Complete guide to the best CRM software
Integrating CRM technology into your business isn’t always easy. But in 2022, it’s become a necessity.
Whether you’re concerned about staying compliant with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), trying to integrate your sales strategy and CRM, or trying to discover leads, boost conversion, or make customers happier, it’s important to pick the best CRM software for your business.
In this newly-updated guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about CRM products: what a CRM system is, its benefits, the types and tools, how to choose the best CRM platform for your business, and our top ten CRM recommendations.
- What is CRM software?
- Key features of a CRM system
- Benefits of customer relationship management software
- What are different types of CRM systems?
- Which tools can integrate with sales CRM software?
- Top 10 CRM software applications
- How to choose the right CRM platform for your business?
- When is a good time to implement a CRM system?
- Additional FAQs on CRM systems
- Try CRM software for free
What is CRM software?
Let’s break it down. CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management software. A CRM helps companies develop successful customer relationships by holding all customer information and CRM data in one centralized hub for easier access and analysis.
Tracking customer interactions—from first contact to successful conversion and beyond—boosts customer satisfaction rates, and allows for smoother communication between sales, marketing, and customer service teams.
CRM technology makes the customer life cycle easy to follow and understand, giving sales and marketing departments a valuable, time-saving tool.
Why do businesses need customer relationship management software?
Many companies—especially small businesses—may believe that simple contact database software is “good enough” for tracking customer contact. But nowadays companies are at a big disadvantage if they’re not using CRM software.
An effective CRM streamlines marketing and sales activities, both inbound and outbound. Not only does it manage evolving relationship marketing strategies, but it helps your company organize:
- Every call, text, email, and spoken interaction with customers
- Sales prospects, lead generation, and current customers
- Information about internal teams, as well as vendors and competitors
- The creation of sales pipelines and marketing campaigns
- Access to pending deals and pricing
- Real-time analytical data for customer-driven business decisions
That's what good CRM software does. And if your company isn’t utilizing a CRM system, you’re missing out on one of the most potent business tools developed in the last thirty years.
In fact, 91 percent of North American firms with 10 or more employees already have CRM systems in place.
Looks like it’s the way to go in 2022.
What are the key features of a CRM system?
The top sales CRM software will have most (if not all) of the following features:
Unified contact management
Contact management software that helps you go beyond simply storing the names and data of potential and current customers in a centralized contact database. This fundamental CRM feature also allows you to:
- Categorize, group, and search contacts in order to customize your marketing and sales strategies
- Track all interactions, emails, calls, and messages to ensure communication is smartly timed and personalized
Pipeline coordination and automation
One of the most remarkable features of a well-integrated CRM system is its ability to increase sales pipeline productivity. When developing streamlined CRM sales process steps, CRM tools can:
- Automate prospecting and lead generation
- Streamline the identification of qualified leads through lead scoring tools
- Curate personalized quotes based on detailed customer data
- Track closing successes and failures
- Supply valuable insights about why deals are ultimately won or lost
But make sure you provide time for your sales teams to integrate CRM best practices to fully capitalize on these time-saving sales pipeline tools.
After all—bells and whistles don’t make a difference if your team doesn’t know how to play them.
A user-friendly CRM dashboard
Your CRM dashboard is the real-time visual interface your team sees every day. So for CRM integration purposes, you want to ensure it’s user-friendly and customizable.
Whatever your team goals, process, and structure, your CRM dashboard should provide the following CRM tools.
- Easily tracked calendars, notes, appointments, and tasks
- Visually organized emails, calls, and messages
- Analytics for top deals, new deals, closed deals, etc.
- Tracking of revenue goals and pipeline information
- Forcasted sales and sales performance metrics
A customizable dashboard guarantees you and your team aren’t overwhelmed by data you don’t need.
Organize your work life, and prioritize your CRM insights, by choosing a CRM with a flexible and easy-to-navigate dashboard.
Data-driven CRM reports
One of the most powerful CRM tools is the collection, organization, and analysis of key sales and marketing metrics.
With the effortless generation of valuable CRM reports, you’ll gain a comprehensive understanding of your sales and marketing operations.
They’ll empower you to…
- Quickly pinpoint the key factors driving successful customer interactions
- Refine your sales processes
- Locate the areas that need the most improvement.
Mobile and cloud CRM applications
Most CRM solutions now offer mobile CRM with cloud CRM applications that users can access from anywhere.
The latest trends actually show that teams who utilize mobile- and cloud-based CRM solutions are nearly three times more effective at hitting sales quotas than those using non-mobile CRM systems.
