(This column originally appeared in Forbes)
Are you comparing the features of all those CRM applications in your evaluation? Please…stop.
I know: it’s your instinct, right? You’re used to creating that spreadsheet and listing all the software choices across the top and the features along the side and then check off what each application offers. Fine, go ahead and do that. Because I know what you’re going to find. You’re going to find every single box checked off. Your spreadsheet will be nothing more than a grid of checkboxes. Why?
Because it’s now 2022 and today’s mainstream CRM software products pretty much all offer the same features. Don’t believe me? OK, check out the pricing and features comparison of popular choices like Zoho, Insightly, SugarCRM, Nimble and Pipedrive. You’ll notice something: they’re pretty darn similar. Sure, I can concede some are more affordable than others or offer a few more choices for a certain price. But not by much. For the most part you’re getting similar features for about the same price amongst any product you choose.
Why is this? It’s because of the cloud. The product management teams behind all of these good applications are watching each other like hawks. Which means that if Zoho comes up with something innovative you can pretty much be assured that their closest competitors will roll out similar offerings within a few weeks. Or even sooner. There are no upgrades in the cloud like there were in the past. So software developers can — and do — make changes on the fly for their user base in order to keep up with each other.
Which is why, for the most part, features have become meaningless. CRMs for small and mid-sized businesses offer the same stuff. It’s like comparing the “features” offered in a Toyota Camry, Honda Accord or Nissan Altima. All good cars. All the same stuff. Air conditioning. Tires. Cruise control.
So how to evaluate a potential CRM for your business? Throw out the spreadsheet, ignore the features and concentrate on these three things.
First, make sure your user base feels comfortable using it. Some people like the Accord over the Camry not because there are more features but because it has a better look and feel. Others think the opposite. The same with CRM systems. I’ve had many people tell me that Zoho is very user friendly. I’ve an equal number of people disagree. Humans are complicated. Do your test drive and make sure the majority of your users enjoy the interface. This is where many CRMs differ.
Next, make sure your CRM system is going to address the specific goals you’ve established. That means putting actual data from your company into the system and then testing its capabilities to manage leads, contacts, calendars. Or do marketing. Or automate tasks. Or do whatever it is you want your CRM system to do once it’s fully implemented. Lean on the CRM vendor to demonstrate these things.
Finally, and most importantly: focus on the CRM vendor. That’s because you’re not buying a product. You’re entering into a long term relationship. Will this company be around in 10 years? Is CRM their core offering? Is there support sufficient? Do they have wide marketplace of partner products and a partner channel to help you implement? How good is their reputation? Do your research online. Visit one of their user conferences. Make sure you know your partner before getting married.
So if you’re still working that spreadsheet and comparing CRMs with each other than I suggest that you put it away. Focus on the three things above and you’ll make a better decision for selecting that next CRM system.