How to Choose a CRM: 10 Expert Tips

Last Updated:Thursday, April 18, 2024

Quick summary:

The CRM you choose can make or break your business. First, determine your budget and write down the key features you need most. Second, see what similar businesses use and gather their feedback. Third, research the CRM world and read reviews of the CRM systems you’re interested in. Finally, test a few that offer a free trial and make a well-informed decision. Scroll down for our full CRM checklist!

CRM software was initially designed to help marketers and businesses establish and nourish relationships with new and existing customers.

Today, CRM software has transformed into more than a contact management system. It’s a super powerful tool that helps businesses manage sales, marketing, accounting, point-of-sale transactions, and other types of operational data.

The best part? There’s a wide array of options available. But how to choose a CRM that will meet your business needs and won’t burn a hole in your wallet? Worry not, as we’re here to help! Here’s how to pick a CRM solution that will help your business flourish.


How to Choose a CRM System: 10 Things to Consider

CRM statistics reveal that choosing the right CRM can increase your revenue.

However, there’s a wide range of options out there when shopping for CRM systems, and the plethora of choices makes CRM selection that much harder. That’s where our CRM checklist comes in and saves you time and money.

Here’s what to look for in a CRM:

Note: If you’re still not familiar with the definition of CRM system tools, make sure to get acquainted with the basics.


1. Determine Your Must-Have CRM Features

When choosing the best CRM system, think about the core features associated with different company departments. Moreover, consider the pain points of your business and choose a CRM that can fix them efficiently. Here’s a list of common CRM features and CRM vendors that excel at each one:

Lead Management and Sales

A good CRM system helps you find new customers from social media and website visitors. It can also help you follow up with leads automatically through emails or tasks.

Plus, it can guide prospects through the sales process, from generating leads to closing deals. Some CRMs even let you create and store sales quotes and track invoices.

Salesforce CRM and HubSpot CRM, for instance, excel in lead management and sales. Our comprehensive HubSpot vs Salesforce comparison can help you learn more about both and make a well-informed decision.

HubSpot CRM for contact management

Marketing Tools

Many CRMs come with built-in marketing tools like email templates, SMS messaging, and project management tools. Some even offer features for tracking competition and sales forecasting.

We recommend ActiveCampaign because it’s one of the best campaign management software tools out there. It offers robust marketing automation features, including email marketing, marketing automation workflows, and lead scoring.


E-commerce Integration

Some advanced CRM software includes e-commerce functions, while others can easily integrate with e-commerce platforms. This can be done through APIs or third-party services.

One great CRM with e-commerce integration is Zoho CRM. It offers smooth integration with e-commerce platforms through APIs or third-party services.

With this popular tool, your sales reps can synchronize customer data, track sales, and personalize marketing campaigns for e-commerce customers.


Reports and Dashboards

Most CRM software provides reporting features, and some offer dynamic dashboards. Make sure the CRM you choose can handle exporting and importing data to and from other tools you use.


Call Center Integration

While many low-cost CRM options don’t have call center features, you can integrate third-party call center software with your CRM.

However, if a call center is important to your business, consider choosing a CRM that includes call center capabilities, such as Zendesk or Freshdesk.

The CRM you choose should include a call center software, ticketing systems, live chat support, a knowledge base management, and a multichannel support, among other key features that can help your customer support team work better.

Our Freshdesk vs Zendesk comparison can help you determine which one meets your business needs better.


Workflows and Approvals

Project management is important in CRM systems, so look for CRM systems with built-in workflows and approval processes to help manage tasks and keep things organized. Ensure your CRM can customize these workflows to meet your business requirements.

We recommend Pipefy and Asana for customizing workflows and approvals.

Pipefy is one of the best workflow software with a generous free plan that integrates well with CRM systems for smoother business processes and approvals. It offers customizable workflows and approval processes that help manage tasks and organize projects.

Asana, one of the most popular project management tools, does the same. It provides task tracking, team collaboration, and deadline management.


2. Don’t Invest in a CRM Right Away

After you find a few CRM systems that might meet your business needs, we suggest requesting a demo for each or testing them through a free trial (if provided). If you’re on a tight budget, consider using a free CRM or open-source CRM. For example, Bitrix24, portrayed in the image below, offers a free plan for unlimited users.

This way, you can learn what processes each CRM system can make more efficient or what gaps they can plug into your business process and compare the systems to select the best CRM for small businesses or enterprises.

Bitrix24 Deals Kanban View


3. Consult Your Team

Whether you’re choosing a CRM for a small business or an enterprise, ask yourself who will use a CRM system on your team.

Involve every single team member who will be learning and using the software and get their input and feedback in the decision-making period. 

Some questions you might field to your team include:

  • What’s your level of CRM knowledge?

  • Can and will you learn new software?

  • Are you more data-oriented, visually oriented, or natural language-oriented?

