Investing in the best CRM solutions can streamline your everyday business processes and coordinate your IT, marketing and sales teams. A CRM can also help your company stay competitive, deepen your engagement with customers, and generate detailed reports on your communications with customers, partners, and suppliers.
Investing in a CRM isn’t an overnight solution. Before you choose a CRM, it’s important to research what it takes to set up your new tool and start reaping the benefits. The software should meet your immediate needs as well as your needs for future growth. Also consider factors like third-party integrations, customer support and training options.
Importance of a CRM implementation process
One way to manage your relationships with your customers is to invest in customer relationship management (CRM) software. A CRM can increase customer engagement, allowing you to understand which products and services are in demand, your customers’ expectations, and even where your customers like to spend their time online.
Editor’s note: Looking for the right CRM solution for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.
CRMs like Salesforce, Freshworks, and Zoho can automate these tasks, improve communication among your employees, and create a consistent customer service strategy.
The CRM implementation process is unique to each business, but it generally involves three elements: technology, people (training), and business processes.
Tip: Few CRM tools are optimized straight out of the box. Consider your organizational workflow and what custom features you will need to develop during your CRM implementation.
Choosing a CRM
When you’re choosing a CRM, it is important to go through a diligent and thorough vetting process. CRM software is expansive, and every solution has its strengths and weaknesses. Before you make a decision, we recommend the following steps.
1. Determine why you need a CRM (1 week).
Before choosing a CRM, consider your particular goals. For example, what pain points in your business should your CRM alleviate? You can also brainstorm customer service, marketing and sales goals.
Evaluate your business processes. Where do they need improvement? Consider your workflow: Are there any opportunities to find new efficiencies before bringing the software into the equation? If so, make the necessary changes before choosing a CRM.
Finally, determine whether a CRM can help you meet your remaining goals. How should it be configured to do so? Consider ways to adjust a CRM to suit your staff and organizational structure best.
2. Create a budget (1 week).
CRM implementations and add-ons can increase costs quickly. Create a budget and let your CRM sales rep know what you are willing to spend. Most CRM companies offer various training options, including self-guided training materials. Consider the costs and benefits of offering your staff one-on-one training for them to become proficient with the system quickly.
3. Choose a CRM (1-3 weeks).
CRM software options may be similar on the surface, but they have different tools and integrations that separate their strengths. Before choosing a CRM, research each prospective vendor’s strengths, weaknesses, customer support, and experience working with a business the same size as yours. The platform should integrate seamlessly with your existing software, such as QuickBooks. [Read our review of QuickBooks for more information.]
Ask colleagues and friends if they work with any of the CRM platforms you are considering. Feedback from current users can make a significant difference in your final decision.
If you are still unsure which CRM is right for your company, hiring a CRM consultant who has experience with multiple CRM platforms could save you time and money in the long run.
Bottom line: Choosing the right CRM is critical, and implementing it effectively is equally important. Take your time researching, comparing, and conducting trials before deciding which CRM is right for your business.
CRM implementation steps and expected timelines
CRM implementation timelines depend largely on the complexity of your business’s customer management needs. That said, you can use these basic CRM implementation guidelines that account for the main factors necessary to go live. This timeline can help you stay on track and have realistic expectations as you move forward to streamline redundant processes.
1. Collaborate with CRM experts and team representatives (1 week).
When you are developing a CRM model, you will want to surround yourself with CRM experts. Professionals versed in CRM tools can implement changes or requests quickly and with technical precision.
Since you have already chosen your CRM at this point, you can seek CRM specialists on that specific platform. Look for professionals with certifications and hands-on experience.
A CRM implementation team may include a project manager, an application developer, a QA test engineer, and employees from each department. Choose team members who will be in direct contact with the CRM and train their department after the solution goes live. The team must consist of multiple departments to brainstorm KPIs (key performance indicators) and troubleshoot pinch points.
2. Rank KPIs (2-4 weeks).
Rank KPIs in an ABC classification: A is for items that are necessary from the start, B for secondary components, and C for requirements that can be completed as time and budget allow.
3. Implement standard CRM features (3-6 weeks).
You have your CRM, your expert team and your business processes all nailed down. It’s time to put all of your hard work together and complete your CRM implementation strategy.
