The Ultimate CRM Buying Checklist

By Features PCmag

So you've decided to purchase customer relationship management (CRM) software. You probably already have a good idea of which CRM vendors you'd like to work with, what you'd like to pay, and how you'd like your software to look. But before you sign any contracts, it's crucial that you look beyond flashy names such as our Editors' Choice CRM tools Salesforce.com Sales Cloud Professional Edition (Salesforce.com SCPE) and Zoho CRM to determine what you actually need out of your sales and service tool.

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For example: When speaking with vendors, make sure you ask about things such as automation, dashboard customization, third-party integrations, and whether or not they offer Android and iOS mobile applications. These are super important features that, if missing, you'll wish you had asked about before making a purchase decision. In this article, I'll explain in depth what those important features are and why you should consider them for your system.

1. Dashboard Customization
This might not seem like a major requirement, especially for CRM newbies, but eventually you'll want to organize your lists and data in a coherent way that's specific to how your company uses the software. Imagine opening up your software each morning and having to scroll past two or three lists that aren't relevant to your work. This would be a consistent and annoying waste of time. With the best CRM tools on the market, you'll be able to customize almost every aspect of your dashboard.

For example: Salesforce.com SCPE enables you to not only organize what you see when you log into your dashboard, but you can also add, subtract, and alter data within your charts. With Salesforce.com SCPE, you can click on user files and add them to new opportunities, view their records, see contact information, all open activities, and view the activity history, saved emails, and files attached to the record. The Status Update box lets you add notes about your subject. What's best about this feature is that you can easily eliminate any of these fields, add more fields, or alter fields to your heart's content. This means you won't be stuck scrolling through all of this data every morning when really all you want is the information that would otherwise be buried.

Every vendor handles customization differently. Some vendors let you make changes on your own. Some require you to work with their developers to make adjustments. Talk to potential partners, ask them what they're capable of doing, and choose a company that jibes with your workflows.

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2. Third-Party Integrations
Salesforce.com has the largest third-party app marketplace among CRM providers. This is an enormous help for anyone whose business is reliant on enterprise software. Think about it: You don't want to add a new CRM system to your existing software suite if the CRM system won't transfer data back and forth with your other systems. Salesforce.com SCPE ties in nicely with tools such as MailChimp, Intuit QuickBooks, and Zendesk.

Zoho CRM is also masterful when it comes to third-party tie-ins. The system integrates with all Google Apps, ClickDesk, Evernote, Microsoft Office, Outlook calendar and email, and QuickBooks as well. Both companies' integrations go well beyond the software listed here, so make sure you run down the entire list on each company's website to determine which makes the most sense for your business.

3. Social Networking
Salesforce.com's Chatter platform lets colleagues collaborate on projects within the confines of a Facebook-like interface. Users can share content, update team members about project statuses, or pass along lead and prospect information.

Similarly, Zoho CRM has a feature that enables its clients to monitor the social activity of leads and prospects and take advantage of new opportunities. Like HootSuite, Zoho CRM is more adept at social listening than it is social networking, but it also enables team members to gain instant, social-based information from Facebook and Twitter without having to leave the CRM tool.

If team collaboration and communication are important to your company, find out what potential vendors offer and choose based on what will make your sales and service reps more productive.

4. Mobile Apps
If your potential CRM vendor doesn't have a mobile app, you should probably move along. Don't accept "Our websites are built with responsive design" as a compromise. If you want your employees taking advantage of on-the-go CRM, you'll want to provide them with a CRM suite whose app offers full functionality. Some apps offer read-only content which, quite simply, isn't good enough.

Salesforce.com offers mobile apps for Android and iOS. The mobile apps are basically replicas of the desktop app. Zoho CRM's Android and iOS apps let you view reports, access contact details, edit accounts and leads, and work with reports. Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Salesforce.com SCPE, and Zoho CRM all offer offline access, which is crucial for workers who've hit Wi-Fi deadspots but need to access crucial customer data.

5. Automation is Your Friend
The ability to set reminders and auto-send emails is a lifesaver for most businesses. Think about how many birthdays, campaigns, clients, leads, prospects, and upsell opportunities you would have to remember if your CRM system didn't provide auto-reminders and auto-send functionality. You would be so bogged down by following up on all of your looming communications that you'd have no time to find, groom, and close new deals.

Unfortunately, not every solution offers the kind of automation you'll need to keep moving forward. In fact, only seven of the 10 CRM systems we reviewed offer this level of automation. So be very careful before you make your final decision.

This article originally appeared on PCMag.com.