Picking CRM software is one of the most important choices you’ll make for your business. However, it can feel like a high-stakes game of Russian Roulette. Many companies have a difficult time finding the right solution. It costs too much or doesn’t have the capabilities they need or can’t be customized to fit their processes. You can avoid all of this by starting your search the right way: identifying your CRM requirements.
This post will:
- Arm you with questions to ask as the starting point in your search
- Help you understand the primary CRM requirements you should look for
- Provide tips that will make your search and implementation go smoothly
If you’re uncertain what you should look for in a CRM solution, don’t worry, we’re here to help. Understanding your organization’s needs and requirements is the first step. So, read on for a comprehensive CRM checklist to use in conjunction with our CRM template to assist during the evaluation process.
Start With These Questions
Before you begin, it’s important to lay the proper foundation. Knowing which requirements are most important for your company will make your search more effective and less time-consuming. Armed with the knowledge of the most common features and what they can do, you’ll be able to quickly create a list of software worth pursuing.
To help, we’ve created a list of four questions you can ask to kickstart the process.
1. What goals are you trying to accomplish?
Your CRM search needs to start with a plan and expectations. If you aren’t clear on why you need a CRM, it’s too easy to get burdened with a system that no one likes and that doesn’t actually help your business grow. Here are some considerations:
- Are you looking for a full-fledged system, or just enough to replace your spreadsheet or pen-and-paper approach?
- Are you trying to serve a B2C customer base, or is your focus on the B2B space? B2C and B2B CRMs differ, so it’s good to be aware of the nuances required for each.
- Do you need to migrate from a legacy system to a cloud-based solution to reduce the need for IT resources or provide better visibility?
Doing this will point you toward which products to look into further, using RFPs and other methods, and it will highlight the specific features you need to include on your CRM requirements checklist. It will also help you determine what level of customization you may need, as it’s unlikely any CRM will have every capability out of the box.
2. How much technical assistance do you have access to?
Answering this will help you determine how much flexibility you have with the CRMs you look at. Some systems are user-friendly and don’t require a lot of technical know-how to set up and manage. Others, however, require IT expertise.
In addition, the more complex the system is, the more involved it’ll be to implement. You’ll likely end up working with the vendor or an implementation partner, which is much easier if you have an in-house IT team. This is especially true for on-premise solutions, where the customization options are more extensive and require deeper technical knowledge.
3. What size is your business?
Not all CRM systems are built equal. Some cater to small businesses while others are much more suitable for large enterprises. Vendors offer a wide range of functionality, and with that comes varying levels of complexity.
Be sure you have the resources to handle the system’s demands or else you’ll end up with software that’s so complicated it makes tasks harder instead of easier.
Cost is another major factor at play. Solutions designed for global organizations will come with way more features — and a higher price tag. Often, these products require more technical assistance and implementation support, which further drives up the cost. If you use a SaaS solution (Software-as-a-Service) that charges per user, the number of employees who need to access the platform will also impact how much you’ll pay.
4. Does the vendor offer industry-specific solutions?
Although CRMs are robust, you should know whether they have features that support the industry your company is in. This varies widely, so be sure to perform due diligence.
Looking for an industry-specific solution is most important for those in niche industries that have particular requirements. For example, a non-profit might need unique capabilities to assist with event planning and fundraising. Be sure to incorporate these special considerations as necessary when filling out your CRM template.
Key CRM Requirements
Through extensive experience and research, we’ve compiled a comprehensive CRM evaluation checklist of the most critical CRM business requirements to look for when researching and comparing vendors.
These requirements are the most common for the average company, but some may not be applicable to everyone. Different CRM systems focus on different capabilities, so it’s vital to know what functionality your organization requires via a CRM needs assessment before shortlisting vendors.
The following are a checklist of typical CRM requirements:
1. Contact Management
Contact management is a core component of CRM solutions, allowing companies to collect, store and act on data from prospects, leads and customers. The best systems can maintain better contact management, easy proposal creations and more. CRMs enable users to manage appointments with prospects, leads, colleagues, vendors and other contacts.
A contact management module often includes the ability to import data in bulk, such as from a previous CRM or a spreadsheet. Once each contact has a profile within the system, users can use that to track past interactions, attach relevant files, and view information about the contact such as potential value or likelihood to convert.
Case management is another element found in contact management modules. It helps users keep track of customer requests via a ticketing system that’s associated with the customer’s personal information within the CRM. This prevents shuffling customers from department to department and reduces wait time, improving customer satisfaction.
You don’t want to waste your team’s time with inefficient contact management practices. So when you request a demo, try to gain a strong sense of how contact management works when dealing with automated workflows and real-time sharing.
