The Beginner’s Guide to Choosing a CRM

Long gone are the days when we turn to the Rolodex and overstuffed file folders to brief us on customer data. In today’s digitally driven business world, companies are bidding farewell to paper pushing and streamlining data availability in the form of CRM (Customer Relationship Management) solutions.

A CRM is a powerful software that, when utilized correctly, delivers improvements to every department in your company that’s using it. But be warned: not all CRMs are created equal. If you choose the right one, your job just got a whole lot easier. But choose the wrong one, and it could cost you more than just the monthly subscription price.

I. What Exactly is a CRM?

Imagine taking every cell of customer-related data, such as sales history, phone logs, revenue stream, sales leads, email records, contracts, and inquiries, and condensing it all into a single beehive of information: That’s the function of a CRM. It is power and versatility that, until the past few years, no single piece of software could deliver.

CRMs have evolved from customer interaction management software to a fully stocked sales, marketing, and customer service toolbox. CRM Developers heard the plights and pleas about manual entry and inefficiency, and have cast their lifelines to those drowning in data overload and miscommunication. The result? CRMs facilitate the needs of sales professionals, customer service reps, marketing strategists, and other need-to-know employees all in one central platform.

Why You Need a CRM

Truth be told, not every business needs a CRM. But if your business caters to long term clients moreso than one-off sales, you have multiple employees who need to access the same information, you want to measure metrics, or your memory of every customer interaction isn’t 100% accurate, then a CRM makes sense.

Think of a CRM as an official historical archive for every customer. You can log critical pieces of customer data into your CRM for easier locating in the future, look back on past conversations, issues, and inquiries, and even reignite abandoned opportunities . By stockpiling data into a single source, you can easily generate metrics to check your performance, and leverage that information to develop strategies.

The reasons to integrate a CRM  to your workflow are as varied as the companies using them, but overall you can expect the same benefits:

  • Enhanced Customer Service
  • Drive Higher Conversions
  • Strengthen the Sales Process
  • Improve Internal Communication
  • Develop Strong, Accurate Metrics

One solution caters to the needs of multiple departments within a company, which means sharing information internally has never been easier. There’s no switching back and forth between various programs and keeping them synchronized, and there’s less risk of important items falling through the cracks. In turn, your employees boost their productivity and efficiency, and can spend more time being engaged in their role and less time chasing details and waiting for answers.

II. How to Choose the Right CRM

If you are just starting the search for a CRM, or if you have found your current CRM is no longer keeping pace with your business needs, you’ve got your work cut out for you: CRM shopping isn’t a cut and dry experience. With hundreds of CRM solutions on the market, choosing the right one can feel like a blind shot.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution, despite the intense popularity of some of the CRMs out there. It all comes down to your company’s goals when using a CRM, and how those goals can integrate with the solutions a CRM provides. Ask yourself: What do I want my CRM to do for me?

  • Track the sales process for every lead?
  • Share data throughout the company quickly and easily?
  • Increase employee productivity and efficiency?
  • Gauge customer interaction?
  • Strengthen relationships with customers?
  • Provide a single tool that every department can share?

What To Look For

Once you establish solid goals, it’s time to start shopping. Granted, there are hundreds of possible CRMs to choose from, some geared strictly toward sales, others facilitating customer service functions, and some that pull the two together. Recognizing who exactly will be using the CRM can help narrow the field.

Once you stumble upon a few potentials, take them for a test drive. Involve a few employees who will be using the CRM regularly and get their feedback. Import a few pieces of customer data to get a real experience, and jot notes and questions along the way. The key here is to find a solution that your company will actually use, not another piece of software taking up hard drive space.

A few things to consider:

Remote Access: Will your sales people need to access data when they aren’t at their desks? If not right now, will this need arise in the foreseeable future? Mobile usage for just about anything continues to increase, and that could include the need for info on the go.

