Article

CRM buying guide

Sales teams can use robust CRM solutions to generate new leads, automate email campaigns, and produce forecasting reports and advanced analytics.

By Patrick Grieve, Contributing Writer

Published October 12, 2021
Last updated October 18, 2021

Sales technology has come a long way from the Rolodex and the post-it note.

Sales teams can now connect with leads and clients in more ways than ever before, from emails to phone calls to video conferences. All that constant communication is made possible in part by Customer Relationship Management (CRM) technology. Sales reps use CRM systems to capture every interaction, keep contact info up to date, and manage accounts of all sizes.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Sales teams can also use robust CRM solutions to generate new leads, automate email campaigns, and produce forecasting reports and advanced analytics.

Like we said—we’re a long way from the Rolodex and post-it note. We've created a CRM buying guide that covers the following key factors:

What does a CRM do?

A CRM automatically captures information about your prospects and customers, which your sales team can easily access and analyze for insights. The system saves every interaction between a sales rep and a lead or customer—each email, call, message, and presentation. It can also be used to take notes about client preferences, schedule meetings, and remind reps to send follow-up emails.

Every bit of information about a customer is accessible through the CRM, so sales reps can easily craft relevant, personalized messages for leads. This communication enables sales teams to close more deals and identify more upselling opportunities.

In short, a CRM simplifies the process of nurturing leads and maintaining strong relationships with prospects and existing customers.

While sales reps use a CRM to connect with customers, sales managers use the tool to monitor and improve their team’s performance. The tool allows managers to understand each rep’s activities, complete sales forecasting, and create data-driven reports that highlight areas of opportunity.

How do you know you’re ready for a CRM?

If you’re still trying to keep track of all your customers with spreadsheets, you’re ready for a CRM.

Even for small sales teams, manually updating customer databases is time-consuming and impractical. A sprawling collection of Excel pages, emails, and documents may have worked in the beginning, but it will be hard to sustain as your business grows. A CRM can erase hours of busy work, organize your operation, and streamline the sales process so that you can close more deals in less time.

In the past, advanced CRM systems were primarily used by big businesses with long client lists. In recent years, CRM technology has become more accessible, and organizations of all sizes are now leveraging it for significant gains.

Today, over 90 percent of North American firms with 10 or more employees use a CRM. The surge in virtual selling brought on by the pandemic has encouraged even more widespread usage. The CRM market grew 10 percent in 2020, compared to the average year-over-year growth rate of the three previous years.

Key features of a CRM system

There are many different CRM systems, and they come in varying levels of sophistication. However, there are certain features that are table stakes for any comprehensive CRM tool.

At a minimum, any CRM solution you pursue should have the following capabilities:

Unified contact management

The CRM you’re evaluating should be able to categorize, group, and search all prospect and customer contacts. It should track every interaction, email, call, and message that comprises their customer history. Not only does this help to keep your team organized, but it also creates awareness of where each prospect is in your sales funnel.

Pipeline management

A CRM system should manage your sales pipeline and forecast revenue by tracking the complete sales process. It should be able to track and analyze closing successes and failures and run data analysis of the results to determine why deals were ultimately won or lost. This information can be used to coach your sales team and optimize your sales process.

A user-friendly CRM dashboard

The ability to access the CRM’s entire toolkit through a customizable and easy-to-navigate workstation that allows sales reps and managers to conveniently is a must! To save your team valuable time, you should be able to use one dashboard to:

  • Track calendars, notes, appointments, and tasks
  • Organize emails, calls, and messages
  • View analytics for top deals, new deals, closed deals, and so on
  • Monitor revenue goals and pipeline information
  • Forecast sales and sales performance metrics

Data-driven reports

Your future CRM needs to be able to leverage reporting functions to analyze key metrics and gain a deep understanding of your sales process. It should also use forecasting reports to predict closing dates and revenues, use pipeline reports to identify bottlenecks in the funnel, and use sales performance reports to gauge the success of certain reps and strategies.

Mobile and cloud CRM applications

You’ll also want to be able to access your CRM system from anywhere in the world through an app on any mobile device—so you can always stay connected to your team and to customers. Even when you’re working from home or in the field.

Email automation

Another must-have? The ability to automatically create and send sales emails that are based on preexisting templates, and that are personalized for your contacts. This includes being able to automate custom drip campaigns, follow-up emails, and other types of messages.

Seamless integration

Lastly, CRM systems can often integrate with key sales tools— email services, calendars like Google and Outlook, communication tools like Slack and Zoom, social media platforms, document creators, accounting software, and more. Look for integrations and APIs that allow you to use all of the tools you need in your CRM.

Evaluating and comparing types of CRM systems

Most CRM systems are available as software-as-a-service solutions. The CRM provider hosts the software on a centrally located server, and businesses pay a subscription fee to access it.

