Ever typed ‘CRM’ into the search bar? Google shoots back over 200 million results when you do.
Yikes. That’s a lot of information you probably don’t need.
If you’re in the market for a CRM, there are some very specific questions that you need answers to. For example, what is CRM software? How do I know if I need a CRM? How do I pick a good CRM from the options that exist? And how do I know whether I made a good decision afterwards?
Thankfully, we’re here to help you answer all of these questions (and more).
This CRM buyers guide is more than just a hodge-podge list of features you may or may not need.
Keep reading. You’re about to embark on an interactive journey to discover your deepest CRM needs, and how to satisfy them successfully.
By the end of this guide, you’ll have a clear path to take to complete your CRM purchase and get the biggest bang for your buck.
For businesses that aren’t using a CRM, customer information is stored in multiple places. Some sales teams have multiple Slack channels, Trello boards, Asana tasks, never mind the endless string of Google Sheets or Excel Workbooks as makeshift CRMs.
If this situation sounds familiar, you know it’s far too easy for important information to get lost in the shuffle, and your customer relationships suffer as a result. Which in turn leads to all kinds of avoidable problems that only escalate as your business grows: higher customer churn rates, decreased customer satisfaction, lower brand loyalty, negative word of mouth and online reviews, and less revenue. Even the job satisfaction of your employees will be adversely impacted when customers aren't happy with the experiences they have with your company.
A good CRM system acts as a single source of truth, drawing all customer information and recent touch points into a simple system that the whole team can access and update as needed.
Pro tip: Want to see a real story of a company who cleaned their endless sources of sales data and organized it into one single source of truth? Check out how Underground Ecom used their CRM to organize their data and save their sales team 150+ hours per month.
CRM software can be complex, but the best systems are easy to use. A good tool empowers your team to work smarter by keeping all the information they need at hand, without overwhelming them with too much irrelevant information. (Some CRM systems track every single social media interaction, every website visit, etc etc. While this might sound like a great feature in theory, sales reps soon find themselves struggling to pull meaningful insights from a bloated, difficult to navigate database.)
Of course, a CRM is much more than a place to store data. Think of it as a tool that helps your sales, support, and success team to use the available data effectively, to provide better customer experience and increase revenue.
That said, the best customer relationship management tools also offer ways for your team to automate the repetitive tasks in their sales process, freeing up time to focus on closing deals rather than manual data entry.
In short: CRM software works as the central sales hub that your reps live in from the moment they punch in to the moment they finish for the day.
The right CRM software can get each person on your team an hour back in their day by giving them everything they need in one place. Instead of continuously switching tabs or apps during the day, your sales team can use their CRM as a core workspace that lives in tandem to your unique sales process.
But, what can a CRM do for your team in practical terms?
Sounds good, right? But how do you know if your team actually needs a CRM?
How do you know if you need a CRM?
These are the top 6 use cases for a CRM system—see why each one needs a good CRM solution, and what unique requirements each use case has.
When you’re selling software, your sales process needs to be as streamlined and active as the product you’re selling.
Especially for SaaS startups, it’s normal to be juggling inbound and outbound leads inside a lean sales team. Or, it’s possible there’s no sales team at all—many SaaS founders find themselves thrust unexpectedly into the role of sales rep.
Pro tip: Looking for guidance on selling SaaS products as a founder? Get expert tips from someone who’s been through it all—download Close CEO Steli Efti’s book SaaS Sales for Startup Founders.
Whether your SaaS sales team is lean or nonexistent, you need a system that saves you time instead of bogging you down with misplaced, outdated information or a painfully complex UI. You don’t have time to waste pulling lead information from an Excel spreadsheet that may or may not be up-to-date, writing up individual emails to thousands of inbound leads, or manually qualifying those leads.
A good SaaS CRM leverages automation so lean sales teams can focus on what they do best—closing deals.
Far too many people think of remote working as a disadvantage. But the right CRM can turn being remote into your team’s biggest advantage.
The right remote sales CRM is optimized for building relationships over digital channels. It also ensures real-time updates to all the information, touch points, and status of every single deal in your pipeline. That way, remote sales teams can have confidence that the data they’re looking at is 100% accurate.
