Figuring out which customer relationship management (CRM) software to choose for your small business is no easy feat. You may have made the decision to invest in a CRM system or switch providers, but how do you know you’re choosing the right one?
It’s safe to say, there’s no shortage of options, and comparing them can be a little daunting. At the time of writing this blog post, there are 571 vendors on Capterra’s CRM directory. But, despite the large number of CRM systems available, most businesses demo only two software platforms before making a decision on the right solution.
This lack of proper research can lead to companies wasting money and having to switch CRMs once they realize the one they settled on doesn’t meet their needs.
Businesses often end up switching CRM software due to a lack of the right features or the cost of the CRM—but it doesn’t have to be that way. Information about features and cost is readily available, the problem arises when decision-makers fail to take the time to adequately compare CRM software before investing.
To be fair, choosing the right CRM for your business is a challenge. As a marketer, I don’t envy any sales manager who has to make such a decision. It’s time consuming, and there are a ton of factors to consider.
In this article, I’m helping you cut through the noise to find the right solution for your business. Here’s how you should compare providers to find the perfect CRM software broken down into ten smaller steps to make the whole process less intimidating.
1. Make a list of business goals for the CRM
Before you set out to compare CRM software, you should outline exactly what you want your CRM system to do for your business. That way, you can choose a CRM that is strong in the area your business wants to develop most.
Here are some common example goals to get you thinking:
- Facilitate collaboration
- Increase customer satisfaction
- Allow sales reps to become more productive
- Provide better marketing and sales alignment
- Understand your sales funnel
Now, let’s take a closer look at each of those goals.
If you want a CRM system that allows multiple business development reps and sales reps to collaborate, pay particular attention to the amount of visibility potential systems provide. Ensure that reps have transparency into their colleagues’ deals and their communications with prospects.
Look out for features such as the ability to tag or mention another rep within deals. This will save sales reps from switching to instant messaging software or email when they want to discuss a deal. It will also attach this communication to a particular contact, company, or deal so all the information is in one place.
However, if collaboration is important for your team, keep in mind that many CRM providers charge per user per month. So, if you have a large team, and you’re looking for a low-cost solution, consider comparing only providers of free CRM systems.
If your goal is increasing customer satisfaction, look for a CRM that tracks every touch point with customers and prospects. If a sales rep forgets information a prospect has already provided, it can cause frustration. Tracking all of the information prospects provide in one place will improve your reps’ ability to build rapport and close more deals.
If you sell over the phone, look for good call tracking. The same applies for email tracking and social media integration, if you sell over those channels. .
If improving productivity is one of the main reasons you’re investing in a new CRM, look for a system that integrates with your email, so you can see the details of your contacts right from your inbox and add new contacts with the click of a button. You should also be able to update the CRM from your inbox.
HubSpot’s State of Inbound 2016 shows that manual data entry is one of the biggest challenges for salespeople with their existing CRMs, so look for CRM software that pulls data from multiple sources.
HubSpot’s State of Inbound 2016
Other features that can boost productivity are customizable email templates and the option to let contacts automatically book time on your calendar. Even small sales teams report a time savings of up to 20 hours a week just by providing a link in their email signature that allows potential customers to book a meeting on their calendars.
Marketing and sales alignment
Research shows that next to sales, your marketing team is most likely to use your CRM software. If marketing and sales alignment is your top priority, choose a CRM that at least integrates with marketing software.
Ideally, choose a software provider that provides both sales and marketing tools. This will mean you can see all your sales and marketing activity in one place and help your sales and marketing teams work together.
Software providers that offer both sales and marketing software often refer to this solution as a “growth stack.” This is a term you may want to search for when searching information on CRM software providers.
Understand your sales funnel
If you want to better understand and optimize your sales funnel, look for CRM providers that have robust reporting features. A plus is a provider that allows you to view your entire sales funnel at a glance, along with how much money is attributed to each part of your sales process.
An example of HubSpot’s sales dashboard
2. Make a list of must-have features
Once you understand the main reasons you need a new CRM, you can home in on the features your CRM should have to help you reach those business goals.
Popular features that are included in most CRM software include:
- Deals and tasks
- Contact and lead management
- Insights and reporting
- Email tracking
- Email templates
- Call recording
Extra features that might be of interest include:
- Marketing automation
- Premium customer support
- Project management
- Lead scoring
If your sales process is more email-based, tools such as email tracking and email templates will be vital. If it’s largely phone based, then call recording will be more important.
While these features will prove important to sales reps using the CRM system on a daily basis, reporting will be important to management in order to understand the entire sales funnel at a glance and optimize it to close more deals.
When comparing CRM providers, investigate how each features performs between vendors. For example, while many CRM systems provide free contact management and data storage, the limit to the amount you can have for free varies for each software vendor.
Most CRM providers have specific feature pages that allow you to easily see a chart of what is included in each package. Here’s an example from HubSpot.
3. Know your budget and understand CRM pricing
Know how much you’re willing to spend on CRM software before you start comparing options that are out of your price range.
Most CRM software is sold based on the number of users you have. Take the time to understand each vendor’s pricing and know how much it will cost your business. You’ll need to take into account how many sales reps will use the software not just right now, but two or three years down the line.
A low cost or free CRM system is a great option for small businesses with a tight budget. If you’re a sales rep or marketer trying to gain buy-in from your management to implement a CRM, the free aspect will help a lot. Here are some of the most affordable CRM systems on the market:
*All costs are based on Capterra’s pricing scenario, which includes a specific number of users and features. You can find our pricing scenario at the bottom of our Most Affordable report.
