October 19, 2020

How to Select the Right Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Tool (Part 2) Analysis Criteria

Choosing the right CRM software for your business is one of the most complex and time-consuming software selection processes. It involves many key stakeholders in the business as the central hub to every department’s technology. It’s also a heavy investment so it’s not a decision that can be quickly or affordably reversed or pivoted. The key is to choose the right CRM software for your business based on your customer relationship needs, the other technologies that you need to integrate with it, and what can automate and improve nearly every process in your organization. 

Our guide helps you assess various criteria that match your specific business needs, helping you choose the most optimal CRM software even if you’ve never had to implement one in the past. Choosing the best customer relationship management system can really support the success of your organization no matter how small or large, local, national, or international. Below we analyze cost considerations, benefits and ROI potentials, and selecting the right CRM for your required integrations all leading up to preparing for the final implementation. There is no perfect system since all organizations work with unique variations even in the same industry. However, you can strike the right balance between selecting what applies to the majority of your business and programming/integrating solutions to ensure all exceptions are covered equally well. Let’s start this analysis with the initial concern for any business: costs and potential ROI.

How Much Do CRMs Cost

A CRM system’s goal is to produce results in magnitudes of return on investment and operational improvement. The benefits of a CRM mean the cost of that software and it’s required integrations are one of the most critical considerations. You will need to know the number of users, sometimes specifically down to the areas of access they need (which may impact pricing), since most systems are priced at a flat fee for users or different pricing by user type. 

CRM cost


While most CRM systems offer basic features and functionalities at a packaged monthly price, some CRM systems do a separate price on add ons and features so that you will only pay for the features you need. Getting down to an actual price estimate can get tricky as the integration program you need may also have extra charges in addition to customized API programming to ensure it works as intended. Take careful note of pricing for any API calls. Oftentimes, it is difficult to understand the full cost of an integration until you are sure how many API calls your standard processes require daily. Without an accurate view of those costs, the expenses can quickly grow out of hand from initial estimates.

Additionally, unless you have a trained programmer in your company, you may be limited in the amount of customization and workflow you can build before additional investments are required. Do your best to gather information or reach out to the CRM company’s support team with questions on limitations of their systems and other fees that may not be apparent. It is always best to clearly communicate what you need to get the closest total cost before going any further in the trial or research. These companies are usually very supportive and may even offer a full analysis of your process flow charts to make sure they are the best fit for what you are trying to achieve. Based on the average costs of the top CRM systems, it can range from $40 to $100 per user per month. For small businesses, costs start from $12 per user each month but are often limited to basic setups which may or may not encompass your needs. For larger enterprises, it’s more likely to be $50 to $150 per user per month. That’s just the CRM costs but as we discussed, integrated systems may come with API costs or per users costs and ultimately push the more advanced monthly packages higher.

How to Calculate the ROI or Cost Benefits of a CRM

More than half of CRM projects fail due to several specific issues including the inability to successfully implement the CRM system with the teams, failure to meet objectives and improve KPIs, and most importantly, failure to maintain a positive return on investment against the associated implementation and ongoing costs. Calculating the ROI on your CRM investment starts with outlining your goals and assigning a value to the improvements that each aspect of the implementation offers. Determining how much benefit is gained from key indicators such as improved efficiency, higher conversions, and more accurate data leading to better decision making at all levels. Automating aspects of your workflow can help your organization achieve greater clarity on results, increased customer service and insights, and elevate administrative work to support more revenue generating activities. Implementing these improvements translates to better processes that guarantee more revenue growth, cost-saving opportunities, greater likelihood of future success, and better adoption and employee satisfaction with their work. 

The immense benefits could seem immeasurable and intangible for now and will take some time to reflect on actual earnings and KPIs. However, the costs of the system can be calculated against the net improvement in revenue, opportunity value such as time savings as well as the efficiency of teams, and improved customer service including repeat/referral services. Aggregate all costs from initial implementation to apply across the timeline you are estimating, then add in additional monthly costs which may include the number of users, integration, and API. Finally, estimate all benefits as a net improvement from the key areas above and compare to the estimated cost to understand your long term return on investment. Do that for several key systems you are reviewing to make sure you select the one that has everything you need as well as the largest gap between costs and net revenue benefits.

