Steal Our Proven CRM Evaluation Checklist: 13 Criteria to Consider, Questions to Ask, & More

Best Practices | Business & tech

If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re in the market for a new customer relationship management (CRM) system and you are in the process of CRM evaluation. While every business is unique, there are certain factors that play into any CRM selection — whether you’re investing in CRM technology for the first time or switching from another CRM platform.

The right CRM can have a tremendous impact on your business, but vetting potential CRM vendors and their solutions is no small task. In this article, we’ll walk you through some of the important criteria to consider as you make your selection, and the questions you should ask potential vendors. We’ll also share tips for guiding your selection team through the evaluation process. Let’s dig in!

What do organizations need from a CRM system?

Before you start looking at vendors and technology, you need to understand why your business needs a CRM and how it aligns with your company’s primary goals. Some of the top reasons for adopting a CRM include:

  • Increased operational efficiency. CRM software can automate repetitive administrative tasks like audience segmentation, email follow-ups, invoicing, and more — saving time and making your sales processes more efficient. A CRM can also consolidate customer data from disparate systems across the organization, to streamline communications and collaboration.
  • Better customer experience. Improving customer satisfaction is a sure-fire way to drive positive results across your business. A CRM directly supports customer experience by giving every team a unified view of customer data, so they can better understand each customer’s needs and personalize every interaction.
  • Higher retention rates. Retaining current customers is far more cost effective than acquiring new ones. A CRM provides valuable insights into customer interests and interactions, so you can target campaigns, deliver more relevant offers, and increase retention. It can also help to maximize customer lifetime value by highlighting cross-sell and upsell opportunities.
  • More sales revenue. The key to driving more sales is making sure you’re selling the right products to the right people at the right time. CRM software can help to ensure that your sales pipeline is filled with highly qualified prospects, give sales reps the data they need to match prospects with products, and ensure they always know the next best action with clearly defined sales workflows.

Which of these is most important to your business? Only you can answer that question. That’s why we recommend clearly defining your goals and objectives as a first step in the CRM evaluation process.

Who should be involved in the CRM selection process?

Your new CRM software will impact a wide range of stakeholders, so you need a cross-functional team to evaluate potential solutions. This group should represent both company leadership and end users of the technology (like sales, marketing, and support). And don’t forget to involve your IT team to ensure technical requirements are met.

You should also interview teams that work directly with the CRM, to understand the challenges of their everyday work and the problems they may have with your current solution. Each team will provide a unique perspective, and their insights will help to ensure you’re making the right choice for everyone.

When talking to sales, consider asking:

  • How do you currently track interactions with customers, prospects, and partners?
  • Where are the biggest pain points in the selling process?
  • Do you have sufficient visibility into lead scoring, deal status, and other key data points?
  • Does the current CRM solution provide the insights you need to make every interaction valuable and productive?

In conversations with marketing, focus on questions like:

  • How do you currently monitor things like email opens, collateral downloads, and social media interactions?
  • Do you have the data you need to target campaigns and personalize communications?
  • Does the current CRM provide sufficient analytics to analyze things like campaign performance and brand perception?
  • How do you calculate ROI on marketing spend?

 For service and support teams, questions include:

  • What channels do our customers prefer to contact us?
  • How do you currently track customer interactions and feedback?
  • Do you have the data you need to identify cross-sell and upsell opportunities?
  • Does the current CRM enable seamless collaboration across the organization?

13 CRM evaluation criteria

Billiard ball with the number 13 representing 13 crm evaluation criteriaCRM technology isn’t new, but it’s constantly evolving. Anyone who’s worked with older, legacy systems understands their challenges: limited customization, poor usability, clunky integrations, costly administration, and so on.

Fortunately, modern CRMs leverage the latest in cloud, mobile, API, and database technologies, making them more useful and accessible to anyone in the organization. They’re flexible enough to meet the needs of each unique business — at a fair price — and they’re easily scalable to grow along with your company.

That said, all CRM solutions are not created equal. You’ll need to do your homework to find the right tool to meet your needs — and we’re here to help, with 13 things to consider as you evaluate potential CRM vendors and technology.

Some of these criteria may be more important to you than others, but a robust CRM solution should provide all of this and more.

