For a start, sales is a lot more than just clinching the deal. Commonly, it’s about developing a relationship not only for oneself but for the whole company.
It entails not only piling up info about a lead but also keeping it up and further serving it up in a manner that is easy to digest right when the time comes. This is the role of CRM (aka “customer relationship management”) software – to give this crucial insight.
Oftentimes, small and medium enterprises try to reproduce the functional capacities of CRM with merely a broad and ever-expanding spreadsheet.
What Does “CRM Software” Mean?
Yet, CRM software is not simply more comfortable to use than any spreadsheet, it’s far more intelligent – as if your list of contacts chose to develop a brain and take an active part in all sales talks.
CRM documents clients’ contact details and memorizes all details of your relationship as well as each interaction—be it a phone conversation or an email or interaction. It uses such innovative channels as social media or helps the desks of clients.
This information is a hidden gem of opportunity because it lets you identify perspectives for up-selling or cross-selling, turn existing clients to new services or products, focus on new marketing, and, believe it or not, keep an eye on invoices.
This software is foolproof because it prevents marketers from running after the same prospects. Picking out the best CRM software is a way to considerably improve the collaboration and efficiency of any company’s team’s. Also, it can increase sales and considerably heighten the clients’ satisfaction.
How Does the Adoption of Artificial Intelligence Impact CRM?
This impressive impact on revenue can be explained by the miraculous properties of AI-enhanced CRM, which radically differs from what many firms still refer to as Customer Relationship Management.
AI-enhanced CRM is a breakthrough in this field, still featuring employees using spreadsheets to convey info about recent sales via threads in emails.
To make the matters worse, employees may often spread the info by word of mouth, and this means it may be missing when required or it may be absolutely forgotten.
As to CRM software, it stores this info in a single place, productively organizes it and enables marketers to do things based on it.
Such things typically include sending gift cards to loyal customers on their birthdays or suggesting up-selling opportunities to those platforms from which their businesses can reap benefits (as can be inferred from previous talks with the clients).
It should be mentioned that CRM software isn’t only about tracking contact information and keeping it. Whereas most think of CRM software as a predominantly sales tool, it has already moved far beyond this area.
In particular, the departments of marketing and customer services can impressively better their offerings as well as operations with the help of CRM.
They can, for instance, utilize its data to segment demographics in a more effective way and to record and later reuse the customer incident info. CRM software, in addition, facilitates the coordination of actions across departments.
Prices and Add-ons
Setting a price turns out an essential factor when appraising CRM software, yet the analysis ought to center on more than merely the upfront costs.
The biggest share of the CRM software considered opts for per-user pricing. Still, it’s vital to see what exactly is counted in the price and compare it with the characteristics that you require.
Workforce training can gobble a large piece of your budget similarly to upgrades and continuing support.
Think through how much you will need to spend on integrating the software with already operating systems and whether or not additional equipment will need to be purchased.
Of course, the mobile implementation on the seller’s website looks glossy, yet it is unclear if it will look like this after you design the customized forms of CRM that will be used by your company on a daily basis.
Also, maybe, it will mean that the teams of the customer service or sales departments will need to be provided with new smartphones as well as tablets. Indeed, these costs can rapidly add up.
Concerning time investment, experimenting with more than just one program is crucial. For instance, you can pick up the software which will prove most effective for your company.
What’s more, if you are ready to spend sufficient resources on training the company’s staff and customize the new software, it will ultimately turn out well for you.
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Still, not-so-large teams will find investing in software too expensive if this software requires many things upfront; that’s why it might be better to find something that can often become operational within a day. If you agree, make yourself familiar with the support documentation.
It will give you an idea of setup complexity. You will also see the issues you could come across while working with the software that you already use.
Besides, consider using the evaluation period when you can operate your software free. You will have an opportunity to try out key characteristics: importing data, adding information by hand, connecting accounts, and assigning tasks to various other users.
Pay attention to how helpful the program is and whether or not it leads to a bigger workload. Keep an eye on how frequently you need to refer to the help system to perform simple tasks.
Analysis to Increase Implementation
It is imperative that you take time to analyze what your potential CRM can actually do. Yet, researching what you require from a CRM in terms of improvements in your sales cycle is critical, and this is not only to get the bargain on the investments.
It needs to be mentioned that CRM has faced implementation problems in multiple companies purchasing these tools and bolting them onto the present sales workflow.
Try this, and your company’s sales persons as well as managers will probably see the system as yet another obstacle that needs to be overcome on their continual search for a commission rather than a potent tool for helping them accomplish this quest more swiftly.
Since CRM software has become more elaborate, it has developed into many diverse directions. Many options exist for adopting your CRM as part of a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) framework or for installing it on-premises through making use of your own server.
These days, cloud-based CRM is becoming more and more popular because buyers realize its benefits: promptly getting up to speed and having no worries about running software on the servers of your own (things adding complexity and cost).
