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TechnologyAdvice Buyer's Guide to CRM Software
What is CRM Software?
Customer relationship management (CRM) software is a tool designed to help companies keep track of their relationships, manage sales and marketing processes, and deliver more efficient service. It functions as both a database and a productivity tool, providing a repository for contact/interaction data and workflow automations that help improve efficiency.
With such mission-critical functionality, it's no wonder CRM has become one of the most widely-adopted solutions in business IT. According to Gartner's most recent estimates, the global CRM market hit $26.3 billion in 2015, up 12.3 percent from the previous year. Thanks to a wave of cloud and mobile innovation, this broad, diverse category has expanded far beyond sales into other job functions and industries like retail, real estate, and nonprofit.
The market can feel overwhelming to a new buyer. In this guide, we'll look at four primary categories, leading vendors, current trends, and a few case studies to help you compare CRM software for your business.
Best CRM Software Vendors (by market presence)
|Product||User Rating||Category||Pricing Tier||Mobile App||Free Trial|
Top CRM Vendors, By Product Category
|Microsoft Dynamics||Insightly||DonorSnap||Wise Agent|
I. Enterprise CRM Platforms
While there are many different kinds of CRM platforms designed for enterprise-use, they are all intended to serve large scale business needs across a variety of departments. Enterprise platforms typically have numerous integrated features, the ability to add features by purchasing apps and add-ons, and/or the ability to custom-design new features by using a developer toolkit.
The phrase "enterprise CRM" usually has a traditional connotation, meaning the product is focused on contact management through a set of predetermined channels — both inbound and outbound — and automating sales processes to optimize old and new customer relationships. Enterprise software also tends to provide powerful tools for data analysis and insight, which can help managers take massive amounts of stored data, make sense of it, and put it to work.
Research has shown that four out of five brands record and store more information about their customers than they know how to productively use. In large companies, especially, it's crucial to have the right tools for transforming information into strategy. During your CRM software comparison, it's a good idea to look for products that include built-in reporting/analytics.
Market Leader: Salesforce
Year after year, Salesforce is ranked as the market leader among all CRM software vendors. Their platform was the first built exclusively in the cloud, which means that instead of housing software on-premise, you pay for monthly access through the web. Now, almost all of the best CRMs are exclusively or optionally cloud-based.
Salesforce is scalable, depending on the size of your operation, but it certainly isn't a low-end product. The top-of-the-line enterprise version costs several hundred dollars per month, per user, which gets you the most comprehensive features package (custom app-building, mass email, customizable dashboards, webs service API, web chats, and more). All levels of Salesforce offer tools for contact and opportunity management, performance management, sales and marketing automation, lead management, forecasting and reporting, mobile compatibility, and, of course, access to the AppExchange, where you can purchase additional features to meet your needs.
Case Study: Santander Consumer USA
Santander Consumer USA, an auto financing company, had been using a patchwork system for managing relationships with dealers and consumers that consisted of Microsoft Outlook and Access . . . and lots of unnecessary manpower. They began using Sales Cloud, by Salesforce, in 2009 and saw measurable results almost immediately, as well as long-term benefits.
- New hires train in one week (instead of the previous six weeks)
- Reduced dealer response time from one hour to about 15 minutes, using automated voicemail-to-text account record feature
- Reduced loan application look-up time from one hour to 30 seconds
- Reduced follow-up time from 24 hours to two hours
- Total estimated yearly savings of $1.08 million
II. Mobile Applications
Many enterprise and "best-of-breed" CRM products now offer mobile compatibility, which is convenient if you have a large company with a partially mobile sales force. There are also crm platforms specifically designed for mobile use. In industries where sales reps go to the clients — not vice versa — mobile CRMs are instrumental in keeping leads and client data organized and updated, keeping sales people connected with management, and optimizing daily operations.
For example, many mobile CRMs incorporate geolocation features, which help your reps plan the quickest route between multiple contacts on, say, an iPad, and pull up live GPS directions to get them there.
Industries that commonly use mobile CRM include real estate, merchant services, and energy/utilities.
Market Leader: Base
One of the current "Post-PC" CRM frontrunners is Base, which has garnered support from over 10,000 companies worldwide through its iTunes/ Android/Windows Phone application. The app gives sales teams the full functionality of a traditional computer-based platform, but with additional mobility tools such as geolocation, route-planning, offline access, and push notifications — all in a package that can go where they go (via smartphone, tablet, or iPad).
Base connects operational functions like sales tracking, analytics, phone, and email with powerful navigation features that might otherwise require a separate device (one-touch driving directions, trip optimization, territory management).
