So you want to evaluate a few customer relationship management (CRM) vendors, right? We’re guessing maybe business has been going well, but your database is unorganized and marketing strategies aren’t up to par in order to grow. You may have decided it’s time to jump on the CRM wagon and utilize one, but you’re unsure how to proceed in choosing the right one.
Then, an idea sparks. You decide to gather feedback from fellow employees, stakeholders and important parties of the company to lay out what you need this system to do.
Getting to this point has made you confident and eager to buy a shiny new CRM. But there’s one thing you need to know. You’ve only just begun the process of determining the right system for you.
This news might make you feel like there’s no end in sight. You’ve already spent so many hours discussing with your team and you’ve landed on what you’re sure is your final answer. But trust us; jumping into a decision without a solid checklist is not advisable. So it’s time to create a requirements checklist.
From our experience, we’ve found that creating a full requirements checklist is the best way to organize your search and narrow down your results. Now, let’s take a step back, reassess and start from the beginning.
Some Questions to Ask Yourself
Before we get to that checklist, there are some questions you need to ask yourself. These questions can help you identify what requirements your company needs. Your answers to these questions will go a long way towards defining what you need from a new CRM system.
How Big is My Company, and How Many Users Will I Have?
Many people hunt for the highest rated system without taking into account the number of users it will serve or the size of their company. While a massive enterprise-focused CRM will have numerous functionalities, it’s likely that the system won’t provide support in the same way for a small or mid-sized company.
How Much Money Can I Spend on a CRM?
Larger vendors tend to charge more for their software and services. Having a solid budget defined prior to contacting vendors will help keep your selection process focused.
Who are My Users and Customers?
Keep your users and customer base in mind when searching for customer relationship management. The type of customer information you want to track can weigh on which CRM you choose to purchase.
Does the Vendor Have Experience in My Industry?
Once you identify who your customers will be, you should consider if the vendor/system tailors to your industry. The needs of a healthcare provider are different than those of a product sales organization. Because of this, it’s important that the selected system matches your needs.
Does the Solution Have Mobile Device Support?
Modern users, especially sales-oriented ones, tend to use mobile phones or tablets in preference to computers. Knowing if a CRM offers native mobile apps or hybrid/mobile-browser access is an important point.
Is the CRM Web-Based or Does it Require a Desktop App?
Some systems require an installed desktop application while others provide browser-based access. Which deployment is best for your organization?
Will My Users Require Training to Use the System?
The complexity of a system can negatively affect user adoption. Additionally, training takes time, money and commitment. Easy-to-use systems can affect the total cost of ownership (TCO) as well as speed widespread use.
Do I Want to Have Hosted Software or a Fully Managed Service (SaaS)?
There are two main solution types these days: self installed/hosted and software-as-a-service (SaaS). Each has specific benefits and drawbacks, so deciding which type of solution best fits your business needs will narrow your vendor selection.
What IT Services Does the Vendor Offer?
If you choose a hosted solution, either installed or SaaS, it’s necessary to know what IT/infrastructure services the vendor provides. Guided installation, system management, data backups, security and availability are all topics to discuss with your team and the vendor.
Should I Look for Open-Source or Proprietary Solutions?
If you go for an installed system rather than SaaS, consider whether you prefer using open-source or proprietary (licensed) software. While thinking about the options, keep cost, support and IT needs in mind.
Can the Solution Scale to Handle My Needs?
When choosing a CRM, consider your future volume and use. Decide whether the software can readily scale to meet increased demand as your company grows.
Does the CRM Integrate With My Corporate Email System?
Most CRMs can hook up to external email systems such as Microsoft Exchange or IBM Lotus notes. Verify if your system is supported by the CRM to simplify system integration.
Does the CRM Integrate With Social Networking Platforms?
Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms form an important part of customer relations and campaigns. CRMs support these platforms to varying degrees, and choosing a system which works with your top social media sites is vital for modern communications.
What Other Systems Do I Want to Connect With the CRM?
When looking for a new software system, think about the systems you currently use. Do you want to share information between them and the CRM? Can the CRM and the other systems communicate natively? Are there available plugins/extensions, or will you need to write custom connectors for them?
Can I Create Custom Reports?
Being able to report on information relevant to your needs is an important part of data management. Be sure to ask vendors about the reporting capabilities of their systems.
Does the System Have Useful Analytics?
Visualizing system information aids in reporting, status checks and overall system utility. A CRM’s analytical capabilities, graphs and dashboards should help users easily gain insight into the CRM data.
Does the CRM Let Me Create Custom Templates?
Templates for email, social media posts, data entry and forms simplify your use of the system while keeping up with company standards. Look into how easy it is to customize templates and how far you can go with them.
Can We Write Custom Modules Or Hooks to Use the CRM Data in Other Systems?
Some CRMs offer APIs (application programming interfaces) so you can write custom software to interact with the CRM itself. Other systems permit you to create custom scripts which affect the CRM directly.
Does the Vendor Have a Good Reputation?
No matter how impressive a vendor demo is, it’s important to look for reviews and ratings of the company. Check out what people are saying about their software to see how other users view the system.