Security: Does the CRM give you a dedicated server option, or do you have to use a shared server? Dedicated servers can be more secure, since it gives you autonomy on how it’s maintained.

Customization: How easy is the CRM to customize to fit your specific needs? Does the CRM provide enough customization options, now and in the foreseeable future?

Integrations: What other programs are you using (MailChimp, Zapier, Shopify, etc) that will integrate with the CRM? Do these programs need to be integrated?

Ease of Use: Will your employees pick up on processes easily, or will they be watching tutorials every day for the first few months? Every new program takes some time to learn, but the easier and more intuitive the program, the sooner you can start to benefit.

Data Transfer: How can I load my existing data into the CRM? Some CRM companies offer data transporting services, especially if you are upgrading to a newer version of the same CRM. You might also want to ensure you can import and export CSV files.

What To Avoid

CRMs aren’t exactly cheap, and can sometimes end up complicating simple jobs and making your task force less productive. So how can you avoid complete CRM failure? Here’s what to avoid:

Click-heavy navigation. A direct route is usually the quickest, so if your CRM takes too many click through’s to find what you’re looking for, it’s probably costing you in productivity. Remember, CRMs are supposed to make work easier and more efficient. Keep it simple.

Feature-heavy fallout. With encroaching competition at every corner of the CRM marketplace, developers are transforming CRMs into feature-rich machines to stay ahead. But don’t assume those extra features have any merit in your business. If you fall in love with features that can’t benefit you, you’ll soon be breaking up with your CRM.

In-the-moment decisions. Business needs are bound to change as you grow (you do want to grow, right?), so don’t base all your CRM decisions on here-and-now situations. Be as forward thinking as possible before you commit to a CRM to avoid costly upgrades later.


Bottom line, finding a CRM isn’t an overnight success story. There’s plenty of groundwork to lay first, and even more details to build upon. But all that work is useless if your final decision is one that doesn’t fit your company’s needs. This is one instance where doing your research pays off big, so take your time and don’t settle for anything less than exactly what you need.

Customer Data Privacy, Explained

Never has it been any easier to glean bits and pieces of information than right now in our data-driven society. These days, the Internet is our virtual library of practically anything we’d ever want to know, including personal details we might not be aware have been made widespread.

But while it seems privacy has taken the road less traveled in our digital-driven era, it hasn’t left the trail completely. And it’s up to you to keep your customers’ sensitive information shaded from the public eye.

I. Protection Requires Pro-Action

Adding security measures to protect sensitive information isn’t a start-to-finish process: it’s an ever-changing rotating cycle that is never fully complete. As technology advances, so do security necessities, and at an alarming rate of advancement, it’s proving more and more challenging to keep pace with the ill intentions of data thieves. The key is to get one step ahead, and then continue to gain distance.

Keeping Hackers At Bay

Technology gurus continue to keep the digital security game strong, but hackers refuse to rest on the sidelines. Even some of the most trusted e-commerce brands, like Amazon and Etsy, have fallen victim to recent cyber crimes. Security is an ever-evolving entity that should be continually updated and integrated with every piece of your digital worksphere.

Hopefully, you will never experience the misfortune of a detrimental cyber attack. Your entire reputation is on the line, and if you don’t execute a resolution with well thought out precision, it could cost you dearly. However, there are some measures you can put into place to make the cyber crime possibility pool a little more shallow:

Use dedicated servers for all your data. Yes, it’s more expensive, but relying on shared servers leaves gaps in defense if another site on the server has neglected its security.

Encrypt all data. Think of data encryption as a secret “digi-speak” language that only the computer can translate.

Use malware monitoring. Chances are, you might not even know about a breach until well after the fact. A malware monitoring service can alert you if someone has planted harmful codes in your website, and will also protect you and customers from malware if they visit your site.