Selection Criteria for the Right CRM for Your Organization

There are a ton of CRM software solutions now available on the market but only a couple of them will be the best fit overall. However, with the cornucopia of options bombarding you, how do you know which one is the optimal one for your business? Below are several important criteria to analyze when selecting a CRM. Every business is unique, and each one has a different set of needs and requirements. Make sure to factor in a system’s customization capabilities against your future development plans to ensure you don’t have to switch again as you grow.

CRM Selection Criteria


1. Assessing Your Current Systems, Benefits, and Gaps

Selecting the right CRM system for your business can be a real challenge as you can easily get caught up with exploring various CRM designs, functionalities, and features that you forget to check on your business needs and priorities first. If you are a business looking to take the first step to digitization and streamlining your business processes, you will need to evaluate your current system, define business goals, and identify areas and opportunities for improvement. 

The first question you might need to ask yourself is why you need a CRM system? Check which processes your business operations have that are inefficient and the possible improvements and solutions you see as feasible and beneficial. You should also assess whether a workflow change or an additional process that can be managed more effortlessly with a CRM is evident. Finally, consider the software your organization is currently using and how a different CRM may be able to provide better solutions to the process breakdowns currently impeding the company. Your current system can be a significant factor in the difficulty to transition to a new system due to their age or previous structure that doesn’t map well, causing further delays in the transition process.  


2. Working with Stakeholders to Ensure Success

Once the initial assessment has suggested other deciding factors, you’re ready to build a coalition of process experts. To avoid failure by committee, we recommend that they understand their position is that of an advisor. They are there to help you avoid the pitfalls of potentially selecting a CRM or integration that will actually impair their work instead of improving it. Ultimately, the decision and ownership after the fact needs to be owned by as few people as possible to allow quicker changes after implementation. However, that means those final owners also need to understand how their changes affect other departments. Now that technology is so integrated, it’s increasingly rare that a process change in one area won’t impact another. 

Your experts and decision makers/section ownership need to understand their primary area of focus as well as the hand offs to related and often seemingly unrelated sections of the CRM. A prime example of this potential issue is how the account/opportunity structure is established against data reported for marketing. Whatever pipeline you choose for sales driven opportunities, it’s rare that marketing didn’t play a role in influencing that opportunity. If you have a marketing automation tool set up, then you need to ensure that all contacts related to an opportunity are included in that opportunity for the other systems to calculate the value of your marketing channels against the results. Your sales team specialist may not realize a decision they are making in account/opportunity structure impacts the other system’s ability to accurately track return on investment. 

It’s important to ensure that central leadership has all of those details or that you hire a firm to handle the centralized planning and implementation who knows these systems inside and out. Further evaluation of current processes involving business process definition, operations flow charts, table reports of requirements, and other supporting documents that help give an overview of the business can help leadership and stakeholders set clear objectives. Along with implementation execution, it’s important to check against said requirements and make sure demands are met as decision making evolves when you inevitably hit some roadblocks along the way.

CRM opportunities


3. Exploring CRM Opportunities

After you have organized all team requirements, reviewing your options with the teams can help ID potential pitfalls or opportunities that you would not have caught on your own. Make sure your team has time set aside from their regular activities to really dive into some knowledge base articles and forums to gather crowdsourced feedback from actual users and failed implementations. There may be issues with the system that the CRM company has since fixed so don’t use these as a time to cut your options but rather to address concerns directly with the companies you are considering. 

At this stage you may even want to have your team join some live webinars or decentralized demos/testing of the systems. Even though this testing won’t give your team the full details they need, it can help you limit systems that the team guarantees won’t meet their basic requirements. The final step of this selection criteria is to reach out to the integration programs your team identifies during their research to make sure you have the full picture of the costs for areas that the CRM doesn’t handle well. These third party requirements are the area we see balloon in cost over time more than the systems themselves. A quick comparison to outside tools which address the same issues can provide the greatest detail in how to maintain cost control even after implementation. 

