Building and maintaining relationships with new and existing clients is a top priority for all B2B firms—regardless of the industry.

Keeping client and prospect correspondence in one place and syncing contact details across management tools are just a few reasons that your firm—regardless of its size—may want to consider investing (or reinvesting) in a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution. There are many CRM tools available in the marketplace, with many similarities as well as differences. Whether your B2B firm is looking to invest in your first CRM tool or want to upgrade your current solution, there are a number of important things to think through. Here are seven considerations when choosing a CRM solution:

1. Map out your goals and objectives

Successfully choosing the right CRM solution starts and ends with an alignment of your business goals. Prior to formulating your wish list or researching your options, it’s important to map out your overall goals and objectives by contemplating some of the following questions:

  • What business challenges are you wanting to solve?
  • Will the CRM usage focus more on new business, existing clients or both?
  • What current processes are in place for recording, tracking and monitoring contact interactions?
  • How sophisticated is your business development/sales process?
  • How many users will you need licenses for?
  • What internal processes will need to be adjusted to make the most out of the investment?
  • What other software and systems will the CRM need to interact/integrate with?
  • Who will be responsible for implementation and training? An internal resource or outside partner?
  • How will CRM performance be measured and evaluated?

Whatever your strategic goal(s) may be, be sure that you’ve outlined your objectives as a guide for your search for identifying the right CRM for your firm.

2. Identify what features and functionality you need most

Once you’ve identified your goals and see the big picture, you need to put together a list of functionality requirements, and consider the priority of each requirement. Your list should contain some non-negotiable must-haves, but it may also contain some nice-to-haves that you may be able to live without. Most CRM platforms have a similar set of features, such as the ability to add and track contacts, companies, leads, opportunities, etc., but every platform varies in terms of feature sets and the degree of available customization. Look for a solution that meets your requirements, but be sure that you aren’t paying for a slew of features or customizations you don’t necessarily need (see #3).

Regardless of your requirements, choosing a CRM platform that provides amazing support is absolutely paramount. You want to make sure that you select a vendor that stands behind their product and treats all customers—from the smallest entry-level account to the very large enterprise—with the same level of customer service and support.

3. Research CRM solutions that are ideally suited for your firm

Different CRM tools are geared towards different company sizes, from start ups to enterprises, with varying levels of sophistication. It’s best to choose a tool specifically geared towards the size of your firm, with a level of CRM sophistication that is appropriate. Generally speaking, the more features a CRM offers, the more time consuming it is to set up, the more resources it takes to onboard staff, and the bigger the financial commitment—both upfront and long term. Large CRMs are feature rich and highly customizable, and can be tailored to align much more closely with your firm’s structure and process (e.g. Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics).

If your firm is small or medium in size, a more streamlined CRM with fewer customizable features and faster deployment time could be a better option. These CRMs will still help you keep track of leads, with simpler sales forecasting, analytics, workflows and project management tools, without a significant resource investment (e.g. Method, Nimble, Zoho CRM, Hubspot).

There are also industry-specific CRM solutions that may also be a valid consideration (e.g. Cosential for A/E/C). While they all come with downsides, these (pricier) solutions are geared towards the specific needs of a particular industry and can shorten deployment time and provide more relevant training. For a helpful tool on selecting the right CRM, check out G2 Crowd Grid for CRM.

4. Choose a system that plays well with other technology

Does your firm use a marketing automation platform? Project management software? Or perhaps a client support portal? Whatever your existing software, it should play well with the CRM that you select, have the capabilities to integrate with your email service provider (e.g. Office 365, Outlook, etc.) and any client facing software that your firm uses. Most CRMs list the platforms that they natively integrate with on their websites and larger CRMs have partner programs with a wide selection of add-ons and apps to choose from (e.g. Salesforce AppExchange.) Depending on your specific needs, you may need to look for a CRM solution that has an open API for custom integrations, or look to leverage a 3rd party integration tool such as Zapier to integrate the CRM with a wide-variety of applications.

5. Focus on ease of use and mobility

Usability should be a critical selection factor for choosing the right CRM. You should look for a solution that has an intuitive interface and makes it easy to do the things that you want to do. Each solution has its own way of doing things, so find the tool that will require the least amount of learning and training. Look for a solution with a well-designed user interface and one that shows consistency from release to release. This will save you time, avoiding having to relearn the tool after each new feature or update rolls out.

Accessibility from any browser or device is also an important thing to look for in a CRM—your users should be free to use their browser of choice. If you have employees that are often on the go or working remotely, consider choosing a CRM that has a solid mobile app.

6. Schedule demos and read peer reviews

Once you’ve shortlisted some viable solutions, you’ll certainly want to schedule demos to get a look at what the CRM experience is like. Be advised, however, that the demo environment of all CRM solutions is set up to position the tool in the most positive light possible. You’ll likely want to schedule multiple demos and have the sales rep walk you through various use cases. If possible, leverage free trials when available.

You’ll also want to pay close attention to a CRM’s 3rd party reviews. Your chosen software should have many good reviews, especially in the areas that will matter most to your firm. No software is perfect, but watch out for patterns and themes that emerge. Most solutions have a weak spot, so choose one that ranks high in the areas that matter most to accomplish the goals that you outline for your new CRM.

7. Be realistic about the total investment

Map out your budget as well as how much time you are willing to dedicate to CRM implementation and ongoing management, whether it be your own time or your employees’ time, and look for a tool that aligns with your budget and time commitment. Be prepared to spend a fair amount of time on the front end, setting the tool up and training your people to leverage its features, all while keeping your objectives for the tool in mind.

On a related note, when comparing CRM solutions providers, pay attention to how each solution handles their pricing structure, as the pricing models of CRM vendors vary considerably. Is the cost dependent on your number of users? Are there up front fees for set up and training? Ongoing monthly fees? Fees for additional support and training? None of these billing options are inherently wrong, and so it’s up to you to decide what works best for your firm. The point is, be sure you consider all costs involved, as well as terms of the contract (e.g. month-to-month, annual, multi-year, etc.) You don’t necessarily want to be locked in for a long-term commitment.

Do your homework

Choosing a CRM for your B2B firm not only comes at a high financial cost, but also a considerable investment of time and energy. In order to maximize the return on your investment, and the success of the CRM implementation and adoption, its essential to do your research and take your time selecting the CRM tool that’s right for your firm.