With a CRM, remote sales managers also have the ability to track the activity of each of their sales reps, as well as their success across different channels or stages of the pipeline. This helps them coach more effectively, even though they can’t be in the same room.
Did you know…
At Close, we’ve been a 100% remote and distributed team since 2014. That’s why we can proudly say that Close is the CRM that’s built FOR remote sales teams, BY a remote team. We know the unique pain points remote sales teams face every day, and we’ve built a system that empowers remote sales teams instead of holding them back. Find out how Close is optimized for remote sales.
Financial service businesses often get stuck reusing the old lead lists they’ve been working for years. But a successful firm never stops working to recruit new business. If you want to bring new leads into your pipeline (and keep better track of your current customer data), you’ll need a CRM.
Your clients put their trust in you to handle their hard-earned money. To earn that trust, you need to keep their data stored safely in a system you know is secure. Plus, the right financial services CRM allows you to customize your lead lists and make sure you’re reaching out at key moments.
When selling any kind of insurance, there is a lot of personal data you need to store securely about your clients. Again, a safe system is essential to insurance sales success.
Insurance firms also look to their CRM to optimize their process—after all, you don’t want to let your best clients go just because they found a cheaper policy. When using a CRM to develop better relationships and keep track of when policies will be coming due, you can convince your clients to stick with you into the long-term because they see the high value you place on providing good service, not just good pricing.
Real estate agents need more than a place to store leads: they need a system that will help them sell and rent more properties.
The right CRM for real estate agencies needs to have an integrated calling system that allows agents to follow up on new inbound and outbound leads easily, automation tools to put repetitive tasks on autopilot, and engagement tracking for a lifetime of historical data.
Plus, a good real estate CRM should integrate with the tools you already use to get signatures, schedule showings, and discover new leads.
An inside sales team works tirelessly to sell to new leads, whether inbound or outbound. To make sure your inside sales team is closing to their full potential, sales managers need to get them on a system that optimizes every touch point and gives clear focus to their day.
When new inbound leads come in, a good inbound CRM takes key information and automatically turns that into curated lists of the team’s hottest new leads. This allows inbound reps to prioritize the leads that are most likely to close. The best CRM gives inbound teams easy automation to connect immediately with new inbound leads via email sequences and get them into the sales cycle faster.
On the other hand, outbound sales teams need a CRM system that’s optimized for fast outbound connection. The right system includes easy lead import, as well as a Power Dialer that allows outbound reps to make the most of the time they spend on the phone.
Start a free 14-day trial of Close to see how this powerhouse CRM can help you optimize your process.
Ready to buy?
Slow down there, partner. With so many CRM options on the market, how can you make sure you’re purchasing a system that will empower your team instead of bogging them down?
It can be tempting to opt for the cheapest tool you can find. Or, on the other hand, you may be attracted to the platform with the most features.
But, most likely, neither of those is the right option for your team. While for example Salesforce is the de-facto market leader in the CRM space, it is oftentimes NOT the right choice for startups and SMBs.
Choosing a CRM solution that helps your team close more deals and work more productively, involves some specific steps to determine what you actually need, and which system matches those needs.
Here’s a 5-step process that will help you make a decision you won’t regret down the road:
Above, we discussed different use cases for customer relationship management software. Each of these cases has its own unique challenges, needs, and priorities.
Many platforms are adapted to specific use cases. They highlight the features and capabilities that matter most to the use case they’re targeting.
So, as a sales leader, you need to have a good understanding of the use case for your particular team, and determine what your main priorities are in a CRM.
For example, does your team work with a high number of inbound leads? Then you’ll probably need email automation and sequence features.
Are you managing a field sales team? Then you might need a CRM that has a mobile app and power territory management features.
Is your team mainly doing outbound sales? Then an integrated calling system will be important to you.
By defining the main ways your team will use the CRM, you’ll have a clearer picture of your priorities. This will help you narrow the list of available CRMs to the ones that are built for your use case.
Some sales leaders think of the CRM as the be-all-end-all of their tech stack. But, is that always the case?
True, many CRMs include functions for sales, marketing, and other teams within your company. The question you need to answer is this: do I want an end-to-end solution, or do I want to stack speciality tools that fit my specific needs?
