CRM Software Buyer's Guide
The Best CRM Software is All About Building Relationships and Connections
By Zachary Totah, Market Research Associate
CRM software is a crucial element of managing your sales process and improving both conversion and retention rates. CRM systems (Customer Relationship Management) do exactly what they sound like — manages your organization’s relationships with your customers. They typically involve elements of marketing automation, sales force automation, client management and customer service. In this guide to CRM solutions, you will find a crash course in selecting the perfect system for your business. We begin with some information about the market and break down market share so you have some background knowledge about the field. Then you’ll learn the basics and benefits of customer relationship management and find out which features are absolutely crucial. We’ll also help you discover which features your specific organization requires in a CRM platform. Once you’ve gone through the basics, we’ll give you unique and powerful tools to compare a shortlist of systems from a variety of vendors to make sure you’re making empowered software decisions.
- CRM solutions streamline critical parts of your sales process
- Customer relationship management platforms help users stay on top of customer relationship building, lead management and lead follow-up in an organized manner
- CRM tools allow marketing teams to create targeted, personalized content
- Customer relationship management software deliver that content at critical stages in a customer’s journey
- Customer relationship management tools improve communication, collaboration, efficiency and overall effectiveness of marketing efforts
Quick Navigation of this Guide
See how the CRM solutions leaders fare against the most common key requirements
Many customer relationship management pundits would tell you the CRM system market is increasingly dominated by a small number of large vendors. However, research suggests otherwise. The most recent CRM Market Share Report from Gartner demonstrates that the collective market share among the biggest CRM companies is declining and that a number of emerging customer relationship management publishers are stepping up and taking market share away from the old guard.
This market share redistribution trend is driven by both innovative CRM solutions and buyers who have altered their CRM system selection criteria. The market is a 24-year-old software industry, putting it somewhere between mature and commoditized. CRM products have reached a certain stage of parity in terms of marketing, sales and service technology enablement. Customers now seek new and different customer relationship management capabilities.
Expert recommendations and analysis on the top CRM products
Basics and Benefits of CRM
There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all customer relationship management software solution. Small and midsize businesses (SMBs) generally have more intimate relationships with their customers and manage a higher volume of interactions and activities for each customer. SMBs desire a feature-rich customer management software but without the bloat that adds administration and overhead. Enterprise customers need more sophisticated security models, collaboration apps and platform tools.
Small businesses are also much more agile than large organizations, and therefore need a CRM system that can more swiftly accommodate movement and change. Whether altering how data rolls up, modifying forms, changing business process automation or creating new information reporting, small businesses need the ability to adjust their CRM system without reliance on technical or IT resources. On the flip side, enterprise customers need software flexibility that accommodates changes to territory management, revised sales plans, complex forecasting and more sophisticated data management and system integration.
Improving user productivity is a common objective for buyers. CRM tools that reduce keystrokes, logically sequence process steps, trigger next steps or reminders, use workflow to automate business processes, deliver alert notifications and offer simple desktop integration support improvements in user productivity.
The User Experience (UX)
The most modern CRM systems have adopted consumer technologies in order to reduce learning curves and deliver a more rewarding user experience. These user interfaces leverage more white space, less clutter, guided behaviors and embedded analytics. They also offer more one-click options, such as Quick Create functions or traceability to previously viewed records or transactions.
The Customer Experience (CX)
CX management is a strategic customer strategy supported by forward-thinking customer relationship management publishers. Customers are more connected and informed, and businesses must have the tools to connect with customer audiences in relevant, personalized and contextual ways. The customer record in customer relationship management systems should be stored as a central customer profile. Users can manage all customer data from any channel or device the customer chooses to interact with their providers.
CRM systems have evolved from departmental applications to enterprise suites. Leading customer relationship management providers have gone a step further by building their CRM solutions on powerful platforms. These platform solutions offer broader company support and extensibility. They may also offer third-party ecosystems, such as app stores or integrated third-party solutions from popular independent software vendors (ISVs), which further accelerates deployment cycles, reduces custom integration and eases future upgrades.
Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)
CRM platform pricing varies widely despite near feature set parity among competing solutions. This is most evident with market share leaders who leverage their brand to justify price premiums. However, as the customer relationship management market continues to mature price premiums will erode. Also, buyers must apply diligence to understand the unintended financial consequences of version upgrades, add-on capabilities and needed services. Buyers favor inclusive pricing without gimmicks and with no surprises. Some even offer basic open source customer relationship management platforms to get users started with the system and then offer paid packages later on when their needs become more substantial.
Expert recommendations and analysis on the top CRM products
It’s important to start any CRM tool selection with an implementation strategy. Installing software with a poor customer relationship management platform strategy, or even no strategy, is the number one reason for lagging adoption, low CRM systems utilization and overall project failure.
Keep in mind that customer relationship management is not a software application. It’s a business strategy aimed at growing mutually rewarding and profitable customer relationships.
A CRM strategy is a lot like a map. You need to understand where you are starting from and where you want to go if you expect to get there using the shortest route. Having a set of implementation goals can help you guide your selection of CRM solutions and ensure that you are on the path to success. Some implementation goals of customer relationship management technology are as follows:
Boost Customer Satisfaction
Streamlining and improving the customer’s relationship with your organization is the first and foremost concern of CRM platforms. From lead generation capabilities that target the perfect clients for your business to sophisticated ticketing and support services, customer relationship management systems have you covered.
Users can increase the efficiency of marketing campaigns, sales reps and nurturing efforts through a single system when they fully utilize their CRM product.
Improve Customer Retention
Users can leverage complete control over their sales pipeline to nurture leads like they’ve never been nurtured before. From attracting the right leads to contacting them at the perfect moment, marketing teams, sales reps and managers can collaborate for a winning sales strategy that will keep customers coming back.
Expert recommendations and analysis on the top CRM products
Selecting Customer Relationship Management Software
Customer relationship management software provides many benefits to a business, from making the sales department more productive to building customer retention. CRM tools are widely used, with Gartner reporting the market size at $39.5 billion and recognizing it as the largest software market. A sales CRM system handles many critical processes for your business, especially in the sales department. Therefore, CRM platform selection requires researching, sourcing, validating and performing due diligence before you sign a contract.
Any CRM platform may have a long list of features or use the most cutting-edge technology, but it can be a poor choice for your organization if it doesn't meet your requirements. That's why step one in your purchase should be to establish the key requirements your system must meet before you start evaluating solutions. Some core CRM software features to consider when gathering your requirements include:
Contact management is the entire point of customer relationship management software, so this requirement revolves around making sure the contact handling is sufficient for your current work processes. CRM tools may have email auto-response integration and follow-up reminders, along with the ability to display key information on each lead.
BPM'Online's contact management interface
Expert recommendations and analysis on the top CRM products
Sales Pipeline Visualization
This feature shows a visual representation of the sales pipeline, as well as where all contacted leads are in their customer journey.
The CRM tools reporting feature can cover everything from sales figures to marketing ROI. These reports provide concrete data essential for optimizing sales and marketing efforts, identifying poor performing areas and revealing response rates.
Campaign tracking and reporting feature from LeadMaster
This analytical tool parses historical and big data to make predictions on sales and marketing team collaboration. It can identify the optimal times to contact leads, which lead demographics are likely to convert at different parts of the customer journey and other useful business intelligence.
This is another critical CRM platform function that allows your sales department to nurture leads, qualify leads and use a lead scoring system to determine the priority of contacts.
Bloomerang lets you keep an eye on all lead activity
Expert recommendations and analysis on the top CRM products
Marketing Automation Integration
Sales and marketing work hand-in-hand, so creating a closer relationship helps to optimize both departments. Many CRM solutions integrate with popular marketing automation tools for a seamless experience.
Sales Force Automation
Helps automate tasks like inventory control, sales processing, monitoring customer interactions, providing sales forecasts and performance analysis.
Infor CRM automates sales force activities like opportunity management and campaign analysis
The Software as a Service (SaaS) cloud model provides many advantages for companies, including reduced upfront and maintenance costs. However, on-premise solutions don't rely on vendors, avoid potential network latency and may offer better data security.
Mobile access is useful for sales staff in the field, allowing them to access critical lead information and make lead contact notes directly through a smartphone or tablet.