With more employees working from home than ever, companies today need easy remote access to customer data. Mobile and cloud tools give teams a data repository with unified processes, procedures, workflows and tracking, accessible at any time.
CRM features across the board
The following features are common, but not universal. Determine your CRM requirements to find the best fit for your company.
- Robust prospecting functionality
- Lead management software and lead scoring
- Sales forecasting and data analytics
- Email automation
- Sales performance management
- Seamless integrations
- Campaign management
- Ability to build your own CRM
Benefits of customer relationship management software
Integrating a CRM platform into your company’s workflow can be a big shift for all departments—marketing, sales, customer service, IT, finance—but it has enormous benefits as well.
Below we’ll explore three beneficial ways a CRM platform will impact your business.
Improve customer satisfaction rates
A CRM system doesn’t just create a centralized repository of customer data. A good one can also integrate with customer service platforms, and help you understand when customers need help.
Happy customers are loyal customers, and loyal customers recommend your business to their friends and network. Use sales CRM analytics to understand when and why customers are miffed. Adjust your process accordingly. Repeat!
Increase productivity through smart automation
CRM automation tools should be intuitive, time-saving, and leave your salespeople with more capacity to focus on what they love—fostering successful customer relationships and closing deals.
For example, with the help of automated CRM processes, companies have been able to cut proposal times from days to hours, saving companies significant time and money.
In fact, some gurus have estimated that about one third of all sales tasks can be automated, and companies that incorporate sales automation have 53% higher conversion rates and 3.1% higher annual growth.
Enhance communication and coordination between departments
Implementing CRM technology is the best way to ensure that marketing and sales efforts are synchronized.
A sales CRM platform makes it easy to share data between departments. That’ll help you track where customers are in the pipeline in real time, check support tickets, and provide a unified customer experience.
CRM technology helps marketing teams identify better-qualified leads, sales teams personalize communication, and customer support teams understand exactly what each customer needs—all while staying coordinated.
What are different types of CRM software?
CRM software can come with a wide variety of features, as demonstrated above.
Different types of CRM software will lean towards certain areas of functional focus, so knowing your own unique business needs will help determine which one is the best for you. The following are common types of CRM software:
Analytical CRM software tends to appeal to companies that want to dig into data visualization and analytics.
This type of software focuses on tracking customer retention rates, pipeline cycle timelines, revenue and sales data.
These platforms go beyond simple contact management and provide sales forecasting and advanced metric analysis for the data-hungry among us.
Operational CRM solutions are business-management oriented, with marketing and sales automation at the forefront.
These CRM platforms emphasize contact management, lead scoring, lead management, and campaign tracking, giving a handy boost to companies that want to boost operational efficiency.
Collaborative CRM solutions are all about making customers happy. They seek to improve customer retention and satisfaction rates by streamlining the flow of information between teams.
This type of platform emphasizes data-sharing between marketing, sales, customer service, and even vendors and external stakeholders, in order to unify communication and personalize customer interactions.
Which tools can integrate with sales CRM software?
When bringing a new CRM system into your workflow, it doesn’t make sense to start from scratch. That’s why choosing a CRM tool that can easily integrate with your existing software systems is a must.
CRM integration seamlessly connects your CRM and other third-party applications you may already be using. Integrating will reduce needless clicking back and forth between applications, saving your pointer finger and mouse unnecessary exercise.
Every CRM program will have slightly different interfaces and learning curves, but all should integrate smoothly with any apps your business is currently using. Use them to replace scattered systems with all-in-one, centralized communication.
The following tools can commonly integrate with CRM software:
Integrating email into your CRM is a nifty boon to your communication and scheduling. Cloud-based CRM programs with mobile apps make it even easier to send and read emails from anywhere.
Most CRM systems can easily connect with digital calendars such as Google or Outlook so you never miss an appointment. Two-way integration means you can create events in either platform, and they’ll sync up instantly.
As common as tools like Slack and Zoom have become, it only makes sense that a CRM platform would integrate with these applications.
Chat with clients and team members within your CRM system without the irritating hassle of keeping two dozen browser windows open.
Professional document-creation applications such as PandaDoc allow the painless creation of proposals, quotes, contracts, and invoices.
When you integrate with a CRM, it’ll take saved client data and auto-populate documents. It can even send them off for quick (and legally binding) electronic signatures.
CRM apps can easily integrate with social media accounts on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. They even have the ability to automate posting across channels, for clear and consistent branding.
Save time on data entry and never worry about accuracy again when you integrate accounting software such as QuickBooks, Xero, or Freshbooks into your CRM system. Easily access information about invoices, client transactions, and vendor data whenever you need it.
