How to Select the Right Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Tool

2022.05.23 04:37 AM By Joshua Taddeo, Principal Consultant

Part 1:Getting Started

Selecting the right customer relationship management (CRM) tool and rolling out a successful company-wide implementation requires several vital considerations at each stage of the process. This series of blogs first looks into the main signs that suggest your current CRM system, or lack thereof, is no longer working for you and that it’s time to make a switch. These blogs will also cover how to research the right CRM system to determine if the features and functionalities presented match your current and future needs. 

The next sections explore ways to optimize and maximize your potential through procedure automation and digitization. We’ll go into detail surrounding what you need to do to ensure a successful CRM team adoption so that you can align all your strategies, and goals, with your tools and assets altogether, guaranteeing long term successes. 

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software helps your business grow by creating a centralized, automated process execution tool to address customer facing operations. To help your business scale and improve with the right CRM software, we’ve made this guide on the practice and selection criteria for a successful CRM selection and implementation. We address how to analyze your unique business requirements to outline the search techniques that will narrow initial choices.

What is Customer Relationship Management (CRM)?

Customer Relationship Management refers to a technological approach of managing customers and prospects to create and establish relationships through a more organized and efficient process. Most software solutions are now built to seamlessly manage or integrate with every practice your organization engages in; sales, marketing, accounting, and more. They play a vital role in helping you analyze and improve every aspect of your business. 

When is the Right Time to Select or Switch to a New CRM?

data analysis

Companies commonly overlook their outdated systems because it's easier to stick to what’s already working. Many businesses fall behind on improving processes with technological advancements. The outcome of complacency can lead to failure as new innovative competitors outperform and drive your organization out of the market. Given the nature of technology today, it cannot be stressed enough how important it is that your systems are adapted and optimized to maximize the customer experience. Your CRM system is at the heart of nearly every customer interaction with your business and has become a vital business resource. 

So how do you know when it’s time to switch to a new CRM or get started with one if your organization is still keeping track of potential customers in excel sheets? If it’s difficult to get the insights you need in your organization, if your customers are becoming frustrated from a lack of service, or you feel like the business hasn’t progressed in a few years you need to take a look at your CRM, organizational structure, and processes!

Lack of Customization, Capabilities, and Functionalities

Greater flexibility in customizing business procedures with tools that offer bespoke solutions may be what your organization needs for an instant upgrade. Finding a CRM that caters to your specific needs and gets you everything in one place is ideal but there is rarely a perfect match. Constantly using external applications because your current CRM does not meet the desired functionality and performance it promises increases costs and complexity. 

Lack of customization may mean limitations in automating tasks and notifications. Having limited control over automated tasking and notifications could prevent your team from engaging with the customer when and how they need to close the deal. With the complexity of workload, data management, and deals, it may be tempting for your team to use less of the CRM and seek other solutions if automation to speed up workflow is not available. Make sure the CRM your organization chooses helps optimize your processes. That way your teams can manage things more effectively and in one place.

crm features

Data Inaccuracy, Inconsistent Reporting, and Lack of Insights

Inaccurate and inconsistent data will only lead to frustration, further errors in business decision making and planning, and can even harm customer relationships when it results in unreliable delivery and poor performance from your team. If your system requires constant manual or duplicate data entry it’s going to be prone to errors and inaccuracies. These issues inevitably lead to higher costs with little benefit to the organization or consumers. 

If you are struggling to gather the insights into your own organization, considering a new CRM and improving data governance measures may be vital to solve the issue. Automating your CRM can help manage and report on clean, organized data to improve company effectiveness. However, regular auditing and strong data governance processes will also need to be addressed to ensure the automation isn’t creating issues of its own. 

CRM Integration Failures

Failure to integrate and automate the disparate systems and processes in your organization leads to manual workarounds, inefficient procedures, additional costs, and delays which contribute negatively to the overall business performance. Additionally, if the systems aren’t secured properly, a vulnerability in an external system may allow hackers access to personal identifiable information of your customers. The higher the number of connections between systems built by different organizations, the more you increase your company’s risk. 

These obstacles will ultimately impact your ability to address customer needs effectively. Greater customer satisfaction should be the primary goal that a CRM addresses through internal improvements that enable that outcome. All systems have to be vetted to ensure they will work in unison to provide the intended outcome.

