Home Business Software How To Choose A CRM In 2023 – Complete Guide & CRM Comparisons
Noah Edis
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From the first trades made centuries ago to today’s digitally-driven commerce, the essence of customer relationship management (CRM) remains hasn’t changed one bit.

Early traders unknowingly practiced the basics of CRM – they knew the significance of good customer relationships, customer records, and repeat business. Despite its age-old roots, knowing how to choose a CRM tool is no easy task. You have to balance team needs with organization needs, and then somehow end up within budget.

Fast-forward to now, startups grapple with poor CRM solutions that barely improve their productivity. And it’s not a case of scarcity, loads of good CRM tools are available, but the abundance of options makes it challenging to find the right fit, so it’s crucial to know how compare all CRM solutions.

Let’s find out how to choose a CRM tool for your needs, effectively utilize it, and what you can do to better compare your options.

What is a CRM?

Contrary to popular belief, CRM isn’t merely software but a mix of strategies and technologies meant to improve customer engagement. Academic research describes CRM as a data-driven process that brings various aspects together, including customer details, sales performance, marketing efficiency, and market trends.

Simply put, CRM refines operations by correlating diverse data points for a comprehensive business view.

So, what is a CRM software solution, then?

It’s a platform or software that helps businesses execute the strategies related to customer relationship management. As the approach is data-driven, this type of tool lets you manage all sorts of customer information from a single dashboard.

By capturing every interaction with customers, a CRM tool helps different departments work toward achieving a company’s goals.

A view of Salesforce’s interface
Have a quick look on reports via Customer 360’s dashboard

Some of the most successful companies use CRM tools to optimize their operations, and concentrate their peoples’ skills where they can have the most impact.

For example, Salesforce’s Customer 360, one of the top CRM software providers, helps businesses like American Express, Unilever, and Adidas manage their large customer bases by automating sales processes, improving customer service, and deriving actionable customer insights.

Are CRM Tools Really Necessary?

Part of knowing how to choose a CRM involves questioning its necessity in your business process. The answer? A sure yes. The CRM software market is projected to reach $79.40 trillion in 2023 alone, which is proof that companies are investing heavily in CRM and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future

It’s essential to view customer interactions from a data perspective. Manual data processing just doesn’t cut it in handling these intricacies: even the most experienced data scientists can get lost in the complexity and sheer amount of data.

A good CRM tool is critical to manage and process your customer information effectively. Falling short on efficient customer data processing can lead a company to miss out on significant advantages provided by CRM tools:

Advantages of CRM Tools

  1. Enhanced Customer Interactions: Without CRM tools, efficiently managing customer interactions becomes a time-consuming task. CRM software automates at least part of this process, providing a consolidated view of each customer. This centralization is especially crucial as the customer base expands.
  2. Robust Analytic Capabilities: A basic feature of analytical CRM, the right CRM solution enable meaningful insights from your customer data. These insights aid intelligent decision-making, better target marketing, and even help you foresee sales trends.
  3. Improved Customer Service: Quicker, more effective resolutions to your customers’ issues. Poor service experiences could lead to revenue and reputation losses, further underscoring the need for automation.
  4. Impact on Profitability: Through automation, better collaboration, and better data insight you get increased sales, improved customer retention, and overall business growth. CRM tools have are no longer a luxury, but a necessity in modern business as margins become smaller and mistakes increasingly more costly.

Beyond their individual benefits, CRM software is a central hub of collaboration across diverse departments such as sales, marketing, and customer service teams. This should grow your business operations, and it’s what probably made such software one of the best tools for small businesses.

How to Choose a CRM in 2023

Knowing how to choose a CRM system that aligns with your business demands will spare you a lot of headache. The wrong choice could lead to unanticipated high costs due to incompatibility, inefficiency, and potentially low adoption.

This decision isn’t just about availing the latest technology; it’s about ensuring you have an effective CRM tool that suits your unique needs.

Thus, before jumping headfirst into a decision, it’s critical to compare CRM systems. In doing so, take note that you should select CRM software not just for its popularity.

As we conducted our research, we’ve seen a few ones appearing as top results, but we later found out that they just rank higher on Google’s search engine due to having better SEO, not a better product.

Taking the time to research and compare different platforms can save your business from costly mistakes.

Team discussing data analysis and charts
Data without proper interpretation is useless

Identify Your Business’ CRM Needs

Before doing a CRM comparison, you should understand your business’s specific needs. This applies to any significant enterprise-level purchase or subscription. Lack of clarity or poorly defined needs can easily lead to making the wrong choice, which means you’ll be wasting valuable time and resources.