Establish an emergency plan. Cyber attacks can happen anytime, and while you certainly don’t want to be on the receiving end of one, you should be prepared in case disaster strikes. Figure out how you plan to notify your customers about any compromises in security; designate someone to handle media inquiries; make sure your IT people know what to do to get you safely up and running again.

Fending Off Internal Predators

If you think your customers’ data is impervious to attacks from within your organization, think again. The sad reality is your customers’ data is just as susceptible to internal abuse as it is to external security breaches. The worst part? Internal data breaches can easily go undetected. You can, however, avoid as much data damage as possible with these best practices:

Train employees on what they can (and can’t) disclose. Sometimes, employees share details with customers or other employees that may seem harmless at the time, but can actually create a negative company image. Educating your employees on what they should – and shouldn’t – talk about in certain instances can help prevent an unintentional data breach.

There is a plan like this in practice in every medical establishment in the country, referred to as HIPAA. You can establish your own information disclosure plan that outlines for your employees the types of information it’s okay to divulge, and what information needs to stay under wraps.

Limit Data Access. You should prevent employees from accessing data they do not need in order to do their job. Keep data access on a need-to-know basis to reduce your chance of internal thievery.

Introduce a non-disclosure agreement. When an employee severs ties with your company, you rightfully have an expectation that they will not disclose business secrets to persons outside yourcompany walls. Enter the non-disclosure agreement. This legally binding document sets forth yourexpectations that all employees will keep mum on what they encounter on the job.

II. Up Your Trust Factor

Earning your customer’s trust in the first place is hard enough without having to worry about maintaining it. But there are some actions you can take to make your company appear more favorable in the scrutinizing eyes of security conscious consumers.

Create a privacy policy, and make it simple. This isn’t like the miles long Terms & Conditions agreement that customers never read but must agree to before doing business with you. It can simply be a paragraph or two about the measures you take to keep their data safe, like encryption software or the fact that you will never sell their information. Depending on your communication methods with yourcustomers, you could provide them with a hard copy or printable copy of your privacy practices. You should also post your privacy policy on your website, if you have one.

Make the Opt-Out process painless. No one wants their precision-crafted emails to end up in the Junk Mail folder, and for good reason: It hurts your reputation as the sender, and almost 100% ensures your recipient will never see it. But you can bet that if you are sending emails to someone who doesn’t welcome them, that’s exactly where your emails are going – Spam.

While it might sting a little to know a customer or prospect simply isn’t interested, it’s best to make the breakup process quick and painless. Give them an easy way to change the communication frequency – or let them opt out all together – while emphasizing that opting out will not result in any form of retaliation, like selling their information.

Oftentimes, unsubscribing from spam emails can result in (you guessed it) more spam, which defeats the purpose of opting out. Reassure your customers that you loathe spam as much as they do, which is why you won’t harbor any hard feelings if they decide to part ways with your email campaigns.

Inject a little light humor about your privacy practices. Privacy is a serious matter, but that doesn’t mean you have to go the dry and dull route to get your message across. If you want to earn yourcustomer’s trust, getting them to like you is crucial. And it’s hard not to like someone who has made you smile.

Instead of the mundane “We do not allow third parties to solicit for your information” or “We promise never to sell or distribute your personal information”, drop the legalese and make your message pop: “Here’s the deal: You wouldn’t sell our information, so we won’t sell yours. Sound good? Good. (But even if you do sell ours, we still won’t sell yours. And that’s a promise.)”

Be honest. Maybe you share some of the data you collect with other sources. That’s perfectly fine, as long as you let your customers know someone else is keeping tabs on them. This isn’t just ethical business practice – it’s actually the law. If your customer’s information is flowing down a data stream other than your own, they have a right to know about it, and it’s up to you to tell them. If you don’t, you may find yourself up the Bad Reputation creek without a paddle.

Don’t slip in the details with lengthy explanations about your terms and conditions, hoping the reader will gloss over it entirely. The more transparent you are in explaining how exactly their information is used, the more, the more trust you stand to gain.