10 best CRM software and applications
1. Sell: The Zendesk CRM for sales
Zendesk Sell is a top sales CRM system for several reasons. The best may be the self-service portal, which lets customers easily help themselves before hassling your agents.
It’s loaded with a variety of CRM tools (including a user-friendly mobile app), while simultaneously designed to be as user-friendly as possible.
Sell’s email intelligence tool allows for seamless tracking of all email communication, along with real-time push notifications, activity reporting, and email template automation.
Its power dialer allows reps to make calls without lifting a finger, while it logs and records every call and provides access to scripts, notes, and out-of-the-box call analytics so businesses can keep tabs on call count, duration, and results.
It also comes equipped with sales prospecting functionality that takes advantage of an untapped market of over 200 million professionals. Businesses of all sizes use Sell to identify prospects and create targeted lists full of verified, robust, and current records.
Overall, the intuitive and customizable interface means less overall hair pulling while your team figures out how to use all of its amazing features—like its mobile and cloud applications, marketing automation system, and easy-to-use collaboration tools.
Its customizable sales CRM features include:
- Email tracking and automation
- Activity reporting
- Sales dashboard and reporting
- Mobile CRM
- Automatic dialer with text capability
- Call analytics
- Out-of-the box integrations
- Contact management
- Prospect discovery and verification
- Lead management
When you have the ability to fully manage your sales and marketing tools in one place and integrate with a help desk, customer service wins.
Hubspot is a popular choice for businesses just getting started on their customer relationship management software journey.
With a clean dashboard centralizing all of your most important CRM tools, Hubspot makes your data as easy to find as the “leave meeting” button after a five-hour Zoom call.
And, like most CRM programs, Hubspot does offer customization and features like conversation intelligence and email tracking.
If you came here wondering “what is a CRM system?” Less Annoying might be the sales CRM platform for you.
Based on its name alone, it’s clear Less Annoying’s key selling feature is its simplicity, making it a solid choice for small businesses taking their first leap into the world of CRM.
While it may lack the long list of features of other CRM system options, Less Annoying prides itself on making sure your business doesn’t pay for more features than it needs.
Built for midsize to large corporations, Sales Creatio offers the full scope of customer relationship management software, allowing you to manage sales, marketing, and services all from one spot.
Sales Creatio’s claim to fame is its low-code technology, which allows for a wide range of customization options with little to no coding know-how, which is a great feature if your team happens to include anyone who self-identifies as technologically challenged.
With an impressively compatible and fully Online CRM system, Apptivo allows you to centralize all of your customer care needs from any device, using any browser.
It does boast a smaller list of features than many of its competitors, but it still has 65+ integrated applications and a sturdy Sales Pipeline Management system. That means there’s never a wasted moment when tracking prospective customers.
If everyone on your team is a gung-ho Google wizard, Insightly may be one of your top CRM software options.
Using your existing Google App account, Insightly allows you to fully integrate all of your customer relations needs into a program you’re already comfortable with. In short, your team can spend less time learning new software.
If you do end up with questions, however, you may find Insightly’s lack of 24/7 support frustrating—especially if your team is spread out across multiple time zones.
iSales is a solid CRM platform option with a long list of features, including data import/export and two-way messaging.
With Voice over Internet Protocol options that give sales agents more avenues of contacting leads and customers, iSales packs some serious CRM punch.
Salesforce is a well-known heavyweight in the world of CRM technology.
Thanks to its artificial intelligence capabilities, users can automate a lot of the usual workflow. It’s a nifty way to free your support teams from tedious data entry and help them focus more on sales.
With a long list of features (including Commission Management and Call Center Management), Salesforce sometimes has more bells and whistles than a small business needs.
Like Insightly, Copper is a brand of CRM that was built with Google users in mind.
People choose Copper for its total G-Suite integration capabilities. Although its features aren’t necessarily unique, users routinely cite Copper’s easy user experience as its best quality.
Unlike some of its competitors, which are usually best suited for use by either small or large companies, ZohoCRM is designed to handle your company’s needs at any size.
ZohoCRM comes with all the features you’d expect from a top CRM software brand, and even boasts an AI companion named Zia. The folks at ZohoCRM know that there are multitaskers among us, so they created Zia to lend a hand to agents who are using both of theirs.
Zia can answer your questions, fetch sales reports, and even take note dictation.
How do you choose the right CRM platform for your business?
Choosing the best CRM for your company isn’t an easy task. Sure, you want a long list of features, excellent integration, clean mobile options, and lots of cloud capacity. But keep in mind that once you decide on a CRM system, your team will have to learn how to use it.
Before buying, know your CRM requirements for your brand and business, and make sure you understand your team’s technological know-how.