We’ve prepared a comprehensive step-by-step guide to help you clearly identify your business’s CRM needs and streamline the selection process.

1. Meet with the Teams That Will Utilize the CRM

Starting from the ground up, the first step is to engage with the teams that will be using the CRM tool. These are usually your sales, marketing, and customer service teams. Their insights are imperative in understanding what specific features will benefit their everyday operations as they’re the people on the ground.

Meeting with the people who have to use your CRM is a great step towards getting buy-in from these key users, as they feel part of the selection process.

2. Determine the Types of CRM Software Solutions

There are generally four main types in the broad spectrum of CRM solution. Choosing the appropriate one depends on your business’s specific needs and the challenges you aim to address:

  • Operational CRM: This type of CRM tool focuses on streamlining and automating daily operations like sales, marketing, and customer service. It includes features like contact management and task automation, which make it best for businesses seeking operational efficiency in their customer-facing tasks.
  • Analytical CRM: These tools capture, store, and analyze customer data, offering valuable insights into customer interactions. This data can be used to refine marketing strategies, improve customer retention, and inform business decisions.
  • Collaborative CRM: Essentially, a collaborative CRM tool is designed to improve information sharing among different teams servicing the same client accounts.
  • Strategic CRM System: A strategic CRM system focuses on fostering ongoing, meaningful relationships with customers. It primarily takes customer satisfaction into account and then uses it to tailor new value propositions. It’s ideal for companies that serve clients with ongoing services, helping them maintain a strong, value-loaded long-term relationship with their clients.

Another important consideration is the type of storage that best fits your business needs. There are two primary types.

Cloud-based CRM systems involve data storage in the cloud, making it accessible from anywhere with internet access. This offers high flexibility and scalability, allowing you to easily resize your CRM as your business expands.

Meanwhile, on-premise CRM systems are stored on your servers. This allows for greater control over your data, which can be more reassuring for businesses dealing with sensitive customer information.

However, on-premise storage requires a higher initial investment for setup and maintenance compared to cloud-based systems, and people will also need a secure way of accessing it when they’re not physically in office or working remotely.

3. Must-Have Checklist with CRM Features

The more you understand your teams’ on-the-ground realities, the better you can craft targeted inquiries for identifying your ideal CRM tool.

This checklist helps you achieve clarity and empowers your teams to participate and compare CRM options later. Below are potential questions to guide you, each specific to a crucial CRM function:

  • Does our business need lead generation features? If your company relies heavily on lead generation, a CRM tool that integrates this function becomes a priority.
  • Is the sales process stalling during the deal stage? If deals are often stagnating, a CRM tool that helps visualize and streamline the sales process would be beneficial.
  • Are quick insights into current statuses important? A CRM with strong reporting and analytics features would be ideal for businesses that rely on real-time insights.
  • Is team efficiency a problem? CRMs that facilitate instant data access can help teams be more efficient.
  • Is rapid access to customer information required? For teams who often need instant data access, a CRM with a user-friendly interface and efficient search capabilities is a must.
  • Do we need specialized features unique to our industry? Industries like construction or law may benefit from CRM tools that offer industry-specific features.

For instance, CRM for construction companies particularly offers a robust project management interface. Identifying industry-tailored features can steer your choice toward a CRM platform that best fits your needs.

In the process of building and answering a checklist for your must-haves, there may be more questions than you expect. However, rest assured that there’s a plethora of CRM tools out there offering many features.

That means you’ll be able to find one that features the things that you need. These tools are designed with versatility and functionality in mind, catering to businesses of all types and sizes.

4. Nice to Have CRM Features

Content creation, contact and document management, workflow automation, and reporting are part of the basic package with some CRMs, but not with others. Things like campaign management, sales forecasting, social media are also great to have, although you might need a more specialized to get the right mix of feature.

Matching your team’s requirements with the functionalities of CRM tools certainly gives you a clear vision of what each tool can offer.

However, the evaluation shouldn’t stop there. A deeper understanding of how a CRM platform works, along with further considerations like budget, integrations, and user-friendliness, is equally crucial.

Evaluate Compatibility and Integration Opportunities

The quality and features of a CRM tool won’t be any good if it isn’t compatible with your current systems and devices. Ensuring seamless compatibility across the board is key to an efficient and frictionless transition.