  1. Lead management. Because it’s such a fundamental part of any CRM, lead management is easy to overlook in your evaluation — but even basic features can vary between solutions. Lead management functionality should provide real-time visibility into the status, value, and pipeline stage of every deal, and helps sales teams move potential customers through the sales funnel with key features like lead tracking and lead scoring. It even feeds into pipeline analysis, sales forecasts, revenue projections, and performance reporting — so make sure you dig deep into the lead management features to understand all the data and insights it can provide.
  2. Workflow automation. Most sales teams spend way too much time on manual data entry, paperwork, meeting follow-up, and other repetitive administrative work. These tedious tasks are a serious drain on productivity — and they keep sales reps from more profitable activities like winning new business. One major benefit of CRM technology is its ability to automate tasks, build streamlined workflows, and formalize key processes — thus improving overall efficiency. If your sales processes are especially complex, you’ll want to make sure they don’t stretch the capabilities of the CRM’s workflow automation functionality.
  3. Integrations. A CRM sits at the core of your business operations, so it needs to be compatible with the other tools and technology you use every day. Some key integrations to look for include:
  • Project management tools
  • Lead generation programs
  • Email platforms
  • Marketing automation solutions
  • Social media management tools
  • Accounting packages
  • Reporting and analytics systems
  • Live chat platforms
  • Help desk applications

Be sure to consider not only whether these integrations are available, but also how difficult and/or expensive they may be to implement. Legacy CRMs often require the use of an integration partner or custom-built coding, which can be costly. Instead, look for a CRM provider with a low-code/no-code integration solution (like Insightly AppConnect).

  1. Customization. No matter how thorough your research, even the best CRM software will need to be structured to fit your organization’s unique data and processes. Your CRM should provide robust customization options, including custom fields, objects, and workflows that are easy to set up and simple to maintain. And you should be able to customize your system without the help of expensive consultants or service engagements.
  2. Analytics and reporting. A CRM should make it easy to understand how your business is performing at any given moment, with real-time insights, robust data visualization, and powerful reporting. With this functionality, sales reps can track their progress toward goals, sales leaders can develop accurate forecasts, and executive teams can see how sales performance impacts the bottom line. Look for a solution that offers customizable dashboards and reporting capabilities that let you slice-and-dice your data, examine performance from different angles, and drill into the metrics that matter most.
  3. Email automation. Email plays a vital role in almost every phase of the selling process — so your CRM should work seamlessly with your email platform (Outlook, Gmail, etc.). Look for a CRM solution that lets you manage your business without leaving your inbox — or send, track, and manage emails directly within the CRM. A modern, feature-rich CRM will let you streamline your email communications by:
  • Composing and sending emails from your CRM
  • Building templates for common email communications
  • Scheduling email sequences to be sent at a later time
  • Batching and sending emails to multiple recipients
  • Capturing and updating contract records
  1. Scalability. The last thing you want is to make a significant investment in technology, only to outgrow the solution within a year or two. Today’s best CRMs are built for businesses of any size, with the flexibility to scale up as your company grows. To ensure you won’t max out your new CRM’s capabilities, look for a solution that significantly exceeds your current needs — and leaves plenty of room for future growth. 
  2. Implementation. Keep in mind, buying a CRM solution is only the beginning — you’ll also need to get your new technology up and running. You can’t afford to put your operations on hold for a months-long CRM implementation, so ask for details on what the implementation process looks like, how long it takes, and how many follow-up training sessions are typically needed. If the CRM implementation requires help from a third-party implementation consultant, find out whether the cost of that engagement is included in the purchase price.
  3. Ease of use. You’ll never see a return on your CRM investment if sales, marketing, and support teams can figure out how to use it. A good user experience — including all the modern functionality they require — will help to improve adoption rates and ensure your employees are using the CRM’s capabilities to the fullest. So be sure to “kick the tires” on any solution you consider, to confirm that the interface is intuitive and the features work the way you’d expect.
  4. Mobile access. Today’s workforce is more geographically dispersed than ever before — and sales reps are always on the go. So they need the ability to access critical business tools from any place, at any time. Mobile functionality is no longer a nice-to-have; it’s a must. And while most CRM solutions offer a mobile app, some provide only basic functionality in a stripped-down version of the full CRM tool. Make sure your chosen CRM gives users all the features they need to conduct business on the go. 
  5. Cost of ownership. Notice we didn’t say “price.” That’s because buying a new CRM can involve many expenses beyond the basic licensing fee. For example, there may be added costs for implementation, customization, integrations, training, consultants, service engagements, and more. Ideally all these items would be included in the up-front price, so you can make an informed decision about the total cost of ownership — but you may not know unless you ask. In some legacy CRMs, these additional costs can increase your total investment by 3x or more.
  6. Post-sale support. Despite their best efforts, your teams probably won’t retain 100% of what they learn during the onboarding process. You’ll also need to get new hires up to speed as they join your company — and your IT team may need technical support at some point. Make sure your chosen CRM vendor provides comprehensive customer service and support after the implementation is complete. And don’t forget to ask what reference materials are provided to help users sharpen their skills, including online support, knowledge center articles, video tutorials, etc.
  7. Compliance and security. In today’s world, security threats are everywhere and regulatory requirements evolve constantly — especially for global companies. Nothing matters more than maintaining your customers’ trust, so make sure your CRM is built to handle modern data security concerns — without sacrificing performance and speed. Look for features like SOC 2 Type 2 certification, two-factor authentication, data encryption in transit and at rest, HIPAA compliance, GDPR compliance, and EU/US Privacy Shield.

