Choosing the best CRM for sales [Insider’s guide]
Estimated reading time: 25 minutes.
“I remember the first time I got my own CRM for sales, nearly 10 years ago” recounts author and sales coach Adam Metz. “It cost a few hundred dollars all in and it was actually a desktop app that synced to the cloud once a day for backup. It now seems kind of quaint, but, it helped me start my book of business that today has over 10,000 contacts in it. I can say that I’ve had a personal conversation with almost every single one of them. And that’s thanks for the most part, to good data management.”
There are two main reasons sales CRM adoption fails for sales teams trying to increase their performance. But first let me get the basics out of the way to get everyone up to speed on the terminology and what a sales CRM is.
Jump ahead to:
What is a sales CRM and why use it?
Do you need a CRM for sales? 5 signs.
6 steps to selecting and choosing the best CRM for your business.
The core features of a great sales CRM.
The 12 reasons CRM user adoption fails.
What is a CRM for sales and why use it?
A sales CRM or Customer Relationship Management tool is software used by sales and marketing teams to track the interactions you’ve made with your contacts and customers, and manage follow-ups.
From something as simple as tracking when you last emailed them or sent them a birthday card, up to what they ordered, where they are in the sales cycle when deciding to purchase from you.
This all sounds easy when you have 5-10 customers (and it is). However, it fast becomes unmanageable when you have 100, 500 or more customers and you are talking to different people within those companies. As companies and sales teams grow 65% of businesses adopt a CRM within their first 5 years. In fact investing in sales CRM technology became a top priority for organisations last year.
In larger organizations a CRM ensures all departments, finance, support, marketing and sales all have the same information and makes customer interactions more efficient and effective.
The sales CRM software market is expected to grow to a $36.5 billion market worldwide in 2017 – According to Forbes, Businesses all over the globe are leveraging the power behind this system!
In a sales team, a CRM can assign territories and customers to individual sales people. This ensures no one else is trying to sell to the same people. The right CRM will also guide a sales person on their sales process. It ensures customers are always followed up with and more deals are closed as a result. Research from The Bridge Group of 355 leading B2B sales teams revealed that “sales development reps who make 12 contact attempts (instead of the average 8) perform 16% better!”. Without a tool to manage those interactions opportunities will be missed.
Your CRM will deliver a ROI of $8.71 for every dollar spent. – Nucleus Research.
Management can get insights into the sales team and deal pipeline for the future and look for opportunities to optimize the sales process.
There are as many different versions, iterations, add ons and names for CRMs on the market as there are different types of industries. But at the core, nearly all CRM software have the below features in common.
6 steps to selecting and choosing the best CRM for your business.
Before you start. The #1 reason CRM adoption fails!
It is easy to buy software for your business. It is less easy to get everyone to adopt and use it day to day. Low user adoption is one of the biggest (and expensive) reasons why software fails in an organisation. Salesloft report CRM adoption rate at less than 50%.
One of the biggest reasons users do not adopt and use a CRM is due to neglecting to clearly define the business objectives for the CRM.
85% of companies that buy CRM software to automate sales do not pick the right tools because they fail to define business objectives or to develop processes for meeting objectives. – Gartner analyst Robert DeSiste
- List out the top 3 business objectives you want the CRM to help you achieve.Bedrock Data suggests the following business objectives:
A. Improve the efficiency of your business.
B. Expand the number of customers you have and the business you do with them.
C. Enhance the performance of your sales, marketing and support teams.
- Select 3-5 CRM applications you think might be a good fit.
Do a google search and ask around your network for recommended solutions.
- Choose a list of core features and evaluation criteria. Check our list below or use this ready made list.
- Obtain the total price for delivery (Inc all setup, integration, onboarding costs and training).
- Score each sales CRM on how closely each CRM feature matches your criteria.
- Research and get a demo or webinar from each.
Count up the results using this score sheet and select the winning CRM vendor.
The core features of a great CRM
Setup and Admin
Ensure the CRM is within your budget. How many user seats are needed? Are there set up costs? Ongoing support costs? On-Premise solutions are usually expensive. The expenses include the cost of software, hardware, installation and administration. Depending on complexity, these CRMs will cost from several thousands to tens of thousands dollars. This may not be feasible for many small business companies, but might not be a problem for large corporations with an inhouse team. Online sales CRM systems can be as low as a few dollars per month, but keep in mind the payment is usually on-going, you pay as long as you use the system. At the same time, you can always stop using your current Online CRM and easily switch from one solution to another as you are not usually tied to a long term contract.