Moreover, you can find the software that can boast deep hooks into the platforms integrating the management of social media and analytics, and this will help you track down customer interactions that take place on Twitter or Facebook.
In addition, you ought to try the CRM software which offers integration with the existing phone system in your system with the aim of capturing all conversation and call data.
Check out your current business practices, get to know from your staff what they want and what they need, and then compare that with the balance sheet. If you do so, you will promptly get a true picture of the appropriate CRM program for your company.
Well, however tempting it might be to forgo this assignment and merely pay for one of these large all-in CRM software packages (to get quick access to all features you might want to adopt today or in the future), such approach will be too costly. In truth, you will lose more with regard to the time you will spend and the money you will invest. Meanwhile, the level of flexibility you will get will be lower than expected.
Why? This is because these days virtually all big CRM software packages you see in the market are not tools but platforms. In other words, multiple features advertised by them turn out to be the end-product of integrations with numerous third-party solution providers.
These features do not operate as options which can be simply turned on. Here, note that third-party integration is not just about additional licensing dollars but it is will also include new costs spent on implementation.
A far wiser approach is to realize how your workers have to utilize the software along with they actually want to utilize it. Give thought to which tools your personnel are presently using and which procedures they are sticking to.
Discover how these assignments map to the appraised CRM software. Think through what some of the most typical tasks can be.
For instance, in a situation when a tool will cause users to regularly dig through menus and sub menus once they need to log a call or send an email you will find out that the tool is unnecessary because it will, in fact, make the users’ job more complicated instead of making it simpler.
That’s why gather a small team of users aware of these daily challenges to assist you in evaluating. Some examples include front-line salespeople, IT managers or other managers. That will help you avoid paying a premium for characteristics that the staff may never use.
Further, as with all types of software, it’s crucial to reap the benefits of free trials when the latter are offered. If you go for one, make sure to get co-workers from diverse departments run through the software, too, in order to see how effective it is in various situations and in various business practices.
This is an approach allowing you to take out programs that have either too few or too many features as well as a strategy helping you to see how much training is required.
Below you will find the list of companies that commonly provide at least a standard fourteen-day trial (and some can offer fairly long trials up to 30 days each):
- Zoho CRM,
- Apptivo CRM,
- Base CRM,
- Insightly CRM,
- Salesforce Sales Cloud Lightning Professional,
- PipeDrive CRM
In addition, Apptivo, Insightly, and Zoho provide free plans which can be adequate full-time solutions for not-so-large companies or maybe useful as long-term trials for bigger players.
Ease of Operation and Levels of Support
CRM software has to operate intuitively, or you’ll hardly ever want to utilize it. Track down the number of clicks taken to carry out a simple task and how complicated it is to find the characteristics you require.
Apart from its ease of use, all CRM software ought to be capable of managing user errors. For example, when a user tries to carry out a task on the irrelevant screen or tries to input the incorrect data, the best program will spot the user’s errors and offer the right way of doing everything.
By contrast, poorly designed software will either let you make the error unchecked or will throw up an unhelpful error message.
Besides, a quick-to-respond support team is important. That’s why to confirm an adequate kind of support is integrated within your selected subscription and make sure it has adequate hours of availability.
Mobile, Email, and Social Capabilities
Avoid being distracted by those CRM capabilities that you will never use. Make certain that the CRM software you eventually pick out is able to capture the data which is key to your business, enables successful follow-up, and is quite easy to operate so that your team is working with it rather than around it.
Keep in mind that innovative technologies, however slick they may be, are not pervasive by design. For instance, social media operates as a game-changer in interactions with clients. Still, along with quickly evolving social and cooperation apps (for example, Slack), emails remain in the game.
In fact, the majority of clients still expect that they will interact with you with the help of email; and the truth is that an email can still grab far more data than posts published on Facebook or Twitter.
That’s why know how your firm interacts with clients via email and ensure your chosen CRM software operates complementary to the relationship rather as an obstacle. Best CRM software must automatically get data from all email communication without forcing your staff to enter email data by hand.
Additionally, dedicate enough time to evaluating the mobile app in a proper way. Actually, this needs to be regarded a separate application rather than a mobile “capability,” and no extra payment should be charged for it.
Check that your chosen CRM software can adequately support the team’s mobile device platform and prudently evaluate what this application can do.
The best choice is the app offering a smooth and responsive experience, the one that will let you do on a mobile device all things that you will normally do on a computer (yet, typically, presenting differently the operational tools, which can be a difficulty for some users in terms of getting used to).
Developers like Sugar and Zoho are well-known for catering to the mobile staff, offering full-featured, quick-to-respond apps as well as mobile layouts. If your field sales team typically leaves their notebooks behind, preferring to work on the tablets and smartphones, you will definitely need to provide them with the much-needed tools.
