Employee pointing at laptop discussing information with colleague.
Customer relationship management (CRM) software helps businesses keep track of their customers in a central location, with each employee having access to the information. — Getty Images/fizkes

A customer relationship management system (CRM) helps small businesses track customer data while improving marketing, sales and customer service; however, there are several questions to ask about a CRM system before deciding to purchase one.

Ensure your CRM solution meets expectations by asking and learning the answers to these common CRM software questions.

Common CRM system questions to consider

Do I need a CRM system?

There are many factors to consider when deciding whether or not you need a CRM for your company. For instance, a spreadsheet may suffice if you’re a small startup with a few loyal customers. But, manual data entry is error-prone and time-consuming for growing businesses.

Common signs that you need CRM software include having problems keeping contact information updated or experiencing a lack of collaboration between marketing and sales reps. In most cases, paid or free CRM systems improve communications and customer relationships.

Is my company ready for CRM tools?

The best way to answer this question is by completing a CRM assessment. Think about how your team will use and benefit from CRM software. An evaluation provides insights into must-have CRM features and potential barriers to adoption.

CRM software questions may include:

  • Which employees or departments will use the CRM system?
  • Where will team members access the CRM?
  • What devices will staff use?
  • Are potential users familiar with CRMs, or do they need training?
  • What is the main benefit to your company, team and customers?

What is the difference between CRM and ERP?

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and CRM software are very similar to one another, as they both help your business become efficient; however, each type of system uses a different approach.

CRM software is designed to manage relationships with customers and prospects with the overall goal to increase sales volume. It is mainly used by marketing, sales and customer service teams.

ERP, on the other hand, is used to manage internal business processes rather than customers. The main goal with ERP software is to reduce overhead and costs by making business operations more efficient. It’s typically used by finance, inventory and procurement professionals.

How much does a CRM typically cost?

Many cloud-based CRM solutions charge per user, meaning the monthly subscription cost can quickly add up to hundreds of dollars. In addition, CRM vendors may provide tiered plans with higher-priced packages that include more features than entry-level plans.

Yet, there are several free CRM tools available, such as Zoho CRM and Freshworks CRM. While these offer fewer features than paid software, they work well for startups and small businesses.

Like HubSpot’s sales CRM software, other options allow system administrators to allow select users to have access to advanced features while providing other users with access to basic functionality.

However, business owners should assess the total cost of ownership (TCO) for CRM solutions and consider costs such as:

  • Total monthly or yearly subscription costs.
  • One-time CRM implementation expenses.
  • Data migration costs.
  • Onboarding and training expenses.
  • Customization and integration fees.
  • Ongoing customer support charges.
  • Volume discounts or fee reductions for annual payments.

How do I choose the right CRM?

Choosing the best CRM software involves understanding how, where and why you want to use it. You’ll want to consider price, security, company goals and projections, current and future automation, whether you want in-house or cloud-based software, and any anticipated changes you might make within the next few years to ensure the software can continue to align with your company’s goals and status.

Sales CRMs generally focus on sales functions, such as lead management, sales forecasting and pipeline analytics. Customer service CRMs track all customer interactions and integrate with help desk software and business phone systems. Lastly, marketing CRMs offer marketing automation and document management.

While some CRM systems provide all these features and more, they can be pricey. Therefore, it’s best to know what you’ll use your CRM for today and in the future, then look for options within your budget.

What details should I track?

The details you track might depend on your company’s pain points and anticipated goals. For instance, if you’re having issues with personalized marketing efforts, your objective might be to find out where and how your customers spend the most time engaging with your company.

Some additional details you might track include demographics, contact information (from cell phone numbers and home addresses to social media accounts and emails), sales activities, and any other data that might help you better understand your customers as both buyers and individuals.

What CRM features do I need?

According to GetApp, “88% of CRM software buyers want contact management and lead management features.” Assessing your CRM needs will provide clues about must-have features and capabilities.

In general, many companies look for the following CRM features:

  • Task management.
  • Email marketing.
  • Sales forecasting.
  • Deal management.
  • Native mobile applications.
  • Workflow and marketing automation.
  • Document management.
  • Reporting and analytics tools.

Notably, several large cybersecurity incidents stemmed from the use of third-party software, so it’s important to vet your vendors, read through their security details and ask questions about their data retention and backup policies.

What integrations should I look for in a CRM solution?

To ensure functionality, your CRM system should integrate with existing marketing and sales tools. When software “talk” to each other, it’s easier to automate processes and update information. Many CRMs support basic integrations, such as Mailchimp for email marketing. Others provide an application processing interface (API), allowing users to connect custom software and tools.

Ask your current hardware and software vendors about CRM integration to ensure your tools can work with the CRM system you choose. Common integrations include:

  • Help desk or customer support tools.
  • Business phone systems.
  • Website analytics platforms.
  • Project management software.
  • Point-of-sale (POS) systems.
  • E-commerce platforms.
  • Team collaboration software.
  • What type of support do CRM vendors provide?

CRM vendors usually provide limited customer service options on free or entry-level plans, like email customer support. In addition, some offer customer care packages or onboarding services for an additional fee. Paid CRM software packages and upper-tier plans usually come with 24/7 phone support and live chat.

However, unless you’re migrating a lot of data, many CRM systems are easy to install and use. Look over the vendor’s website for self-help resources, as these can be invaluable to small businesses. Popular support tools include user manuals, videos, tutorials, searchable FAQ and knowledge bases, and community forums.

How does CRM security work?

CRM systems use encryption and certified data centers to ensure compliance with local and global regulations; however, data breaches and hacks often occur from outdated software and unpatched vulnerabilities. Notably, several large cybersecurity incidents stemmed from the use of third-party software, so it’s important to vet your vendors, read through their security details and ask questions about their data retention and backup policies.

How do I vet vendors?

Vet vendors by creating a spreadsheet with potential CRM solutions then completing research to answer the questions above. Many vendor websites have a live chat feature to ask your question without making a phone call.

You can also read professional reviews to learn about various features and check out consumer reviews on Capterra, G2 and mobile app marketplaces. Highlight any concerns, and create a list of questions to ask a CRM vendor.

Lastly, obtain a free demo or initiate a trial of the software before purchasing. Encourage team members from different departments to test workflows to make sure it functions as expected. Be sure not to rush the vetting process. Record the responses of each vendor and compare them to find the one best suited for your business’s needs.

How do I implement my CRM?

Generally, CRM software is used across several teams or departments within an organization, so it’s crucial to implement it correctly. Start by involving your team in the CRM assessment and vetting process. Helping staff understand how they benefit increases buy-in and implementation success.

Next, consider if you want a CRM implementation partner or onboarding assistance. While it adds to the TCO, it can also reduce funds spent on labor and resources during the data migration and implementation process.

Regardless of how you move forward, keep the lines of communication open between your employees and supervisors. Doing so will alert you to potential problems and improve the overall process.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published August 03, 2021