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March 20, 2017

CRM Software Evaluation Guide: How to Choose the Best Free CRM System for Your Company

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Your business is growing, and spreadsheets are getting frustrating to manage. You know you need a CRM, but there are hundreds of CRMs and hundreds more features available. How do you decide which is the best for your business?

This guide will walk you through how to evaluate a CRM, from how exactly it will help your business and how to map your needs to core features. By the end of the guide, you'll know how to choose the best CRM for your business needs.

Don't waste time and energy evaluating CRM systems and features you don't need. Get started below.

What is CRM?

CRM, or customer relationship management, is a strategy companies use to track customer relationships from pre- to post-sale. A CRM system is software that stores information on client and prospect interactions with employees. Marketing and Sales touchpoints (including email, phone, website, live chat, and social media) are tracked, providing customer-facing employees with detailed context on a client’s activity and feedback.

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What are the benefits of CRM?

The benefit of having a CRM system is having a central database for all customer information.

A business’s most valuable and important asset is its customer base. At many companies, knowledge about customers is stored in many places -- the CEO’s brain, a sales rep’s inbox, an accountant’s records, or even a spreadsheet.

As your company grows, it’ll become harder and harder for your sales team to hunt down information about customers and prospects. It rapidly becomes painful to find answers to basic questions like, When did I last speak with a prospect? How should I prioritize my leads? Which customers are ready for an upsell? Hunting down those answers takes time away from what your sales team should be doing: Selling.

Businesses often run off of spreadsheets, but that only works for a while. The spreadsheet gets bulkier as your team grows and quickly becomes difficult to manage. Salespeople will forget or choose not to enter details about their calls and emails to save time, and it becomes nearly impossible for managers to accurately forecast or get visibility into team pipelines. The result? Less organization, more confusion, and fewer closed deals.

CRM systems are designed to solve these problems. By organizing all lead and customer information in one place and automating data entry, CRM software makes it easy to run the sales process smoothly.

Below is a view of how a CRM dashboard displays deal forecasts, sales pipeline, and deals closed against quota for a given month.

The five major benefits of a CRM system are:

  1. Customer data management. By organizing all lead and customer information in one place and automating data entry, CRM software makes it easy to run the sales process smoothly.
  2. Sales reporting. A CRM tracks quota attainment and activity metrics such as emails sent, calls made, meetings booked, opportunities created, and deals closed.
  3. Accurate sales forecasting. Stop relying on complicated formulas or back-of-the-napkin math. A CRM system generates an accurate sales funnel for you, which makes it easier to forecast future sales and effectively manage your team’s pipeline.
  4. Customer segmentation. By segmenting prospects by parameters such as location, deal size, or close date, you can identify specific regions or industries to sell into, and benchmark your average sales price and sales cycle.
  5. Scaling a sales process. A repeatable sales process is key to testing new sales motions and strategies. Without the information stored in a CRM, you’re shooting in the dark. You need this data to spot behavioral patterns and trends in effective and ineffective sales behaviors. Otherwise, you won’t be able to grow your team or business efficiently.

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How do I know if my company needs a CRM?

Any company that wants to maintain a relationship with their customers will benefit from using a CRM system. Two types of companies that see the most benefit are:

  • B2B companies that track leads across longer, consultative sales cycles and through upgrade paths (for example, software companies, agencies, or recruiting firms)
  • Considered-purchase B2C companies (for example, realtors, financial services, or landscaping services)

There are many companies that may not fall into the above groups but would still benefit from a CRM system.

The questions you should ask yourself when evaluating your need for a CRM system are:

  • Do I need records of information about prospects and customers?
  • Does that information live in many different places?
  • Is it becoming difficult to manage my data?
  • Do my customers regularly interact with multiple people on my team?
  • Do I need a better way to measure my sales team’s productivity?
  • Is my team getting slowed down because they have to jump between different places to find lead or customer data?

If you answered “yes” to any of the questions above, your business could benefit from a CRM system. Adopting one sooner rather than later will help you avoid frustration and save you future headaches.

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What is the ROI of a CRM?

There are a lot of CRMs to choose from, and many appear similar to each other. We’re going to dive into how to decide which will give you the most value.

A common misconception surrounding CRM systems is that they’re clunky, complicated, and tough to implement.

But modern CRM systems don’t require the difficult setup they used to. They’re quick and intuitive to use, take many manual administrative tasks off your plate, and can be set up in a matter of minutes.

Josh Harcus, founder of marketing agency Hüify, saw huge success within just one year of implementing a CRM system.

"We wanted to grow quickly so we did a lot of research on inbound selling and created a documented sales process which we baked into the HubSpot CRM," Harcus said. “Within 12 months we saw our revenue multiply 6X."

Hüify also saw a significantly shorter sales cycle after adopting the HubSpot CRM -- from nine months to four weeks.

A study conducted by an MIT Sloan MBA student found that 79% of customers using marketing, sales, and CRM software saw an increase in sales revenue within one year.

Let’s also look at some concrete numbers to show how much time and money a simple CRM solution can save you.