Remember that not everyone has the same opinions and skill sets when choosing the right CRM software. Hold a team meeting, whip out the whiteboard and marker, and start taking notes from future CRM users.


4. Check for Compatibility

The next big thing to keep in mind regarding CRM implementation is your current SaaS ecosystem. No single bit of software exists and functions alone.

Therefore, consider what software you and your team already use and ensure that the CRM app you choose is compatible.

For instance, medical staff might be using EMR, EHR, or PHR software. So, they must ensure the CRM they choose is compatible with their current system. They should also learn the differences between EMR vs EHR vs PHR to make a well-informed decision.

One of the ways to approach this issue is through integrations.

A lot of amazing CRMs integrate with other apps through native integrations or third-party connector apps like Zapier. Often, native integrations work more smoothly, so keep that in mind.

Another thing you might take into account is shopping for a CRM made by the same brand or vendor as other apps you use, which makes it easier to integrate their add-ons or functions.

Monday CRM Integrations

5. Consider Customization Options

You can use most CRM software right out of the box, while others require a high degree of customization and personalization. 

These days, the ideal CRM platform is probably a mix: ready to go but with the ability to personalize some tools, templates, and workflows.

You need to make sure that the CRM you opt for has the right amount of customization that fits your goals. In other words, you’ll need to understand who on your team requires more bespoke tools and if they can handle the customization process themselves.

You should also ensure that not everyone is customizing too much without sharing their changes to help you stay on the same page as your whole team.


6. Consider the Ease of Use

Our next important point when helping you make the right choice for a CRM solution is user experience. Now, this is not to argue that a user-friendly tool is better in all cases and contexts.

To identify your needs regarding ease of use, consider how skilled your team already is with similar software and how eager and able they are to learn new tools.

If you have experienced users on your team, you can forego some simplicity for more advanced features and the best CRM functions. Ultimately, it is a balance.

It is also likely, for example, that your sales team will have different skill levels than a marketing team or customer service team.


7. Don’t Overlook Scalability

One of the key benefits of using a customer relationship management tool is growing your contact and customer network. Only from there can you begin to think about sales and profits.

Let us say you’re starting as a small team, a startup, or a small business; you don’t intend to stay small forever, right?

So, what you want from a new CRM software is one that is appropriate for your small-sized operations but that can be easily scaled up in terms of features and functionality as your network expands and your business operations grow.

You may not need a plan that includes a large or unlimited number of users right away, and you shouldn’t be paying for that until your sales, marketing, and customer support teams become big enough to warrant it.


8. Select a CRM That Facilitates Migration

You may already have a lot of your customer information on some other platform, such as Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets, or possibly with an older CRM you want to replace. To save you time when implementing a new CRM, consider whether the new system has tools to help with data migration. 

Pick a CRM solution that offers automated features to import data and convert it to be readily available in the new CRM platform. The last thing you want is to lose access to customer data when importing and migrating it to your new CRM.

Easily importing contacts with Act! CRM


9. Don’t Forget About Mobile CRM Apps

These days, most software is web-browser SaaS (access it and use it); all you need to do is visit the vendor’s website, log in from there, and use the tools right inside your web browser.

If this is enough for you, great. However, when choosing CRM, consider whether you will be using other versions. First, mobile CRM apps can be very useful, especially for salespeople on the road.

Does the CRM have a dedicated mobile app or just a responsive interface? And if the latter, how good is the design? 

Some users prefer a desktop app, which you download from the internet and use offline or at least won’t get slowed down on bad bandwidth days.


10. Cloud-Based CRM is Better Than On-Premise CRM

On-premise CRM means the software is installed and runs on computers within a company’s premises. People used to prefer it because they had more control over their data and security. Now, many prefer cloud-based CRM because it’s easier to use and maintain.

With cloud-based CRM, the software is hosted on the vendor’s servers and accessed over the Internet. This means you can access it from anywhere using the internet, and the vendor handles all the maintenance and updates.

It’s often more cost-effective and scalable, too, as you can adjust your subscription based on your needs.


Bonus: Take Compliance and Security Seriously

As a business owner looking for the best CRM software, it might be easy to get lost while just thinking about what CRM tools can do for you. However, you shouldn’t neglect other important factors like compliance and security.

GDPR compliance is a huge deal, especially if you manage customer data for people who reside in the EU. Many CRMs are readily GDPR compliant. 

Another point is that CRMs offer various degrees of security, which is crucial as you’re trusting them with your company data and your customers’ data. A lot of CRM options on the market offer degrees of security based on your subscription package.


What is the Pricing of CRM?

How much you will pay for your software depends on which CRM you choose. Most vendors have a subscription-based pricing strategy. The final cost often depends on the number of seats or users and the features available.

Typically, most businesses pay a monthly fee per user. Some CRM providers charge a flat monthly fee for a certain number of seats or users.

