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CRM Software Selection Guide

October 23rd, 2022 16 min read

The hardest part of choosing a CRM is knowing what to look for and consider. It’s surprisingly easy to go through the whole selection process and buy the wrong software (many reviewers have said as much). You need to start your search with the right questions to make the correct choice.

Companies often forget about team input, review sentiment, and research the vendor’s reputation. One of the most common errors buyers make is not reading the terms of service (TOS) before buying. Below, we explore all the main factors to consider in the decision-making process.

What is a CRM?

Customer relationship management (CRM) software solution provides small businesses and major enterprises with services to improve workflows. CRM tools can streamline major business processes like customer support, marketing campaigns, and lead management for sales teams. CRM solutions can also provide organizational tools to stay on top of tasks, and automation functionality to expedite menial manual tasks. 

Zoho is a very popular cloud-based platform that offers a variety of applications for improving real-time business needs. They also offer a software-as-a-service (SaaS) CRM provider and below we included their introduction CRM systems for beginners.

What are the Benefits of Using CRM Software?

CRM platforms have extremely powerful solutions for meeting business goals. The benefits are dependent on what you want to accomplish. All CRM solutions can vary but the main intent is always to help teams create high-end customer experiences. 

The way it helps you achieve this varies. It can be through helping your team handle customer information better with contact management or organizing your customer data so you can access it faster. CRM features can fit a wide range of use cases and the table below goes over a few capabilities and the best results they can offer.

Amazing CRM FeaturesCRM Use Cases
Contact and lead management Your customer service, sales, and marketing teams can stay on top of old and new clients
Marketing automationAutomations like email marketing templates can be amazing ways to streamline workflow
Customer service management across all channelsYou will be able to keep track of all inquiries through sub-emails, and social media sites from potential clients
ForecastingTeams can access powerful analytics for growth and future campaigns
Sales pipeline managementYou can improve your sales process so its simpler, faster, and better for increasing revenue
Mobile device accessSome tools can offer convenience for remote and on the go workers with mobile app access
Dashboards with real-time metricsYour team can see key metrics all-in-one place for faster information and easy collaboration
On-premise solution optionFor in-person teams that want more control over their data, some CRM are available as on-premise versions 
Web platform analytics and eCommerce toolsMany CRM have the capability to track web analytics and offer eCommerce tools for your website
Blog content resourcesIf you have a blog, a CRM can help content management and analytics

There are so many ways a CRM can improve your business, but you need the right CRM for the best results. The selection process might be the hardest part of buying a CRM service. Luckily, we go into the steps to alleviate the decision-making process.

Guide for How to Pick the Best CRM Software

You can find the right CRM software if you take into consideration your team’s needs and business goals first before getting caught up in all the fancy, feature-rich CRM solutions available. The best choice may not be the most expensive one with all the bells and whistles, especially if you don’t actually need it. This is why it’s also helpful to do research before talking to goal-driven sales teams.

1. How Strict is Your Budget?

No one wants to be told how to plan their budget, but costs are often the first consideration with choosing software. You will have your ideal budget, but then it will change based on the price ranges of actual products. It becomes very important to know how much you are willing to pay for the exact features you want. 

When you make your budget for purchasing your CRM software, you need to answer certain questions. The list below shows 3 main questions to consider.

How much is too much?

  • If the costs of running the software interfere with operation costs
  • If the software has expensive or unexpected fees
  • If revenue isn’t enough to justify the total cost of ownership (TCO)
  • If you can find cheaper software

How often will you use it?

  • If you use it frequently then high costs could be worth it
  • If multiple teams will benefit then it can more affordable than buying other software 

Can you go over budget?

  • If you can afford to pay more for the features you want it may be worth it
  • Splurging for more costly tiers will often provide more functionality

If your team has a very limited budget there are free CRM solutions. We have an article about the best free CRM here. For more resources on CRM costs, see ActiveCampaign’s article on CRM transparency here.

2. What is Your Team Like?

The team that will be using the software can matter more than the actual software. If the subscription you purchase has enterprise-grade features, but it doesn’t mesh with your team then it’s not worth the cost. 

Choosing based on your team’s needs is both easy because you know them and hard because there is a lot to weigh in decision-making. 

How big is your team?

  • Many CRM tools have user caps around increments of 5
  • Some free plans only allow 1 user or less than 5 users
  • Most plans get expensive with more users, so you should consider who absolutely needs access

What does your team do?

  • Consider if your team needs marketing, sales, or customer service tools
  • The type of projects they work on can help determine what tools you need
  • Work styles are important like solitary vs collaboration
  • The workloads they handle a week and if they are struggling is super important

How skilled is your team?

  • You need to know if they are computer literate, or especially tech-savvy
  • Tech-savvy teams can take on more challenging software with powerful features
  • A simple product is best for those with zero software experience
  • You may need extensive onboarding and support to handle steep learning curves
  • See user reviews and software tutorials to gage how complicated software may be
  • If you use an open-source or on-premise option you need to know who will implement the program

What does your team want?

