The goal of a Customer Relationship Management selection is to choose the CRM software that will maximize your business objectives in the least time, cost, and risk.
Selecting the right CRM system requires time and diligence but need not be a daunting exercise. This 5 step CRM evaluation checklist can bring structure to that goal, and ensure you focus on what matters and don’t get distracted with what doesn't.
Based on three decades of CRM selection experience, below are the five evaluation steps to find the best fit solution for your company.
Start with Clear Objectives
Only with clear objectives can you achieve predictable outcomes and forecast an ROI on your CRM investment.
Objectives are not requirements. They are the business and financial outcomes most important to the company. And they are stated in clear and measurable terms, such as the following:
- Increase customer acquisitions by 10% beginning 120 days after the application go-live event
- Improve marketing conversions by 15% within 90 days of application go-live
- Lower customer churn by 5% within 60 days of application go-live
The fastest and most effective method to surface the top objectives is a one-day Design Thinking workshop.
This workshop brings together stakeholders, managers, staff and IT professionals to facilitate a series of quick sessions designed to surface the most important and highest impact user, customer and company objectives.
It's effective in achieving a consensus of the most important goals that can be accomplished with a new CRM system.
Once clear goals are solidified, you can identify your tactical requirements.
But three things to know.
First, most CRM buyers don't know what software capabilities exist in modern applications. Therefore, rather than prescribing features and functions, focus on your pain points and identify what needs to get fixed or improved. Then let the vendors bring their expertise to show how technology can be applied.
Second, group your requirements into the three categories of user, customer, and company objectives. For reference, most CRM buyers focus almost exclusively on company requirements, give short rift to user requirements and omit customer requirements.
When user objectives are glossed over, the company is likely to incur significant user adoption challenges and a much lower technology payback. When customer objectives are omitted, it's unlikely the customer relationship management system will improve customer relationships.
Below are examples which highlight what are often some of the most significant requirements.
User Interface (simplicity)
User Experience (process)
Ease of use
Social media integration
360-degree customer view
Positive customer experience
First call resolution
Low customer effort
Easy to do business with
Simple system administration
Increase customer acquisitions
Lower cost per acquisition
Increase customer share
Lower non-profitable customers
Increase customer retention
Lower cost to serve
Improve forecast accuracy
Turn data into information
Third, recognize most of the publishers have built feature rich apps over more than two decades. In that time, they have responded to the bulk of requirements requested by clients. Our own analysis shows that about 80% of business requirements and software capabilities are undifferentiated. So, when flushing out your requirements skip the easy stuff and instead limit your efforts to surfacing what you think are unique or company specific requirements.
By focusing on unique or specialized requirements, you will also avoid the mistake of creating a laundry list of generic requirements, that then consume more time to evaluate, score and ultimately recognize that they failed to uncover differentiation among competing CRM solutions. When it comes to creating your needs analysis document, more is not better.
Finally, determine your budget. Look beyond the software subscription to recognize other required investments such as consulting services (for implementation help, data conversion, system integration, customization and training) and internal system administration resources.
For reference, Software Path did a study and found that the average budget per user for CRM software is $7,500. This figure is the projected total cost per user over a five-year period, so it averages about $1,500 per user per year or $125 per user per month.
The need for RFPs has changed significantly in recent years. Many CRM selection consultants recommend avoiding them as the responses fail to uncover differentiation or separate vendors. Instead, they focus on a much smaller subset of higher impact objectives during the software demo.
Other people, especially old school IT professionals, prefer RFPs as part of their due diligence.
There is no one answer. We've done plenty of CRM software selection projects with and without RFPs.
If you elect to do this document, it should include a company overview, the top desired objectives, unique or critical requirements, the application scope (i.e., sales force automation, marketing automation, customer service, etc.), and a schedule or timeline for the project. You can also include purchase terms and conditions, but they will be deferred until you designate a finalist vendor and begin CRM contact negotiation.
It's best to limit RFP distribution to no more than 4 vendors. But whether you choose to do a CRM RFP or not, you will need to identify a short list of vendors. Start by looking at CRM market share, then talk to your peers, ask your LinkedIn contacts for referrals, check out G2 CRM positioning, or engage a CRM software selection consultant to narrow down the most appropriate short list.
Good CRM demos are focused, consistent and scored.
