Sometimes, having the option to choose is great. Other times, it can seem overwhelming. For sales and customer service managers, the latter may be true when it comes to selecting a client relationship management system. The vendor landscape has continued to expand as cloud-based systems make it quicker and easier for new companies to emerge and compete. The industry expansion has resulted in a dizzying array of potential CRM providers with an equally dizzying array of features.

What to Expect from a CRM

Setting expectations upfront is a tried-and-true sales technique to help build client relationships. The same applies to software selection: An understanding of how a CRM will or will not impact a business helps maintain realistic expectations within an organization. These are the four main benefits:

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Better organization of customer data can smooth transitions between team members as responsibilities change. It can also assist organizations with sales cycles that include multiple touch points.

Organizations that struggle to get consistent data entry from sales or customer service representatives may also benefit from structured data entry. Structured data entry limits how data can be cataloged. This more consistent data entry is essential for extracting actionable analytics from a CRM.

How to Choose a CRM

Starting out with the right expectations for a CRM is the first step toward CRM selection. The second step is to evaluate a CRM based on the needs of a business. These questions can help identify the critical components of the right CRM:

What Led to This Search?

Throughout the purchasing process, reconnecting to the original purpose behind the search can help narrow the field of CRM candidates.

Who Will Use It?

Many organizations searching for their first CRM have recently outgrown early methods of customer data management, like Excel spreadsheets. If a CRM will be used by only a small number of sales representatives, a simpler platform may meet all company needs. However, organizations that pass leads from marketing to sales to customer service teams may require a more robust platform. One example is a subscription-based software service: marketing generates leads; sales generate paying customers; customer service supports client retention.

Which Features Are Most Important?

The answers to the first two questions why the company needs a CRM and who needs it can go a long way toward identifying the most important features of a CRM.

Another way to approach the question is to consider how executives will measure a successful CRM implementation. If the only determinant is the bottom-line impact, the most valuable features will be those that have the potential to generate near-term sales.

What Fits within the Budget?

A hierarchical list of features can also help fit a CRM into an existing budget. Some CRMs have flexible features even alternative ‘freemium’ and paid versions that permit an organization to scale its CRM usage and costs over time.

If an initial CRM investment funds a platform with limited features, make sure the platform allows customer data to move easily from one system to another. That way, client data remains portable as the need or capacity expands.

How to Maximize the Value from a CRM 

After the selection of a CRM, an initial challenge is getting employee buy-in. With the right platform, gaining that buy-in should be easy. While employees may need to manage an initial learning curve, the CRM features should make their jobs much easier and more profitable.