Step up a grid comparing all programs against each other in the most important and ancillary areas of significance for your organization. You may want to set up a scoring model as well but keep in mind that these can sometimes unfairly bias a decision if the criteria and weight aren’t carefully assessed. Here is a list of the most common features and essential considerations of a good CRM system: 


  • User Friendly Interface
  • Seamless & Affordable Integrations
  • Effective Lead Management
  • Bulk Email & SMS Outreach
  • Clear and Connected Contact & Account Management
  • Task / Activity Reminders, Automation, and Reporting
  • Opportunity / Pipeline Management & Visualization
  • Quote & Order Process Management
  • Reporting & Analytics with Visualizations / Dashboards
  • Workflow Customization
  • Inventory Management (if applicable to your business)
  • Marketing Automation or Integration with Desired Platform
  • Individual Email Tracking, Mobile Application, and Social Features (as needed for your teams)
  • Website User Tracking & Webform Builders (if marketing automation is part of the system)


Knowing and scoring your priorities will support CRM adoption and employee engagement by ensuring the most vital aspects of the system truly address user requirements. For successful change management, these processes are essential during your analysis. 

4. Limiting Your Research to Final Options and Outside Analysis

Narrow down your options and get a list ready of your top few for focused meetings with the CRM companies. The final phase will require you address all factors your teams need directly with the CRM company to understand any limitations and likely final costs. Pricing plays an important factor as it denotes the sustainability of using the CRM which is the secondary goal to ensure the investment lasts. Is the cost of using the CRM worth it? Do the benefits outweigh the price long term? Do other factors drive reasonable ROI with potential for growth in how you see your organization in the future and do they justify expenses of using this CRM? A great way to determine how much benefit you can get with these CRM systems is to create a secondary comparison chart/table on final options to reassess the benefits after final feedback from the CRM and potential integration companies. Include pricing, available support and training, pros and cons, and short term and long term benefits. 

To help you in this process, we have included a sample of our top picks for one particular client during the final research phase. Keep in mind that their needs and concerns will be different from yours and that these are the final notes after considering a massive list of features, benefits, and drawbacks to over 10 systems. Additionally, the prices may have changed since this analysis for a small business in 2020.


CRM Pros Cons Price per user including likely integrations
Pipedrive -Offers an intuitive interface and deal-driven workflow -Solid mobile app plus call and email integrations - Workflow Limitations: Limits number of automation you can build (60-100) and may increase costs in the future

-Limited functionality for the price -No separation between lists of new leads and contacts (works for some companies but not well for others)
$49.90 - $99
Method - Top-rated CRM for QuickBooks, manage prospects, leads with powerful, real-time patented QuickBooks sync and 100% no-code customizable platform.

- No extra fees to customize

- Users access at price depending on access requirements can help save on costs

- Best system for future state as outlined

- Good UX, fast quoting/estimating/Inventory system
- Add ons can become costly if you require more functions as you grow but the majority of current and near future requirements are included

- Custom work is expensive but can be controlled with proper setup for long term use

- No mass email function which will require outside marketing email or automation platform (not uncommon)

- May incur some costs based on the level of Quickbooks you have/change to

-Third party integration with point of sale system at fixed / affordable costs
$49

(Contact Management - $28, Sales- $12.00, Sales Pipeline - $9.00)
Vtiger Easy to use and highly customizable -Has some additional sections all in one that may save on overall costs.

-Users access at one price with a minimum for support then may be adjusted for user type/access requirements


- Issues with workflow limitations could increase costs quickly

- UX is not as good as other systems
$ 42 (5 minimum users for sales/support)

5. Set Up a Demo and Free Trial for Top Options

At this stage you are ready to have a centralized team demo of the final options. Nothing beats hands on experience when you need to confirm all information gathered and quell any doubts you have with the system and its features. Setting up a demo is a vital stage and can help you make the right choice for long-term success. This stage helps the team get a real feel of what the system can do and how their implementations may affect other areas of the CRM. Red flags will come up during the demo which may not have been apparent in earlier stages of your research. You can easily miss vital information such as additional charges for features you need, workflow and customization limitations, and other process bottlenecks that will affect your teams or budget. 


To ensure a productive demo session, make sure your team organizes their questions and concerns ahead of the final analysis call internally and with the CRM company. While not all companies offer demo scheduling, most systems do have a free trial sign up to try the platform. Signing up for the free trial as a team will help you understand the implementation process and how to set up everything you need before you invest. It will also give you a final chance to address possible issues and barriers you need to solve before implementation. It gives you the chance to find a workaround or simply cut another CRM option off your list. 


To help you scout for the best CRM system, here is our list of the most searched CRM systems on the internet as of 2020, some sites recognize one as the best. However, the reality is that “best” is only as good as it applies to your business. This is why we aren’t labeling them for you no matter how many companies use them.


