2019 CRM Software Buyer's Guide
Acquiring and retaining loyal customers are both essential strategies for business development and growth. To execute these activities successfully, your lead and customer data must be organized, accessible and up-to-date so that you do not miss any opportunities to transform an interested lead into a customer, or a one-time buyer into a lifelong advocate for your brand.
While worthwhile, keeping excellent data records can be time-consuming and prone to error when done manually. Until Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software was developed, converting leads and retaining customers were both very arduous processes on the back-end. CRM solutions continue to evolve and offer more tools each year and are growing in popularity for companies of every size, in every industry.
This guide will provide insight and tools you need to select the best CRM solution for your company.
CRM Benefits and Features
CRM solutions offer a centralized system for storing, organizing, and analyzing all the vital data that shapes your business decisions helps you drive your business forward.
While CRM needs will vary by company (and by industry), there are certain features that will benefit all businesses, including:
- Easy-to-Use Interface and Dashboards
- Contact Management
- Calendar Integration and Management
- Interaction Tracking
- Task Management
- Email Integration
- Social Media Integration
- Lead Management
- Sales Pipelines
- Lead Scoring
- Lead Tracking
- Workflows and Automation Tools
- Analytics and Reporting
- Document Storage
Implementing a CRM solution in your business can generate many key benefits for your business, including:
- Reduced Operational Costs
- Minimized Data Entry Errors
- Increased Data Accuracy and Security
- Increased Productivity and Efficiency
- Increased Lead Conversions
- Improved Sales and Profits
- Improved Customer Experience
- Increased Insight Into Customers
CRM Trends to Watch in 2019
Business trends and software trends have a symbiotic relationship much of the time, innovation in one area always drives change in the other. To stay current and competitive in your industry by embracing all the best tools for your business, you should regularly study trends surrounding the software solutions you use in your company.
Here’s a closer look at some of the trends driving CRM this year.
Cloud CRM Adoption Continues to Soar
One of the most significant trends that has continuously evolved business software over the past few years is cloud technology. Cloud-based solutions are growing more popular among all types of businesses each year due to the benefits of convenience, mobility, and cost-effectiveness they offer for companies small and large. CRM is no exception, and in 2019, adoption of cloud-based CRM solutions is only expected to continue growing.
Intuitive Designs and Interfaces Gain Priority
Usability is a factor that’s consistently cited as one of the most important elements of a CRM solution, which makes perfect sense, because for a software to bring optimal benefit to your business, you teams must be able to use it and feel confident and comfortable with all the tools and features at their fingertips. With each new iteration of CRM technology, designs get more impressive and the interfaces become more intuitive and useful.
Customer Experience Morphs from Buzzword to Business Initiative
Customer experience is a term that has cropped up recently as businesses shifted their focus from reactionary customer service to a more proactive approach of enhancing the entire journey a customer has with their business and brand. What began as somewhat of a buzzword is now a common business initiative garnering resources and budget to make sure customers have positive, memorable experiences that build loyalty and drive long-term profits.
CRM tools are essential for businesses focused on customer experience, and offer a plethora of customizable tools and features that help you track every step of your customers’ journeys so you can constantly improve their experience. CRM solutions can help you not only track important customer details and interactions, but also build in automated workflows to ensure that customers are always supported and offered other products and services based on their purchasing behavior and history.
Data is King
Data is an important element of any business, and CRM solutions are vital to keeping a living database of customer information and data. Your CRM holds a wealth of knowledge about your business and your customers and clients, but analyzing that data carefully can help you uncover budding trends, catch issues before they impact your company health to drastically, and find new, innovative ways to follow up with leads and support high customer retention numbers. CRM solutions offer analytics and reporting tools that help you analyze all the vital business data you’re already collecting, which is a necessary step to stay competitive in any industry.
AI Moves to the Forefront
Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology isn’t new, but it’s getting a lot more attention at the mainstream level in many businesses as software companies enhance systems with AI as a new component in their solution.
In 2019 and the years to follow, AI is going to be used more frequently in software automation and user experiences, and is already starting to appear in customer-facing tools such as natural language chatbots and real-time language translations. This technology has the potential to not only change how you interact with customers, but expand who you can reach and service as well.
CRM Goes Social
Social media is constantly reshaping how businesses develop a footprint for their business online and market to their customers, but it’s also become a popular venue of customer support in the past year. Consumers search out companies through social channels and even interact with business profiles to learn more about a business or get support with questions.
As a result, social media integration with your CRM is going to be vital to ensure you don’t lose any valuable customers or data from social interactions. CRM tools offer integrations with the main social media channels so you can gather and analyze your business data that lives online via social media.
Choosing Your Perfect CRM Software Solution
Conduct a Business Review
Before you select your CRM solution, it is a great idea to make a list of the specific business needs that are driving your decision to implement a new system or upgrade your existing one. Thinking about the manual data barriers or customer-related issues that may be holding your business back will help you gain insight into just how different CRM solutions will best fulfill your needs and help you meet your goals.
Many companies find it helpful to include company leaders and key partners in their decision-making process of choosing a CRM solution. You can include key people in your business (from executives to support managers and agents) in your selection and planning process to make sure that all of your important needs are accounted for and your solution contains all the features and tools you must have.
Questions to Ask to Guide Your Review
- How can this software simplify lead generation, tracking and follow-up?
- How easy will it be to integrate this CRM?
- Can this system be accessed remotely or from mobile devices?
- How difficult will it be to customize this CRM to my business needs?
- What kind of support does this CRM offer?
