Eight tips for selecting the right CRM system


A Client Relationship Management system. It’s almost indisputably a company’s most valuable asset. Yet, those four words can mean very different things to different people. Whichever definition you prefer, if you’re in the market for a CRM system, or are looking to change providers, here are a few tips to help you find your way.

CRM system is…

“…a set of software applications that help an organisation determine the needs and preferences of their customers by managing, organising, tracking and storing all customer interactions.” ( Aptean)

“…software that stores customer contact information like names, addresses, and phone numbers, as well as keeps track of customer activity like website visits, phone calls, email, and more.” ( Salesforce)

“…a hybrid business solution that can increase sales and marketing efficiency. Think of it as a powerful set of tools, apps, and platforms that in combination drive optimisation of business intelligence, social insights, campaign management, and many other key customer relationship matters.” (Microsoft Dynamics)


Tip #1 – Define your objectives

In order to know if any CRM will fit your needs, you need to be very clear as to what your needs actually are. Noting there is seldom consensus about what a CRM system is, or what it should do, clearly define your objectives in implementing a CRM system. For example, is your goal to:

  • Organise your client/customer data
  • Ensure the right content is sent to the right contacts at the right time in the right format?
  • Support your customer service processes
  • Capture historic or predictive data
  • Aid cross-selling
  • Make the sales process more efficient, and more effective
  • Manage campaigns
  • Automate the sales cycle.


Tip #2 – Map your processes

Your CRM system should match your company’s sales process, not the other way around. So before you select a CRM you need to have a clear understanding of how the sales cycle works in your organisation. After all, if you don’t understand the customer journey, how can you expect to implement a system which will support it, augment it, or automate much of it? Remember, little things can make a big difference and user-friendly features such as email integration, in-app file management, and in-app collaboration can help turn skeptics into supporters.


Tip #3 – Do your research

There is no longer any excuse for being poorly informed. We have access to more information today than the sum of every generation that has gone before us. Even through the process of researching this blog, I came upon countless great whitepapers, websites and forums that offer useful advice and guidance to those seeking to select a CRM system. The challenge is not finding information; it’s finding and digesting the most useful information.


Tip #4 – Use your network

Recently, I’ve been helping a professional services client to select a new CRM system. It’s a mid-size firm which is up against some time pressure so to fast-track our industry research we posted a call-out in a relevant LinkedIn group. It was a valuable exercise. Group members from firms of all sizes, and all parts of the world, shared which system they currently use, and in many cases which system they most prefer. With that insight, we were able to quickly form a shortlist of pre-qualified vendors.

I did the same thing when researching this post. Much of the advice I’ve provided here was inspired by members of the LinkedIn group, CRM Experts. I’ve endeavoured to credit those whose ideas and comments were the most relevant.


Tip #5 – Consider how much work you want to do

There are literally hundreds, possibly thousands, of CRM solutions available. These range from off-the-shelf to bespoke. The key is to consider whether you favour an industry-specific solution that is already tailored to match most of your process; or a system that readily allows for configuration and customisation.

Where robust CRM solutions are concerned, you’d be wise to spend as much time evaluating the vendor as you do the product. This is because the on-boarding (training and support) provided by the solution provider is central to the successful implementation and use of the software.


Tip #6 – How to eat the CRM elephant

Some years ago I was a regional head of marketing role for Deloitte Consulting which at the time was a world leader in systems implementation. Then, Deloitte released what was to become one of its most popular whitepapers: How to eat the CRM elephant. Though CRM solutions, and their implementation, have changed somewhat, much of the content holds currency including this: Don’t bite of more than you can chew. The beauty of modern day CRM systems is they’re modular so break yours into bite-size pieces and prioritise each component according to your goals. For example, get your people interested in accurate client data and contacts, then move into interests, opportunities and email marketing…

The added advantages of a phased approach are that it will be initially less expensive, and will require less training and less change management.


Tip #7 – Tender with caution

If you elect to select your vendor by way of a tender process, engage a procurement professional who has systems expertise to manage the process. Technology purchases can be fraught with danger and where CRM systems are concerned, there are a multitude of considerations: licenses, servers, maintenance fees, configuration, automation of processes, data cleansing… If you are not very clear and specific in your Request for Proposal, you will not be comparing like-with-like proposals, and very well may select a solution that delivers more hidden costs than value-for-money.


Tip #8 – Manage the change

According to McKinsey, 70 percent of change programs fail to achieve their goals, largely due to employee resistance and lack of management support. On the other hand, when people are truly invested in change it is 30 percent more likely to stick.

In the CRM space, the majority of system implementation failures are attributed to non-technical factors such as organisational readiness. One way to mitigate the risks associated with resistance to change is to involve people in the process. That includes representatives from all stakeholder groups that stand to be affected. Then, as you communicate the change, focus on the benefits, not the features, for each group.



  1. Martin Doyle, CEO, DQ Global and Management Consultant Wendy van Schalkwyk
  2. Sarah Cox, Mastership, Brian Stisser, GURUS Solutions and Andy W Hilliard, Covered California
  3. (Brian Stisser and Larry Caretsky, CEO of Commerce Corporation
  4. Paul Onish, New Jersey Insurance Group
  5. Pekka Salomaa