2. Hosted (Cloud based Saas) sales CRM
An online solution frees up your sales and management team to access customer data from any location. An on-site solution ties down that data to a set physical location. The best solution depends on if you need that freedom.
3. User Onboarding
As you will read below, the second biggest reason a CRM implementation fails is lack of proper user training and onboarding. Look for a CRM that will support your team to get up to speed with the CRM and its integration in your business. Onboarding is not necessarily a one time event which leads to the next important factor…
4. Great customer support
Your sales reps are going to have ongoing questions about the CRM and how to use it effectively. New team members will join as you grow and others will leave. A good CRM will have a great customer support team to help your sales team use the application to make more sales. Look to see if the CRM offers support in your time zone. Is it just via email or an online helpdesk ? Or do they offer live customer chat, webinars or phone support?
Back in 2016, access to the web via mobile devices finally over took desktop usage. Your sales team wants and needs to access sales information 24/7, in and out of the office. Mobile access is a vital component to their success. In fact according to Nucleus research sales reps saw productivity increase by 26.4% upon adding mobile access to their CRM application. Not only will a mobile CRM increase sales productivity, it’s also a significant factor in helping sales reps meet their sales quotas. Ideally your CRM of choice will have dedicated Android and iOS mobile and tablet apps to give you and your sales team access from anywhere.
Ensure you can access all the key functionality you need on mobile as well as the desktop, as some mobile sales CRM apps offer a cut-down feature set of the full application.
6. Contacts / Companies / Accounts
Some companies sell to one particular contact within a company. Others sell into a company and deal with many different contacts across different departments. Account based selling describes the goal of selling into a particular company, drawing up a list of possible contacts within that company and systematically targeting those contacts to get a foothold within the organisation.
If you are selling to individual contacts a simpler CRM for sales is fine for you. If you are doing company or account based selling your CRM needs to understand the relationship between contacts, the company they work for and associated contractors and consultants they have relationships with.
7. Duplication and merging
Capturing duplicate contacts and leads is impossible to avoid. Contacts get entered by different members of your teams and sometimes automatically if your systems are connected. And the same contacts will sign up to many of your campaigns and offers.
Ensure your CRM can search and find duplicates and allow you to merge them into a single contact. The higher the quality of your database the more your teams will trust it and less resources are wasted.
“When I had my first CRM for sales, I had about 2000 contacts in it. Even a small CRM like mine was degrading at nearly 2% per month, according to D&B. People change jobs, they change their names, and business data goes bad, fast.
That means that your squeaky-clean small CRM begins the year with 2000 accurate contacts, and ends it with only about 1569 clean contacts. If 22% of my potential customers were walking away every year, I’d invest a small amount of time into cleaning their data.” – Adam Metz
8. Sales leads
Beyond simple contact management, your CRM needs to understand the concept of what a sales lead is. Ideally, it should be able to track where a lead came from and what stage that lead is at in the sales process. A CRM will allow you to assign leads to particular sales people for follow up and moves that lead through the sales stages towards closing a deal.
9. Opportunities / Deals
At the last stage of a lead funnel and sales process you need the ability to create deals or opportunities and attach them to contacts. A sales person can then see if they are on target and management can begin to see their projected revenue for the future and plan accordingly.
It is essential for a sales person and team to record their activities within a CRM. Being able to see when you last contacted a lead, what their response was etc. You build up an invaluable picture of a contact and the effort and time it takes to close a sale which in turn allows you to plan for the future.
At a management level a sales manager needs to see how their sales reps have performed.
11. Tagging / grouping / segments
Every so often you will need to contact just the customers who bought product x, or maybe the ones in a certain city, or the leads your team captured at a conference, or downloaded a resource from the website. Tagging, grouping and segmenting provides multiple ways to slice and dice your customer data for analysis, marketing and targeting.
12. Custom fields (Contacts, Accounts & Deals)
Every business and organisation is different so out of the box no CRM for sales fits everyone. A good CRM needs to allow for customisation. Ideally you should be able to add your own custom information to contacts, accounts and deals relevant to your business type.