Document and File Management
Data Import and Export
2. Client Interaction Tracking
Once leads become customers, it’s important that you’re able to manage all the touchpoints between them and your business. CRMs provide tools for handling and keeping track of your interactions with clients, such as invoices, purchase history and order status. Dashboards act as a central hub of information, so it’s easy to see a record of a customer’s interactions with your brand.
Often, these tools support marketing efforts. For example, they allow you to segment or filter customers based on criteria like purchase behavior, location or interests so you can send targeted, relevant campaigns.
3. Database Management
Mastering data management of your customer database should be a high priority of your CRM platform, so you can ensure data integrity.
In addition to storing records in a central location, the database can allow you to link data across different departments (such as sales and marketing) and view the relationships between different records. It also helps you maintain clear, up-to-date records and avoid duplicates.
Link Between Databases
4. Marketing and Campaign Management
One of the most essential features of a CRM is marketing automation. They go hand-in-hand, so most CRMs offer marketing automation modules or have the ability to connect seamlessly with the top standalone marketing automation solutions.
Marketing automation allows you to be more efficient with your marketing, especially at scale. It offers capabilities like batch email marketing and event-based marketing, where you create a sequence of messages that each automatically trigger when a contact takes a specific action. When you’re dealing with hundreds or thousands of contacts at different stages, this will save you loads of time.
You can also create, deliver and track multi-channel marketing campaigns. Marketing automation comes into play by having all website and campaign activities available within your CRM interface and dashboards.
Marketing tools also include customer targeting features that offer a 360-degree view of prospects and leads, allowing users to segment them into a range of customizable categories.
CRMs can track customer data like spending habits, likes, dislikes and other attributes to better qualify them. This data can be used to drive targeted marketing campaigns. Campaign analysis tracks campaign delivery and analyzes ROI for individual campaigns to improve future efforts.
Batch Email Marketing
5. Lead Management
Two critical parts of customer relationship management are generating leads and properly managing them. CRMs come with embeddable web forms that capture leads and store the data directly in the system. They simplify lead distribution by assigning leads with pre-defined criteria to route them to the appropriate sales rep.
Pipelines are a common visual tool that make it easy for users to move leads through the funnel and gain visibility into which leads are most likely to convert or about to churn so sales and marketing know who to follow up with.
6. Sales Automation
It’s essential to know how well your CRM manages opportunities and how marketing and sales teams can collaborate. Users of CRM systems can manage sales opportunities from the first contact to sales closure, assigning each lead to the most qualified sales rep to nurture them and ensuring every lead gets attention.
You should be able to move contacts through specific record stages. For example, Lead, Contact, Customer. These stages should be available right out of the box but also should be deeply customizable to fit your unique selling cycle.
7. Workflow Automation and Employee Management
A good CRM will make your teams more efficient and productive. To that end, many include workflow automation features, such as sending reminders of a scheduled sales call or notifications when a new lead enters the system.
Other tools allow users to create to-do lists, access a shared calendar, connect with customers on social media and integrate with third-party productivity tools. On the employee side, look for features for tracking performance and storing employee records.
Task Scheduling and Tracking
8. Business Intelligence and Reporting
Check that the solution provides business intelligence (BI) features that can accurately monitor and measure customer service factors. Your CRM needs to easily give you insight into customer satisfaction for better customer retention. BI also allows you to monitor new customer acquisitions to gain great client references in the future.
Make sure you can create your own reports and dashboards. Some vendors offer industry-specific modules for your CRM, but the ability to create and customize reports according to your needs is a must for getting the most out of BI features.
Furthermore, check that the automation and sharing of these reports are easy to set up. Nothing’s worse than trying to pull reports after monitoring data only to realize it hasn’t been set up properly. Find out if the software is frequently updated with upgrades and enhancements, and if that is included in the fee.
Revenue Cycle Modeling
9. Knowledge Management
Custom knowledge management is an often overlooked but incredibly valuable feature as staff changes. It allows you to standardize processes, reduce human error, improve efficiency and scale your sales operations. These features can support the creation of a knowledge base, as well as provide a central repository for storing documents like templates, manuals and presentations. Look for search capabilities as well.
Knowledge management is also helpful for sharing best practices among team members. For example, if top-performing sales reps follow a specific process, you can use knowledge management to capture that information and share it with new hires or reps whose performance is flagging.
Knowledge Creation Workflow
10. Mobile Support
All the top CRMs include mobile capabilities, often through an app you can download to your smartphone, tablet and other devices. This offers communication options such as SMS messaging and calls.