Mothernode offers an intuitive native mobile app
Social media provide many data points on potential leads, but not all CRM systems integrate this data into the lead's contact notes.
More features for your consideration are available in this features list.
Top CRM System Features List
Once you identify your requirements, you can arrange your shortlist by priority. While some solutions offer everything on the features list and then some, they won't necessarily be the right solution for your business. Look through available content on the vendor's website, social media channels and industry authority websites to determine whether it passes the first impression test.
From our research with hundreds of CRM systems buyers, we have unique knowledge about what kind of software is being selected and why. Here are the top features buyers wanted this year:
Your customer relationship management tool should be able to import and export information directly (and instantly) from other sources like email, websites, call logs and customer service tickets. Eliminate data duplication, reduce the amount of menial repetitive tasks your employees have to do and streamline the experience for your customers and employees alike.
This software automates repetitive marketing tasks like scheduling batch emails and lead segmenting. This feature increases organization-wide efficiency and streamlines the workflows and collaboration of marketing and sales teams.
This feature syncs customer data from websites, email or other software to populate customizable fields within the database. Users can keep all customer information together for sales targeting, customer service and other nurturing activities.
Reporting functionality allows users to view snapshots of individual activities within their business. By identifying specific points of contention, managers can put plans into action to solve them.
Sales pipeline management offers users an overall view of the customer lifecycle with your brand. Leads are segmented based on where they are in the pipeline and can be nurtured accordingly. This reduces mistimed opportunities, weeds out under-qualified leads and streamlines the customer lifecycle.
Expert recommendations and analysis on the top CRM platforms
Compare CRM Software
We can’t just give you a software list with the best and worst in the industry — it doesn’t work that way. Each business is different and has different CRM product needs. One way to begin your search is to talk to your colleagues and industry contacts about what CRM tool they use. Get recommendations from clients following your social media channels and ask LinkedIn groups what they think about your prospective selections. You may learn about the benefits of CRM systems you didn't know the solutions offered or hear horror stories that drive you away.
Before you begin to compare, we recommend that you start by defining your requirements. Using a CRM system requirements template, you can define and rank your most important CRM features and requirements. Start with the CRM features list above, and then ask your organization to see what other requirements you need.
For a more data-driven approach, consider our in-depth CRM comparison matrix. Users can compare CRM software vendors based on how well our analyst team scored them for different features. For a really meaningful CRM software comparison, get them broken out into a full evaluation report like the one our analysts have compiled.
Choosing a Vendor
Now it’s time to get down to business and choose a vendor for your very own CRM platform. To start, you should conduct business case analyses to determine which system is the most advantageous. You have a few ways to conduct this analysis, depending on your needs. For example, some companies focus on the total cost of ownership, while others want to know how well the system improves sales ROI.
Once you assess features and requirements and define which are most pertinent to your organization, create a list of matching CRM vendors. There are several steps you’ll need to take.
These steps include assessing vendor capabilities, negotiating price and, finally, making a selection. Following a CRM comparison guide can help you organize the shortlisting process, ensuring you don’t accidentally skip a step.
Vendor viability is a critical part of the decision process, especially if you're using a cloud-based solution. How long has the vendor been around? Does it have clients that are similar in size to your business? How responsive is its support? Ask for references, and cast a net across your professional network to see who else has used the vendor. Determine whether the use cases the other companies worked with are close to your own.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- Is this solution flexible enough to meet your organization’s needs?
- Which relationships and workflows do you need to manage?
- Is this solution scalable? Do you need it to be?
- Will an out-of-the-box solution do, or will you need a custom CRM product?
- Will you need to integrate your customer relationship management tool with other software, like ERP?
- What is the long-term viability of the vendors you are considering? Will they be around in five years to continue providing support?
- Are your requirements industry-specific?
- Is on-premise or cloud-based deployment better for your organization?
Questions to Ask Vendors
- How much customer support will they offer you? Does it come at an extra charge?
- How often are updates and enhancements offered? Does this impact the accessibility of the system?
- How well will this customer relationship management system integrates with other software like BI tools?
- What security and redundancy protocols does this vendor take to protect your data?
- Does this vendor offer industry-specific customer relationship management platform?
- How is this CRM solution deployed?
- Do they offer any transition and setup services?