13. Document attachments
There is nothing worse then having to hunt down files, specs, quotes and other documents across different folders, email inboxes and systems. The last thing you want to be doing is wasting a sales person’s time. A simple feature your sales CRM should be able to accommodate is attaching documents and files to a contact ensuring all data is in the one place and never gets lost.
14. Task management with Next Action guidance
The biggest difference between high performing sales teams and low performing teams is process, and persistence. The bridge group researched over 300 high performing sales teams and found that high performing sales development reps followed up with contacts on average 12 times. On average teams reached out just 8 times.
One of the key drivers is never finishing with a contact without setting a Next Action on how to follow up next. It is a small thing but a huge driver of performance.
After a certain number of leads and contacts the best sales person is simply not going to remember when they should be following up with everyone, what appointments they set and what the next actions are. Look for a CRM that will, not just notify your sales reps what they should be doing and when, but also prompting them to set the notifications in the first place when they are finishing their last interaction with a contact.
Too much data entry, while great for management reports, is simply a waste of a sales persons time.
It’s time they could be on the phone selling to a prospect. And sales people know this.
A certain amount of data entry is needed to be effective but it needs to be as easy and as fast as possible. You want to be paying your sales people for making sales, not data entry.
16. Automatic data capture
Look for a CRM that provides tools for automated data entry. Many CRMs have browser plugins that will detect a leads contact details on a website and automatically import them into your CRM without having to retype or copy and paste it in.
17. Bulk import
When your marketing team assign a list of leads they collected at a trade show, you need to be able to import them in bulk to the CRM. The most common method is the ability to import a .csv or excel file containing all the contacts in one go.
18. Integrated lead capture
When your website or marketing campaigns captures a lead, ideally that should automatically be imported into the CRM. Some CRMs provide the lead capture forms for your website directly. But most integrate with a range of 3rd party systems that will push the contact details to the CRM.
CRM sales systems that don’t offer the ability to connect to other parts of your business (like lead generation, lead nurturing, accounting or communications) are not serving your company in a way that maximizes revenue. It can also cause issues in user adoption when an organisation is not fully behind a CRM implementation. And why should an organisation get behind it when it only supports the sales department. Look out for the following core integrations:
19. Gmail and Outlook.
Two of the most common email platforms. A good CRM for sales should be able to import contacts and emails to build a history for a customer or company.
20. Email sending
Even better is if you can connect Gmail or Outlook to the CRM and then send emails directly from within the CRM application without having to switch between different systems. Bonus points if the CRM then allows you to track if your emails were opened by a prospect.
21. Email marketing
Integrations with an email marketing platform like MailChimp will allow you to quickly select a segment of your contacts and send them an email newsletter. An example would be selecting all the contacts you met at an event and sending them a bulk email to thank them. You can include further details on how to follow up with you. Or you might notify all or a segment of your customers about a new product update.
Ideally this should work in two directions. Before you call a contact, you should be able to see in the CRM if they paid their last invoice or what their last purchase was. When you make a new deal with a customer you should be able to send the details of that deal over to accounts to create a new quote or invoice.
The ability to connect your CRM to marketing is a huge opportunity for sales. It gives your sales reps the ability to see when a new or existing contact downloaded a resource from the website. They can see when they last received a newsletter or other promotional material. This means a sales person can perfectly time a follow up call when they know the prospect is ready and interested.
24. Customer support
Imagine calling a customer to renew their account for another term only for them to angrily tell you they have been talking to support all day with an issue. Not the best timing.
Your CRM needs to pull in this kind of information from across departments for sales to effectively do their job.
With a central customer record and history, the support team can be more effective and support times can be reduced.
Zapier is a tool that allows you to connect apps you use every day to automate tasks and save time. It connects to hundreds of different apps and services. So if your sales CRM talks to Zapier, it can then talk to all these services as well.
26. Webhooks / API
Sometimes the business system you want to talk to does not have an easy integration or Zapier connection. In this case you might need to get a programmer to code something bespoke to connect the two systems. For this to work your programmer needs access to your CRMs API or Webhooks. So make sure your CRM has one or the other.