The average salesperson makes $60,000 annually and spends two hours a day on manual data entry. Assuming a 30-day month with 20 selling days, a team of 10 will waste 400 hours on manual data entry every month. That translates to paying your team $12,000 a month to do manual data entry.

That's 3,000 lattes.

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(That's what 3,000 lattes looks like.)

Assuming an 8-hour work day, that’s 25% of each month spent on data entry. In the data visualization below, the first scenario is an ideal situation: A sales professional spends one chunk of their day doing manual data entry and can spend the rest of the day focused on selling.

8 hour work day.png

However, the bottom scenario is more accurate. Out of every two hours, 30 minutes is spent on manual data entry. This results in lost productivity as your sales team switches gears from data entry to selling back to data entry. A study by the University of California, Irvine [pdf] found that it takes 23 minutes to regain focus on a task after an interruption.

That time should be spent selling so your business is bringing in cash, not wasting it. To sweeten the deal? Many modern CRM systems are free.

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How do I evaluate which CRM is best for my company?

There are a lot of CRMs to choose from, and many appear similar to each other. In reality, choosing the best one depends on your goals.

We’re going to dive into how to decide which will give you the most value.

The biggest mistake many first-time CRM buyers make is evaluating vendors before deciding their own goals. By focusing on vendors, you end up reverse engineering their offerings to define your needs, rather than focusing on areas with real business value to your company. For example, a mobile CRM sounds cutting-edge, but if you only run an inside sales team that’s on-site, it may not be the best fit.

Before evaluating CRM vendors, ask yourself these questions:

  • Why are we investing in CRM?
  • What operational business challenges do we need to solve?
  • What processes do we lack that we should implement?
  • How many people do I expect to use the CRM?
  • How much customer information do we have?
  • What other software do we use that the CRM should integrate with?
  • How much budget do I have?

According to SoftwareAdvice.com, small businesses that are first-time CRM buyers often overestimate the level of functionality they need. Using an overly robust system means you’ll have to invest more in setup and customization, which is a waste of resources if your challenges can be addressed by the most basic CRM systems. It’s much easier to start with a simpler CRM and move to a more comprehensive solution later on.

Another point of concern is that businesses will lose the data they already have on their customers when they adopt a CRM. But it's easier than ever to import data into or between CRMs (yes, even from your spreadsheets).

If many solutions look really similar, we recommend you:

  • Contact the vendor and review your list of requirements with a sales rep
  • Read product reviews and ask peers which system they use
  • Compare prices and focus on getting the features you need

Choose the CRM software that you consider best for your needs and stick to your decision. Indecisiveness will cost a lot of time and money.

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The Best CRM Features for Small Businesses

The core features of a CRM system include:

  • Contact management. CRM systems provide a searchable database to store customer and prospect information and relevant documents.
  • Pipeline management and sales forecasting. Your CRM should make it easy to visualize your entire sales pipeline as well as move deals from one sales process stage to another. No more mental math to figure out what’s closing this month.
  • Reporting and analytics. Sales leaders can use their CRM to track their team’s activity and revenue growth to guide team coaching and sales forecasting.
  • Process standardization. CRMs help standardize business processes through unified task lists, calendars, alerts, and templates.

Other features a CRM system may have include:

  • Email integration. A CRM that integrates with your current email client can automatically log prospect interactions and pull other useful context right into your inbox. This integration eliminates a good portion of manual data entry and is a large factor in whether your sales team will actually use the CRM.
  • Email tracking. With email tracking, your reps will know when their email is opened, if a link in their email is clicked, or if a document was opened. This arms them with insights to follow up effectively.
  • Call recording. Call prospects directly from your CRM to save time and log the interaction. Recording is an added bonus that makes it easier for managers to coach salespeople.
  • Interaction tracking. A CRM can streamline a sales rep’s day by automatically logging information any touchpoint with a prospect (like an email, phone call, or social message) and/or visits to your website. Take a look at tracked interactions below.

  • Software integrations. What software do you already use? A CRM that can integrate with your existing systems will minimize the time your reps spend switching between various apps.
  • Data enrichment and collection. Does the CRM create more administrative tasks for your team, or does it automate data entry and give them more time to sell?
  • Leaderboards. Some CRMs create friendly competition by tracking and displaying your salespeople’s activity levels and forecasted pipeline.
  • Mobile CRM. Will a mobile CRM be useful for you and your team? Are you expecting them to be frequently on the go or will they be a purely inside sales team?

The most recommended CRM for small businesses include Zoho CRM, Pipedrive CRM, Agile CRM, Insightly CRM, and HubSpot CRM.

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Review Sites to Help You Choose the Right CRM


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I’m ready to move my team onto the HubSpot CRM. What’s the next step?

Click below to get started with HubSpot CRM. Once you create an account, we’ll walk you through the necessary steps to get set up and start seeing the benefits of a CRM immediately.

GET STARTED FREE

The first steps to successfully implementing a CRM are:

  • Migrate your existing data (whether from a spreadsheet or another database)
  • Import contacts from your current database or spreadsheet
  • Invite your sales team to the CRM system
  • Understand how to filter your contacts for high quality leads

Good luck! Visit our community if you have any trouble setting up your CRM.

Topics: CRM

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