Salesforce CRM Lead & Contact Management, Sales Opportunity Management, Workflow Rules & Automation - Customizable Reports & Dashboards to help accelerate sales and automate tasks.
HubSpot CRM Powerful and easy-to-use sales CRM, includes sales engagement tools, configure-price-quote (CPQ) functionality, and robust sales analytics for growing teams. Directly connected to marketing automation and other Hubspot tools.
Microsoft Dynamics Drives sales productivity and marketing effectiveness through social insights, business intelligence, and campaign management in the cloud, on-premises, or with a hybrid combination.
Method Top-rated CRM for QuickBooks, manage prospects, leads with powerful, real-time patented QuickBooks sync and 100% no-code customizable platform.
ActiveCampaign CRM Hundreds of pre-built automations that combine email marketing, marketing automation, CRM, and machine learning for powerful segmentation and personalization across social, email, messaging, chat, and text.
Agile CRM Fully integrated CRM with sales tracking, contact management, marketing automation, web analytics, 2-way emails, telephony, helpdesk with a clean, modern interface.
Zoho Excellent feature mix, integration with a long list of compatible Zoho products.
Real Simple Systems Complete sales, email marketing, and customer service functionality in one easy-to-use system.
Engage Bay Simple, affordable, all-in-one CRM and market automation platform with lead generation forms and popups, landing pages, email and marketing automation capabilities.
Freshsales Easy lead management & nurturing. Great UI, built-in phone and email, AI-based lead scoring, visual deal pipeline, intelligent workflow automation, and customizable visual reports and dashboards.
Insightly Visually attractive and functionally intuitive system which includes project management post sale as a main aspect of the system.
Bitrix Complete suite of social collaboration, communication and management tools, files sharing, time management, calendars, and more.
Pipedrive Improves its small business-focused solution with advanced capabilities, chatbot creation for websites, and efficient reporting.
VTiger All in one CRM that’s easy to use and highly customizable, breaks barriers between Sales, Marketing and Support teams to collaborate seamlessly.


Select the Best Choice and Prepare for Implementation

After evaluating all potential options, it’s now time to select the best system for your business. Choosing the right software and implementation partner(s) is the final stage in preparing for launch. Take the time to finalize your plans, set leadership/ownership roles for change management, and prepare your teams for the new system. The CRM implementation should be handled carefully as it is an in-depth process with heavy costs and time requirements for your team. Dedicating time to build out a plan is essential as improper direction and execution could lead to out of control costs and CRM implementation failure due to lack of adoption. 


Make sure you have outreached to various vendors with experience in implementing a variety of CRMs, diving deep into the details of what they can provide, so that you are confident about your final options and the teams that will help your company succeed. To prepare for the implementation, you will need to create a strategy plan, determine final costs, and review contracts and agreements. Make sure all costs are known and outlined in the contracts of any implementation partners. Align your specific business requirements and the costs needed for implementation, maintenance, integrations, back-office systems integrations, development work, and customization costs required. 


This strategy plan, which specifies what needs to be set up, by whom, and when, is going to be essential for full adoption and a successful implementation. The strategy plan should include timelines and clearly define roles so that it serves as a guide to ensure dependencies are handled in order to maintain timelines and expected outcomes. You must also consider a data migration plan and a training plan for your team. Work with a software vendor or a consultant to accomplish a detailed plan that encompasses all teams and when they will gain access so they can prepare ahead of time. Outstanding project management is vital in leading a thoughtful roll out within the organization to ensure efficient and effective strategy execution. Once that is set, your plan needs to be effectively communicated to your external and internal partners so they can help prepare their teams. 


Choosing the best CRM can be a tedious task but it is an important opportunity for long-term success for all teams. Now that you have your list down to the final option and have a detailed plan to guide you in the next step, in part 3 of this blog series, we will help outline a successful implementation process. We tackle strategic planning and detailed procedures to get your new system up and running.

Our services

Leaders, Organizations, and Individuals come to Universal Creative Solutions with their WHY - their vision for the world, their company, their product, or their path in life.

We help them plan and achieve their WHY by coupling it with the HOW - a pathway to making that vision a reality. We clarify the concepts or objectives, break down the goals into the required assets, stakeholders, and key results, as well as provide or connect them to any needed resources and consulting services every step of the way.

Whether you need a structured plan or a dedicated partner to help you achieve your goals, Universal Creative Solutions is honored to work towards better solutions together.