Begin by checking if the CRM aligns with your operating systems and with the devices that your team uses.

The software must be able to connect with the tools you’ve currently employed. However, don’t fret if they don’t – instead, look for integration capabilities in your chosen CRM tool.

In today’s mobile-first world, a CRM tool must cater to on-the-go operations. An excellent example of mobile integration is Zoho CRM’s mobile app. It empowers employees to manage customers anywhere by adding and modifying customer information in real time, even offline.

A view of Zoho CRM’s mobile app
Make changes even without an internet connection with Zoho CRM on mobile

In Zoho, offline changes sync automatically across devices once connected to a network. With such a convenience, mobile CRM plays a critical role in modern business operations.

Check the Privacy Policy the Tool Has in Place

Global privacy laws get stricter one year to another, which makes it crucial to ensure your chosen CRM tool is compliant with necessary regulations, including the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

In the era of data breaches and leaks, how a tool manages, stores, and secures user data is critical to avoid legal ramifications and keep trust with your customers intact.

Check the CRM’s privacy policy to understand how it protects user data. Systems compliant with such regulations often have features for data encryption, user access controls, and audit logs.

These tools also most likely have provisions in place for data subject rights, such as data access, rectification, and erasure requests.

Simply put, a comprehensive privacy policy demonstrates a CRM tool’s commitment to data safety and compliance. It will also save your organization from potential legal and reputational risks tied to data breaches and non-compliance.

Budget Planning for CRM Investment

When investing in a CRM tool, be on the lookout for potential hidden costs such as those for setup, training, or additional features. These could make a seemingly affordable solution more expensive than anticipated.

A good thing we always observe is that there are several payment structures you can commit to. Annual plans often come cheaper, but monthly options may offer more flexibility, especially for smaller businesses.

We also suggest that you keep an eye out for discounts. Many CRM providers offer attractive deals, particularly for new customers or those willing to commit to longer terms.

Look for a Demo or Test Drive a Free Trial

Before hitching your business to a CRM system, it’s always helpful to take it for a test drive. It gives you a hands-on experience of how the tool would fit in your daily operations, be it in enhancing customer service, automating sales tasks, or driving marketing efforts.

Among the many options, Zoho CRM offers one of the longest trials, extending up to 15 days. This generous period can prove to be more than sufficient to assess the tool’s functionalities, ease of integration, and overall performance in a practical setting.

We also found out that Zoho CRM is one of the few options offering a free plan. This is a significant advantage for startups or small businesses working on strict budgets.

Evaluate Customer Support

Part of a CRM tool is its support services, which should provide channels that are convenient for you. It’s essential for such tools to have robust support systems in place, as even the most tech-savvy teams could run into technical problems.

You can check if they offer around-the-clock support, multiple channels for assistance, and a responsive team – all of which can make your company’s CRM integration hassle-free.

Compare CRM Software

After equipping yourself with precise information about your unique business needs and the specifics of various CRM tools, it’s time to see the options and find the best CRM software tailored to your brand.

However, a mere Google search for “how to choose a CRM” might populate your screen with a myriad of sponsored ads rather than valuable suggestions.

To expedite your research and facilitate the process of comparing CRM solutions, we’ve prepared a handy table featuring some of the best CRM tools we’ve previously discussed in some of our blogs:

Top CRM Software Best For Free Version Details Business Size
1. Salesforce All types of businesses 14-day free trial All sizes
2. Pipedrive Sales CRM functions 14-day free trial All sizes
3. Zoho CRM Small businesses 15-day free trial/Free Plan Small to mid-sized businesses
4. Monday Sales CRM Custom workflows and automation N/A Small to mid-sized businesses
5. Zendesk Sell Ease of use 14-day free trial Small to mid-sized businesses

This curated list is the result of thorough testing and rigorous research done by our team, providing you with a reliable starting point in your quest to find the perfect CRM solution. Each CRM tool included caters to businesses of varying scales, specialties, and more.

To learn more about these tools and the ones that didn’t make the cut, do visit our article on the best CRM software for e-commerce.

How to Use CRM Software Effectively

Now that you know how to choose a CRM, implementation comes next – this requires you to know how to utilize one effectively.

With this in mind, we’ve compiled a few tips to help you get the maximum value from your chosen CRM software.

Implement a Seamless On-boarding

Adding all the necessary stakeholders to your chosen CRM tool is the first step. But it’s equally important to check whether your service provider offers training or onboarding sessions.