CRM screening checklist

Evaluating CRM technology and vendors is complicated, so consider a multi-stage approach. At the beginning of the process, you may have a long list of possibilities providers: big names in the industry, up-and-coming competitors, solutions people have used before, etc. It’s not feasible to conduct a full-scale evaluation of every option, so we recommend a screening stage to quickly narrow down the universe of possible vendors.

Start by prioritizing the list of criteria above, based on what’s most important to your company. Then review feedback from your interviews with sales, marketing, and support to identify key themes. These data points will help you to develop a comprehensive list of “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves” that reflects both your company’s objectives and your end users’ needs.

From there, you can create a simple CRM evaluation checklist using Excel, Google Sheets, or whatever format you prefer. By answering “yes” or “no” to each requirement based on each vendor’s published materials and specifications, you’ll be able to quickly identify a short list of solutions that are worth further investigation.

Questions to ask potential CRM vendors

Question mark on a cubeThe next stage of the evaluation process involves meeting with your top choice to conduct a more thorough assessment. In addition to getting an in-depth demo, you should equip your selection team with a list of questions for discussion, including:

  • What features are included? Can they be customized? Is there a charge for customization? Is there a limit on customization?
  • What does your reporting and analytics functionality look like? Is it based on real-time data? Can dashboards and reports be customized?
  • What is your pricing structure? Do you use a pay-as-you-go subscription model? Are fees based on seats, usage (hourly, monthly, annually), etc.? What other charges might we incur beyond the licensing fee?
  • What plan levels do you offer and which is the best for our business? Are there limits on features with lower plans that we should be aware of?
  • How long does implementation and setup typically take? Does it require a third-party implementation consultant?
  • What does your onboarding process look like? Is ongoing training included to keep users up to speed on new features?
  • How do software updates work? Do you have a regular release schedule for new features? Are upgrades installed automatically?
  • Does your solution integrate seamlessly with the other business tools we use every day? How do those integrations work?
  • How does your solution protect our customers’ personal information? Is it compliant with SOC2, HIPAA, GDPR, EU/US Privacy Shield, and other key security regulations?
  • Do you provide comprehensive customer service and support after the sale? What on-demand resources and training materials are available to end users?
  • Can your solution handle our projected growth? Will we run into issues if we hire 100 new employees? Or 1,000? What happens if we outgrow the solution we purchase?
  • How has your solution helped other businesses like mine? Can I speak with some current customers in my industry?

CRM evaluation scorecard

These meetings with your short-list candidates will yield a lot of information to power your evaluation — but it can be a little overwhelming. To help formalize your assessment (and make sure you’re comparing apples to apples), we recommend putting together a CRM evaluation scorecard.

Start by listing out the criteria from your screening checklist, along with any other important considerations that may have emerged. You can then apply a simple scoring range to each criteria and ask the selection team to complete a scorecard for each solution. For example:

0CRM doesn’t offer this
1 –  CRM falls short of business requirements
2CRM meets business requirements
3CRM exceeds business requirements

Higher total scores indicate a better fit for your stated objectives — at least on paper. Keep in mind, however,  that exceeding requirements isn’t always a good thing — especially if it means you’ll be paying for extra features your team will never use.

CRM assessment template

Once you’ve zeroed in on two or three finalists, it’s time to sign up for demos and/or free trials and really find out what they can do. The demo will be a guided walk though with a member of the CRM sales team, while a trial will let you get hands-on and work in the CRM (likely with dummy data). You’ll want to put each solution through real-life scenarios, so recruit end users from different parts of your organizations to test each solution and report back on their findings.

In order to get meaningful feedback, you’ll need to guide users through the testing process. You can use the screening checklist and evaluation scorecard described above as the basis for a simple CRM assessment template. Use a combination of yes/no questions, scoring questions, and open-ended form fields to make testing as easy as possible for users while still gathering detailed information where it’s needed.

Remember, different teams should approach the testing process from different angles. Ask the sales team to test workflow automations, custom ticketing, and role-based permissions. Have the marketing team look at segmentation capabilities and campaign performance reporting. Enlist your IT team to experiment with integration and customization capabilities.

Combined with the steps described above, this final assessment stage should help you to determine which solution provides the best fit for your company and your teams.

Choose a solution that’s built to grow with you

Insightly CRM was designed to help growing teams build lasting customer relationships using a simple, scalable platform. Born in the cloud and built with mobility, flexibility, and customization in mind, it’s a CRM your teams will love —at a fair, predictable price.

Insightly CRM integrates seamlessly with your current tech stack through AppConnect, our drag-and-drop integration tool for low-code/no-code integrations. As your business expands, you can add Insightly Marketing for lead generation and marketing automation and Insightly Service for customer support.

Get started with a free trial of Insightly CRM today, or request a personalized demo to see how Insightly can help your company achieve its business goals.