- Does this vendor have a proven track record of successful client relationship management?
- Is customer relationship management this vendor’s main priority?
- What features will cost extra?
- Does this vendor specialize in customer relationship management for small business, mid-sized organizations or enterprises?
Expert recommendations and analysis on the top CRM products
A CRM solution streamlines critical parts of your sales process, enabling you to stay on top of customer relationship building, lead management and lead follow-up in an organized manner. It allows marketing teams to create targeted, personalized content delivered at critical stages in a customer’s journey. Customer relationship management systems improve communication, collaboration, efficiency and overall effectiveness of marketing efforts. The right process provides you with countless benefits, so it's important to do your due diligence and get exactly what you need for your company.
Salesforce Sales Cloud offers quick and efficient customer relationship management service for looking at things like customer loyalty and customer retention in a personal way. On-demand CRM provides capable birds-eye views of customer relationships, with histories, visual dashboards and more. Diverse CRM application sets work with the central Salesforce platform as a modern option for cloud-based CRM delivering analytics results.
Insightly is a cloud-based platform with tools that support every phase of the customer lifecycle. The solution’s capabilities allow organizations to accomplish sales activities, nurture customer relationships and manage projects to deliver on customer orders. The software is best suited for small businesses, although several larger companies have had success with the product as well.
Infusionsoft by Keap is a comprehensive software platform designed to help small businesses save time and grow revenue. Rated as a top sales product for SMBs in 2019, this vendor brings automation and organization to sales and marketing activities. The available toolkit allows small businesses to gain extensive control over their efforts to help form personal, lasting connections with their customers. This product is suitable for individual business owners or small teams looking to scale and handle an increasing task load. The implementation includes a required kickstart package (available in three different price tiers) that helps users get set up with the program and positions them for success.
Zoho CRM enables an organization’s sales force to work more effectively and close more deals. It incorporates lead management, marketing automation, contact management, multichannel forecasting, territory management, and a host of other capabilities.Built with conversational AI, it supports users by predicting lead and deal success, offering a voice assistant, and suggesting activities to automate based on behavior analysis. Users can leverage workflow automation to streamline manual tasks and stay on top of performance with real-time reporting and analytics.
Bitrix24 is a solution that facilitates the execution of the customer journey. It supplies organizations with tools for marketing, sales and customer service activities such as lead generation, marketing automation, campaign management and call center support.The software comes with a free edition for users just starting out. Deployment is available in the cloud and on-premise. The platform is suitable for smaller businesses as well as enterprises with up to 50,000 employees.
SugarCRM is a comprehensive platform for effectively managing the customer lifecycle. A suite of modules provide the tools needed to support each stage of the funnel so your organization can locate prospects, nurture leads, close more deals and retain customers. The program’s capabilities include quote management, forecasting and campaign management.The software supports multiple currencies and 35 languages with the option to develop support for additional languages. The tool also offers a mobile app for phones and tablets. Mobile functionality includes filters, dynamic search, GPS mapping, click-to-text, click-to-call and offline sync for continued access without a network connection. The interface is customizable and the system can integrate with mobile device management solutions.
With ONTRAPORT, all your business tools, data and customer information is in one system and everything works together seamlessly. You’ll create better customer experiences, increase sales and you can automate everything, saving a ton of time. Plus, you’ve always got one team to call when you have a question or need support.
Monday.com uses a visual, collaborative approach to help teams within small and medium-sized businesses manage a variety of project types. Based in the cloud, it syncs all information in a single, accessible hub and has capabilities that eliminate manual entry errors. This enables team members to make important decisions together, keep track of details easily and deliver projects on time. Organizations can customize it for many different needs, allowing the management of projects, tasks, people, ad campaigns, bug tracking, CRM, customer projects and more. Supported use cases include product management, marketing PR, agile development and creative agencies.
A new approach to CRM - proactive relationship management - that helps sales teams work smarter and close more deals.Spiro is a proactive relationship management platform that automatically creates contacts, organizes and prioritizes opportunities, and proactively recommends next steps to move all your team's deals forward. Spiro takes the work out of sales and provides managers with intelligent sales reports that help turn their sales team into a sales machine.