Why We Don’t Recommend a Specific CRM

A CRM system in this digital age is vital for every organization but we don’t recommend a specific one. Every organization has a unique and varied set of processes and requirements that need to be analyzed before a bespoke solution can be recommended. We take a detailed and in-depth look at the entire organization’s operations, goals, and capabilities to ensure the right fit for each company. A CRM system is merely a vessel for you to effectively implement your business strategies. This means that the CRM software tool that you are researching may have an impressive set of features and functionalities but doesn’t necessarily address your specific business needs. 

To get started, focus on building a detailed defined process map with all stakeholders and team members. Visualizing the entire customer journey and your workflow will help you define system requirements and ensure your CRM choice is the right one. A recent study by Gartner Group, research and advisory firm, showed that 55% of CRM projects fail due to set up execution issues, mainly because it was never the right fit. Several other factors can contribute to the failure of a CRM implementation which is why we would not endorse a tool as complex as a CRM software system without in depth analysis of the goals for your transition.

As a business grows, strategies and the vision of the company may change as well. You may need to adjust your CRM to realign your technology with your intended outcomes. That means there is no perfect CRM system and businesses have to constantly stay flexible and agile to establish long term success as they adapt to changing technologies. 

Next Steps in Selecting the Right CRM

A CRM transition can be a tricky endeavor as the implementation process may require significant changes in your current procedures. Adapting to change isn’t always easy and isn’t always beneficial if the change isn’t well planned. Your organization will need a well thought out transition plan to ensure a smooth CRM roll out that can instantly bring your organization closer to achieving the goals. 

As we continue we will take a look at ways to minimize negative impacts to your team's workflow, maximizing the value of the new system, and automating to improve everyone’s work lives while exceeding KPIs. To accommodate these plans, we make sure the company is not bound by tools that could prevent us from building out a system that leads a business to its optimal potential. The goal is to essentially allow space for improvement and growth which is not answered by one specific CRM solution.

A successful CRM relies greatly on strategy which is why the next steps revolve around research and in-depth evaluation of both the CRM tools on the market and your specific company requirements to meet business needs. With meticulous research, you’ll identify which CRM features work for you the best and get a better understanding of setting up a good system so that you don’t focus too much on acquiring new technology and force adoption. In the next blog, we’ll focus on the steps needed for your research plan. We’ve detailed specific CRM’s and their functionality focus, to get you better insights on exploring CRM opportunities, their features and benefits, their limitations, and their costs.

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. 

How Much Do CRMs Cost

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.

A CRM system’s goal is to produce results in terms of return on investment and operational improvement. 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. 

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 may seem immeasurable and intangible right 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.

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.

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)
sekecting a crm

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.

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.

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, we will help outline a successful implementation process. We tackle strategic planning and detailed procedures to get your new system up and running.

Part 3: Planning, Training, and Implementation

There are several reasons why the introduction of a new Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution does not produce the desired results. Few things are more frustrating and financially detrimental than going through a large implementation process only to see it fail. We hope we have provided the information you need to support the right selection in part 1 and part 2. Now, we move on to some final steps to ensure your implementation process is a success. 

crm training

Implementing a CRM system in your company will allow you to better understand your customers and tailor your business to their needs. CRM solutions have various integrated functions that accurately analyze business improvement requirements to maximize your team’s impact with the customer. Use the plan below to ensure you have a high adoption rate of the new system, greater employee engagement and satisfaction, and long-term success with your new CRM.

Strategy and Implementation - Selecting the Right Partners

Most CRM companies offer services to help you with CRM customizations at a fee, usually pricey and paid by the hour. Moreover, this arrangement does not guarantee their long-term support and usually excludes training, which means you will have to train your team on a system that you may not fully understand yourself. Customer service support can also help you with the basics, giving you general answers through knowledge solutions pages, which can be a pain when you run into complex issues. 

Consider partnering with a professional strategy consulting and implementation company to avoid the troubles of setting up a CRM software solution alone. Companies like ours ensure you’ve got all your needs covered without risking the opportunity cost of dealing with the entire process on your own, often the one and only time your team will be doing an implementation. 

Selecting the right integration partner who has completed this process many times and can support the planning, implementation, and training is essential. A good integration partner should make your life easier and provide managed solutions to keep your implementation on time, on budget, and worry free. Using an integration partner also allows your team to focus on growing your business instead of building the framework. An implementation partner provides ongoing assistance, support and training, and recommends strategies that ensure quick results and long-term successes.