4. Find out what people are saying on discussion boards
Actual users provide a ton of valuable information on CRM systems when they answer questions on discussion boards. This is a great way to get impartial advice on CRMs “straight from the horse’s mouth.”
Here are some examples of CRM questions that have already been answered on discussion forums:
- What is the best CRM for a startup/business? (Quora)
- What is the best CRM to use? (Inbound.org)
- What is the best free/cheap CRM for a startup? (Quora)
Asking about CRMs on Inbound.org
In addition to looking at discussion boards, you can also type the name of a CRM provider into the search bar on social networking sites such as Twitter and LinkedIn to find out what people are saying about a particular CRM system you’re considering.
5. Read reviews on third-party review websites
Another great place to find out what people are saying about CRM software is to read reviews on third-party review sites such as Capterra, GetApp, or Software Advice.
Capterra, for example, asks people to share the pros and cons of using their CRM software as well as asking them to provide an overall comment on the software. People are asked to rate the software in terms of ease of use, features and functionality, customer support, and value for money.
This feedback gives potential users an overview of the strengths and weaknesses of CRM systems they’re comparing and highlights the ones that might be a good fit for their business needs.
An example of a CRM review on Capterra
Review sites often group CRM software into specific categories such as Mac CRM, Construction CRM, and Financial CRM software, which can be helpful if you’re looking for a CRM for a specific operating system or industry vertical.
6. Get the input of your sales team
While it is important that the CRM you choose meets the needs of your business, it’s also key that it meets the needs of your sales reps. After all, the last thing you want is to invest in a CRM system that your salespeople simply won’t use.
And, this is a bigger problem than you might think. The No. 1 problem sales managers have with their CRM is that their sales reps don’t use it.
The best way of avoiding this problem is to involve your reps in the buying process. Not only will you gain the buy-in of your team, but you’ll also gain valuable insights from the people that are going to be using the CRM every day.
Some helpful questions include:
- What CRM systems have you used in the past? Can you provide your thoughts on them?
- How long did it take you to learn how to use the CRM software mentioned above?
- Were you/your team supported effectively by the CRM provider when you ran into challenges with the software?
- What results did you see with this software?
- Have you heard any positive feedback on other CRM systems from other salespeople?
The best way to collect this feedback can vary depending on the size of your team. You can simply send an email around to your sales reps, or use Google Forms to keep the feedback organized in a spreadsheet.
Then, expand on what you learn from your sales team by getting the opinion of others already using CRM software. Find out what CRM systems people in your network compared when they were choosing a CRM system. Ask them why they ended up choosing the CRM they’re using now, and ask if it’s what they expected. You can ask in person or post a status of your own on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.
7. Narrow down your list
After your business goals are set and you’ve done some initial research, you’ll need to narrow down your list of CRM software to compare further.
While it is important to explore many CRM systems initially, it won’t be possible to do a deep dive into all 500+ CRM providers. Choose five or six that stuck out as you explored vendors online and that came up while in conversation with your sales team.
Reviews sites, such as Capterra, allow you to narrow down the list of CRM providers based on the number of stars they have, the number of users in your company, whether the CRM is web-based or needs to be installed, and based on the features of the CRM system.
8. Look at CRM comparison webpages
Once you’ve narrowed down the list to five or six options, it’s time to start comparing those options and narrow them down even further. After visiting the websites of numerous CRM software providers, the information might turn into a blur. A CRM comparison page normally compares a few providers on key factors that are crucial to choosing the right CRM systems.
Providers of CRM software such as HubSpot publish comparison guides where they compare the best CRMs for small business and startups. These comparisons normally include charts that make it easy to compare different CRM software.
A CRM comparison chart from HubSpot
9. Find out which CRMs are compatible with existing software
Sadly, some sales reps and marketers may find out their CRM does not integrate with the other tools they use when it’s already too late. Many sales managers report that the lack of integrations is one of the biggest pain points of their CRM.
Integrations ensure that all the tools your business uses “speak” to one another, and this often provides better data. It also saves your employees from doing manual data entry which is a sales rep’s worst nightmare (other than losing a sale to a competitor).
Having all of your tools integrate will also provide you with better analytics and increase your entire organization’s productivity.
CRM providers typically publish a list of tools they integrate with on their websites. If you don’t see an integration with a tool that is important to growing your business, contact the vendor to double check. For example, you can see a selection of apps that document management tool PandaDoc integrates with:
Some software providers include other tools you can use to grow your business—such as sales, CRM, and marketing—built right in. Depending on your unique business needs, you might even save money in the long run, plus employees only have to learn how to use one system. Do some research to figure out which tools you could use in new CRM software, and which tools you’re happy with that you need your new CRM to integrate with.
10. Sign up for a demo or free trial
You wouldn’t buy a car without test driving it, and you shouldn’t treat your CRM any different. Capterra research shows that functionality and ease of use are what salespeople cite as the most important aspects of CRM software. There is no better way to find out how usable a CRM is than to try it out for yourself.
Most CRM providers offer a free trial, or even an entirely free but stripped down (also called “freemium”) version of their CRM systems. In these cases, there’s nothing stopping you from taking it for a test drive to see how usable it is first hand. Invite your sales reps to try it out too.
Understanding your business needs and doing a proper comparison of various CRM providers is sure to set you up for success in the long run. Once you’ve found the right CRM, you’ll enjoy improved communication with prospects and better reporting that will allow you to grow your business quicker than ever before.
If you have any questions about comparing CRM software, let us know in the comments below. We will try to answer as many questions as we can.
Also, here are a few additional resources to help you in your quest:
Looking for Marketing Automation software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Marketing Automation software solutions.