Thousands of nonprofits use DonorPerfect to organize constituent data in one unified database. With one central database, everyone in your organization will be working with the same information in real time. It has easy to use constituent relationship management tools for making smarter, timelier decisions that help nonprofits raise more money. Two nonprofits, NTEN and Idealware, gave DonorPerfect the more 'excellent' ratings in their donor management systems’ report than any other software.
SharpSpring touts itself as a simple, affordable marketing platform that automates various functions such as landing page creation and segmented email campaigns.Equipped with a number of standard and unique features, it offers marketing professionals variety and agility in their workflows.
JobNimbus is a combination of CRM and project management software that can help you manage your tasks and documents related to your projects. Customized specifically for the construction industry, it helps businesses take end-to-end control of their projects and job-sites. With the help of a mobile app, contractors can update the status of projects on-the-go from their iOS or Android-powered smartphones. It lets users monitor and assign schedules, assignments, notes, project estimates and invoices.
Streak is built into Gmail, allowing users to manage common sales tasks directly from their inbox. It facilitates pipeline management so users can track leads, follow up, collaborate and close deals. Three different pricing tiers make it useful for both individuals who need basic functions and companies that require more advanced capabilities. In addition to managing a pipeline, users can also leverage it to manage projects, foster business relationships, run fundraisers, provide customer support and execute other projects that require tracking details.
Based in Chicago, Illinois, ActiveCampaign provides cloud-based marketing services. It’s ideal for businesses of any size, as it offers a flexible, device-agnostic deployment model. It also functions as a marketing-oriented system with different integrations and exporting options to assist sales.
Bloomerang’s powerful donor management software combines the knowledge of world-renowned fundraising professor Adrian Sargeant, communications best practices of author and speaker Tom Ahern, digital marketing insights from trusted thought-leader Kivi Leroux Miller, and the technical expertise of industry veteran Jay Love.We focus on the core of constituent relationship management – the functionality that fundraisers use the most – and do not mess around with superficial bells and whistles that look good on paper, but ultimately distract from what you need to succeed.We’re built to help you succeed.
Pipedrive is specifically designed to support sales professionals in their daily activities. It helps manage every phase of the sales process, from lead generation to contact management. Forecasting enables sales reps to close more deals, and visual pipelines simplify the process of pipeline management, so it's always clear what stage a lead is at and what action is required. Users can simplify and streamline tasks by leveraging automation and AI capabilities. It offers integrations and an open API so companies can plug in third-party apps or further extend its capabilities.
SAVO provides an integrated suite of sales enablement applications. Whetheryou are on the web, smartphone, tablet,or Microsoft Outlook, SAVO reinforces your sales process, drives purposeful social collaboration, and connects sellers with the necessary tools, subject matter experts (SMEs) and resources to win deals.
Oracle Engagement Cloud is a customer relationship management platform equipped with artificial intelligence. It is a cloud-based solution, best suited for small and midsize businesses. It offers many productivity features like voice-activated mobile interfaces, automated assignment and distribution of leads, and activity management tools directly from the email.Its distinctive features include sales force automation, sales performance management, partner relationship management, social collaboration, adaptive intelligence and customer data enrichment.
Creatio (formerly bpm’online) is the most agile platform for midsize and large enterprises to accelerate sales, marketing, service and operations. This platform helps to align data, processes, and teams enabling them to better connect with digital native customers and rapidly adapt. Provides its customers with comprehensive full-fledged applications that can be deployed as standalone products, or as a bundle on a single platform.
Sugar Sell is a cloud-based sales automation solution suitable for small, medium and large businesses. It offers lead management, opportunity management, account management, contact management, reporting, collaboration, product management, quote management, sales forecasting and business process management (BPM).It consolidates customer data into a central location for sales professionals to gain visibility into the conversations, actions and emails related to each contact or account. On-premise deployment is available with Sugar Professional and Sugar Enterprise, which are CX solutions tailored to meet the needs of small businesses and large enterprises, respectively.
Sage CRM is a platform that consists of marketing, sales and service modules, which organizations can use individually or in a fully integrated suite. The solution is targeted at small and mid-sized businesses.The product can be deployed on-premise or in the cloud. Mobile apps for iOS and Android devices provide sales professionals with flexible access to customer data, calendars and other key information.
