Customers are the lifeblood of most companies, so it's important to maintain excellent communication and customer service. To do this efficiently, companies need a system to store customer information, such as email addresses, phone numbers, order details and notes on interactions.

Tracking this information on paper or with multiple solutions can be tedious and expensive. That's where customer relationship management (CRM) software comes into play.

The CRM market is expected to reach over $80 billion by 2025.

Source: Grand View Research

A CRMs return on investment (ROI), if properly implemented, ranges from $2.50 to $5.60 on every dollar spent.

Source: Inc.

CRM software can boost forecast accuracy by 42% and sales productivity by 34%.

Source: Salesforce

CMS Buyer's Guide

What is Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Software?

CRM software works like a database for storing information about all interactions between a business and its customers.

But it's more than just a database. It automates various processes for the sales, marketing and customer service teams with the main goal of providing better customer service.

CRM software’s history goes back to the 1980s, when the first contact management software debuted as a digital rolodex for storing customer information. Contact management software then evolved into sales force automation (SFA) software that stored customer information and automated sales tasks, such as prospect interaction. The CRM acronym became popular in 1995 when the software began to accommodate a wider range of sales and marketing applications.

Who Uses CRM Software?

CRM software is intended for any business that primarily provides a service or product for its customers. However, there are some vendors that sell a version of their software specifically targeted to small businesses or startups (e.g., Zoho CRM, HubSpot).

There is also CRM software available for specific industries, such as finance, publishing, health care and retail. In addition to customer service, users that benefit from a CRM include:

large buyers

Sales

Sales staff can use CRM software to track prospects or send contracts to close a sale. For example, if a salesperson is on vacation and a prospect is interested in purchasing a product, another salesperson can quickly access relevant information about that person in the software.

Marketing

Most CRM solutions have marketing features, such as lead generation, campaign management and email marketing. CRM solutions can also integrate with marketing automation software for even smoother marketing workflows.

small and medium businesses
industry specific

IT

IT teams can sometimes use CRM software to manage support tickets from internal and external clients, as some vendors offer help-desk functionality.

Call centers

Rather than buying a dedicated solution, call centers can incorporate many call center features, such as autodialing or telephony integration within CRM software.

small and medium businesses

Common CRM Features

Integrated CRM software typically has three main modules: sales, marketing and customer service. The modules can either be purchased separately or together. Depending on the vendor, some features vary on what's considered standard.

Here are some common CRM features.

Contact management

The contact management feature is the backbone of CRM software, as it stores all information and interaction history on a prospect or client. Sales reps can add in a client's contact information with a few clicks or create a contact record automatically from a rep's inbox. Reps can call or email prospects straight from the software. CRM software can also integrate with document management systems such as Box, Dropbox or Google Drive, so reps can access relevant files.

Opportunity management

Another name for pipeline management, the opportunity management feature helps sales reps manage their sales funnel. Reps can customize and track each deal as it funnels down the pipeline. They can also create and send quotes, view analytics and reports on past sales data, and spot future sales trends.

Lead management

Lead management helps the marketing team track lead generation efforts. Leads can be captured from a variety of sources, such as landing pages or spreadsheets, and automatically assigned to a specific sales rep to follow up on. Marketers can also track the effectiveness of their multichannel campaigns.

Email marketing

Email is one of the most important tools for marketing. In fact, for every $1 a business spends on email marketing initiatives, it can expect a return revenue of $38, reported Constant Contact. Marketers can send blast emails to customers, as well as track any bouncebacks, clicks and downloads.

Customer service

Companies need to provide support through a variety of platforms, such as phone, email, live chat, social media and support tickets. They also need an efficient way to manage them. With a customer service module, businesses are able to manage and respond to customers quickly. CRM software can also help businesses develop a self-service portal for customers to browse through a knowledge base, submit a support ticket or update their contact information. For businesses with inbound/outbound telemarketing and field service employees, customer service modules can provide call center and field service functionalities.

Reporting

Reporting and analytical tools help businesses manage performance, generate revenue, and spot new trends and opportunities. Users can create dashboards and reports on various metrics, such as sales quotas, number of leads generated and length of time in resolving customer issues. Most solutions include prebuilt reporting templates or customizable templates.

