRM service offers organizations a quick way to track deals and activities, but it offers less in the way of built-in features than the best of the competition.
$25.00 at Base CRM Base CRM is customer relationship management (CRM) software that offers a generous set of features for small sales teams, though it doesn’t have many third-party integrations.
$10.00 at Apptivo Apptivo stands apart as one of the most flexible and affordable CRM tools on the market.