CRM evaluation, strategic development, and enactment are an implementation partners’ daily focus. After careful assessment of your unique business needs, they make sure every step of the CRM execution process considers and meets your unique needs, saving you time and money on installation, set up, training, management, and system maintenance costs. 

To find the right CRM consultant, you should follow a similar process in selecting the right CRM but adjust the scoring criteria to focus on experience, costs, change management, and customization / development expertise. Most of this information will need to come from a direct conversation with the company and from referrals they give you. Make sure to follow up on any referrals and ask specific questions about how the implementation partner handled issues when something went wrong. 

No matter how good the company is, there’s always roadblocks so it’s important to know how they handle the good and bad. The feedback you get from the negative scenarios shines a light on the areas where the vendor may need to improve. Those areas of improvement offer a chance for the company to address the changes they made and allow you to assess if it will impact your implementation.

Once selected, your CRM implementation partner will plan out the best solutions tailored to your needs. If you hire them before your final selection, they can help you select the CRM best suited for your business use case (just be careful of any bias towards systems the implementation partner knows best rather than what works best for your organization). They can also offer more advanced suggestions on work arounds when you have specific requirements that are not inherently available in the final CRM setup. Plus they can provide details on how to implement those work arounds enabling you to maximize your new system out of the gate or to prepare for ongoing updates as needed. 

Their expertise in overseeing new CRM instances and roll outs allows them to analyze and manage issues so they are solved quickly without impeding day to day operations. Once implemented, new solutions and maintenance can also often be handled by the same implementation partner. While costly, the benefit is that the people working on the system already have all the details they need to ensure new solutions don’t break or interrupt what’s previously been built. 

If you prefer to use an inhouse team for ongoing maintenance, make sure they keep / maintain flow charts and other technical documents to keep track of changes over time. That way, if you go back to the implementation partner with larger changes or additions, they will be able to get caught up on the adjustments made since launch and how that might impact their work.

All in all, the value you can gain from an expert is countless and will only increase the success rate of your CRM implementation. We highly recommend working with one or several as needed for the different aspects of implementation: research, strategy, customization, and change management. 

Process Flow Chart and Automation Opportunities

Every organization operates on a system of processes that make up the business’ backbone, providing the ability to deliver its products and services to market. All companies must therefore establish an efficient, effective, and reliable system to ensure they build, track, and maintain the flow charts that make up their business success. Using flow charts and tracking adjustments over time allows a business to continuously optimize their results to the most ideal at each stage. They can also be a vital part of implementing your CRM. A good implementation partner will take on the process of getting these up to date and even adjusted for the changes the CRM may require before beginning a build. Defining your business processes is an essential first step. 

The process flow chart will help you define automation opportunities by visualizing repetitive or programmable steps of your process. Understanding these processes during the CRM research and build will help narrow the choices to the best CRM solutions for your teams. A process flowchart can provide clear insights on what needs to be done to mirror your process in the CRM and identify gaps in the current system so that you can fix them before exhausting all your implementation resources. Make sure you have planned out your system via process flow charts and reviewed these charts with all stakeholders. This will allow your implementation partner to work on a list of automations as part of your new CRM build or transition them from your previous systems.

Testing Environment, “Sandbox” Build, for Process Issue Identification and Improvements

In order to implement the processes you have outlined, it’s important to set up a testing environment. This inactive environment will allow you to build out all the processes within your flow chart and test their functionality before pushing anything to a live version. It will also allow for a training instance of the CRM so that you can teach and onboard team members without accidentally triggering external communication with clients when using live data. 

During testing and training, it’s inevitable that issues or unknown process roadblocks are found with a newly implemented system. When a conflict is found, it should be addressed with the implementation partner and potentially with the teams whose processes will be affected. Communicate your concerns effectively to make sure issues are resolved quickly as some issues may not necessarily pose as errors in the system but more as a failure to meet specific business or team requirements. In many cases, there are workarounds or just slightly new processes that need to be put into place to provide optimal results within the system’s architecture as well as for your team.

selecting a crm

During the setup and even when you move to production, a team should be assembled to manage issues, report bugs, and resolve them by working closely with the team that was in charge of the project. Since that original leadership team understands and helps maintain the flow charts / decision making process, they will make sure that any subsequent changes don’t negatively impact another team or system. 

