A practical guide to choosing a CRM platform
Over the last few years, customer relationship management (CRM) software has evolved a lot. Today, CRM platforms are amongst the most favoured solutions by companies when it comes time to increase the efficiency of their marketing efforts, grow their sales and improve their relationship with their clientele.
Thanks to centralized customer data, these leading-edge platforms have become indispensable to companies looking to improve their understanding of their customers and thereby optimize retention.
At Adviso, our first goal is to guide you in making clear decisions and equipping yourself with the right tools to ensure your company prospers.
Whether you’re researching which approach to take or looking for a specialized consultant for guidance, the following practical guide will help you better understand the process of successfully identifying and choosing a CRM platform that works best for you based on your company’s needs and goals.
- Defining your needs
- Understanding your use cases
- Construct a business case
- Planning the integration of the CRM into other systems and processes at your company
- Define and prioritize the requirements of your ideal CRM platform
1. Defining your needs
Before you even begin selecting platforms and providers, it’s imperative that you list the various reasons that have led you to look for a customer relationship management and email platform in the first place.
If your company already uses CRM software, it will be even more important for your organization to take stock, identify which elements are not working well and which configurations are inadequate in your existing systems.
You’ll also need to determine the motivations of the users of the future platform and identify the incentives as well as the obstacles that may stimulate or restrict its use. This is crucial, because the quality of the data that will be collected and structured by the CRM depends directly on this analysis.
What are the current and future use cases for the platform? What benefits will users obtain from it?
Taking the time to properly define the extent of your pain points and needs will enable you to have a clear, detailed plan that covers all the issues your new tool will need to resolve. This same plan will enable you to discuss all the changes the new CRM platform will entail with company personnel in advance.
Be sure you get every team involved in your decision-making process. This will allow you to identify all the obstacles encountered by personnel and properly understand their expectations with regard to the functional and technological requirements of your future platform. Finally, include the management of every involved department as early in the process as possible (IT, sales, marketing and services).
2. Understanding your use cases
Define a variety of more or less complicated use cases, the realization of which will be greatly facilitated by the new tool. These use cases will be especially practical for exploring the possibilities of adapting the different platforms you’re considering and for disqualifying any platforms from the get-go.
Next, validate the use cases as you’ve defined them with the various teams involved. During this step, be sure you understand any subtleties involved and include all the software and tools your employees use in these situations.
Once this stage is complete, prioritize your use cases based on their potential impact on your business objectives.
3. Construct a business case
Take the time to put your expectations down on paper and precisely identify the desired result. By defining your specific, measurable objectives beforehand, you’ll have everything you need to target the solution best adapted to your needs.
Try to push your thinking further and not limit yourself to your most urgent needs. What are your goals in five years? Can you foresee any complementary components to the base solution that might be useful in a few years’ time? Don’t hesitate to evaluate more comprehensive solutions. The synergy created between these various tools could enable you to increase your revenue, profits and cost-effectiveness.
For example, Hubspot offers packages that include several complementary models. In some cases, it may be more economical to choose a service package from the start, since this will ensure better business development in the medium and long term. On the other hand, starting off with a simpler option lets you save money in the short term, although such a solution is likely to need optimization and enhancement a few years down the line, which is often a very costly process.
No matter which path you take, once this stage is completed, all that remains is to design a solid business case, which will help you finance the installation of your chosen solution.
4. Planning the integration of the CRM into other systems and processes at your company
One of the most critical points to take into consideration when choosing a platform is its ability to be integrated into your existing tools. Unless you’re starting completely from scratch, it’s indispensable to fully define the integration requirements with your existing systems. Make a distinction between the integrations that are essential from those you can leave for later, if necessary, or which can be exchanged for something else.
Note that many platforms operate using an application programming interface (API), and that it’s often possible for integrations to be developed, even if your existing tool isn’t commonly found in the marketplace.
Prepare a complete list of your tools and assets, including: your analytics and BI tools; marketing tools; platforms related to sales and inventory; your cloud software; your ERP and CDP; your contact data; online and in-store sales; product inventory; call centre, etc.
Here are definitions for a few frequently used terms in the field, which will be helpful to know for the preparatory stages of your journey.
CRM (Customer Relationship Management): This is customer relationship management software centralized in a contact database focused on the management of sales, customer service and marketing.
ESP (Email Service Provider): Software that allows you to send marketing emails to a list of subscribers.
ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning): A centralized software suite enabling the management of principal business functions, particularly procurement, production, accounting, human resources and customer relations.
CDP (Customer Data Platform): Tool for managing a centralized database of customers.
POS (Point of Sale): Devices that allow customers to quickly pay for products and services in-store and that efficiently unify the management of stock, sales and payments.
CMP (Consent Management Platform): A centralized tool for managing the transparency and consent of users.
Call centre: Call centres are software allowing you to receive or make calls through several communication channels.
Don’t neglect this important research preparation. By having an enhanced understanding of all of the tools you use in your current ecosystem, you’ll be able to make a more accurate, informed decision that has a significant long-term impact.
5. Define and prioritize the requirements of your ideal CRM platform
Now that your needs and use cases are well defined and you have an understanding of your complete digital ecosystem, you can move on to the most critical stage: making a decision!
As with any major project, everyone has an opinion about what should be done and it would be great if the question could be settled right away. But by taking the time to target your most critical priorities and requirements for achieving your objectives, choosing the platform that will work best for you will become a lot easier.
Before starting an exercise which might seem more like putting together a puzzle, equip yourself with an evaluation grid. This will allow you to consider each targeted requirement and make the most important issues to be resolved with the new system a lot more obvious. By systematically thinking through each of the items on your list, you can accord each a certain weight based on their level of importance and ability to fulfill your needs. Once created, this grid will greatly facilitate your decision making.