Choosing the right Customer Relationship Management software can drastically improve your team’s productivity, but that’s only if the CRM software itself is easy to use. Substituting one headache for another isn’t going to please anyone, so doing your research is key.
Cost is another factor that companies must consider when choosing a CRM platform. Make sure you not only determine your budget, but actually understand the true CRM implementation cost of whatever software you’ve settled on.
As you would before making any business decision, it’s best to compare the top contenders in the field and consider which one is best for you and your team’s workflow.
When is a good time to implement a CRM system?
If you’re searching for information about CRM solutions, you’ve likely recognized that your business may benefit from one.
Even if your company is still relatively small, CRM for small businesses can boost productivity and help you to scale faster, without becoming overwhelmed.
At a certain point, keeping track of customers, sales, and loads of more or less relevant data simply gets too complicated. If your teams are drowning in spreadsheets, lists of email addresses, and poorly organized email templates, CRM software might be calling your name.
CRM software will help centralize your customer information, and provide you with vital insights into key business performance metrics that are simply not accessible anywhere else.
CRM software FAQs
How is CRM software implemented?
Once you’ve decided on the right CRM for you, your CRM provider and your IT department will work together to manage the implementation of your CRM platform, as well as integrate your other business software and applications.
Since CRM implementation is a complex process, it can take a bit of time to get everything up and running. Ensuring that important data isn’t lost, users are adequately trained, and all associated software is fully integrated is a complicated process, but well worth it. With appropriate management, messaging, and training, CRM growing pains don’t have to last long.
How do I get my team to adopt a CRM?
CRM systems are there to make your team’s job easier. But poor user adoption is the number one reason CRM implementation fails.
First off, make sure that you are choosing the right CRM software for your business. When choosing the best CRM platform, start by considering what CRM requirements your company has.
Then, ensure buy-in from the top down. Executives, project managers, and team leaders all need to be on board. Create clear usage guidelines, clarify your strategies, and support your team with sufficient training. Consider naming an in-house expert (and cheerleader) for the transition process.
If after all this you still encounter resistance from your team in implementing a new CRM program, it may be that the software is simply not integrating into your team’s workflow as smoothly as intended.
If you’re worried about investing in a system that won’t work for you, consider trying out various free CRM software until you find the one that fits.
How do CRM systems typically handle automation?
When CRM systems are able to automate repetitive tasks, salespeople get more time to follow leads, invest in customer relationships, and improve productivity. That’s what makes automation so powerful: it gives teams the freedom to pursue more strategic, long-term work.
CRM automation can drive any number of tasks, in any number of departments. For example, marketing teams can automate social media posting, email campaigns, and lead nurturing.
Sales force automation tools are powerful platforms that help sales teams manage and track the complete sales cycle. It works by tracking customer interactions to ensure optimal timing, type, and tone of contact.
Lastly, customer service can automate tasks such as password resetting, answering customer questions through AI-powered chatbots, and customer ticket tracking.
Overall, CRM automation reduces manual, repetitive labor and lets your workforce focus on higher-level problem-solving.
What are the current CRM software trends?
In the last few years, nearly every major CRM platform has shifted into cloud-based offerings. Moving away from on-premises CRM systems has freed companies from the arduous process of installing new software onto hundreds or thousands of computers.
Instead, data is kept in secure, always-accessible online storage. This saves businesses time, money, and constant calls to in-house IT departments.
Cloud-based CRM solutions are also extremely scalable, as they are usually priced on the number of users. That means cloud-based CRM platforms can grow with you, and remain cost-effective at any size.
Other recent trends are the development of AI tools for both data analysis and customer support. With more and more data points about customer interactions piling up, AI is crucial to make sense out of the chaos.
AI works to analyze the information, identify trends, and offer simplified, actionable sales insights that might otherwise stay hidden.
AI can also be used in customer service chatbots and intelligent call routing, to increase service responsiveness and customer satisfaction.
Why do you need a CRM strategy?
A CRM strategy enables your sales operation to stay on top of customer information and touchpoints. That means quicker prospecting and discovery and seamless progression down the sales pipeline to conversion.
Without a sales CRM strategy, businesses spend way too much time and effort digging around for outdated information and juggling leads without purpose. Let your sales reps do what they do best: close. And let your CRM take care of the rest.
Give CRM software a try
Zendesk Sell is an intuitive-yet-powerful sales CRM, designed with customer relationships in mind. Our cloud-based CRM platform makes accessing information easy for your entire team—anytime and anywhere.
It’s simple: customers are happier when they feel heard. Get the tools to personalize customer interactions and foster collaboration across departments—through every stage of the customer experience.
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