PipelineDeals is the first sales productivity platform to combine sales engagement and customer relationship management in one easy-to-use application. We make your sales process as organized and efficient as possible. Email your contacts, qualify leads, and get organized so you can spend more time closing.
SAP CRM is a cloud-based suite of customer experience solutions built on the SAP C/4HANA platform. The portfolio of applications encompass marketing, sales, e-commerce, customer data and service. Organizations can choose specific solutions for more focused functionality or implement the entire suite to gain a comprehensive platform. On-premise deployment for most of the solutions is offered in addition to SaaS deployment.
Copper is the No.1 CRM for G Suite and the only one recommended by Google. It works instantly through a seamless integration with G Suite, has a beautiful user experience, and is designed to help teams and businesses build long-lasting relationships. Copper services more than 12,000 paid businesses in more than 110 countries.
NetSuite CRM+ software is the only cloud solution that delivers a real-time 360-degree view of your customer. Provides a seamless flow of information across the entire customer lifecycle from lead through to opportunity, sales order, fulfillment, renewal, upsell, cross-sell, and support. Delivers quotes, order management, commissions, sales forecasting and integrated Ecommerce capabilities.
Technology with a purpose. Our solutions grow communities, inspire audiences + scale impact so you can focus on what really matters. Grow your mission with a database focused on people, not transactions. Create online forms, engage donors, plan events, manage memberships, and track volunteers -- all with the most robust cloud-based software made specifically for nonprofits. Pricing starts as low as $50.
Agile CRM is a leading sales, marketing and service CRM for small businesses. Complete with everything from web popups and email templates to telephony integration and advanced sales and marketing automation, Agile is designed to help you sell and market like the Fortune 500, at a fraction of the cost. Sign up for a free trial today!
Less Annoying CRM is a cloud-based solution designed to help small businesses make it simple and efficient to handle activities surrounding leads and customers. The system gives companies an easy-to-use platform for storing contacts, tracking leads and managing tasks to help close more deals.
Pipeliner CRM is an application from Pipelinersales Inc. that helps organizations track leads, opportunities and deals. It also allows teams to perform account management tasks and view sales performance. The program presents a graphical overview of a company's pipeline to give sales and marketing professionals an up-to-date view of all current activities.The software includes modules for account management, contact management, lead management, opportunity management and activity management. Companies who want online access and regular updates can deploy the solution in the cloud. Those looking for offline access or advanced security can deploy the hybrid version of the product.
Pega CRM is the customer relationship management suite offering from global provider Pegasystems. The Customer Decision Hub acts as the platform’s foundation and leverages predictive analytics and AI to drive immediate actions grounded in intelligent data.Furthermore, the platform is built using Pega’s Situational Layer Cake™, enabling agility and tailored experiences. Every element from processes to data models is organized into layers, making it easier to support multi-dimensional efforts. Based on model-driven architecture, the system doesn’t require any coding knowledge. And organizations have the option to run the software on Pega’s cloud, their own cloud or a third-party cloud.
Salsa CRM helps nonprofits build rich supporter profiles, track every donation interaction, create direct mail fundraising appeals, and easily report with fundraising dashboards and flexible query tool. All packages include Salsa Engage for marketing automation, online fundraising, online advocacy and peer to peer fundraising.
Microsoft Dynamics 365 (formerly known as Microsoft Dynamics CRM) offers a suite of customer-focused tools that includes capabilities to facilitate marketing, sales and customer service activities. Organizations can implement the applications separately for specific business cases or together for a unified platform. There’s also the option to include field service and project service automation programs if desired.The software includes social media tools, an onboarding dashboard and APIs that support modifying campaign elements. Visual editors enable creating and deploying mobile and web apps without the need for code. Companies can utilize the solution in the cloud or on-premise. Some features, however, such as Power BI and PowerApps, are only included in the cloud version.
Redtail CRM is a web-based system that enables financial professionals to manage prospects and clients. It helps track client data, automate time-consuming tasks, organize records and more. Capabilities include contact management, email, reports, seminar management and integrations.
CRM Software Pricing Guide
See the Price/User for the top CRM systems… plus the most important considerations and questions to ask when shopping.
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