Here are a few unmissable categories to consider:
- Contact management
- Customer communication management
- Lead generation and management
- Customer service ticket management
- Sales process management
- Workflow and automation of processes
- Management of marketing documents and resources, for sales and customer service
- Dashboards and reports
- Administration of users and their access rights
- Data security
Another point that shouldn’t be underestimated is the kind of user experience offered by the platform. Is it easy to manage? Does it require major resources for integration, development, team training and maintenance?
Consider all the contributors who will use the new solution. If they need support, will they have to refer to a webpage or online tutorials? Can they communicate with a provider representative if necessary?
When you draw up your criteria grid, be as exhaustive as you can. That way you’ll see the limits of the various platforms you’ll be evaluating.
Lastly, be flexible! Consider constructing your evaluation tool in such a way that you can quickly make changes if your priorities need to change or be revised. Keep in mind that this grid needs to be evolvable and flexible.
6. Create of shortlist of 3 to 5 solutions
At this stage, you need to have clearly identified the most important needs to be fulfilled by this new piece of software.
Although their analyses of various platforms is often quite abridged (especially for integrations), you’ll still get an interesting look at a diverse range of solutions available in the CRM market, which will allow you to create a preliminary list of solutions to evaluate further. The detailed descriptions, as well as the evaluations and comments from users, will guide you towards the right solution for your business.
After an initial study of the solutions, followed by initial calls placed to the suppliers, you’ll be able to decide on three to five solutions that seem most promising. Only this shortlist will continue on to the next phase of the evaluation process: a detailed comparative analysis of the selected solutions.
7. Draw up a scope statement
Now you should prepare a summary of your project. The goal of a scope statement is to bring together all the essential information you need to present this project to your internal teams as well as the suppliers you might be doing business with.
A fully fleshed out scope statement will let you present your company and your project more quickly. It synthesizes all of your objectives while exhaustively detailing your needs, which you described in the first step (technical, functional, expected relationship, installation timeline, etc.).
8. Test your selected solutions
Schedule calls with the representatives of the various selected platforms. Supported by your scope statement, take the time to fully explain your situation, present your use cases and validate whether each possible solution can respond to your various needs. A presentation accompanied by videos or even slides summarizing your current processes and main pain points can help clarify your needs.
During and after the call with the representative, don’t hesitate to explore the answers you were given while verifying at the same time how easily the proposed solution could be integrated into your current digital ecosystem.
9. Choose the ideal solution as well as the ideal provider
The answers you receive from provider representatives, as well as through your web research, will allow you to discern which solutions are best adapted to your situation. Review your list of criteria and give an overall score to each solution.
It is highly likely that more than one solution will answer your functional requirements and that making a final decision is difficult. To find your way out of the impasse, take some time to fully evaluate the fit between your company and the solution.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself that will help clarify your choice:
- What degree of confidence do you have in the provider’s competency?
- Does the provider have customers operating in the same industry as your company?
- Would you prefer to align yourself with a partner that is less recognized, but more innovative?
- Has the technology been tested and approved or is it little used in your field of expertise?
- What is the flexibility level of the solution?
- Are all of your most important integrations covered by the solution?
- How would you rate the level of detail in the documentation about the API provided by the supplier?
A few tips to avoid a stalemate
Make this team project a unifying experience
Ensure you’ve included all stakeholders at your organization from the start of the project. In order to avoid any friction during the process, make sure the project has clear leadership, then arrange it so that everyone has the possibility of pointing out any needs that are unfulfilled by your current technology and their frustrations when using it. This will help prioritize needs based on objectives.
Consider also involving the IT team earlier rather than later in the decision-making process, particularly during the discussions you’ll be having with reps from the candidate platforms. It will also be essential for your company to validate the feasibility of the major connections and integrations you’re hoping for before moving ahead with your choice. This will help you avoid any nasty surprises.
Demand in-depth answers and stay true to your objectives
Don’t hesitate to challenge the CRM representatives by requiring that they provide in-depth answers to your questions. This is even more important if they tell you that “anything is possible.” Be careful about receiving and understanding the details of their answers to “how” questions as well as a question like “How much will it cost for this addition?” Crucial elements are sometimes hidden behind answers that on their face seem simple. Who will be in charge of developing the integration? You or the provider? Is the functionality included in the given price?
When it comes time to make your final decision, return to your most fundamental issues. What is your main objective? In the end, what is most important to you? What are your greatest needs?
Consider the cost, but not at first!
The price of the solution being offered shouldn’t be the only criterion guiding your decision, or even the first thing you should be thinking about!
It’s more advantageous to not restrict your choices based on cost at the beginning, since most providers offer adaptable package offers. Depending on your needs (and any additions made during the process!), the price is highly likely to change anyway.
Try this: Only consider the differentiating factor at the very end of your evaluation process, when it comes time to decide between different solutions that equally respond to your needs.
A final word
Remember that there’s no perfect platform. Be open to the possibility you’ll have to change your current tools or even develop connections to pair them with your selected solution.
You will have to make some decisions. To ensure you proceed wisely, have a rigorous order of priorities based on how important it is to integrate these different functionalities with the CRM. Keep your comparison grid handy and ensure it evolves during the process. Finally, implement each functionality progressively and methodically.
Do you need a hand with getting a clearer view of your situation? Need support to identify the elements that are most likely to have the most positive impact on your company and its profitability?
Adviso has experience providing guidance to many well-known firms choosing a CRM platform, and our teams are completely at your disposal, whether it’s to discuss your technology needs or for guidance with a website redesign, from the simplest to the most ambitious!
Want to learn more about our specialized services in digital strategy?
Don’t hesitate to contact us today using this link. Our team would be honoured to lend a hand and help you achieve your business objectives!