  • The people who know your team needs the best is your actual team
  • It’s important for end-users to have the chance to demo products and not management 
  • Making a list is a great way to use end-user input to find the best fit
  • Some CRM solutions are highly customizable which can benefit teams with diverse backgrounds

Will your team grow in the near future?

  • It can be hard to add on new team members, especially for annual contracts
  • Some CRM only allow increments of users like 10, 25, 35
  • Adding on users seats is sometimes discounted 

Will other departments use the software?

  • You need to know if other teams than your own will ever use the software
  • CRM software can help with a number of different department needs like service and marketing 
  • Interviewing potential end-users even if they won’t use the product constantly can also be helpful

One way to get started with figuring out team needs is to go through product tutorials on YouTube. You can schedule a zoom meeting and watch tutorials together and brainstorm feedback. Make it fun and drink every time someone says “workflow,” or “business processes.”

3. What Features are You Looking For?

Maybe only second to cost is the main feature of your ideal CRM. Even if you have the right features it’s not worth it if the cost is too much, but a cheaper option with almost no features is just as bad. The lists below discuss considerations around popular features that can be found in a CRM, but going through all possible features would be endless. 

Do you need contact/lead management? 

  • One of the most common tools for CRM is contact and lead management 
  • They include features that are ideal for managing your customer base

Does your team need email marketing? 

  • Many CRM offer templates for building email campaigns
  • Some offer mass send outs for newsletters

Will your team need collaboration tools?

  • Several CRM solutions come with in-application messaging and omnichannel dashboards
  • You can often integrate your preferred messaging apps with your chosen CRM

Could you use task automation?

  • CRM solutions often have process automation for menial tasks
  • You can speed up your workflow by automating multiple simple jobs

Will you benefit from an AI program?

  • Artificial Intelligence programs with machine learning (ML), can provide more powerful automation for communication with clients or streamlining workloads

What type of UI do you want?

  • The user interface of most CRM is intuitive 
  • UIs can also have bugs or be outdated
  • The best UI is customizable for you and your team

What type of integrations do you need?

  • Most CRM integrate with messaging apps like Microsoft Teams and Slack
  • Some CRM integrate with other marketing, sales, and project management apps
  • There are even integrations with other CRM, especially free ones

Does your team need web platform tools?

  • If you have a website and want to track analytics or traffic 
  • It can especially benefit eCommerce platforms 
  • Many come with templates to help beginners build landing pages

Will you need tools for your blog?

  • If you have a blog, you can improve it with content tools
  • Those that want to start a blog can benefit greatly from content tools and resources for it

Not every CRM has all these features, but if any of these are important then you should avoid settling. If your budget is tight there are free tools you may be able to integrate into your CRM for more diverse functionality. 

4. What Functionality are You Looking For?

The majority of CRM subscriptions offer one, two, or all capabilities listed below. Some software services allow you to mix and match and purchase each suite separately. While massive programs like HubSpot Free CRM offer all three and more, such as general operations (we talk more about HubSpot CRM in the next section). 

Do you need marketing functionality?

  • You need this if a marketing team wants to use the software
  • Startups can benefit being able to access marketing automation tools on top of customer service
  • With access to a marketing suite, small teams can increase their customer base and brand visibility
  • If you have a solid customer base and don’t frequently use a website or social media, it may not be worth it

Do you need sales functionality?

  • Your sales team may need contact, lead, and deal management features with a CRM
  • Many CRM have tools for sales pipelines and other sales team needs
  • You can also find collaboration features for sales teams to improve workloads
  • If you make most or all sales in person ecommerce features may not be worth it

Do you need customer service functionality?

  • Many CRM offer primarily customer service tools like ticketing and bots
  • If you don’t have a team of agents, then automation tools may be best 
  • You can maintain customer retention with tools to stay on top of inquiries
  • Some CRM can manage inquiries from multiple channels like social media
  • Most CRM have tools to deepen customer relationships like SMS messaging

If you are more interested in splitting up these capabilities with different software that’s an option. You can also find integrations to make up for what your chosen CRM does not have. 

5. What is the Software’s Brand Reputation?

A software could check every box on both price and functionality, but then fail because the provider is a nauseating headache. You want to look for any red flags concerning the company you’re interested in. The lists below go into deciding factors for choosing the right CRM provider.

What is the CRM vendor known for?

  • You should check if the vendor has any scandals or lawsuits
  • Forums, youtube comments, reviews may reveal how consumers feel about the product 
  • It’s important to know how new they are so you know if they’re a stable service
  • Some startups are more likely to sell or get acquired so it’s important to research the likelihood of that
  • Check if they offer discounts for your industry

Are they transparent about pricing or features?

  • The easiest products to vet have upfront pricing and feature breakdowns
  • When pricing and features aren’t available it can imply high costs but not always
  • Particularly great software platforms offer a knowledge base and resources to use and understand their products
  • Many CRM have YouTube tutorials provided by the vendor as well tech influencers

What do reviews say?