Top Benefits of CRM Software

Using CRM software comes with numerous benefits, including:

Better organization of contact data

As contact data is stored in a CRM, it becomes an organized hub for easy access and search. Marketers can see whether a lead fills out a form or downloads any content, and a sales rep can easily find out whether they reach out to a contact and the type of method (e.g., phone, email). The team won't have to spend a lot of time trying to search for the right information.

Improved customer service

Keeping clients and customers happy is one of the most important goals of any business. Therefore, if a customer has a question about an order or a complaint about service, having to hunt down relevant information makes it hard to solve the problem. With CRM software, all the customer's information is stored for easy access so the customer service rep can pull it up quickly.

Improved collaboration and efficiency

Because sales, marketing and customer service departments typically work together, CRM software is beneficial in improving collaboration. For example, the marketing team may need to request specific collateral from a client for a campaign and will need to keep the sales rep in the loop. Or if a product is defective, Customer Service will need to contact Production to get it fixed. Overall, efficiency increases because all information on a customer or sales lead is accessible in one place.

Ability to report and forecast trends within the data

Having reporting and forecasting features within a CRM helps the marketing and sales teams better manage their campaigns and pipelines. Marketers can gauge whether a campaign is successful. Sales managers can track quotas for each sales reps or develop sales projects based on revenue data. Finally, as users can create the reports themselves, they won’t need to worry about asking IT staff to do it for them.

How to Choose CRM Software

There are many CRM solutions out there that vary in features and pricing. It's key to research all of your options before purchasing a software. We've listed four important steps below.

1

Knowing your company's needs

Before researching any vendors, you'll need to consider your needs and requirements. For example, are you looking for a dedicated CRM solution or a marketing automation software that includes CRM features? Which teams will benefit the most from using it (e.g., Sales, Marketing, Customer Service)?

You'll also want to ensure that your IT staff and top executives are on board with implementing a CRM solution.

It's a good idea figure out which key performance indicators will be affected by a CMMS solution. Will it reduce downtime and increase asset life? Can it decrease labor costs? Gathering this info can help demonstrate a business need for CMMS software to get management buy-in.

2

Creating a Shortlist

Once you've established your objectives for a CRM software, create a shortlist of vendors that best fit your needs. We recommend listing out the must-have features, as well as the nice-to-have ones, to help determine the type of solution you're looking for.

In addition to features, you'll need to consider the vendor's deployment options (e.g., on-premise, cloud), implementation processes and customer support.

3

Contacting vendors

Once you've established your shortlist of vendors, it's time to reach out to them. Explain what your objectives are and what features you require in a solution. You'll also want to request a demo of the software with real-data scenarios, if possible. Vendors offer virtual demonstrations, but it can also be useful to ask if a vendor is willing to meet with you at your office. Another way to test the software is to participate in a free trial, if there is one. Most vendors offer a 14-day or 30-day free trial.

And be sure to compare different price quotes you receive. We explain more on pricing in a separate section below.

4

Conduct due diligence

Once you've selected your top two or three vendors, ask for references from their current or previous clients. While vendors tend to give you the clients with the most glowing recommendations or experiences, ask to speak to clients that are in the same industry or are the same size as your company. You'll want to see not just the positives of the solution or vendor, but any issues the client has experienced as well.

CRM Pricing

One of the most important factors in selecting CRM software is pricing. Prices can vary depending on company size, customization, implementation and deployment.

Here are a few questions you should consider regarding pricing.

  • Is there a clear plan to judge return on investment?
  • What is our budget for implementing/hosting/purchasing CRM software?
  • How many CRM features do we really need?
  • How many users will need to access the software?

CRM software vendors use two popular pricing models: perpetual licensing (on-premise) or subscription hosting plans (cloud). We take a look at each model.

Perpetual licensing:

Businesses that prefer to host their own data can purchase licenses that last for the life of the software. On-premise deployment requires the business to purchase hardware, servers and other infrastructure, as well as use IT resources to host and maintain the solution.

Perpetual licenses can be an attractive option for larger businesses, businesses with complex systems or businesses concerned with data security. Even though you pay for any licenses and infrastructure up front, maintenance and product upgrades aren't free. You'll have to consider IT labor costs, vendor support and any potential system breakdowns in your price factors.

For example, WorkWise Software charges a licensing fee for its OnContact Enterprise solution of $1,295 per user that includes all of its CRM modules. Note that it requires a minimum of three users, but the price includes training and support. There is also a free trial with the option to switch to a cloud-based deployment if business needs change.

