Best CRM software of 2020
How do we decide what's the best CRM in today's dynamic landscape?
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Best CRM Software
CRM software is the number one tool for finding sales leads, keeping in contact with potential customers, and closing sales deals. CRM stands for “customer relationship management,” which means that CRM is designed to take care of the entire life cycle of sales—helping you convert potentially interested leads into loyal, long-term customers.
CRM software accomplishes this through a combination of data analytics, contact tracking, and task management tools. If you want to quickly and efficiently identify and act on sales leads, your company absolutely needs CRM to be able to compete.
Why use CRM software?
Does your team still store sales leads in a giant Excel spreadsheet? Or worse, dozens of poorly-maintained spreadsheets and loose hand-written notes?
If so, chances are you aren’t capitalizing on sales leads and managing customer relationships as well as you could. Contact info gets misplaced, potential customers get lost in the shuffle, and one-time purchases don’t get converted into repeat customers.
CRM software offers a solution to all of these problems and more. A good CRM system gives you a one-stop dashboard and database management system to organize all of the data pertinent to your sales: contact info, previous purchase history, documents, contracts, and more. Not only that, in a good CRM system, these data are backed up in the cloud, making them remotely accessible even from mobile devices.
CRM software isn’t just for keeping your customer-related data organized; it also gives you insights on how to increase your conversion rate, turn leads into sales, and increase customer retention. It’s no accident that CRM software is one of the biggest areas of business IT right now—businesses that use CRM to manage their customer relations have a decided edge over those that do not.
As a result, they generate and follow up on more leads, make more sales, and convert more one-time customers to repeat buyers. CRM is rapidly becoming non-negotiable in competitive industries ranging from real estate to retail to business to business (B2B) relationships.
Who uses CRM software?
CRM was originally developed for people on the front lines of sales—the salespeople that contact potential sales leads, work with customers to identify the products that best suit their needs, and close the deal. If you’re a point person who makes sales and deals with (prospective) customers, CRM is the definition of what you do.
Many of the core functions of CRM software, like managing customer contact info, sending and checking emails, and managing your calendar, are tailored specifically to point-person sales tasks. Many of the new CRM tools that you’ll find in top CRM software systems cater to salespeople who need to manage customer details remotely, and possibly across international borders.
However, you shouldn’t think that external sales reps are the only people who use CRM software. Your sales team leads who manage individual reps also need access to CRM software to track their team’s progress towards making sales goals, and to help direct individual reps towards the most promising sales leads.
Your sales operation team also needs to play a part in CRM—it’s awfully hard to support your sales team if you don’t know what they’re up to. Beyond external sales, internal sales teams matter too. At many companies, internal sales are a big part of overall sales volume, so your internal sales reps need to be trained in on your CRM system too.
Finally, as data analytics becomes a bigger and bigger part of all aspects of business, more and more companies are starting to integrate insights from their analytics and data science teams into their CRM systems. If you want a competitive edge, you should explore ways to get your analytics team involved in CRM to increase sales.
There are a few key features you’ll find in any good CRM software: these include contact management, integrated lead management, and sales tracking. These are absolute must-haves. Beyond the basics, there are several useful extras to consider.
CRM software should integrate with your email, project management, task management, and scheduling systems. These features can vastly increase your sales team’s effectiveness: with a few clicks, you can email a sales lead to confirm a meeting, block out the time on your calendar, save the location of the meeting for when you’re driving there, and update your project plan. The increase in efficiency here can be enormous, so keep an eye out for CRM software packages that allow you to do all of these from one dashboard.
CRM software can also track your invoices, contracts, and other documents. In more document-intensive businesses, especially those that focus on consulting and contracting, having a CRM system that has document management tools is particularly important. Document management helps you track different versions of contracts, invoices, and proposed sales agreements, all in one place. These tools prevent you from having to dig through folders on your hard drive or emails in your inbox to find the most recent version of a contract or sales agreement.
Some companies may want CRM software that is supported in multiple languages. A few other features that are more specialized, but might be a good fit for certain firms, include the range of language support. Support for multiple languages is a more specialized feature, but a critically important one for companies that work internationally and that have sales teams that coordinate across borders.
