When evaluating customer relationship management (CRM) vendors, making a checklist of your most important requirements is key to finding your best-fit software. From our experience, we’ve found that creating a full checklist of your CRM requirements is the best way to organize your search. If you’re not sure of what CRM requirements are the most common, look no further.
Some Questions to Ask Yourself
Before we get to that checklist, however, there are some questions you need to ask yourself. These questions can help you identify what requirements your particular company needs. Your answers to these questions will go a long way in defining what you need from a CRM system, and can provide you with a few things to think about as you evaluate vendors.
How Big is My Company, and How Many Users Will I Have?
Many people hunt for the best system, and neglect to take into account the number of actual users and size of their company. While a massive enterprise-focused CRM will have tons of functionality, it is likely overkill for a small or mid-sized company that only will have a few users and limited customer base.
How Much Money Can I Spend on a CRM?
Going along with the system size & complexity, 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 a Customer Relationship Manager. The abilities of your prospective users and the type of information you want to track about customers can weigh on which CRM you choose to purchase.
Does the Vendor Have Experience in My Industry?
Once you identify who your users and customers will be, you should consider if the vendor/system is tailored to your industry. The needs of a healthcare provider are different than those of a product sales organization, and the selected system should match 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 apps for iOS, Android, etc., or hybrid/mobile-browser access is an important data point.
Is the CRM Web-Based, or Does it Require a Desktop App?
Some systems require a desktop application to be installed, while others provide browser-based access.
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 wide-spread 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, and deciding which type of solution would best fit your business needs will help drive vendor selection.
What IT Services Does the Vendor Offer?
If you choose to go with a hosted solution, either installed or SaaS, it is 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 Easily Scale to Handle My Needs?
When choosing a CRM, consider future volume and use and whether the software can readily scale to meet increased (or decreased) demand.
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, LinkedIn, and other social platforms form an important part of customer relations and campaigns. CRMs support the platforms to varying degrees, and choosing a system which works with your chosen 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 existing 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 plugins/extensions available, 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 using the system and keeping 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 webpage or demo a vendor has, it is important to look for reviews and ratings of the company and 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 vendors. These requirements are the most common for your average company, so some of these requirements may not be applicable to every company. Keep your answers to the questions above in mind as you read through this checklist.
Essential to the use of CRM is knowing how well your CRM manages opportunities, allowing for the marketing and sales team to collaborate more effectively, maintain better contact management, easier quote/proposal production/management 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 sales teams time with inefficient contact management practices so make sure when you request your CRM demo, you get a strong idea of how contact management works as far as automated workflows and real-time sharing.
Marketing Automation Requirements
CRM and Marketing Automation go hand in hand. How does marketing automation plug into your potential CRM selection. Does all the pertinent information pass over from your marketing automation platform, including current campaigns, all email touches, lead scoring, activity streams and more. There are ample marketing automation platforms out there that connect seamlessly with the top CRM solutions. Your due diligence here is critical as marketing automation will be essential to getting the most out of your CRM (and vice versa).
What are your options for self-education and training? Check for a robust and knowledge base with multimedia training, a wiki, ongoing webinar training sessions and an active user portal. Not all CRMs will have these are not having some of them is not a deal breaker, it just depends on what you organization’s preference is.
Does the CRM platform have a robust and customizable reporting platform, also filled with the most common marketing and sales reports? Make sure you can create your own reports and dashboards. Further, check that the automation and dissemination of these reports is easy to do.
Analytics and Business Enhancement
Check that the solution provides business intelligence (BI) features that can accurately monitor and measure customer service factors and customer satisfaction, leading to appropriate corrections, better customer retention, good client references and new customer acquisition.
There are various phone integration solutions out there like Salesvue, Ipitomy and Ringio that can integrate with various CRMs in different ways including CRM record pop-ups on incoming calls and creating new records in your CRM from cold calling campaigns. Depending on the nature of your call center and business needs, having a phone integration into 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 commonplace. Investigate what kind of integration your CRM has with different email clients as well as email marketing/marketing automation platforms. For example, can sales rep email pre-existing templates directly from their email client of choice (e.g. Gmail or Outlook)?
If it’s important to you, check that the CRM platforms you are considering have quality mobile-bases browser experiences or native apps for your smartphones and tablets. You should be able to get real time access to customer information, sales notifications, create tasks and more.
Part of being a successful with sales and marketing is having fast response time for prospective and current customers. Check if your potential CRM has chat support capabilities, so your team can offer live help from within the website, knowledgebase, your app or self-service support portal to the customers.
Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP)
Does the solution manage inbound and outbound calls, facilitating the execution of inbound and outbound calls inside the CRM, displaying the key details of the call instantly for the reps convenience? In a world where communication can be more simply done through the computer, having VoIP technology as part of your CRM is another way to increase effectiveness and efficiency within your sales team – 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, making sure that the right people have the access they need within the platform – no more, no less. Sales reps should not have administrator level access. Further, advanced access encryption is in place to ensure there is no breach, keeping your customers valuable information safe and in your hands, only.
You should be able to move contacts through specific record stages, e.g. Lead, Contact, Customer, etc. These stages should come out of the box but also be deeply customizable. Master data management of your customer database should be of highest priority of your CRM platform, making 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) as well as policies and procedures detailing how to support the operations. Custom knowledge management is often overlooked by hugely valuable as staff changes. It helps: reduce error, improve efficiency and scale your sales operations.
Social Media Integration
Social media and social selling is huge today – having a deep integration with popular social media management platforms like Hootsuite, Oktopost, Buffer and more is a must have. Marketing and sales will greatly appreciate the added value obtained by integrating a CRM with social media platforms.
The CRM solution enables easy management of all appointments with prospects, leads, colleagues, vendors and other contacts. Here again your integration with marketing automation also comes into play by having all the website and campaign activities of your leads and contacts available within your CRM interface.
The CRM solution has unique customization options that can:
- Help users target many different industries/verticals that go beyond traditional sales and marketing such as healthcare, financial services, 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 more often a standard requirement when shopping for a CRM platform. Salesforce CRM is a popular web-based CRM or SaaS CRM. Otherwise, you may want an On-Premise solution that is installed on your own managed servers and maintained by an internal team. Dynamics CRM is a popular CRM solution also available as an on-premise CRM.
You will want to make sure that security is tight within your CRM platform of choice, checking that it creates and maintains a running log of all administrative and user actions. Having a user activity audit trail can help remedy problems that occur more quickly as well as keeping track of the timing of key process and interface changes to avoid confusion.
Your CRM records are the lifeblood of your organization. Protecting your records is an absolute necessity. Be sure you guarantee that the CRM system you are evaluating provides tools to aid in creating routine data backups and point-in-time snapshots to protect against data loss.
Availability & Scalability
Review contract details to see what potential limitations you may run into while scaling. Specific to the CRM space, check 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 also that you won’t have any extended outage or loss of data if you want to upgrade your account.
We know that we already mentioned how critical it is that your CRM integrates with Marketing Automation systems like Pardot and HubSpot. There are numerous other marketing and sales technologies you may want to integrate your CRM with including 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 is an existing and growing API option within your CRM to better guarantee your ability to connect other important technologies.
Are you selecting a CRM platform that has an open source license that you are free to modify or are you selecting a CRM with a commercial license? Additionally, 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. Check cost, service level agreements, turnaround times and other items that are necessary to get the type of CRM support you believe your team and organization will require.
What is included in your maintenance package including updates, upgrades, services and any costs associated with ongoing maintenance. Further, how will you be notified of any unplanned
Consulting & Professional Services
When you purchase a specific CRM platform, aside from the initial onboarding and training, is there in-house consulting/professional services available for use or purchase? Alternatively, are you going to be referred out to a partner network for advanced CRM implementation/configuration needs?
This is another reminder to not only return to the review sites to see what past and current users have said about the CRM systems you’ve shortlisted, but also check to see if the vendor has been previously used by your organization.
Check out financially stability/status using services like Dun & Bradstreet. Check for funding history (including most recent funding), count of employees, and other indicators that the selection of CRM vendors you’re evaluating are standing on solid ground.
Start by reviewing our CRM Leaderboard for expert analysis of all the major competitive platforms. Between them, there is a sea of CRM features available. Additionally, consider what past and current users are saying about popular CRM solutions by checking out top user review sites, like G2Crowd and TrustRadius.
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, as well as those of our colleagues, companies that utilize these tips end up with a more cohesive, collaborative process that results in what they’re looking for: the best-fit CRM software.
Building 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 (or second time if you dissatisfied with your current CRM).
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 that may have been previously identified, you’ll want to get all stakeholders invited to the document. There are some collaborative tools out there for documents including Google Drive. You can also use a requirements management software, as well.
Gathering requirements and stakeholders together is then followed by having 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, however using a software specifically designed to manage the requirements ranking process is ideal.
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. Further, you’ll be able to discuss the requirements that fall in the middle ranks to understand the potential gains if included and losses if excluded in the CRM selection project.
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 as they will know more quickly if they are a fit or not.
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. Can you think of other questions to ask, popular requirements or helpful tips? Let us know in the comments.