Limit the presentations to no more than three vendors. Be clear with an agenda and time allocation but give the vendors latitude to show how they can solve your pain points.
Avoid generic presentations and insist upon scripted demos. A CRM demo script is essential to make sure vendors focus on what's most important and the vendors can be objectively scored and compared.
The key is to share exactly what you want to achieve (your user, customer and company objectives) and let each vendor show how to achieve it. Rather than focusing on individual features and functions, it's better to assess multi-step, end to end processes as that will provide a much better understanding of the user experience.
Demo scripts often provide inputs and desired end results but do not specify the process in the middle. Give the vendors creative freedom in determining the best way to deliver your results.
Software demonstrations advance your CRM evaluation from a quantitative to qualitative review. They assess subjective but critical criteria such as simplicity, ease of use, intuitive navigation and the user experience. They also shift your CRM evaluation from identifying what capabilities exist to seeing how they are delivered in your business context.
Finally, use standardized score sheets to score the demos in real-time and hold a project team meeting immediately after each demo to share opinions and calculate a consensus score.
CRM Evaluation Matrix
An evaluation matrix is used to score and rank competing solutions. Based on our experience, we recommend the matrix include, but not necessarily be limited to the following 6 CRM selection criteria.
- The User Experience
The UX is critical in gaining CRM user adoption and the downstream business outcomes identified back in step 1. A good UX is less about software aesthetics and more about satisfying the user objectives of focus, simplicity and productivity. A good UX will start with a minimalist view, display information in context, make navigation intuitive and avoid software bloat or blindly adding features and functions at the expense of simplicity and ease of use.When the CRM software directly serves the users’ WIFFMs (what’s in it for me), increases their productivity and improves their performance objectives, the CRM program will be wildly successful. If it doesn't do these things, staff will perform the bare minimum, data quality will become compromised, and the CRM program will limp along until it predictably fails.
- Software Fit
Measuring each vendors fit of your user, customer and business objectives, and validating that fit in the CRM demo will achieve a measurable ranking of the competing solutions. But remember, not all requirements or software capabilities are equal in importance, so weight your objectives and requirements so that the most essential deliver the biggest impact to the scores.
- Process Automation
Business process automation drives staff productivity, user adoption, cost savings and technology payback so much that we break out this criteria for comparison and measurement.
CRM workflow tools automate processes, decrease process cycle times, manage approval rules, distribute variance alerts and intervene with prescribed actions when necessary. While extremely powerful, recognize that bad processes are not helped by new technology so plan to simplify and streamline processes before you attempt to automate them.
"Eighty-five percent of the reasons for failure are deficiencies in the systems and process rather than the employee. The role of management is to change the process rather than badgering individuals to do better.”
—W. Edwards Deming, Engineer, statistician, professor, management consultant and all-around business guru
- Software Extensibility
Your business goals and requirements will continue to evolve so your software must keep up. Two powerful capabilities that should be vetted are ISV ecosystems and no code platform tools.Independent software vendor (ISV) ecosystems are generally online directories of third-party applications that are pre-integrated with a CRM system. Salesforce AppExchange and Microsoft AppSource are two popular examples. These ecosystems offer specialized and purpose-built apps that can fill gaps and avoid software customization.But when customization is needed, look first to low code or no code tools such as the Power Platform. These tools can be used by business analysts or power users to modify the application for company requirements.
- Vendor Viability
After investing time, money and effort in a CRM solution you want assurance the vendor will stick around while you recoup your investment. Assessing vendor viability for large CRM vendors is quick and easy. But if you are considering one of the many small, specialized or niche-oriented software publishers more diligence is needed. Several software vendors have shut their doors without advance notice. That disruption is magnified for cloud vendors that are holding your data. Mitigating this risk is essential.
- Value & ROI
To forecast a return on your investment you will first need to calculate your total cost of ownership (TCO), which includes the software subscription, implementation consulting services, support and internal system administration. Then, you can project cost savings and revenue enhancements based on your slated objectives. The best way to forecast the financial upside is to apply industry benchmarks that show the measured uplift from your baseline performance to your planned destination. By way of reference, The CRM Benchmark Report found that the average CRM ROI is 211%.
Finally, the CRM market is extremely competitive with many good solutions, so the final recommendation is often more a relative choice than a single option.