These sessions are invaluable in aligning everyone within the organization and fostering a thorough understanding of the tool’s functionalities.

Proper on-boarding ensures consistency in using the software, ultimately improving data accuracy and optimizing customer experiences.

Adoption rates of a new tool also considerably impact its eventual success within your organization. Unless your team members realize the significance of the CRM software and actively use it, it won’t deliver its full potential to streamline your operations, which means you’re not getting your money’s worth

One strategy to boost adoption rates is to gamify the experience. Incentivizing usage through rewards or friendly competition can induce enthusiasm among team members.

Additionally, positioning your top sales agents or marketers as CRM advocates can be effective. When peers see these top performers leveraging the tool effectively, they’re more likely to follow suit.

Data Migration

Your existing customer data might reside in spreadsheets or another CRM, but don’t worry. We’ve discovered that all the listed tools above offer data exporting abilities, often in a CSV file format.

To ensure a smooth data transfer, it’s crucial to match the columns of your exported file to the corresponding fields in your new CRM. This alignment aids in seamless data migration.

Investing additional time into post-transfer data mapping is really useful. After importing a single record into your chosen CRM, you can verify the availability of its accompanying data sourced from integrated legacy solutions.

Note: Never underestimate the power of a backup. Before initiating data migration, ensure all your files are safely duplicated. This safeguard measure offers a valuable safety net in case of data loss or corruption.

See Which Tools You Can Integrate

The real power of a CRM tool is showcased when you integrate it with other tools in your business arsenal. This not only streamlines data management but also allows you to customize workflows – one of the many ways you can automate your business operations.

For instance, connecting your email platform with the CRM can facilitate the automatic logging of all customer interactions directly into the CRM, keeping you updated.

Implement Your Business Process via The Settings

Understanding your business process is also vital to effectively customize your CRM tool. For example, if your sales process involves stages such as lead generation, initial contact, follow-up, negotiation, and closure, you need to configure these stages within your CRM settings. This tailoring reflects your unique business model within the tool, streamlining operations and promoting process uniformity across the team.

Business processes as defined on Pipedrive’s
View and manage business processes with Pipedrive

This stage also allows tracking of customizable fields, which enable you to record detailed data specific to your business. Examples could include tracking fields including:

  • Lead source
  • Deal size
  • Estimated close date
  • Tracking number
  • Time zones

Such customization puts you firmly in control of managing what data you collect and how you use it, granting a tailored CRM experience.

Dashboards and Reports

Reports and dashboards are crucial aspects of any CRM’s ability to provide you with insights. They present a clear, consolidated view of actionable data in real time.

Leveraging these reports, businesses can spot trends, identify bottlenecks, track performances, and make data-driven decisions. The dashboard provides an immediate snapshot of overall business health to ensure key insights are always within reach.

Our Other CRM Guides

Apart from this comprehensive guide on choosing the best CRM, we offer other insightful articles to enhance your understanding of CRM applications. We aim to aid you in making informed decisions suited to your unique business requirements.

Here’s some more valuable content to steer your CRM journey further:

Takeaways From Our How to Choose CRM

Understanding how to choose a CRM is the initial stride toward bolstering customer relationships, but it’s only part of the picture. The real magic happens when you and your team successfully harness the CRM tool’s potential.

Remember, your team needs to understand the CRM software’s importance and adapt effectively for it to streamline your business processes and enhance productivity.

To help your employees grasp its importance, make sure they’re guided and trained well; then move on to articulating how it impacts their daily tasks, enhances customer relations, and boosts overall productivity. Once they see its direct benefits, the motivation for adoption naturally follows.

Let’s not forget that comparing CRM vendors is critical toward the goal of implementing one. It allows you to assess firsthand what different vendors offer and how their features align with your business needs, ensuring a well-informed selection. Find vendors that can promote your business’s strengths and address its pain points, as this ensures significant growth for your business through improved customer relationships.

Looking to leverage a CRM tool for a business you’re about to open? Compare your options now with ease by diving into our detailed guide about the top CRM tools for startups, and move your startup to the next level with the right CRM.


What is CRM software?

What are the types of CRM?

How do I choose a good CRM software?

What are the key factors to consider when selecting a CRM system?

What questions to ask when choosing a CRM?

What is the most popular CRM?


Noah Edis

Noah Edis

Noah Edis is a technical content specialist and systems engineer with a wealth of experience in modern software. When he's not working, you can find him playing competitive dodgeball or programming.

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