You'll need the enterprise version if you want to do things like integrated calling, lead scoring, and sales forecasting. Base is great if you're looking for something streamlined, with a clean interface designed to keep your mobile sales force focused on the right priorities.
Base served a strong lineup of A-list clients, such as Allstate, GE, Nationwide, Wells Fargo, and Merck.
Case Study: Blue Reef
Australian internet management company Blue Reef replaced their previous CRM system with Base when they realized they were spending too much money on a system that was too large and complicated for their needs. Before Base, Blue Reef relied on a combination of Salesforce and Excel spreadsheets to track their sales pipeline. They maintained numerous clients across Southeast Asia, and felt that Salesforce wasn't effective at helping them quickly and easily manage their massive workload.
- They were spending $15,000 per quarter on licensing
- and an additional $20,000 on consulting fees,
- but still felt the need to build their own spreadsheets to manage their sales pipeline, which meant extra work and a lot of wasted money
Blue Reef made the transition to Base in just three days, and has spent less than $1000 dollars on it to-date. Solutions Specialist Kane Rogers says they get the most use out of Base's automatic call logging, email integration, and task automation features, and, best of all, they no longer have to double-handle data. "It's "freaking awesome," Rogers says.
III. Social CRM
As with the mobile CRM category, integrated social features are becoming increasingly commonplace in the software market, especially as companies look to better engage with their customers on more than just a few predetermined channels. Social media has had marked effects on both customers' relationship expectations and companies' obligations.
93 percent of social media users believe a company should have an online social presence; 85 percent expect companies to not only be present, but to also interact with customers through social media. As customer-centric business leans further in this direction, social CRM tools will be invaluable to the health of every brand.
You can find solutions ranging from platforms with basic social media integrations up to entire enterprise suites designed to help grow a successful community around your brand. The more competitive products will offer advanced tools for measuring social engagement, such as "listening tools" with text analysis, data trackers that record likes, comments, mentions, followers, and so on, as well as lead suggestions. Many companies find it helpful to tether social media access with back-end programs so that reps can not only reach out to clients and know what they're saying, but also do things (e.g. recommend a product, complete a service request). Social CRM can make this possible.
This category of CRM is still defining itself as new vendors surface and old ones incorporate the features, so it's difficult to predict who will become the market leader. Some of the CRM giants (SAP, Oracle, Salesforce) have bought out social app designers during the past couple years, but that doesn't necessarily mean they'll take the baton; every business has a different scale appetite for software, and some prefer the smaller, simpler, more affordable platforms. During your CRM tools comparison, try decide how social integration might or might not benefit your existing workflows. According to a report by Nucleus research, adding social (and mobile) capabilities to your existing CRM can increase sales productivity by 26 percent.10
Prominent Platform: Nimble
Nimble CRM has taken a social-centric approach to relationship management since its founding in 2009. Instead of relying exclusively on traditional, predictable contact mediums (phone, email, IVR), Nimble includes social media, IM, and SMS in its "Intelligent Relationship Management" platform. Essentially, the platform takes all of this information and condenses it into one interface, so when a rep interacts with a customer, he sees the entire picture all at once. Social networking, of course, accounts for a huge portion of that picture.
Nimble offers social listening tools for all of the major social sites, as well as features such as contact importing, monitoring, social selling tools, and call-to-action notifications.
Case Study: Pravda Media Group
Pravda Media Group is a B2B digital marketing firm based in Israel with a huge database of contacts. Previously, the CEO, Kfir Pravda, and his team had been manually operating connections across social channels and personal contact lists that spanned 10 years. Moving contacts efficiently from the top of the sales funnel to the bottom was becoming quite the challenge due to their fragmented system, so Pravda decided to try Nimble.
Nimble helped the Pravda Media Group better understand and act on their leads, stay organized, and up their game in the B2B world.
Using Nimble's Social CRM platform, they were able to:
- Handle 3-4 times as many deals by making focused, contextualized follow-ups
- Reduce sales-funnel time and effort by 25 percent
- Shorten or eliminate unnecessary personnel meetings, saving employees a whole workday, cumulatively, per quarter
- Streamline training for Pravda CRM, so entrylevel employees could use the platform
IV. Small Business CRM Software
A market full of "megavendors" like Salesforce and Oracle can be intimidating to small businesses that work in niche industries and have limited budgets. Some of these businesses simply can't afford a product like Oracle. Others find the large feature sets of enterprise CRMs too complicated for their basic needs.
Luckily, there are many vendors that offer CRM systems built specifically with these businesses in mind. From industry-specific (retail, nonprofit, real estate, etc.) to generally more simple and affordable platforms, there's an option for every small business.