  • Reviews highlighting things they enjoyed and things they want improved give more insight 
  • It’s important to learn what reviewers say about your target features
  • Customer support, features and UI are the most talked about in software reviews
  • It may help to have your team look at some reviews for general impressions
  • Some reviews are old and may have already been addressed

What are the common issues with the software?

  • Common problems with the software are the UI, bugs, customer support, and pricing
  • It can be alarming if reviews report issues with the main features of the product
  • Implementation of software can be a big issue especially if your team isn’t tech savvy
  • Contracts and hidden fees are another important problem

How did the sales team treat you?

  • A pushy sales team can indicate they want to hear you to checkout without time to think
  • Not being able to answer a question is a big red flag
  • How do they react with direct questions like “are there extra fees”

Are there any potential problems in their terms of service (TOS)?

  • Sometimes contacts have hidden fees or auto-renewal clauses
  • If the language is hard to understand you can ask the sales team directly
  • Look for any areas concerning for your data and privacy
  • Some contracts have warnings against terms of use that you may actually need 

In an ideal world it should be the software itself that matters most, not the vendor. The reality is you need to be wary of who you do business with. 

How to Start Your CRM Search

When you’re ready to find the right CRM for you and your team, a lot of research can be expected. There are the price ranges, the different CRM vendors, and everything in between. To help you get started, below are some costs and examples of great CRM systems. 

What is the Cost of a CRM?

The examples in the table are provided to show the high variation between CRMs and their respective plans. The samples are specific to exact plans and can be the lowest or highest plan of that software. For instance, HubSpot Free CRM starts and stays at $0 forever, but HubSpot’s most expensive CRM plan is a whopping $60,000 a year, paid upfront. It’s important to understand how much variation can be found in the costs of CRM software. 

In the table, you should see ranges from less than $20, to 30s, 60s, 90s, and well over a hundred. There is enough flexibility with pricing for CRM software that a startup, small business, or enterprise can easily find a solution for their budget. 

Examples of Low-Cost CRM Plans Examples of High-Cost CRM Plans
Freshdesk Free Plan $0Monday.com CRM Pro Plan $90 billed monthly 
Freshworks CRM Growth Plan $18 billed monthlyKintone $120 billed monthly
Monday.com Sales CRM Basic Plan $37.50 billed monthlyKeap Max Plan $249 billed monthly
Zoho CRM Ultimate Plan $65 billed monthlyHubSpot CRM Suite Enterprise Plan $60,000 billed annually

If you’re a small team then the costs of more expensive CRM can look imposing. The bright side is there are plenty of affordable and even free CRM solutions. 

CRM Software Examples for Beginners 

There will always be new CRM solutions popping up, but some older platforms offer an established and reliable service. The table below covers some of the starting plans for well-known CRM providers. 

Salesforce CRM trScore 8.3/10HubSpot CRM trScore 8.4/10Zoho CRM trScore 8.3/10ActiveCampaign trScore 8.5/10
Starting cost $100 (for complete CRM)Starting cost $0Starting cost $0 (for 3 seats)Starting cost $29 (1 account)
Company Pricing Page hereCompany Pricing Page hereCompany Pricing Page hereCompany Pricing Page here

Salesforce CRM is the most prolific CRM platform with an over 100K customer base and dominating almost half of the market at 42.7%. They offer a variety of plans and pricing and they do have cheaper plans but the one we include in the table is the cost of their full CRM. If you are more sales and service-based or more marketing centered, then you can pick and choose with their other subscriptions easily here

A great small business solution is HubSpot CRM. They do have enterprise-level plans, but their HubSpot Free CRM is especially popular. They offer a massive free version with access to almost all of their product hubs, such as sales, service, and marketing. It comes with unlimited users, 1 million contacts, and major features for content marketing like blog resources and analytics. 

Zoho is a business software company that offers a plethora of tools to enhance workloads. Zoho CRM is an extensive service that provides customer support, marketing, analytics and business process automation. Their Free plan offers a small taste of their features for 3 team members, and their highest plan Ultimate has full access for $65 per user a month. Compared to other CRM systems they have affordable options with plenty of features. 

The CRM ActiveCampaign is priced based on the number of contacts you need. For 1,000 contacts, their Lite plan is $29, and their highest plan $149. They offer mainly sales and marketing features but do have service features like SMS follow-up. The CRM is one of the Top Rated products on our site and has hundreds of reviews. 

For a full list of popular CRM and their popularity on the market you can go here. One reminder is just because a software is popular doesn’t mean it’s the best fit for you, some lesser-known ones could be your ideal choice. If your team wants to see more CRM with free plans, you can see our Best Free CRM article for 2021 here

More Resources

Teams that are ready to look at CRM software can find a list of products here. We also have related software lists. Similar software to CRM includes contact management, marketing automation, lead management, and project management

If you want to learn more about CRM software solutions, you can check out Salesforce’s What Is CRM article and explore HubSpot’s vast blog of resources. One of their articles has great tips for CRM implementation and further learning.

For those that have used any of the platforms discussed here, please leave a review to help other buyers make informed decisions.

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