Moreover, as the system is monitored, brainstorming and development of new solutions should be a continuous process to cope with changing and growing needs of the organization. The testing environment should be maintained as a mirror of the active system and used to push updates as they are confirmed. Establishing a good system of feedback from your team in the live system is the best way to make sure your CRM is as effective as possible. Once everything is properly set up, your leadership team will have a better understanding of the system and any final changes to be made before a training program is developed.

Establishing Training in the Test Environment

Training is essential to make sure your team is equipped with the skills and knowledge needed to take advantage of the CRM. Without proper training, you might just be heading for a downfall as your CRM system serves as the primary means of getting to your customers efficiently to support your business goals. When you implement your CRM, make sure your employees understand the business processes that the new system will support. If your business process provides the right training for the system, it will be greatly beneficial for your business in the long term. Keep in mind, your CRM is used for a variety of teams, not just the customer service or sales staff. You will be wasting good talent if the problem is simply a lack of training on the different segments and user configuration issues. 

A crucial requirement in the CRM implementation is getting your employee’s support. You definitely want to avoid employees who won’t use the software because they feel it will affect their performance negatively as opposed to enhancing their ability and productivity. This is usually the mindset that occurs when employees lack the training and understanding of the company’s vision for the CRM’s purpose. Always remember to keep them in the loop with updates on the CRM. Furthermore, make sure you have presented the goals and direction of the business clearly as well as how the tool can support those goals. Create an ongoing plan for training your team members and assure leadership provides this to all new employees after deployment. 

Your employees drive the organization’s success and will need the right support and mentors to ensure your CRM system is deployed successfully. If their processes are not included in training, important aspects of their work may not be completed on time or aligned with other areas of the business. By training in the test environment of the CRM system, you can improve customer relations by ensuring proper cohesion of all teams working within the system. This training process can also help in the development of various new integrating systems and channels based on user feedback. The goal at this stage is for the user to confirm that they can perform the activities when the time comes to move to the live version.

Training in this testing environment allows representatives to take risks and make mistakes. Problematic areas and issues will be tracked throughout the training process and will be included in future training or system improvements so your team is aware of the processes that need to be addressed and resolved.

Roll Out, Monitoring, and Continuous Improvement Feedback Loop

Roll out the new system implementation at an ideal time by making a launch plan during non-peak hours of the business. This will minimize business risks and disruption in normal business operations. Ensure all is functioning well and as expected by testing all aspects of the system with several select employees before launch deploying to the entire team. 

Break the rollout into manageable phases. This is the perfect way to gradually introduce CRM software to a large number of people in your company. Next, you need to determine how much functionality you will introduce at each stage of the rollout. The first stage of your rollout should be an absolute minimum of functionality and should be small and as least stressful as possible. The initial phase often has the greatest difficulties due to the shock from the teams which can occur even with solid training. 

Inaccurate and inconsistent data will only lead to frustration, further errors in business decision making and planning, and can even harm customer relationships when it results in unreliable delivery and poor performance from your team. If your system requires constant manual or duplicate data entry it’s going to be prone to errors and inaccuracies. These issues inevitably lead to higher costs with little benefit to the organization or consumers. 

If you are struggling to gather the insights into your own organization, considering a new CRM and improving data governance measures may be vital to solve the issue. Automating your CRM can help manage and report on clean, organized data to improve company effectiveness. However, regular auditing and strong data governance processes will also need to be addressed to ensure the automation isn’t creating issues of its own. 

For international or large national companies, the location of employees may have an impact on how the training is received and how confident they will feel with the change. While all CRM implementations begin with extensive employee training, it should also include feedback loops to ensure your teams can work unimpeded while the experts fix issues as quickly as possible.  

After your initial implementation, it’s vital to set a regular and ongoing evaluation of the system. Consistently monitor post-implementation usage and reassess processes monthly, quarterly, or as needed depending on issues that are raised in your feedback loop. Categorize these requests on a priority scale to identify if the issue must be addressed immediately or if it can be updated during a future roll out.