27. Social media
Being able to research prospects online before reaching out to them can help turn a cold lead into a warm prospect. Being able to see what they are talking about on Twitter, what they studied in college or if Linkedin says they have just moved job arms your sales team with a great conversation opener. It can help put your prospect at ease and help build a relationship.
28. Import and export
Quite simply can you import and export your contacts to move them between systems. Most systems allow you to do this with a .CSV or Excel file. Ensure you can move notes and tags with your contacts as well.
Reporting & management features
A sales pipeline is a visual representation of the stages a prospect goes through when buying your product or service.
You should be able to see at a glance, how many leads you have at each stage. If they have just made an initial enquiry, if a sales person has given them a demo, has the prospect asked for a quote or if they have become a customer.
Being able to understand which stage any prospect or deal is at and how likely they are too close, you can begin to project future trends and know early if goals will be met.
A sales pipeline helps you understand your sales process and forces you to clearly define it so you can measure and improve.
The sales pipeline usually includes the following four metrics:
- Number of leads and opportunities in your pipeline.
- The average size of deals your team are working on.
- The percentage of deals in the pipeline that are won.
- The average time it takes to close a deal from start to end.
30. Sales Forecasting
Closely linked to the sales pipeline, sales forecasting is the process of estimating future sales. It will look at the leads going into the top of your sales funnel or pipeline, the average time it takes to progress each stage and the average close rate. It will allow sales managers to predict achievable sales goals, efficiently allocate resources and plan for future growth.
31. Team Activities
When it comes to effectively coaching your sales reps, identifying issues and improving the overall performance of your sales team you need to be able to see activity on an individual sales rep basis. If a particular sales rep is hitting their targets out of the park, you need to see what they are doing differently so you can learn and apply it to the rest of the team.
Security and reliability
You need to be sure that your customer data is stored on secure servers and uses a security (SSL) cert. A common configuration for web apps uses industry-leading Amazon servers in data centres protected by physical barriers and guarded 24/7. The data is encrypted using 256-bit encryption, very similar to internet banking.
A secure website will show a green lock icon beside the web address in a browser and will start with HTTPS like this Paypal example.
33. User security
A good CRM will have secure user roles with strict permission settings. It ensures that the sales people with access to the CRM can see only the leads and information they need to.
34. Regular data backups
If you’re using a cloud based CRM system (meaning your data is not stored locally but on a secure server), you need to know that regular back up’s are being undertaken on daily or weekly basis.
35. Server uptime
Ensuring you have access to your CRM 24/7 is vital, so checking out the “Uptime” can also be a deciding factor. 100% uptime is nearly impossible or if absolutely required will cost more than the GDP of an entire country. In reality software companies may on occasion experience “downtime” to facilitate major application updates. Having an uptime above 99% is a realistic level of reliability where you and your team should not notice any down time..
36. User reviews
Trialling a product, doing the demo and researching the features will only get you so far. You need the opinion from those at the coal face using the product day in and out. Google for “Product name Reviews”. Look at the company’s Twitter and LinkedIn pages for reviews and testimonials. Product listing sites like capterra.com and g2crowd.com often have customer reviews and do not forget to check app store reviews for the mobile version.
37. Ease of use
There is no point getting a CRM that can do everything but no one can use it. An effective CRM helps a sales person do their job quickly and effectively then gets out of the way. It needs a simple and intuitive user interface where a sales person is left in no doubt what to do next and how. Research by InsideCRM found that 55% of sales reps named ease of use as the most important feature for them.
Ease of use is one of the key reasons CRM adoption fails which you can read below.
38. Low data entry
As mentioned above. You do not want to be paying your sales team to enter data and neither do they. You want a sales CRM where data import is as automated as possible. And where a Sales rep must enter data you want it to be as easy and fast as possible.
And of course, do not forget your 1-3 business objectives above.
- List out the top 3 business objectives you want the CRM for sales to help you achieve.
- Select 3-5 sales CRM applications you think might be a good fit.
- Choose a list of core features and evaluation criteria.
- Obtain the total price for delivery.
- Research and get a demo or webinar from each.
- Score each CRM on how closely each CRM feature matches your criteria.
- Setup and Admin
- Mobile access
- Relationship Management
- Data entry
- Business Integrations
- Data portability
- Reporting & management features
- Security and reliability
- User reviews
- User adoption
- Business goals for the CRM are not defined.
- Lack of ownership.