For example, large CRMs like Salesforce include many, many features and capabilities for different teams. But ask yourself: how many of these features will my team actually use on a daily basis? More is definitely not better when it comes to a CRM—because while powerful customization features are great, they also burden the entire system and workflow. Just to give you on example: The sales team at FourSquare had to make 16 clicks to log a single sales call. This might not sound like a big deal, but consider this: If your reps make 100 dials per day, that's 1600 repetitive mouse clicks every day. Just for logging calls, which is something that other sales CRMs do automatically. It's a buzzkiller. You want your reps in peak-state when talking to prospects, not frustrated from dealing with clunky sales software all day long.
Many times, it makes more sense to build a sales stack that enables your team with specific features you need, rather than buying a so-called all-in-one solution full of features you’ll probably never use.
Stacking several tools allows you to personalize to your team's needs. For example, an insurance firm might be better served with a CRM that integrates to other insurance-specific software, such as Quotehound.
Of course, as a sales leader, you need to determine alongside other leaders at your company which solution makes the most sense for everyone involved.
Your sales reps are the ones who will be inside the CRM day in and day out. They’re the ones who will have to log information, make calls, send emails, and accomplish other sales tasks.
So, talk to your team when choosing a CRM system for them, rather than forcing them to switch to a new tool that may not make sense for their process or needs.
Gather your reps. Ask them what’s currently lacking in the system they’re using right now. What’s holding them back from being fully productive? What features or capabilities do they enjoy using? What would the ideal tool do for them? What other tools in their arsenal should the software integrate with?
Asking these questions and involving them into the decision making process will also help improve CRM adoption.
After hashing it all out with your team and other leaders at your business, it’s time to make two very clear lists: you must-haves and your nice-to-haves. Part of your responsibility when you're selling to prospects is to help them clearly identify their priorities. Do the same for your own CRM buying process.
Your must-have list will include all the features or capabilities that your team simply cannot live without. This will also include essential integrations that your team will need to function properly. It's the requirements that are actual dealbreakers when they're not met.
When you have a list of must-haves, you can immediately discard any CRM option that doesn’t include these features. If it’s missing a must-have, it’s not the right tool for your team.
To choose the ideal CRM for your team, it’s also important to have a nice-to-have list. These features aren’t essential to the day-to-day functionality of your team, but they sure would make your life a lot easier (or just sound like fun).
The combination of these lists is your team’s ideal CRM, and if you find one that includes everything on both lists, you’ll probably also find a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow by the end of the day (neither of which is very likely, sorry!).
Remember to keep an open mind—sometimes the features or functions on either list can be done with integrations, even if the CRM itself doesn’t offer exactly what you want.
At this point, you should have a clear idea of what you’re looking for in a CRM (and in the rest of your sales stack).
But there’s nothing like getting into a tool and trying it out for yourself.
So, get in and start demoing different tools. Sign up for free trials on the CRMs that fit your needs. Invite your reps to give different tools a try. Then, you can more honestly compare the different tools you’re considering.
Ready to start a free trial of a CRM built to work alongside your sales process and optimize your results? Give Close a spin for 14 days, no charge (we won’t even ask for your credit card).
Once you start testing CRMs, how can you compare and evaluate the right CRM for your team?
As mentioned, the right features for your team will depend on what kind of sales system and process you’re using.
That said, there are some basic features that any sales CRM absolutely must include.
Want to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck? Make sure to add these essential features to your must-have list:
You’ve talked with your team. You’ve set priorities. You’re armed with a must-have list and a nice-to-have list. And you’ve already started demoing different CRMs.
You’re closer than ever to making a decision. But how can you evaluate which CRM is best for your team?
When you’re narrowing down your options to a final decision, here are some factors to evaluate the top choice of CRM for your individual needs:
Above, we asked you to set a clear priority for your CRM.
Now, compare the CRM options you’ve selected with the priority you set.
If the CRM meets your main needs, it’s passed phase one.
Knowing what kind of support you will get from the team at your new CRM is essential to making a good decision.
Find out what kind of support options this CRM offers. Are you stuck jumping through hoops with a chatbot, or can you communicate directly with the support team when you need to?
Also, does this CRM have a dedicated success team? Is this something you’d have to pay for, or can you connect with this team for free?