Focus on Marketing Automation
The capacity to operate as a lynchpin for an effectively planned marketing automation strategy stands out as one of the most prized aspects of any CRM software, but, sadly, not every software package offers it—even though the majority are starting to get there.
The popular term “marketing automation” describes the software’s capability of reminding sales and marketing professionals to follow up with clients at the right time.
It is the inbuilt automation that reminds you—or, in many instances, handles the challenge for you—of the activities that are needed (for instance, following-up a month after a customer made the purchase with a special coupon).
Besides, it can spread out to other software, such as launching an email marketing promotion grounded on criteria achieved in the course of a phone call with the client, even if this call is initiated within the CRM system.
All this extends to the greatest capability of every CRM platform – lead management. It is thanks to lead management that prospective clients (commonly referred to as “leads”) get tracked and managed across lead generation and acquisition as well as down the sales pipeline.
That’s why pay attention to the degree of marketing automation offered by CRM providers to make sure that you will be able to trigger actions as well as sales stages more effectively on the basis of lead progression.
Other important elements of marketing automation within CRM platforms are email marketing and artificial intelligence (AI) along with machine learning (ML).
Email marketing tools can be in-built whereas or can be delivered through a third party (for instance, Campaigner or MailChimp. As to AI and ML, both of them have started showing up in CRM software. In particular, Bpm’online employs automation and runs predictive technology in order to remind about the tasks that need to be completed and in order to guide users on what to do further.
Value-add integrations are important because it means that new business needs can be met due to reconfiguration and establishment of two-way exchanges of data.
One example of such integration is taking the software that is already in use and connecting it to the CRM software you want to use.
Perhaps, you already utilize the email marketing software that you find excellent or you would like to link your preferred cloud storage service, your current tool of lead management, or your preferred customer service management platform.
Another example is integrating with your product support platform. Reconfiguration and integration lead to the establishment of two-way data exchanges between the CRM system and the helpdesk, and add flexibility.
Integration can be “native” or supported through an open application programming interface (API). “Native” is the easiest because it suggests that there is a prebuilt integration module that you can choose, download, and successfully implement.
API-based integration is the one commonly operating on the basis of Representational State Transfer (REST). It is about building custom integration (done either by your in-house IT workforce able to code or by some out-of-house programmer).
Reports and Analytics
CRM software will manage your company’s leads and deals, and it can also do another important thing for you. Look for CRM that has reporting characteristics which can be easily customized. It will help you see how your staff are performing and understand what types of customers respond.
Find a tool that will enable you to export reports when there is a need to provide the stakeholders with regular high-level data.
Once you have found it, take this API and do the following: simply plug it into your preferred business intelligence (BI).
Because BI will turn this humdrum CSV reporting data into dashboards and live data visualizations.
As a result, you and your sales team, and all others who are able to access the CRM data will be absolutely current on the recent sales statistics, important demographic information, clients’ attitude to the product, and other metrics.
Besides, you will benefit from BI tools due to how they will enable you to combine data coming from multiple sources.
Remember about Security
Put finances in security. Make sure that security is the top concern, especially if you utilize a SaaS-deployed CRM software and your clients’ data is kept in the cloud.
Securing, however, is more than simply maintaining privacy; it ensures that you protect money-making relationships impacting your company’s bottom line in a direct way.
Here you should pay attention to integration. Make sure your selected CRM software will integrate with enough up-to-date IT security programs used in your company, including your identity management system. Use research, too.
Dig deep into the buyer’s SLA (aka “service level agreement”) and find out where your data is kept, who takes care of its safety, and what the consequences are if a problem arises.
Testing Key CRMs
Here we’ve tested several most popular types of best CRM software these days. We have checked Apptivo CRM, Bpm’online CRM, HubSpot CRM, Base CRM, Insightly CRM, Freshsales CRM, Less Annoying CRM, Salesforce Sales Cloud Lightning Professional, Pipedrive CRM as well as Zoho CRM. Bearing in mind all the above-mentioned criteria, we’ve found out that the best three on the market are Zoho CRM, Apptivo CRM, and Salesforce Sales Cloud Lightning Professional.
Still, consider the business needs of yours, the sales team’s size and scope, and the chosen means by which your company will engage and nurture its leads and customer base.
Nataly Otair is a technology writer with more than a decade of experience covering tech issues. She has tested and reviewed all sorts of software, mobile apps, and gadgets. Before launching her freelance business, she was working as a tech expert for Slovenian-based company Introserv.EU, where she negotiated deals and was advising her international clients on server equipment, was closing the deals and solved minor tech issues. Soon Nataly shifted her focus to a freelance style of life and focused merely on blogging and content writing. She is the owner of her own website Content Persona where she regularly posts on topics like Marketing Automation, Google trends, and SEO.