A good CRM software should integrate well with your existing information technology infrastructure. Make sure you take note of how well a CRM system will integrate with your currently existing IT setup. When choosing and implementing CRM software, you’ll need to integrate your IT team to ensure your email, task management, project management, database, and calendar systems all get integrated correctly into your CRM software.
With good IT skills, an open source CRM software can save your company a lot of money. For smaller companies with a nimble IT team, open-source CRM software can help you save a lot of money and customize your CRM software to perfectly fit your needs. Other firms will benefit more from SaaS (Software as a Service) CRM setups that host the actual software remotely. This means fewer installation and compatibility headaches, easier remote access through the cloud, and cloud-based data backups.
High-end CRM software lets you create campaigns, set goals, and manage sales leads across sales teams. Sales management, sales operations, and sales team leads will likely want to know what kind of goal tracking and campaign management features are available in the CRM software you choose, so be on the lookout for these. Different CRM systems offer varying degrees of support for setting sales targets, starting sales campaigns, and tracking sales rates and conversion rates across your sales team. You’ll also want to ask about how to build in your key performance indicators, or KPIs, into your CRM dashboard. Take note of these features, especially if your team leads and management will be heavily involved in the CRM process.
Modern CRM systems can automatically rank or score your prospective sales leads. Some of the more advanced CRM suites are incorporating analytics data to develop lead scores, a predicted rating of how promising different sales leads are. Getting a CRM system with lead scoring won’t be super critical if you only have a small number of active leads (which is often the case at business-to-business sales outfits), but lead scoring could be huge in industries like real estate, where there are a huge number of customers who have expressed potential interest, but relatively low rates of actual sales.
Brands with a community shouldn’t neglect social CRM. One of the hottest new features in CRM right now is social CRM. If your company’s brand relies on social media to generate interest and drive sales, getting social media data, such as likes, comments, hashtags, and interactions, integrated into your CRM system is an absolute must. If this sounds like your company’s situation, get a CRM system that supports social CRM.
Q: What does CRM mean?
A: CRM is an acronym for customer relationship management—this term encompasses the entire life cycle of a customer’s relationship with your company, from first contact to becoming a loyal, recurrent customer. In the old days, the emphasis was on the customer relationship: individual sales reps had a personal relationship with individual customers, which drove their business.
This can still be the case today, but with modern CRM, there’s an increasing emphasis on the management aspect of CRM: making sure leads get tracked down, making sure that customers are happy with their sales, and working to convert single purchases to repeat customers.
The management aspect of CRM ensures that leads don’t get lost in the bustle of fast-paced business, and helps identify the most promising potential leads so you can make the most profit out of your sales team’s finite amount of available time.
While “CRM” originally referred to just the software system itself, its definition has expanded to emphasize customer relationship management as an overall philosophy: economizing and streamlining the process of identifying, pursuing, and converting sales leads to both improve your company’s bottom line and increase the satisfaction of your customers.
Q: What are some examples of CRM?
A: Here’s how business goes down at a company that doesn’t use CRM software or respect CRM principles: someone who heard about your company at a trade conference reaches out to a sales rep for information on your products. Your sales team sends the potential customer a generic brochure on your products, but never hears back.
A few months later, a sales rep tries to reach out to the potential customer, but can’t find their contact information, and the sale never happens. Contrast that with what might’ve happened with modern CRM software: as soon as the potential customer makes contact with a sales rep, their information is entered into your CRM database.
Notes from the original phone call get added to the database as well, and a new task is pushed to your marketing team. A brochure customized to the customer’s needs gets drafted up and sent to the customer via the CRM dashboard. Your sales rep gets an automated calendar reminder two weeks later to follow up with the customer, whose contact info is readily available in the CRM database.
To close the deal, a sales rep travels on-site, and can access all of that customer’s contact history via a mobile app on a tablet. After you close the deal, your customer service team can follow up with the customer to make sure they’re happy, and if the customer is interested in another purchase and gets in touch with a different sales rep, all of the customer’s previous data and sales history is available at your fingertips.
Q: What does a CRM system do?
A: A CRM system is designed to give your sales team all of the data they need to track down more sales leads, convert more prospective customers to buyers, and make sure your repeat buyers are happy as well.
CRM systems keep track of contact information, purchasing history, email exchanges, contracts, invoices, and other documents. More importantly, all of these things are tracked in the same place: the CRM software dashboard.