When getting started with a new CRM, you and your team will need some basic training and onboarding.
Does this CRM provide you with easy training options? Are there resources you can go through at your own pace? What kind of onboarding can your team expect?
Your historical sales data is an essential part of your business. Before making a decision, find out the specific steps you’ll need to take to import data from your previous CRM to your new CRM.
Is there an easy import process? Does the company offer to help you? If you can get help with data migration, will you have to pay for it?
A large feature set is a shiny toy that can distract you from a terrible UI. But the usability of the product is far more important than the number of features it gives you.
Why? Because if the system isn’t user-friendly, your team will be even less motivated to use it. You’ll pay extra for a system that won’t give you the ROI you expect, because the end-users on your team aren’t happy with it.
The more user-friendly your new CRM is, the better adoption you’ll see within your sales team:
Having integrations is good—but flexibility within those integrations is essential.
So, before making a decision on which CRM to buy, do this:
Then, when talking to your CRM vendor, get specific details about the integrations that matter to you. If it’s a native integration, does it accomplish the task you need it to?
If you don’t ask these questions, you could be unpleasantly surprised later by a weak integration that doesn’t do what you need it to.
That’s part of the reason that Zapier is such an important integration for any CRM, and any team. When your CRM connects to Zapier, you can be assured you’ll have more flexible options for integrations.
At this point, you know how much you’re willing to spend on a CRM. But do you know exactly how much this CRM is going to cost?
The transparency of the price can be a deciding factor when buying a CRM. Some systems have complex pricing plans with many add-ons and hidden costs. When comparing your top CRM options, compare all of their pricing pages on their websites.
How transparent is the pricing? Is there a set price per user/per month, or is the price based on a metric like number of leads? Are your essential features in a lower plan, or are they only accessible on more expensive plans? Or worse, can you only access your most important features by paying for extra add-ons?
The transparency of the pricing tells you a lot about the company before you even talk to them.
Your customer data is sensitive, so you need to make sure it’s safe.
Security is a key factor that can help you decide whether or not to buy a CRM.
Also, depending on the type of business you run, compliance to certain legal requirements could make or break the deal. If your business is subject to governmental requirements with customer data, make sure the CRM system you’re using has the necessary features to help you comply with those requirements.
Whether we’re choosing a place to get an ice cream, picking a new brand of hair gel, or purchasing software for our business, we all love to see other people enjoying something before we decide to buy it.
That’s why it’s important to check out what other people are saying about the CRM you’re looking to buy.
Start with customer stories and case studies on the CRM’s website. How are their customers using the product? What features are they extremely happy with? What integrations and automations are they using?
Review sites like G2 or Capterra can also help you determine overall satisfaction with this CRM.
Finally, head to social media. What are people saying about this CRM online?
When looking through all of these different types of social proof, look beyond whether or not the person was happy with the CRM. Look for specific mentions of the support team. Find reviews that talk about the UI.
And, most importantly, try to find specific reviews from companies that you would consider peers, whether they’re in the same industry or they’re around the same size. This will tell you, not just whether it’s a good CRM, but whether it’s a good CRM for your business.
CRM vendors know how to sell their product—a good seller is an expert in their CRM and they know how to present it in the right way.
Of course, you want to make sure you’re getting the right information to evaluate different options fairly. So, what should you ask your CRM vendor that they may not tell you in the sales pitch?
Getting clear, positive answers to these questions will help you make a more informed decision when buying a CRM.
Finally, the day has come—you’ve measured up all the different CRM options and chosen the one that is guaranteed to work for your team.
Or, is it?
After some time, how can you be sure that the purchase you made has paid off?
Here are some essential sales metrics and KPIs that will tell you how successful your CRM is:
When everything is running smoothly in your new CRM, these metrics should all show gradual improvement over time.
We’ve done more than give you a messy list of hundreds of features your CRM may or may not have.
Instead, you now have a step-by-step guide to choosing, vetting, and evaluating the success of a new CRM.
It all starts with your unique goals as a sales leader and a team. You determine what matters most to your reps, and that will guide your decisions as you wade through the sea of customer relationship management options on the market.
Time to take action: Download your fast-implementation guide for choosing a CRM that helps your team close more deals.