CRM Requirements Checklist
Now it’s time for that CRM requirements checklist. Through extensive experience and research, we compiled a comprehensive list of the most critical CRM requirements to look for when researching and comparing CRM vendors. These requirements are the most common for the average company, but some may not be applicable to everyone. Keep your answers to the questions above in mind as you read through the checklist.
It’s essential to know how well your CRM manages opportunities and how marketing and sales teams can collaborate. The best systems can maintain better contact management, easy proposal creations and more.
How can you streamline contact management to include data imports (other platforms, APIs, csv files), workflow creation and real-time intelligence sharing? You don’t want to waste your team’s time with inefficient contact management practices. So when you request a demo, gain a strong sense of how contact management works when dealing with automated workflows and real-time sharing.
Marketing Automation Requirements
CRM and marketing automation go hand-in-hand. How does marketing automation fit into your potential CRM selection? Does all the pertinent information pass over from your marketing automation platform, including current campaigns, email touches, lead scoring and activity streams? There are ample marketing automation platforms out there that connect seamlessly with the top CRM solutions. Pardot, Hubspot and Marketo are some highly integratable examples of CRM platforms. Your due diligence is critical as marketing automation is essential to get the most out of your system.
What are your options for self-education and training? Check if the systems you’re reviewing offer robust features with multimedia and webinar training as well as an active user portal. Not all CRMs have these functionalities, so determine if this is a feature you need to have for your customers.
Does the CRM platform have a robust and customizable reporting platform? Make sure you can create your own reports and dashboards. Furthermore, check that the automation and dissemination of these reports are easy to set up. Nothing’s worse than trying to pull reports after monitoring data only to realize it hasn’t been set up properly.
Analytics and Business Enhancement
Check that the solution provides business intelligence (BI) features that can accurately monitor and measure customer service factors. Your CRM needs to easily give you insight into customer satisfaction for better customer retention. BI also allows you to monitor new customer acquisitions to gain great client references in the future.
There are various phone integration solutions like Salesvue, Ipitomy and Ringio that can integrate with various CRMs in different ways. This includes recording incoming calls and creating new records in your CRM from cold calling campaigns. Depending on the nature of your call center and business needs, phone integration with your CRM is very useful.
Obviously email is an essential component to marketing and sales teams. Segmented email marketing, autoresponders and 1-to-1 sales emails are becoming more commonplace. Investigate what kind of integration your CRM has with different email platforms. For example, can sales reps email pre-existing templates directly from their email client of choice (e.g. Gmail or Outlook)?
If it’s important to you, make sure that the CRM platforms you’re considering have mobile-based browser experiences or native mobile apps. You should be able to get real-time access to customer information, sales notifications, create tasks and more.
Part of being successful with sales and marketing is fast response time with prospective and current customers. Ask CRM vendors to see if their platform has chat support capabilities. If they do, your team can offer live help from within a website, app or self-service support portal.
Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP)
Does the solution manage inbound and outbound calls? Choosing a system is never easy, but if the dashboard can instantly display key details of the call it can only benefit your reps. In a world where digital communication is at our fingertips, having VoIP technology as part of your CRM makes everything more efficient. The effectiveness of your sales team can drastically change and is one of the main reasons to use CRM in the first place.
Access Control and Data Security
Having different and customizable user roles is often a large requirement for your CRM. You want to make sure that the right people have the right access they need within the platform – no more, no less. Sales reps shouldn’t have administrator level access. Having advanced access encryption prevents breaches and keeps your customer’s valuable information safe in your hands.
You should be able to move contacts through specific record stages, e.g. Lead, Contact, Customer, etc. These stages should be available right out of the box, but also be deeply customizable. Mastering data management of your customer database should be the highest priority of your CRM platform to make sure data integrity is continually optimized.
Having a CRM solution that is able to generate custom documents outlining how their products operate (as it pertains to your specific organization) is a crucial feature to have. It can also outline policies and procedures detailing how to support your operations to give you a full view of your day-to-day operations. Custom knowledge management is an often overlooked but incredibly valuable feature as staff changes. It helps reduce human error, improve efficiency and scale your sales operations.
Social Media Integration
Social media and social selling is a huge part of digital marketing today. Integrating with popular social media management platforms like Hootsuite, Oktopost, and Buffer is a must for companies who want to spread brand awareness in as many channels as possible. Marketing and sales teams will appreciate the added value generated by easily accessing customer information.
CRMs enable simple management of all appointments with prospects, leads, colleagues, vendors and other contacts. Your integration with marketing automation comes into play by having all website and campaign activities available within your CRM interface and dashboard.
The ideal CRM solution has unique customization options that can:
- Help users target different industries that go beyond traditional sales and marketing such as healthcare, financial services and education.
- Easily create unique reports and dashboards without needing advanced code.
- Create other positive user experience elements that make it easier for sales and management to use the platform.
