How to Choose the Right CRM Platform

If you’re reading this post, you’ve probably had a long journey through Google results for whatever it was that you searched. Or, you were referred to my website directly and decided to check out this point (Hi, mom!).

Being the first post on this blog and a topic that has been written about to death is not exactly a formula for going viral, but I thought I might offer a different perspective than I’m used to seeing.

CRM platforms are plentiful. They’re all different and they’re all the same. They each have their unique features and interface, but in the end, they’re a tool for organizing your prospects and clients and managing your communication with them. And only one is perfect for you.

That’s right, I said one of them is perfect. And it’s the one you should definitely choose, no question.

So, which one is it, you ask? I have no idea. Sorry.

In 2016, I was charged with finding the company I worked for a new CRM platform. We had used Salesforce in the past, and had only nine months prior switched to a local startup CRM, which was sort of a customized white label version of Hatchbuck because it would allow us an affordable way to integrate some marketing automation. Only, it wasn’t working out.

So here I was, ready to find the right platform that would be our fix-all solution to contact management, sales funnel tracking, and marketing. No problem. (I should note that, being a marketing geek, I was honestly quite excited about taking the lead on this.)

I started making a list of well known CRMs: HubSpot, ZoHo, MicroSoft Dynamics, InfusionSoft. The company’s president was very willing to just return to Salesforce as well, since we knew the system and wouldn’t have a learning curve. I started collecting certain info on each as well: pricing for a 5-10 person sales team, contact limits, built-in marketing systems and/or pre-built integrations with third party apps.

I made a nice list, and, frankly, I spent too much time on it. And here’s my first tip to you, so you can avoid spending too much time: consider first what you REALLY need. Not what’s ideal, or what’s cheapest, or what’s got the best reviews, but the few core functions you need a CRM to be really good at. Then, do your research on those functions alone, and make your list. Don’t rule anything out because it’s too expensive or too ugly or can’t automatically send a welcome email to contacts who download your latest whitepaper.

I messed up on that. I got too much info on platforms that I later found to be a very, very easy decision to cut from the list. Live and learn.

Okay, so let’s skip ahead in my story a little. My list of options had been pared down to four: Salesforce, InfusionSoft, a lesser-known platform called PipeDrive, and Dynamics.

At this point I would like to make clear that I am not recommending these four above other for you, nor am I suggesting you eliminate the others I’ve mentioned that didn’t make the first cut.

Second tip: Demo. Try the software. Nothing will tell you more about if it will work for you. If you’re not terribly familiar with CRMs or you consider yourself “technologically challenged,” request a guided demo with a sales rep. Some platforms require this anyway.

I demoed two of these platforms in one week. Dynamics was a quick nix. If I remember correctly, I found the interface overly complicated and knew it would be a steep learning curve. PipeDrive was promising — less expensive and user-friendly, but no marketing automation (not a deal-breaker). Salesforce we decided would be our fallback if none of the other three (now down to two) worked out.

This brings us to InfusionSoft. I almost crossed them off the list the minute I found out they don’t let you trial the software with your own content. You get a guided demo, and that’s it. Then you have to make the investment to use it yourself. I wasn’t a fan of the strategy, but agreed to the demo.

And the demo was great. InfusionSoft is a powerful system that does “everything” in CRM context: marketing automation, e-commerce, sales pipeline tracking, and more. During the demo, my team and I asked a number of questions specific to our business to make sure it would check off all of our boxes. After much deliberation, we decided to go for it, and we got started with InfusionSoft.

After a couple days of importing all of our contacts and notes, we hit a serious snag. One of those company-specific questions we asked, well, we got an incorrect answer. I won’t bore you with details (anymore than I already have), but it was serious enough that we asked for a refund and were ready to go back to Salesforce. Then our sales rep pointed us to a third-party app that would effectively solve the problem, and he offered to cover the $10/month cost for us.

With that in mind… Tip three: If you identify an issue with a platform that is otherwise a good fit, ask about it. Don’t just ask, “Can we do [thing you need] or not?” Tell your sales rep WHY you need it and ask if he or she can recommend a workaround or outside app.

InfusionSoft is now a core part of our operations. It’s not perfect, but it is absolutely better than no CRM or the one we were on prior.

My point in all this is that CRMs are not built for your company specifically, no matter how much they may try to position themselves as such. If you have specific needs, it can be difficult to find one that meets them all. But unless you have some really unorthodox method of managing your contacts, a solution is out there. If you’re going to spend time searching for it, focus that time on the final stages — the demo, the specialized questions — rather than early on.

To summarize:

  1. Consider what functions you really, absolutely need.
  2. Demo before you buy. No exceptions.
  3. Ask a sales rep for help getting around potential issues, rather than assuming the platform won’t work for you.

If all of this sounds like just too much effort, there are plenty of consultants out there, myself included, who are ready to help with the research and the implementation. And if you just want a few tips or quick answers to get you started, shoot me a quick email!

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