For instance, Pipedrive CRM starts at $14/user/month and excels at sales pipeline management. Monday CRM, on the other hand, has a free forever plan available for up to 2 seats, while their basic plan starts at $12/user/month.

Then, there’s HubSpot CRM, one of the best CRM software overall, with tools for marketing, sales, and customer service. The starter plan of HubSpot costs $15/month when billed annually. However, the cost can rack up quickly to $1,080/month for 5 users and advanced features.

However, if you’re searching for something user-friendly, consider Less Annoying CRM. It offers a single plan at $15/user/month + tax, and it’s perfect for small businesses and solopreneurs.

But there’s a silver lining: most CRMs provide free trials or free versions, so you can try and see if they meet your business requirements. If you settle for a free version of a CRM, remember that some free plans usually have a limited number of users, whereas others offer only basic features.


Hidden Costs of CRM You Should Know About

While CRM vendors usually display the actual cost of their plans, they sometimes leave out potential hidden costs, such as the following:

  • Pricing Tiers: Check the pricing tiers to make sure they have the features you need at a price you can handle. And think ahead – can you still afford the CRM as you grow? 

  • Data Limits: Some CRM systems have data limits, so you pay more if you need more storage in the future. Inform yourself of any storage or contact restrictions before committing.

  • Integrations: Many CRMs provide third-party integrations and apps but they might cost extra. Check the app stores for prices and see if it’s a monthly fee, one-time payment, or per user.

  • Data Migration: Moving your data to the CRM costs both time and money. And some systems need regular data transfers. Plan out how you’ll move your data to budget for it.

  • Customer Support: Customer support might come with extra fees. Without the premium service, you could face limited hours and long wait times.


What Happens if You Choose a Wrong CRM?

About 70% of CRM projects fail because of poor communication, misaligned goals, and lack of the right team. Rushing into trendy tech without a solid foundation or strategy is another common pitfall.

If you break your CRM software selection into smaller milestones, you will probably get better results and avoid the following consequences of choosing the wrong CRM:

  • You will lose precious time: Learning curves and customization demands can eat into your schedule.

  • Unsuccessful CRM implementation: When CRM implementation goes wrong, it can be disappointing. If the chosen CRM doesn't suit your business needs, it won't deliver the desired results despite your efforts.

  • You will lose your hard-earned money: The upfront cost of a CRM is just the beginning. Unexpected fees and the value of your time can quickly add up.

  • You might lose your clients: When you don't prioritize talking to clients while getting a CRM up and running, it can really hurt your relationships. Clients might start feeling like all they mean to you is business, and that can really put a strain on your connection with them.

  • Lost business opportunities: Budget constraints might force you to cut back on lead generation efforts.

  • Compromised data: Without the right CRM solution, data security could be compromised. Centralizing data in a CRM can enhance security, but only if proper access controls are in place.


How to Choose the Right CRM: Our Final Tips

Choosing the right CRM requires time, patience, and a lot of research. And you could still end up with the wrong CRM system for the following reasons:

  • Third-Party Rankings: Some websites rank CRMs and give opinions on which ones they consider best. But be careful. Often, the systems listed pay to be included or for their ranking.

  • Fake Reviews: CRM companies might create unrelated websites to praise their platforms. Check the homepage, about us, services, and reviews for signs. If it looks basic and the only page is the one you found, it’s likely a marketing tactic.

When you do your homework and take things slowly, you’ll find a CRM tool that makes everything easier and gets real results.


FAQs on How to Choose CRM Software

What Are the 3 Types of CRM?

There are three different types of CRM to meet different needs: operational, analytical, and collaborative CRM. Operational CRM makes tasks like marketing and customer service easier by organizing them, while analytical CRM helps understand customers better by looking at data and promoting business growth. Collaborative CRM helps teams work together to sell products and understand customers using chatbots and call centers and partnering with other companies.


How Do I Choose the Right CRM?

First, identify your business goals and the features you require. Second, explore the best CRM software available and compare their features, pricing, and user reviews. Choose a CRM software that can grow with your business and adapt to future needs. Finally, take advantage of free trials or demos to see how the CRM works and if it fits your needs.


How Do I Find a Good CRM?

You can find a good CRM by asking other businesses in your industry for CRM software recommendations based on their experiences. Additionally, look for CRM reviews and comparisons to find reputable options. Once you find one that meets your requirements, ensure it integrates with your existing tools and systems. Finally, select a CRM provider that offers reliable customer support to help you when needed.


What Should You Look for in a CRM?

When choosing a CRM software solution, look for one that’s user-friendly and allows you to adjust it to your business processes and workflows. Additionally, prioritize a CRM that offers robust security measures to protect your sensitive customer data. Lastly, pick a CRM that offers mobile apps or responsive design for access on the go.