Buyer Guides

How to choose a CRM

We spent over 100 hours testing different CRMs and interviewing real users to bring you the definitive guide on how to choose a CRM. Filter down most of the market with just three questions.

Ed Fry

Software Reviewer

Choosing the right CRM is hard. There are over 650 different tools to choose from. There are hundreds of meaningful differences between each of them. Every week, new CRM products are released and existing products are updated.

And most CRM advice sucks. 80% is written by the vendors (making it difficult to trust), and the rest is mostly written by journalists rather than product experts.

So, we spent over 100 hours testing different CRMs and interviewing real users to bring you the definitive guide on how to choose a CRM.

The good news? We think you can filter down most of the market with just three questions. Let’s dive in!

#1: How do you source new leads?

Typically, CRMs are best for one type of lead sourcing. The two most common ways to generate leads for your sales team are:

Inbound lead generation

  • Attracting buyers to your website using content marketing, SEO, and paid ads
  • Buyers fill in your forms or talk to sales via live chat
  • In general, leads are assigned to sales reps after buyers engage

Outbound prospecting

  • Create lists of potential ideal buyers
  • Engage buyers through sending emails, calling, social messaging, and other direct outreach
  • Leads are assigned to reps before buyers engage

Different CRMs will be better for showing different types of activities, as well as the actions by the sales rep.

For example, HubSpot CRM is great for inbound generation since it shares the same platform as all of HubSpot’s marketing products. This includes their website content management, live chat, forms, email, and ads software.

That means your sales reps can see all the relevant marketing activities about each contact in one profile. In this example HubSpot Contact profile, you can see:

  • Recent forms submissions
  • Summaries of their website sessions
  • Live chat conversations
HubSpot CRM's Contact view
HubSpot CRM's Contact view

On the other hand, Close doesn’t have any of those features. Instead, its feature set is designed for outbound prospecting. It offers you a dialer for calling, email outreach automation, and SMS in one tool for your sales team.

That means your sales reps can import their lists of potential prospects and manage all their work inside Close. In this example Close Account profile, you can see:

  • Call log with recording
  • Follow up SMS
  • Email outreach threads
Close CRM Account profile page
Close CRM Account profile page

If you’re not sure which direction is best, ask your sales reps what they’d prefer. Show them examples of real contact profiles in different types of CRMs like the screenshots above.

Key takeaway: Focus on CRMs that have the best features for how you source most of your leads.

#2: How many people will be using your CRM?

Typically, the more people using your CRM, the more different needs and use cases you will have to cater for. This often means you need more functionality, which usually increases the price.

Let’s look at three different example sales teams.

Sales Team A: Your first sales org might look like this:

  • 1-2 sales reps (with a quota)
  • Founder

Sales Team B: As you add 1-2 more sales reps, new roles like managers and SDRs typically appear.

  • 3-4 sales reps (with a quota)
  • 1-2 sales development reps (SDRs) to book meetings
  • Sales manager + your founder

Sales Team C: As you continue to add sales reps, your sales team becomes a ‘team of teams’.

  • 10 sales reps (with a quota), plus 2 sales managers
  • 5 sales development reps (SDRs) to book meetings, plus an SDR manager
  • 3 solutions engineers, plus a solutions engineer manager
  • 1 sales operations manager
  • Head of sales to organize and lead the function

You’ll notice that as the number of users of your CRM expands, so does the variety of users, and therefore the variety of functional requirements. This typically happens as you grow (or if you’re a startup, planning to grow) beyond around 10 sales reps.

For example, a sales manager needs to review every sales rep’s pipeline and create a revenue forecast by quarter. Meanwhile, sales operations needs to funnel reports and automations like lead assignment.

So why not buy the most full-featured CRM before hiring all these roles?

Firstly, it will cost more. Most CRMs charge more per user for their advanced features. “Number of users” is not the only factor in driving cost. It will also take you (or an agency) much more time to implement, configure, and train your sales team. This might not be worth it with only a few sales reps.

Secondly, having more functionality usually means a more complex user interface. In general, this will slow your reps down compared with a simpler solution.

This becomes a trade-off as your sales team grows. Either:

  • Choose a simpler, cheaper CRM that’s better for your sales reps
  • Or, choose a more full-featured CRM that’s better for operations and leadership

In general, if you have a smaller sales team (less than 10 sales reps), start with a simpler, cheaper CRM. When you hire more sales reps and specialist roles (like sales operations), then consider a more full-featured CRM.

If you’re not sure, look at a 12 month horizon. Consider the size and variety of your sales team that you will need to hit your revenue goals over the next 12 months.

Key takeaway: Choose a CRM based on how many varieties of users you might have. More varieties = more unique needs for functionality.

#3: Do you have a dedicated specialist to implement your CRM?

Different CRMs will take different levels of time, effort, and expertise to fully implement. This will usually look like:

  • Configuring objects and fields
  • Migrating data accurately
  • Setting up logic and workflows
  • Rebuilding reporting
  • Training all your different types of user

So understanding what resources you have to implement your CRM is another quick way to narrow down the list of possible options.

Typically, CRMs with more functionality will need more resources to implement. A CRM agency might cost almost as much as the CRM software itself over a year!

So, if you don’t have that bandwidth or budget, think twice before buying popular CRM products like Salesforce or HubSpot. Implementation might take days or weeks longer than a simpler CRM.

But, if you do have CRM specialists (like a sales operations manager) or budget for an external agency, you aren’t as limited here.

If you’re not sure how tricky a CRM will be to implement, look out for:

  • Free trials and monthly billing — test drive the software before committing to an annual contract
  • A simple user interface — a motivated user shouldn’t have to guess where to find the right thing
  • Clear, concise, searchable documentation — great software comes with a great manual
  • Fast, helpful customer support — when you get stuck, you need to count on someone getting back to you pronto

If you’re choosing a CRM, you should be really confident in how to implement and maintain your software. Don’t buy a CRM that is too complex for what your team can implement.

Instead, explore simpler products that you can implement fast - and then get back to selling. Later, when your sales team is a bit bigger, earning more revenue, and can afford more help, let your future team then figure out what CRM to use next.

What should I do next?

With these three questions, you can quickly narrow your options of hundreds of possible CRMs down.

But, how to use this set of criteria to build your final shortlist to try and then buy?

You can try search, asking communities, reading reviews.

You can also try Stackfix. Get the top #3 CRMs for your exact business needs:

  • Hand-curated by an expert
  • Under 24-hours
  • Completely free

The catch? You have to (briefly) interact with a real human being.

Over live chat or a quick call, our product experts can understand your business and what you need from a CRM. We’ve bought and tested out dozens of CRMs to help deliver our expert analysis.

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