Subscription hosting (cloud)

More and more vendors are offering cloud-based solutions today, where businesses only need to pay a monthly subscription cost.

The pricing strategy for most subscription-based CRM software is based on tiers. A vendor will typically offer up to four or five tiers based on either number of users or specific features. For example, Insightly offers three pricing plans that range from $29/user/month to $99/user/month.

Regardless of deployment, you'll need to consider implementation, training, data migration, customization and support. Depending on the vendor, each of these factors may require additional fees. Some vendors have a staff of implementation specialists, while others rely on third-party consultants.

Challenges of CRM Software

While CRM software has many benefits, it also comes with challenges, including:

Getting buy-in from key players

Securing buy-in from top executives, IT, managers and employees is critical to purchasing software. But they may have resistance or concerns about CRM software. For instance, IT may have concerns about data security if a vendor hosts the solution. Or they may not want the responsibility of hosting and maintaining the software on company servers.

Top executives could also be wary of spending money on a solution if there's no return on investment discussed. And finally, sales reps or marketers may be resistant to CRM software if they're used to a specialized software or have their own processes.

man with checklist and giant pen

Figuring out what type of CRM software is best for a company's needs

The challenge for any business is figuring out the goals of using CRM software. For instance, the company may only really need a customer support solution or a sales automation software. CRM software is often sold with individual modules that businesses can buy as needed, and they can purchase additional ones later when business requirements arise.

Another challenge is figuring out if an industry-specific CRM solution is right for your business. While it may have its benefits, such as shorter implementation and easier training, its challenges can include higher subscription prices and inflexible workflows. The key is to come up with a list of necessary features and evaluate each vendor thoroughly.

man at desk thinking

Only needing a few features

A company may have figured out its goals for using CRM software and may not require a robust CRM solution. For example, an IT company may only need dedicated help desk software or a call center may only need call center automation software. Also, a small company may not need a full-featured solution and look to CRM software specifically intended for small businesses.

man with checklist and giant pen

Implementation issues

Cloud-based CRM software tends to have shorter implementation times than on-premise solutions. However, expensive issues can still come up that delay the go-live date, such as unclear business goals, data transfer issues or software that isn't adequately customized. It's important to tell the vendor your budget, goals and requirements for using the software, as well as get a detailed timeline of the implementation process and what happens in each stage.

man with checklist and giant pen

Answering these questions will be a necessary step before making a final decision.

HubSpot CRM
VENDOR NAME: HubSpot
READ REVIEW

GOOD

Ability to add an unlimited number of users and up to one million contacts, no time limit, flexible methods for communicating with prospects/customers.

BAD

While it has many features, companies will have to upgrade to one of HubSpot's paid plans for advanced functionality.

BOTTOM LINE

Free software version for companies that want to manage their sales, marketing and customer service activities without the robust features.

READ REVIEW
Pipedrive
VENDOR NAME: Pipedrive
READ REVIEW

GOOD

Custom features to accommodate any sales process, visual pipeline layout with drag-and-drop functionality, AI Sales Assistant to help reps improve their performance.

BAD

Interface could be more visually appealing, not intended for marketing and support teams.

BOTTOM LINE

CRM software that enables sales teams to manage their pipelines more efficiently.

READ REVIEW
Sales Cloud
VENDOR NAME: Salesforce
READ REVIEW

GOOD

Efficient and automated sales workflows, personalized dashboards for reps to measure their activities, scalable pricing tiers.

BAD

Initial learning curve for new users, robust search functionality can be overwhelming.

BOTTOM LINE

CRM that helps sales teams track leads, close deals and gain insights into their performance.

READ REVIEW
SugarCRM
VENDOR NAME: SugarCRM
READ REVIEW

GOOD

Ability to collect prospect data from different sources without manual intervention, inbound marketing functionality, business process management tools that automate workflows.

BAD

Interface isn't always user friendly, Sugar Sell module has limited reporting.

BOTTOM LINE

Customer experience platform that enables sales, marketing and support teams to work together more efficiently.

READ REVIEW
Zoho CRM
VENDOR NAME: Zoho
READ REVIEW

GOOD

Ability to communicate with customers in multiple channels, AI functionality for sales predictions and other tasks, scalable pricing.

BAD

Initial learning curve, interface could be more streamlined.

BOTTOM LINE

Cloud-based CRM with robust features to help companies generate sales and provide better customer service.

READ REVIEW