The CRM space is filled with lots of different providers, and choosing just one can be a lengthy process. When comparing and contrasting different CRM systems, it’s important to look at the capabilities and available features of each option, as well as the following factors:

  • Pricing:

    A business’s budgetary abilities will always influence its choice of vendor. It’s important to compare the price points of different CRM providers and consider how their available features correspond to your company’s needs.

    Some providers offer a “free” version of their software, but then charge extra for basic functions like reporting. That’s why any evaluation of a CRM system should focus on the total cost of ownership (TOC), not just the list price. Examine all of the features and capabilities a CRM subscription plan includes, and how many users it covers. And do some research to identify potential “hidden fees” you may incur, like implementation costs, various add-ons, necessary consultants, or ongoing maintenance costs.

  • IT security:

    When you choose a CRM provider, you’re trusting them with a treasure trove of essential customer data. It’s the vendor’s responsibility to make sure security is up to date, keep client info from falling into the wrong hands, and handle disaster recovery.

    Check to see whether a provider is in compliance with industry-accepted general security and privacy frameworks. Ask how often they audit their applications, systems, and networks. And look for other signs of credibility, like positive professional reviews and customer testimonials from Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 companies.

  • Mobility:

    Your CRM should be able to keep pace with your sales team. If you have a partially or fully remote workforce, you’ll want a cloud-based CRM system that can be accessed from anywhere in the world, by anyone with a laptop or connected device.

    Mobility is especially important if your sales reps spend a lot of time on the road. A CRM with a good mobile app enables traveling salespeople to do everything from their phone. For example, the Zendesk mobile selling app allows reps to map their sales territory, plan their route, get directions, and capture conversations—all from their iOS or Android device.

Look for a CRM system that combines affordability, security, and flexibility, while also offering all of the features your sales team needs to succeed.

How to set your business up for success

Failure to plan is planning to fail. That’s especially true of CRM adoption. A new CRM system represents a major investment that will redefine your sales process, so consider your team’s unique needs before settling on a single provider.

  1. Identify pain points

    Ask your sales team to share their biggest challenges and roadblocks, so you know which problems your CRM should eventually solve. Make sure reps who will have to use the software every day are involved with the vetting process, and able to give their opinion on each CRM you consider.

  2. Check compatibility with your existing software

    You may be new to the CRM market, but there are no doubt many other sales tools that you’re already using. Make sure you find a CRM solution that’s flexible enough to integrate with your existing platforms, from your email inboxes to your accounting and order-tracking systems.

  3. Search for a scalable solution

    Some small businesses opt for a very basic low-cost “starter” CRM but eventually outgrow its capabilities. Once that happens, it can be expensive and time-consuming to migrate all of your data to a new CRM system. If you hope to grow your business, it’s important to find a CRM solution that’s capable of scaling with your organization. Find a provider that is affordable enough for your current operation, but also has the functionality to grow along with your business.

If you’re considering a CRM provider that offers a free trial, you should take advantage of the opportunity. Just be sure to read up on the system’s features before you start your trial period so that you can get a true assessment of its usefulness and capability.

Why choose Zendesk?

Zendesk Sell is a cloud-based CRM that offers endless customizability, a robust set of features, and a flexible tiered pricing structure to fit your organization’s needs. A team that is as small as three sales reps can use Zendesk for less than $20 a month per user, while larger organizations can unlock additional features at the enterprise level. And the overall total cost of ownership remains relatively low, since Zendesk is so easy to operate, from setup to ongoing maintenance.

Sell is a centralized tool for prospecting, engagement, and communication that improves the customer experience increases sales productivity, and reduces costs. The CRM’s intuitive and easy-to-configure dashboard allows reps to make calls, send emails, schedule meetings, and view deal history, all from one place. And with Zendesk’s industry-leading mobile selling app, reps can access that intuitive interface from their phone or tablet, wherever they happen to be working or meeting with customers.

Sell also offers advanced sales prospecting functionality, allowing users to generate leads from a list of over 200 million professionals. Sales teams of all sizes use Zendesk to find new prospects, enrich contact data, and create targeted lists.

Zendesk has hundreds of available integrations, so you can quickly connect your CRM to every tool that you already use, from Gmail to Outlook to Mailchimp. You can even build your own apps in Zendesk and share them in the marketplace. And if you want to take an all-in-one approach to CX, Sell can integrate with Zendesk Suite for unified data, easy collaboration, and truly seamless customer experiences.

Despite the long list of features and capabilities, Zendesk is not difficult to master. It’s a modern CRM that’s designed to be beautifully simple, providing sales teams of all sizes with an easy-to-use and conversational interface built around everyday sales activities.

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