Go beyond features when comparing CRM vendors Sales by MATT KEENER June 18, 2020When it comes to selecting CRM technology, businesses sometimes rely too heavily on feature comparison matrices without considering the intangibles that have a direct impact on their return on investment. Feature overload doesn’t guarantee success. Bigger isn’t always better. High cost doesn’t mean high value.In this post, we share tips for going beyond feature comparisons when evaluating CRMs.Start by identifying what is important to youEveryone agrees that getting the right mix of features is important. But, when it comes to selecting a CRM vendor, what else matters?At a minimum, consider:Excellent supportOne of the benefits of a cloud-based CRM is the opportunity to receive timely support from the experts who built and understand the system. Unlike on-premise solutions that are not easily accessible by the vendor, a cloud-based solution offers a more collaborative ecosystem.Here’s the catch: not every cloud-based vendor delivers the same level of personalized support. Some provide basic support for free and premium support for an added cost. Others rely on third-party contractors and consultants. Still others point users to an online knowledge base and call it a day.When evaluating solutions, it’s therefore vital to identify a vendor that offers a success plan and consistently ranks well in customer satisfaction—especially if your CRM implementation is complex or requires significant amounts of customization.Ease of implementation & onboardingOn its own, a CRM provides minimal value unless it is implemented strategically and in a reasonable amount of time. Spending months trying to onboard a system is counterproductive and erodes morale. After all, most companies implement a CRM to accelerate growth—not inhibit it. Ideally, a CRM should have the flexibility to fit your needs without creating unnecessary workarounds or delays.Active development pipelineFor many organizations, the CRM serves as the source of truth for all customer relationships, leads, opportunities, and related business data. Migrating such a large amount of information from one system to another has a real cost, which is why selecting a CRM is not a short-term decision.If you’re buying into a long-term value proposition, don’t you want a vendor who continuously supports and enhances its platform? Remember, your business will change dramatically over the next few years—and, so should the solutions offered by your CRM vendor. CRM providers who invest in an active development pipeline demonstrate their ongoing commitment to customer success.Fair & honest pricingFew things in life are more frustrating than costly, unexpected surprises—especially when it comes to your CRM.Investing countless hours to customize your CRM for your exact needs is, on its own, a big enough endeavor. So is hiring consultants to help you implement, customize, and keep up the system—the added cost that’s hard to estimate upfront. When comparing pricing plans, consider the hidden costs to get a more accurate estimate of each vendor.Validate vendor capabilities to your needsOnce you’ve clearly defined your goals and objectives, it’s time to validate them with real-world data. Don’t just rely on sales materials and fancy emails from the vendor. Seek out objective information to inform your decision.Read case studies & watch online testimonialsMost technology companies publish in-depth case studies, testimonials, and voice-of-the-customer videos on their websites. Although these can be pumped full of marketing messages, they can be useful in your evaluation process. Here are a few questions to think through:Which customer use cases relate directly to your business?Does the vendor serve customers across multiple industries—yours, in particular?How have customers translated the platform’s features into tangible business value?Do customers seem satisfied with the support that they receive?Do you notice any common trends across multiple customer stories?Try to look past the subliminal marketing spin and dive into the heart of each message.Check online review websitesOnline reviews are more prevalent than ever before. From restaurants to retail to professional services, it seems that every industry has a myriad of review sites.Software as a Service is no exclusion to this rule. Sites like Capterra, G2, and Trustpilot provide first-hand user experiences with a variety of CRM systems.Keep in mind that software vendors are well aware of such sites and, wisely, implement programs to increase their online reputations. Therefore, do not base all of your decision- making on a single review site. Spend time evaluating dozens of reviews across multiple review platforms to gain a comprehensive perspective.Know what CRM experts sayAlmost every modern company can benefit from a CRM, which is why the cloud CRM market has experienced rapid growth over the past decade. As a result, countless CRM subject matter experts have popped up to share their recommendations and best practices.Sadly, not every thought leader has your best interest in mind. Be wary of consultants who push a single solution due to existing affiliate or referral relationships.Instead, look for organizations that provide independent perspectives. For example, the team at Gartner publishes thoughtful, unbiased content about the CRM market and related trends.Talk to the vendorReading secondhand information can only get you so far. There’s still something to be said for establishing real—albeit virtual—relationships with technology vendors.As you begin to interact with vendors, keep these questions in mind:Does the vendor make it easy to request a live demo? (For example, here is Insightly’s demo page.)Can you talk to a live human via chat or by calling a phone number?Once contact is established, does the representative listen to your needs?Does the representative follow up promptly with additional information?Are you feeling pressured to make a decision?A reliable vendor will do more listening than talking and recommend real solutions that meet your needs. And, if no solution is present, they might even point you elsewhere.Talk to actual customersTalking to real customers can be an eye-opening experience. Customers know the good, the bad, and the ugly, and they’re usually willing to share it with you.Don’t be afraid to ask each vendor to provide a few customer referrals. This is a common practice in the software industry, especially for larger enterprise purchasing decisions.Use a free trialYou might be curious why I have not yet mentioned the free trial. Certainly, a free trial is a great way to familiarize yourself with the software, identify issues, and understand tangible and intangible benefits.That being said, you need a game plan to maximize the impact of your trial. Remember, most trials only last between 14 and 30 days. After that, it’s time to make a purchasing decision. Reading case studies and reviews, interacting with customers, and talking to vendors forms a solid foundation to maximize the trial’s impact.Also, don’t just go through the motions during your trial. Instead, make a commitment of being an actual customer. Participate in feature release webinars and online tutorials. Read the documentation. Pay attention to the vendor’s emails. Do you have what you need to be successful? What, if anything, seems to be lacking?Features aren’t everythingNo doubt, you need a CRM with the right mix of features. On the other hand, features are not the only factor to consider when selecting a CRM.As you plan your CRM project, push your team to go beyond basic feature matrices. Take a more holistic and long-term approach that starts and ends with what actually matters to your business. View your CRM vendor as a technology partner who can help you reach your business goals.Read more like this:How to do a CRM needs assessmentWhat is a CRM?5 reasons why companies switch CRMsHow to select a marketing automation system: a checklist Adoption | Customer Relationships | Sales Force Automation | Unified CRM MATT KEENERMatt Keener is a digital marketer and President of Keener Marketing Solutions, LLC. In addition to consulting for Insightly and other SaaS clients, Matt enjoys blogging about remote work. Get Matt’s top-rated book or connect with him on LinkedIn.