Start by implementing all of the standard features. You can develop custom features in the next step.
4. Develop your CRM (4-6 weeks).
After you have entered all standard features, spend a few weeks customizing your needs. Use this time to set up automated workflows and third-party integrations.
5. Monitor and tweak your CRM implementation (2-3 weeks).
It’s vital to test data migration and system processes frequently when building your CRM so you can fix any bugs before you go live.
6. Migrate data (1 week).
Enter all historical data into the CRM before it goes live. Ensure previous data is formatted the same so that your records are editable and create clarity in reporting. Use Google Workspace, Excel, or SharePoint to upload data on prospects, leads, and contacts.
7. Go live (1 week).
When you go live, you will want to use the CRM system just as you would daily. Support the CRM implementation from the top down so all employees who need to use the system will adapt to training and daily use.
Check frequently for errors. If you notice any flaws or obstacles, escalate the support ticket. CRM setup issues should be handled urgently to prevent system failure. [Read about the challenges small businesses can face with CRMs.]
8. Maintain the CRM as needed.
Once your CRM is live, continue to monitor system activity and run reports so you can measure successes and failures.
Bottom line: CRM implementation is an arduous, monthslong process. Be prepared to configure, test and retest your CRM system before it is ready for a true go-live date.
Recommended CRMs to consider
With the vast number of options, it can be challenging to choose the best CRM solution for your business. Before choosing a CRM system, research its features, integrations, onboarding time and customer service. Here are our top choices that we considered in our reviews of CRM software.
As the most popular CRM platform, Salesforce is renowned for its robust features, extensive add-ons and endless customization options. The platform scales with any business, all under a single dashboard.
- You can add or remove features for full customization.
- It’s the most popular CRM, so training and support are easy to find.
- It can scale up as your business grows.
- You can import existing data from Google, Excel, etc.
- It’s easy to collaborate between departments in the software.
- It’s expensive for a CRM.
- A lot of features are only available as add-ons, which cost extra.
- Onboarding takes a long time.
- The user interface (UI) is complex and can be overwhelming.
- It has an extensive learning curve.
- Customer service is lacking.
Freshworks CRM features an integrated phone system to manage all inbound and outbound sales calls, perfect for teams that spend most of their time on the phone. The platform also includes social media integration, AI insights and workflow automation.
- Built-in phone system
- Interactive voice response system
- Social media integration
- AI insights
- Workflow automation
- Online walk-through for onboarding
- Email, phone and live chat support
- The UI is complex.
- AI access is not available to entry-level users.
- It’s built for heavy sales call use; other CRMs are better if you meet with customers in person or mostly communicate through email.
Keap CRM has a more straightforward interface than Salesforce and Freshworks. It is also more affordable. If you are looking for a CRM with quick onboarding, e-commerce tools, and an intuitive UI, Keap has sufficient features to grow your business.
- 24/7 live chat
- Sales automation (ability to provide custom price quotes and approvals)
- Drag-and-drop email marketing tools
- Client access portals
- Lack of customization options
- Limited phone support
- Mandatory coaching service
Zoho CRM has a comprehensive mobile app for sales and marketing teams on the go and remote workforces. Even with its vast toll options, users find the platform easy to onboard, learn, and use daily.
- Powerful mobile app
- Automated workflows
- Third-party integrations
- Customization depending on your company’s needs
- Extensive online documentation
- You must pay for a higher tier to get just one or two more features.
- The connection can be slow.
- It can’t compete with higher-end CRMs like Salesforce in features and speed.
Monday.com provides a visual customer management journey, with the ability to see a lead capture to post-order follow-up. You can track automation workflows in real time with Gantt charts, Kanban and third-party integrations. Monday.com also offers over 200 drag-and-drop templates to help you create workflows and manage leads.
- Workflow automation
- Team collaboration tools
- App integrations
- 24/7 customer support on all plans
- Webinars available in six languages (English, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese and Hebrew)
- The pricing is difficult to understand.
- You must pay for a tier’s predetermined number of users instead of the exact number of users.
- With so many customization options, users often get lost in personalizing the software before going live.