employees at work on computers
Incorporating CRM software into your business allows multiple processes to function together and provides information to all team members. — Getty Images/fizkes

A customer relationship management (CRM) system improves internal processes and customer relations. Choosing a CRM system is an essential step for small business growth. Along with unifying customer data, cloud-based CRM solutions help your customer support, marketing, and sales teams.

However, the right CRM software for your business depends on what challenges you want to solve and which teams will use it. Learn how to choose a CRM system that meets your conditions and budget.

Identify your business requirements and challenges

Begin your CRM selection process by considering your company's obstacles and why your current solution isn't working. Initially, small business owners choose a CRM system to replace a spreadsheet and better manage customer data, like contact information. But you may pinpoint other business processes a CRM can improve, from customer service activities to sales management.

For instance, your sales reps may need help prioritizing and following up with leads. A CRM solution with lead management tools can score leads and help your sales team track their progress through the sales funnel. It might alert employees when it's time to follow up and allow managers to assign sales tasks.

In comparison, a service team focuses on customer relationships and needs to understand preferences and previous communications. A new CRM tool that tracks customer interactions is essential.

Consider the following business objectives:

  • Streamline business operations through sales and marketing automation.
  • Personalize the customer experience.
  • Fill your sales pipeline.
  • Continuously monitor the customer journey.
  • Enhance business performance.

[Read more: 12 Common CRM Questions Answered]

Determine what type of CRM system you need

The best CRM system for your business tracks lead and customer interactions. But you may need a specialized solution, depending on your customer base. Companies that handle personally identifiable information (PII) in the healthcare sector may require a software solution that complies with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Since integrations are essential, check out which CRMs connect to your phone system or other tools crucial to your sales process.

Niche CRM systems for business-to-business (B2B) operations focus on corporate communications, while real estate or property management tools have industry-specific features. Next, decide which teams will use your CRM tool.

Many business owners choose a CRM platform for their sales team, as lead management is a core function. A centralized system with customer support and marketing tools enables department collaboration. Compare customer service versus sales CRMs in our guide.

Compile your CRM features list

Get all the features your small business needs by speaking with various teams who will use the software. Since most CRM providers offer several plan tiers, there's no reason to pay for features your staff doesn't need or want. Develop a checklist of core CRM tools and ask your crew to mark them as mission-critical, nice to have, or unnecessary.

When choosing CRM software, consider the following features:

  • Reporting capabilities, dashboards, and sales forecasting.
  • Sales pipeline and lead management.
  • Contact management for storing customer information and interactions.
  • Integrations with business phone systems, project management, and collaboration tools.
  • Workflow and email marketing automation.
  • Customer satisfaction surveys and polls.
  • Mobile apps for Android and iOS devices.
  • Customer support ticketing and tracking.

Higher-priced CRM systems typically offer advanced features and functionalities, allowing for more customization and workflow automation. Other tools may include sophisticated data visualizations and channel attribution.

[Read more: 5 CRM Software Uses That May Surprise You]

Compare CRM software and create a shortlist

Once you understand how a cloud-based CRM system will impact your service, marketing, or sales processes and have a feature list, it's time to see which solutions meet your business needs. A site like G2 or Capterra provides an extensive listing of CRM software.

Since integrations are essential, check out which CRMs connect to your phone system or other tools crucial to your sales process. Ask for recommendations from your professional network, as they can offer insights about CRM adoption and the level of technical expertise required to deploy and use it.

Also, examine third-party reviews that involve user testing. These provide deeper insights into how the software functions. They may discuss how the features help service teams handle customer requests or point out issues with the user interface. Remember to check user reviews for mobile apps on the App Store and Google Play, and use our guide to discover six free or low-cost CRM tools for small business.

Select a CRM for your business

Conduct further research to find the right CRM system. Encourage employees to navigate the knowledge bases and trial software. Look at the differences between plans to ensure the one that fits your budget has your must-have features.

Complete the following tasks for each CRM platform on your shortlist:

  • Request demos from various CRM vendors and have a list of questions ready.
  • Take advantage of free trials and survey your team on their experiences.
  • Review customer support options and contact each CRM provider to test responsiveness.

This story was updated by Miranda Fraraccio and Jessica Elliott.

[Read more: CRM Optimization: Strategies and Best Practices]

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