Many CRMs are web-based or “SaaS” platforms (Software-as-a-Service) and this is a common requirement when shopping for a CRM platform. Salesforce is a popular example of a web-based CRM that many people gravitate towards due to its easy integration. Web-based CRMs are also easier to manage because offsite teams handle updates and coding. Since web-based software’s data is stored in the cloud, they tend to be cheaper than on-premise solutions and can be implemented with limited space and a less robust IT support system as they don’t require servers or hardware. This means that they can be more subjective to hacking, which is something to keep in mind.
On-premise solutions are installed on your own managed servers and maintained by an internal team. Dynamics CRM is a popular CRM solution so you can see how the two deployment types differ. On-premise solutions demand a higher overhead cost and both more space and more technical knowledge to implement, but come with some unique benefits. These benefits include higher levels of security, control, and customization.
Make sure that security is tight within your CRM platform of choice. Check that it creates and maintains a running log of all administrative and user actions. By having a user activity audit trail, you can remedy problems that are too quick to manually catch. You can also keep track of the timing regarding key processes and interface changes to avoid confusion among different departments.
Your CRM records are the lifeblood of your organization. Protecting your records is an absolute necessity. Be sure to note whether the CRM you’re evaluating provides tools for creating routine data backups and point-in-time snapshots to protect against data loss.
Availability and Scalability
Review contract details to see what potential limitations you may run into while scaling. Ask if there are record count limitations that would either cause you to be charged overage fees or block the creation of new records until your account is upgraded. Make sure that you won’t have any extended outages or loss of data if you want to upgrade your account.
We know we mentioned how critical it is that your CRM integrates with marketing automation systems like Pardot and HubSpot. There are numerous marketing and sales technologies you may want to integrate with your CRM. This may include Google Analytics/AdWords, instant messaging apps, more robust business intelligence platforms, etc. Some CRMs will have native integration built in, while others may offer an API to process integrations. Make sure, at minimum, there’s an existing and growing API option within your CRM to better guarantee your ability to connect other important technologies further down the road.
Be sure to ask yourself important questions when it comes to licensing as it can get confusing for buyers. Are you selecting a CRM platform with an open-source license that you are free to modify? Or are you selecting a CRM with a commercial license? License type could also include different levels of the platform like Standard, Professional or Enterprise, each with tiered feature sets.
Don’t overlook the level of support you’ll receive from your CRM of choice. Research the cost, service level agreements and turnaround times that are necessary to get the type of CRM support you believe your team and organization will require.
Most, if not all CRM systems, will offer ongoing maintenance for you to ensure you’re getting the most out of every update, upgrade and service they offer.
Consulting and Professional Services
Is there in-house consulting/professional services available for use or purchase? Are you going to be referred out to a partner network for advanced CRM implementation/configuration needs? It’s important to investigate these items, especially when those services can assist your team to utilize your system correctly.
This is another reminder to return to the review sites to see what past and current users have said about the CRM systems you’ve shortlisted. Dig into your archives to see whether a vendor has previously been used by your organization.
Check out financial stability/status using services like Dun & Bradstreet. You’ll be able to view funding history (including most recent funding), count of employees, and other indicators as to whether your selected CRM vendors are standing on solid ground.
Start by reviewing our CRM Leaderboard for expert analysis of all the major competitive platforms. Between them, there’s a sea of CRM features available. Additionally, consider what past and current users are saying about each solution by checking out top user review sites.
You can use this checklist as a start to gathering your most important CRM requirements. We recommend using a CRM requirements template to organize this part of the process.
A Few Helpful Tips
To help out your CRM search, we put together a few extra tips on how to ensure a smooth search and implementation process. In our experience, companies that utilize these tips end up with a more cohesive, collaborative process. This results in leading them to the best CRM solutions on the market.
Build a CRM Requirements Document
Now that you know the core CRM software requirements, go the intelligent route by building a CRM requirements document. Building this document is a key step in selecting the right CRM the first time.
Start With a CRM Requirements Template
If you need to build a CRM Requirements Document for a selection project, starting with an existing template is ideal. We’ve built a template with the requirements list above. By using a template, you’ll have a majority of the normal requirements businesses look for pre-filled for your use. This will save you a ton of time.
Get Stakeholder Collaboration
Once you have your template and have updated it with any additional requirements, you’ll want to get all stakeholders invited to view it. There are some collaborative tools out there for documents including Google Drive. You can also use a requirements management software.
Your next step is to have each person rank and prioritize the list of requirements based on their specific needs. Setting up a ranking system is possible in a Google Sheet, or you can use software specifically designed to manage the requirements ranking process if your team prefers this option.
Summarize and Formalize
Once all parties have submitted their requirements rankings, summarize the findings into a formal report to be reviewed by everyone involved. You’ll be able to see what requirements are absolutely necessary or unnecessary. You’ll discuss why some requirements fall into various categories to understand what the outcome of each one would be if it were to be included or excluded.
Include in Your CRM RFIs and RFPs
Once the final CRM requirements document has been built, make sure you include it in your RFIs and RFPs. Your diligence to create a thorough requirements document will aide in your requests to vendors.
The CRM software search is a marathon, not a sprint. Although the process is far from easy, asking yourself these questions, gathering your requirements and applying these tips can ease the burden.