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How To Choose The Best CRM Software: 7 Tips For Your Small Business

Category: CRM Software

Buying customer relationship management (CRM) software is like buying spaghetti sauce.  You have a fairly good idea what to buy, but as soon as you step into the grocery you’re presented with a whole alley of different sauces in varying texture, flavor, visible solids, etc.: bacon ranch, mac and cheese, spicy red pepper, pesto marinara, creamy vodka… the list goes on and, suddenly, you’re unsure about spaghetti sauces.

Unless you’re in the CRM business you’ll have difficulty not just separating the grain from chaff, but separating different grains, in fact, when shopping for the best CRM software for your business (b2b or b2c).

Since you’re reading this article, we assume you have a minimal, if not zero, understanding of CRM. Hence, we’ll take it from here and provide you with simple tips on how to choose the best CRM software.

But first…

What is CRM?

CRM is the integration of databases of customers, clients and sales and support people that helps you maximize profits by taking the right action based on insights provided by that integration.

The best CRM software allows you to track pending tasks, remember calls and follow-ups to be made, schedule appointments, make quotes, forecast sales, identify potential opportunities and more.   In short, CRM helps remind companies that all their actions are done to achieve one goal: grow the business.

It started as a contact management application back in the nineties, but today’s CRM solutions combine, among other business operations, customer service, sales and marketing, e-commerce, social media (read, “what is social CRM software?”) and supply chain to get things done the right way and on time in the name of profit. When customer services are fulfilled, wastage in the supply chain is minimized and deadlines are met, the company earns more revenues or the chances of it.

How to Get the Best CRM Software

The question is not whether you need CRM in today’s cutthroat business environment, but which different types of CRM software merit the 5 benefits of CRM software. Before buying one, consider these seven factors first:

1. Choose cloud to get you started

Cloud hosted is a good starting point for small business owners. In fact, it’s your best option for four reasons.

  • First, there are no upfront capital costs like servers, tech staff and costly desktop hardware/software licensing
  • Second, you get the feel of different features and tools so you can make better judgment on how to review product comparison in the future
  • Third, cloud (also called web based or online CRM) gives you immediate access to the best CRM today at a fraction of a high-powered on-premise version
  • Lastly, cloud can be deployed immediately the faster you can implement your CRM strategy

2. Know your priorities

Ask yourself first—what is the CRM for in my business? CRM has evolved to include other areas of the business beyond customer service.  The consolidation of various departmental tasks can be confusing when you lack a set of objectives. Is it to improve customer support? Perhaps, reinforce sales and marketing campaigns with business insights? Or compile a history of contacts, leads, deals and conversions for future reference? Maybe you want CRM to scale your operation and close gaps in the supply chain.

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However, we don’t suggest you choose one area over the other. The best CRM software integrates all these business operations. Knowing your priority means that’s where you should scrutinize the software most. Put it in another perspective, your priority should be the top CRM feature of the software.

3. Keep it simple

Choose a solution that is easy to use. Today’s CRM products are often outfitted with powerful features and tools, but they should not compromise ease of use. You should be able to navigate through features and tools seamlessly.

The best CRM is intuitive, that is, it anticipates the need of users with basic CRM knowledge and suggests courses of action. For example, if you’re transferring a file from the task module to a sales module, the CRM software can ask if you want to make a copy for backup. Likewise, the CRM software also gives you the option to stop the suggestions once you get the hang of it.

Vendor terms and policies should also be simple and transparent with clear charges on specific modules, tech support level, upgrades and features, to name a few. Scrutinize the essential features, such as number of users, compatibility with third-party applications and contract duration. You don’t want to be tied up with a vendor that you dislike.

The CRM software should also reduce tasks or the time to create these tasks instead of adding to the responsibilities of employees. This ensures better user adoption.

4. It should be customizable

Each business has unique needs. For instance, the sales turnaround of a retail shop is different from a realtor agency. Make sure your CRM software addresses these varying needs.  In short, it should be customizable to a certain degree like adding custom fields, filters and tags in sales stages so your report makes sense to your operations.

Maybe you don’t need social media integration yet when you’re still building your online presence. Does the CRM lead generation include only the steps that your staff actually performs? Do you really need the maximum number of users when there you only expecting three employees to use the software? Can you create a ticketing system differently for each department? These are just a few scenarios where highly customizable CRM software outperforms the most robust CRM product.

5. Remember the future

Good CRM software should be scalable to match your future business needs. These include up sizing the features and tools if, for instance, you need more users, add more departments or tie up an outsourcing company to your CRM infrastructure.  Scalability also means flexibility in package cost. As your business contracts or expands, so too must you be able to scale up or down your CRM solution to match your current resources.

Read more:  10 Best CRM Software Systems For All Business Types

Moreover, make sure the CRM vendor is stable. Get a respectable analysis how the vendor has performed and will perform in the future by reading industry-oriented articles about the company.  You don’t want to tap a vendor that stays on the red.

6. Make it mobile

Today’s CRM is heading towards mobile. In fact, reported that according to a Gartner forecast, mobile CRM is projected to see a 500% growth in 2014. Mobile CRM has two major benefits that are driving its growth today: it gives your on-location and branch staff access to the CRM infrastructure anytime and anywhere; and real-time applications for faster customer service or sales decision. Some of the critical factors to check:

  • The mobile app should work on all leading mobile device platforms including IOS, Android and Windows Phone
  • Security should be enterprise-grade with object-based security permissions to limit access to authorized personnel only
  • Controls in disabling data access or auto data wipeouts (but with head office backup) in case of worst scenario like lost or stolen mobile phones
  • Smart forms that you can customize to reduce steps in mobile entry (this should compensate for smaller smartphone screens and the inconvenience of tap keyboards)

7. Get a free demo

Nothing beats a drive test before bringing home a new car. So, too, must you ask for a free demo before signing up a CRM solution. During the test run, make sure to involve all parties and get their feedback, even the most trivial. A farsighted person complaining about the text size of the mobile app may earn his colleagues’ banter about aging, but it’s a serious concern if you want that person to be productive using the mobile CRM. List all the feedback along with your own, separating the pros and cons, and weigh if the CRM software is worth buying.


Buying a CRM software product is investing in the future of your enterprise. It’s a long-term plan with long-term impact. It requires a serious decision-making process that requires as much inputs (good and bad) that you can get. The seven tips above are not absolute, but they’ll put you on the right track, which should be your first step to get the best CRM for your business.

By Louie Andre

B2B & SaaS market analyst and senior writer for FinancesOnline. He is most interested in project management solutions, believing all businesses are a work in progress. No stranger to small business hiccups and drama, having been involved in a few internet startups. Prior to his for-profit ventures, he has had managed corporate communications for a Kansas City-based Children International unit.

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