Regularly communicate with the implementation partner about all your concerns and issues with the tool as it is used in the production (live) environment. While some of these issues may be out of scope, the vendor should be willing to work with you for a reasonable rate to ensure your team is happy with the final results. Make sure the team is addressing any immediate bugs or previously unknown implementation or integration issues as soon as possible. It is normal for a team to try new features and fail at full implementation at the first pass. 

The most important aspect is that issues are addressed immediately. The sooner something fails, the sooner the team can address the issue - ideally before it impacts the customer. Always remember to have a backup of all systems in case the rollout runs into a catastrophic failure and the old system needs to be reinstated to avoid impeding the daily operations of the business.

In addition to standard bug or implementation issues, you should meet with your employees to find out what works well and what challenges they face when using the new CRM. You can use this information to create new workflows for continuous improvement. Collecting employee feedback is critical to full adoption.

Customer engagement metrics are one of the most valuable components of CRM software, helping companies track customer satisfaction and drop off points at each stage of the sales funnel. Assessing the effectiveness of each customer interaction is another important feedback loop to implement once the CRM is in active use. Your implementation partner is also likely adept at analyzing data from a multitude of interactions and providing recommendations to improve results at each stage.

Identify the benchmarks in your industry for your sales funnel to ensure that your business processes are aligned with the best in class results. Customer feedback speaks volumes about their experience with your company processes. If you see a larger than expected drop off percentage between stages, it may be due to an internal process that could use further improvement. 

The ongoing updates in your customer relationship management system and ever changing processes for your teams enable long-term success. Companies that continuously adapt and use technology to their advantage thrive, whereas businesses content with the status quo often falter in time. Selecting the right CRM and implementation partner as well as engaging in continuous improvements with your processes will ensure long-term success for your organization no matter what new challenges occur.

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.

Part 4: How to Choose When Criteria Scoring Removes All Options

While most companies will find a good CRM using the selection criteria we have outlined in this series, there is no such thing as the perfect CRMs for a company. There will always be something missing that you or your teams wish they had. As integrated and all encompassing as these systems are becoming, they inevitably aim to address as wide of an audience as possible. Some smaller CRMs that focus on niches provide the most ideal situation if you can find one that matches your business. 

However, those are often the most difficult platforms to integrate with other tools as/when needed so make sure they truly cover your requests. Regardless, a variety of opposing team requirements may seem to remove any one leading CRM solution during your research. In that case, we outline how you address potential conflicts by analyzing the overall value to the organization and the restrictions any final decisions may create.

While nearly every CRM offers advanced automation and integration, there is always an exception or some aspect of the tool that you wish you had. A particular CRM may look perfect and sound right in discussions with the CRM sales team. However, when you or your team perform the required evaluation of the CRM during a demo, you may find that it does not meet your needs and end up removing the system from your list of potential options.

crm evaluation

If a CRM product cannot adjust to multiple deployment models / processes and is unable to make more comprehensive changes along with the growing needs of the organization, then the product is not sustainable. Therefore, make sure that your CRM products meets your current and likely future state of IT infrastructure, business processes, customer needs, etc. If an existing system needs to be integrated into the CRM, make sure you address that in your research. Not everything integrates well with all CRMs so you may need to find an alternative solution in some cases. Plan your integration needs in advance to avoid wasted time, money, and resources during the implementation. When you run into a potential issue, assess the situation based on the following criteria to ensure the solution is the most beneficial to the organization as a whole.

Focus Success on Revenue Potential and Opportunity Costs

It would be easy to assume you can apply a score to each area of the business need and CRM implementation but there’s a chance that the scoring model is biased towards one team or a specific request. So instead of focusing on team requirements based on who is yelling about it the loudest, start at the impact to revenue. Assess the real impact to net growth that each team’s focus area provides. Assess those requirements on benefits and potential opportunity costs such as time savings for the team through automating processes and additional team members that may be required with the expanded technology stack.

Revenue potential is the most crucial consideration and yet the trickiest one to forecast because the actual benefits will be based on previously untested process improvements. Use online research that analyzes the uplift of CRM improvements or implementations to support your decision making process. Narrow in on research that applies to a similar businesses model to your organization for the most accurate picture of potential return on investment. Multiply those results along with estimated continued growth over a variety of years to get the full picture of the benefits of switching to the new system, then address the costs that you have analyzed during the research.