- Does this CRM offer user-friendly and accurate analytics?
Build Your CRM Budget
Budgeting for a new CRM is a necessary first step to determine how much you can afford to invest. To accurately plan for what you can spend on purchasing a new CRM or upgrading your existing solution, you should consider aspects that impact your current and future profitability potential such as costs, time savings, efficiency and productivity.
The first thing you should become familiar with as you work a CRM into your company budget is cost. Make a detailed list of all your monthly expenditures and compare those costs to your sales and profits over the past six to twelve months. This will give you a solid baseline of your profitability and help you see how much you can truly afford to spend on a CRM.
Once you have an idea of the amount you have to spend, you can begin researching CRM solutions, and comparing features and costs to see what makes the most sense for your company financially.
Your profit potential cannot be fully estimated on sales and costs data alone. When you are budgeting for a powerful and time-saving software like a CRM, then you will also need to consider how much time the new tools will save you, and build that into your bottom line.
Efficiency and Productivity
While planning for your new CRM, you should also spend time evaluating what activities your team is spending the most time on each day. If your company has experienced recent growth, there is a good chance that your valuable team members may be spending a majority of their time on paperwork rather than working toward bigger strategic initiatives in your company.
Determine Which Type of CRM Technology Will Best Suit Your Needs
CRM vendors typically offer an array of different technologies and deployment methods to best meet the size, budget, and needs of your company. While cloud solutions are swiftly gaining popularity, particularly among small and medium companies, larger business still often choose to go with an on-site solution, so they can create a more customized and proprietary system. Here’s a closer look at the main CRM technology options available on the market:
Cloud-based technology is becoming increasingly popular for all types of business software, and CRM is no exception. Cloud technology functions through a third-party platform that is powered by the internet, which supports business mobility and remote system access that a flourishing company needs. Cloud CRM systems are also more affordable, which gives more companies the opportunity to embrace a solution earlier in their business.
On-premise, or on-site CRM solutions are systems that are built on-site in an office building or other physical location. On-premise solutions require hardware and ongoing updates and maintenance, which makes implementation more expensive than cloud solutions.
Think About the People in Your Company Who will be Using Your CRM System
For your CRM solution to be a success in your business, your employees will need to embrace it and use it to its full potential. If your system is cumbersome or confusing, many employees may become frustrated and not use it as much as they should. This can hinder your growth, so it’s important to pick a CRM software that suits the needs of everyone who will using it.
As you think about the users in your company, think over these questions to find the best fit for your teams:
- How many employees will be using the CRM system?
- What data sources need to be integrated with this system? Will it interrupt day to day business for my teams?
- What technical expertise levels exist in your users? (Basic, Intermediate, Advanced)
- What are the needs of each group of users?
- What type of support will users need as they learn and use and maximize the potential in your CRM?
- What training will employees need?
Know What to Look for in Your Perfect CRM Provider
As you meet with various CRM vendors that you’re interested in working with, you should do some due diligence in researching their reputation before you commit to purchasing their services. Some of the key things you should look for in your perfect CRM vendor are prominence, reviews, and support.
Industry prominence and popularity
While you should not choose a vendor based on popularity alone, a vendor’s standing in the industry can signal what you can expect from their services. Make sure that the provider you select has prominence in the industry and is popular among other companies with similar needs as yours.
Reviews from current or past system users
One of the best ways you can easily research a CRM vendor you’re considering is to look for reviews given by current or past users. Reviews from current companies using the software can give you great insight into how the provider treats customers and how companies value their services and features. Past reviews can establish a history of service values and give you a snapshot into how the provider handles business over time as well.
System support offered
Support is a vital component that all vendors will offer. However, the types and degree of support will vary from provider to provider, so make sure you know what level of support your team will need, and then ensure your selected vendor can easily fulfil those support needs.
Plan Your Integration and Customizations
Choose a time when integration will not impact your core business hours or seasons, if possible. During your integration, some data sources or systems may not be accessible for short periods of time, or may not contain complete data for analysis. Choosing a time when your company is not as busy can help you avoid the negative impacts of the system downtime that is part of switching to a new CRM software.
Understand Hardware Needs of Your CRM System
If you choose to implement a cloud-based or hosted CRM system, then you will not require any hardware to get your software up and running quickly.
However, if you’re going to be implementing a solution on site, you’ll need to plan on investing upfront for hardware, installation, and ongoing maintenance on your system.
Research and Compare Multiple CRM Vendors
Once you have a firm grasp on all the things you need and want from your CRM solution, and understand what you must invest, then you can begin researching and comparing vendors.
There are many excellent CRM vendors on the market, and you’ll undoubtedly be able to find your perfect system if you take a bit of time to really look into what each vendor offers and compare your top choices against one another to determine which is best for you and your business. As you compare your options, make sure to keep your list of key business needs and required features handy so you can reference them and keep yourself on track as you absorb all of the information and create a short list of viable options.
Set up Demos and Get Pricing from CRM Vendors on Your Short List
Once you’ve created a short list of three to five CRM solutions that you’re interested in implementing, it’s important to take your preparation and research one step further and get in touch with each vendor. Most providers will happily set up meetings to discuss your needs and requirements and can demonstrate all the key features for you.
Before you participate in a meeting or demo with vendor, make sure that you refresh your memory on all your business and feature needs. It is also a great idea to provide your lists to the vendor prior to meeting, so they can put together the custom options and pricing they have available that will meet your needs. This will make your time much more efficient, and also give the vendor a clear understanding of exactly what you require.