CRM is about more than organization, though: it’s about helping your sales team prioritize the most important and most promising leads, and making sure there are no leaks in the pipeline from identifying a potential customer to making a sale. CRM also helps you turn that pipeline into a loop, converting more first time purchasers to repeat customers.
Q: Why do you need a CRM strategy?
A: Simply put, the best reason for having a CRM strategy is that if you don’t have one, you’ll be losing out on leads and sales to competitors that do use CRM.
A CRM strategy makes sure all of the pertinent information on a potential customer gets stored correctly in your CRM database, and makes sure that everyone who has a hand in that customer relationship gets trained in on your CRM system.
When a prospective buyer makes first contact with a sales rep, their contact information and details need to make their way into the CRM system; likewise, once a purchase is made, all the relevant documents need to be stored appropriately as well. That way, when this customer comes around again for another purchase, you don’t have to start from scratch.
Companies that explicitly lay out a CRM strategy have an edge at every step in the selling process: They can flag potential buyers earlier, they can more effectively maintain relationships between reps and potential buyers, they can more accurately identify the best sales leads, and they can close sales deals with higher success rates thanks to their superior knowledge of their customers’ needs.
Q: Are there free CRM systems?
A: Yes, there are several free CRM software systems. Flowlu, Freshsales, and SuiteCRM are just a few CRM providers that have at least a free version of their software. A few free CRM systems, like SuiteCRM, are even open-source—that means you can host and run them yourself, if you’ve got a skilled IT team.
Generally, free CRM systems come with fewer features and little or no technical support services. They might be appropriate for small businesses or nonprofits, but as your sales expand, you’ll likely want to graduate to a paid CRM system (unless you are hosting your own CRM system using open source software like Suite CRM).
Q: What is a CRM process?
A: A CRM process is a CRM implementation strategy where customer relationship management is pictured as a series of discrete, related steps—a checklist, of sorts, that starts from the identification of a prospective customer and their entry into the CRM pipeline, and (hopefully) ends with them becoming a satisfied, repeat customer.
The details of what the steps are in this CRM process are going to depend a lot on your specific industry, but they follow a general structure.
The first part is identifying potential sales leads. For a business-to-business sales situation, these leads might come from trade conferences, cold calls or emails, or previous business relationships. For retail brands, potential leads could show up via social media engagement or signing up for an email list.
Then, as much data as possible on this potential lead should get entered into your CRM system. Have they had previous contact with your sales reps? What specific products are they interested in? Have they shown other key indicators of sales interest, like downloading white papers or filling out product information requests?
Once the data is available, the CRM system helps you identify the next available action. For example, a customer who has filled out a product information request should get put in contact with a sales rep with expertise in the particular product the customer is interested in.
From here, the CRM process steps are pretty similar: relevant data gets entered into the CRM database, the next action is identified and pushed to the right person, and the process repeats. Once a sale is made, all pertinent details get logged in the same CRM system.
Q: What is a CRM database?
A: A CRM database is the backbone of your CRM system. It’s the place where all of your customer data is stored: contact information, history with the company, previous invoices and contracts, and so on.
Mediocre companies don’t have a CRM database; they usually just have a loose collection of different data in different places. Emails stored in an address book, invoices stored in a folder on a computer hard drive, contracts in a filing cabinet, and so on.
CRM databases integrate all of this data and store them in the same place, ideally backed up and in the cloud. Depending on your specific industry, you may want to involve your IT team if you need to want to add specialized types of data to your CRM database, like 3D models for industrial design companies.
Q: How is social CRM different from traditional CRM?
A: Social CRM helps you leverage social media engagements to generate more sales and keep in touch with buyers. Social CRM via platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Linkedin are particularly important for brands with substantial communities surrounding the brand.
Companies like Lululemon or Nike are great examples: by leveraging engagements with their brand’s community, they can identify more customers, turn more leads into sales, and ultimately have much more success than companies in the same industry who do not leverage social CRM.
Q: What is big data CRM?
A: Big data CRM is a new but increasingly popular area of interest. Many of the advantages of traditional CRM over old-school “gut instinct” sales practices can be thought of as applications of the insights of traditional business analytics.