You should also have the ability to sync the system with the mobile app so users can access the CRM data from anywhere so long as they’re connected to the internet. Such accessibility greatly enhances productivity and is important for sales reps who travel frequently.
Supported Devices and Protocols
11. Functional Requirements
Email is an essential component for marketing and sales teams to centralize information and streamline tasks. Investigate what kind of integration your CRM has with different email platforms. For example, can sales reps email pre-existing templates directly from their email client of choice (e.g. Gmail or Outlook)?
Part of being successful with sales and marketing is fast response time with prospective and current customers. Many CRM platforms have chat support capabilities, some infused with AI, so ask vendors to find out the particular features. This will let your team offer live help from within a website, app or self-service support portal.
Does the solution manage inbound and outbound calls? Choosing a system is never easy, but if the dashboard can instantly display key details of the call, it can only benefit your reps. In a world where digital communication is at our fingertips, having VoIP technology as part of your CRM makes everything more efficient. The effectiveness of your sales team can drastically change and is one of the main reasons to use CRM in the first place.
Social media and social selling is a huge part of digital marketing today. Integrating with popular social media management platforms like Hootsuite, Oktopost and Buffer is a must for companies that want to spread brand awareness in as many channels as possible. Marketing and sales teams will appreciate the added value generated by easily accessing customer information.
Compatibility with VoIP Standards
Social Media Integration
12. Deployment Environment
Many CRMs are web-based, also called SaaS platforms, which is a common requirement when shopping for a CRM. Salesforce is a popular example of a web-based (or cloud) CRM that many people gravitate towards due to its robust functionality and easy integration.
Cloud CRMs are also easier to manage because offsite teams handle updates and coding. Since web-based software’s data is stored in the cloud, they tend to be cheaper than on-premise solutions. They can be implemented with limited space and a less robust IT support system as they don’t require servers or hardware. This means that they can be more susceptible to hacking, which is something to keep in mind.
On-premise solutions are installed on your own managed servers and maintained by an internal team. On-premise solutions demand a higher overhead cost along with more space and more technical knowledge to implement, but they come with some unique benefits. These benefits include higher levels of control and customization, as well as direct security oversight.
Make sure security is tight within your CRM platform of choice. Check that it creates and maintains a running log of all administrative and user actions. By having a user activity audit trail, you can remedy problems that are too quick to catch manually. You can also keep track of the timing regarding key processes and interface changes to avoid confusion among different departments.
Your CRM records are the lifeblood of your organization. Protecting your records is an absolute necessity. Be sure to note whether the CRM you’re evaluating provides tools for creating routine data backups and point-in-time snapshots to protect against data loss.
Having different and customizable user roles is often a large requirement for your CRM. You want to make sure the right people have the access they need within the platform — no more, no less. Sales reps shouldn’t have administrator-level access. Having advanced access encryption prevents breaches and keeps your customer’s valuable information safe in your hands.
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, companies that use these tips end up with a more cohesive, collaborative process. This results in leading them to the best CRM solutions on the market.
Build a CRM Requirements Document
Now that you know the core CRM software requirements, go the intelligent route by building a CRM checklist using the questions (and any others that are applicable) that we covered at the start of the post. Building this document is a key step in selecting the right CRM the first time.
Start With a CRM Requirements Template
If you need to build a CRM functional requirements document for a CRM selection checklist project, starting with an existing CRM template is ideal. We’ve built a CRM requirements gathering template using many of the requirements listed above. By using a template, you’ll have a majority of the normal requirements that 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 for CRM, you’ll want to get all stakeholders invited to view it. There are some collaborative tools out there for documents including Google Drive. You can also use a requirements management software, such as the SelectHub platform.
Rank and Prioritize Features and Functionality
Your next step is to have each person rank the requirements according to their individual needs. Setting up a ranking system is possible in a spreadsheet, or you can use software specifically designed to manage the requirements ranking process if your team prefers this option.
Summarize and Formalize
Once all parties have submitted their priorities, summarize the results into a formal report to be reviewed by everyone involved. You’ll be able to see what requirements are necessary or unnecessary. You’ll discuss why some requirements fall into various categories to understand what the outcome of each one would be if it were to be included or excluded.
Trust the Process
The CRM software evaluation process is a marathon, not a sprint. Although it’s far from easy, assessing your business needs, gathering your CRM requirements list and applying these tips can ease the burden.
If you’re looking to streamline the process, our CRM requirements template can help you save time by providing a pre-built set of key criteria based on industry standards.
What CRM requirements are most key to your organization? Let us know in the comments!