Market Leader: Insightly
Insightly promotes itself as the "Number one free CRM for small businesses." Of course, the free version only accommodates two users, so if your team is any larger, you'll need a paid version. Even so, Insightly is a simpler, more affordable alternative for startups and small companies that need to manage the lead to revenue process and basic marketing tasks. Insightly also offers a few project management features, which makes it unique among competitors. The cloud-based platform integrates with a number of third-party solutions, including Google Apps, Evernote, Box, Dropbox, Outlook, Office 365, QuickBooks, and many others. It also works on mobile devices through a native mobile app.
Case Study: Ontario Property Pros
Property Pros is a Keller Williams Edge Realty partnership led by broker Brenda McKinley. They offer residential, commercial, and investment services to clients in the Burlington, Ontario area, with a mission to manage the buying and selling process from A-to-Z and provide valuable market knowledge to maximize the value of properties.
Before switching to Insightly, the Ontario Property Pros team was managing contacts in a real estate-specific CRM they found expensive and difficult to use. In 2014, McKinley decided to search for a new solution — one that offered the best value at an affordable price point. After testing the software out through a free trial, McKinley and her team agreed that Insightly was the best solution for their needs.
- Successfully manage over 5,000 contacts
- New contact follow-ups are faster and more accurate
- Integration with everyday business tools (email, file storage, accounting, marketing automation) centralizes digital work
- Better able to convert prospects into customers
- Introduced Insightly to 120 fellow agents in the Keller Williams brokerage
Current Trends and Innovations
It's a good idea to keep a finger on the pulse of CRM and understand what innovations are changing and disrupting the market. You wouldn't want to spend money on a product that might be antiquated in two years time, or, conversely, invest in some flashy new widget, only to discover that it's an old widget dressed in new clothes. Here are four CRM trends that have cropped up in recent years. Some are already being assimilated by vendors and business; others, not so much.
Software-as-a-service (SaaS) goes by many names—cloud-based, webbased, outsourced, on-demand—but try not to get confused. They all mean essentially the same thing: you won't be housing the software on-premise. Instead of purchasing a one-time license, you'll pay a periodic subscription (usually per month) to use the software. A lot of popular consumer software, such as Dropbox and Spotify, operate using this web-based, subscription model. Forrester Research reports that 70 percent of organizations already use or want to use SaaS solutions for CRM and other processes.
There are good reasons for this. Among them:
- Lower upfront cost
- Better scalability to size
- Faster roll-out and implementation
- Compatibility with an increasingly mobile sales force
SaaS CRM is here to stay, for good. Don't be afraid of it.
2. Mobile Features
Speaking of mobile ... we covered this a bit earlier. Mobile devices aren't exactly new anymore, but their capabilities continue to evolve (i.e. geolocation, cloud-connectivity), and the idea of businesses harnessing those capabilities for customer relationship management is relatively new.
Gartner reports that the number of mobile CRM apps available in app stores will surpass 1,200 before the end of the year. This proliferation, in many ways, parallels a growing interest for CIOs to pursue "customer experience management," which requires businesses to meet customers where they are and react to their needs, rather than simply push products.
You may want to use caution, however, when considering mobile CRM solutions. The rapid growth in this category will inevitably leave a few lackluster, buggy products in its wake. It may take some time for IT skills to "catch up" with the vast number of new mobile apps on the market. Some will make the gauntlet; others will not.
3. Customer Experience Management (CEM/CXM)
Some CRM companies are backing a new field of technology and strategy, which, depending on whom you ask, transcends or could even replace traditional CRM. It's called Customer Experience Management, and it offers a new, more customer-centric engagement approach to relationships, alleging that it is a company's responsibility, not the customer's, to make advances and contextualize approach.
This means interactions are no longer limited to call centers; they take place on social media, web sites, instant messaging, email, and even SMS. For the most part, this term has proven to be a marketing gimmick. Instead of worrying about lingo, look for a solution that will help you stay connected to customers across a number of different channels.
Choosing the Best CRM Software for Your Business
Now that you have a better picture of some specific applications and vendors, it's time to choose one for your business. Luckily, TechnologyAdvice has already done the hard part for you. When you use our Product Selection Tool, you'll find organized information and reviews on 100+ different CRM software vendors. We'll help you connect with the right solution for your business according to the features you value most.
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- "Quadrupling Deals with Nimble." Nimble. Accessed on October 13, 2014. http://www. nimble.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Pravda-Media-Case-Study.pdf
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- "The Value of Mobile and Social for CRM." Microsoft. Accessed October 24, 2016. https://www.microsoft.com/presspass/itanalyst/docs/03-01-12CRM.PDF