In the digital age, the amount of data available to your analytics team has exploded, hence the increasing demand for data analysts and data scientists. Big data CRM, as described in a research article published in 2019 in the journal Applied Computing and Informatics, is a strategy to directly integrate insights from big data into customer relations management (X).
One example of how this might work involves social CRM. A major retail brand might have tens of thousands of social media engagements per day (likes, hashtag usage, @ mentions, etc.). Big data CRM might use insights from these social engagements to identify potential customers and get them into the sales pipeline.
For example, big data CRM could enable a sports equipment retailer to identify a prospective customer, display ads for products that fit her needs, generate a special discount for signing up to an email newsletter, and track her customer service history with the company. It’s easy to see the potential for huge increases in conversion rates thanks to big data CRM.
However, given the daunting task of curating huge datasets (and the even bigger task of getting good insights out of these datasets), big data CRM is still in its infancy. Keep an eye out for more integration of big data CRM from industry leaders like SugarCRM, Oracle, and Salesforce.
Q: What’s the best CRM software for nonprofits?
A: Using CRM for fundraising is one of the biggest advances in nonprofit revenue generation in recent history. That’s because all of the same principles from sales leads apply to identifying nonprofit donors—not all leads are equally likely to give; nonprofits that do a better job managing their donor relations tend to pull in more money than those that don’t; and keeping track of information like donor history and contact information makes it much easier to increase annual donations. However, because the nonprofit sector has its own quirks, it’s not the best idea to use a general-purpose CRM setup: for one thing, nonprofits can’t afford high-end CRM suites, and typically don’t have the kind of IT staff that can support very sophisticated CRM systems. Instead, try a high-quality nonprofit-specific system like Boomerang, DonorPerfect, Salsa CRM, or Kindful. These offer systems that are tailored for nonprofits, ranging from small part-time operations to large, national organizations.
Q: What is the best CRM software for real estate?
A: CRM strategies can make a huge difference in real estate, because the absolute number of sales per year is much lower than in many other industries. That means every potential buyer counts. For real estate we like Wise Agent, Pipedrive, and Follow Up Boss thanks to their retail-oriented designs and sleek, easy to use interface. Real estate agents often have to access their CRM system while travelling, whether to meet a seller or to conduct an open house. As such, you want your real estate CRM to be easy to use, even on a smartphone. You also want it to put you in touch with buyers and sellers, via phone, email, or text. For that reason, a simple and easy to use interface should be the priority for real estate CRM.
Q: Should small businesses use the same CRM software as bigger businesses?
A: Historically, the answer to this question has been a definitive “no,” but recently, some of the CRM heavy-hitters have started expanding their product line to offer more options to small businesses. Salesforce, for example, offers great CRM solutions for small businesses, ranging from ultra-basic customer relations tools to more sophisticated systems for marketing campaigns and for growing your business. Still, you’ll want to opt for CRM software that has a lower monthly cost, a shallower learning curve, and doesn’t have the same IT-intensive support requirements as enterprise CRM software.
Q: What is HIPAA compliant CRM software?
A: If you work with healthcare data, you’ll want CRM software that’s HIPAA compliant. HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a law that puts heavy restrictions on how healthcare data (like medical records and insurance billing) needs to be secured. When it comes to CRM software that is HIPAA compliant, the field of products is a mix of large CRM systems with special HIPAA compliance tools and more specialized healthcare-focused software. Salesforce, for example, offers a cloud-based healthcare CRM system, while other outfits like Influx MD and PatientPop are specifically designed for healthcare providers who want to improve their patient relationship management.
Q: What’s the best CRM software for startups?
A: Choosing CRM for startups is a little different from choosing CRM for a small business—while you want things to be simple and inexpensive, you also want the ability to rapidly scale up your operation, so CRM that’s specifically designed for small customer pools may not be the best fit. Tech-oriented startups with strong IT skills may want to check out Zoho, since it’s highly customizable and easily integrated with the other software you use. If you’d rather spend less time getting your CRM up and running, check out Hubspot CRM or SalesforceIQ, as both of these CRM solutions are easy to learn, but also scale well as your business grows.
If you want to convert more sales leads to closed deals, and turn more one-time customers into repeat buyers, CRM software is exactly the right tool for the job. By integrating all steps of the sales process, from initial contact to closing a sales deal, CRM software improves your conversion rates, efficiency, and ultimately, your company’s bottom line.