As the business grows with this new CRM implementation, the cost of add-ons and integrations to supply and meet those changing requirements is also important to calculate against the revenue benefits identified. These costs can easily add up and you wouldn’t want them overtaking any uplifts in returns. Failing to get an accurate estimate of the project’s implementation duration can also create additional opportunity costs adding negative impacts on your revenue potential. 

The bottom line is to map the value of everything to see the big picture before you begin the process. Value mapping will ensure you can control the associated costs ahead of time. Once you determine all possible and potentially hidden costs of each stage of the project and potential integrations, the leadership team can better assess the value of your team’s requests and any potential workarounds if something they need isn’t inherent in the chosen system.

Identify Integrations to Overcome Barriers

There are several main aspects of the business where your CRM tools have a large impact: marketing, sales, and customer support. Your CRM tools may be advanced with all the right features built to address these team’s intended outcomes, but each group deals with unique processes and activities that may also be carried out in a variety of external platforms to ensure success. Those systems are ideally connected directly to the CRM to automate the processes of executing the job completely and efficiently. 

However, every integration is likely to come with additional costs which should be addressed against the option to chose another CRM which may include the process inherently. Ideally, the integration is expansive enough to connect multiple dedicated platforms such as a marketing automation tool or customer service ticketing system. Additionally, each tool and integration may require a dedicated manager so that you can fully optimize not just your tools but your business’s capabilities between systems. 

The goal is to find solutions that match all your required platforms to address a multitude of business needs. Aligning these tools with your business goals while allowing for extended integrations means you do not have to be limited to one software solution. Research integrations that solve a variety of team requirements without adding too much complexity or cost. Working with your implementation partner to identify beneficial workarounds through integrations widens your CRM selection options. Because most CRMs can be limited in building out fully automated omnichannel marketing as an example, you might want to work with more sophisticated technologies dedicated to solving those issues which are built to connect to your CRM. 

choosing a crm

Marketing automation products like HubSpot, Marketo and InfusionSoft are integrating with GoToWebinar and other video platforms to better reach customers in the current environment. Many sales force automation applications, such as those above and from, SugarCRM enable companies to accelerate leads from marketing activities into the proper sales processes with ease. None of these systems addresses all the possible benefits of new technologies without connecting to other systems which is why they maintain their API and webhooks that allow for these forms of automated connectivity and activation. By addressing missing areas of importance within the most effective CRM through integrations, you can maintain a significant list of CRM options that address all your team requirements and end up with the most cost effective and beneficial system for your organization.

Understand Long Term Impacts of Your CRM Choice

The final step in addressing the best CRM option when other selection criteria are removing too many options is to address the long term viability of the system. By analyzing if the system being reviewed could provide the intended result with an integration, you would next need to make sure the tools are likely to last the test of time. Between the unknown changes to your organization, rapidly developing technology, and changes in team leadership over time, the system needs to be able to address a multitude of optimizations possibilities with as few limits as possible. Will the current setup be able to grow with the company or are you already running into data limits or API integration issues due to limits on the CRM or external systems? ‍ 

If you don’t plan on being with the final selected system for quite a long time, then the investment would be wasted. Therefore, long term viability should be a primary concern and the main CRM List cutting factor. You can expect that the long term impacts of a customer relationship management system implementation will be an increase in sales, rise in customer loyalty, and workforce optimization. However, with unprecedented and challenging times, comes unforeseen threats and obstacles that could negatively impact the business without an agile CRM that evolves with the company.

Taking into account the initial upfront costs of a Customer Relationship Management System implementation, most companies seem to experience low to moderate increases in cost. However, some CMO's report that the initial costs were only a small percentage of the overall total costs of the implementation. Since it’s difficult to nail down the full cost of a new CRM implementation and the ongoing costs after rollout, making sure your teams adopt the new system entirely and maximize its benefits to the company for the life of the program is vital. With proper training, you can ensure long term success regardless of the system being implemented to ensure a higher likelihood of success with your new CRM. 

Third Party Independent Support in Deciding the Right CRM

Since there are no perfect CRM systems for every use case, your team may still be addressing potential issues at any of the phases outlined in this series. If you are looking for a free consultation to support your final discussions or looking for a full implementation partner, we are happy to help. Reach out to get connected with a CRM specialist for a professional set of recommendations or get started with a professional team that can do all the work leading your team to a successful implementation.