How to Find the Best CRM in 2020

CRM collage: woman at laptop, hand holding credit card, email discount, CRM dashboard
It has never been more important to properly care for and nurture customer relationships. Customer Relationship Management systems can help businesses and organizations cope with COVID-19, but it’s important to find the right CRM to meet your needs. In Episode 40 of The ERP Advisor, we explore the evolving role of CRM systems in the wake of COVID-19.

It has never been more important to properly care for and nurture customer relationships, and that means finding the right CRM to meet your needs. There are a lot of articles that try to rank the “best CRM for real estate” or the “best CRM for nonprofits” — but the problem is, every situation is different. What works for one nonprofit is not necessarily the right solution for another.

So in this article, we decided to provide you with a look behind the curtain at the methodology we use to find the best CRM for our clients. There is a lot of in-depth information here, so take some time with it — and if you have any questions, feel free to ask!

As a point of orientation to what organizations are facing in 2020, one of the original motivating ideas behind customer relationship management software is the ability to understand your company’s relationships and leverage them to create new business opportunities. In a time when face-to-face, in-person interactions have all but disappeared, most companies are now looking at their CRM platforms as mission-critical applications, intimate to their survival as a business.

Why CRM systems are vital right now

Software serves as a reflection of how people do things in the real world, and it provides tools to do those things better. When behaviors change in the people that the software is supposed to serve — as we are seeing right now in 2020 — the software must change as well. And thus CRM software packages and sales automation tools have had to evolve in order to adapt to shifting customer behavior, as we recently discussed in an article on ERP for E-commerce in an Economic Crash.

From an internal perspective, centralized CRM tools are imperative for a distributed team. Centralized software for marketing automation, sales force automation and customer service will continue to become more and more important the bigger your sales team gets, and the more spread out they are geographically. It’s not lost on the software industry at large, as a report by Gartner found that CRM software revenues made it the largest of all software markets, and it can only be expected to grow even further.

In short, there are a lot of incredible CRM systems tools available in the software marketplace right now. But how do you find the best CRM in 2020?

What the best CRMs have to offer

Let’s start with the absolutely essential and most important function: your CRM should provide a single, centralized, authoritative source of data about your customers. But what does that mean exactly?

When we at ERP Advisors Group evaluate CRM software, we look for the following baseline functionality:

  • Can you rapidly view your contacts the way you need to?
    Any CRM worth the cost should be able to present contacts with the views, reports or dashboards you need. For a B2B example, where you have a record of contacts and a record of companies, you should be able to detach the contacts from the company, or the company from the contacts. Contacts that you have developed can move to a different company and you do not want to lose those resources you have nurtured. For an e-commerce example, you should be able to segment contacts based on new vs. returning customers, lifetime value, geographical location, or any number of other data points.
  • The CRM must have a robust scheduling tool.
    The pandemic-driven transformation to a remote workforce means you must be able to rapidly and easily schedule somebody for a meeting, even if you can’t immediately reach them by phone.
  • Deal tracking must accurately reflect the different stages of the sales pipeline.
    This is part and parcel of any CRM, and this tool must be in a format that works for your organization to visualize it. Automation needs to be configured so that salespeople are willing to use it, so that managers, VPs or Execs can gain valuable insights into the sales pipeline.
  • You should be able to incorporate offline tools into the CRM system.
    Spreadsheets, documents, PowerPoint slides, whiteboard images and other such sources of vital information need to be easily folded into the CRM.
  • Can you access inventory and see the status of the customer’s account?
    Many of our clients have wanted a transparent order system for their salespeople in order to service the customer and keep them happy. Tech businesses in particular need to track contracts that customers sign for renewal dates, extra software features, or additional users.

One important point to remember when selecting a new CRM is the existing sales culture. If the company executives think it's time to implement a CRM, this is a vital change management point to make sure you are not going to abandon what has been successful for your sales force. You must take this into account when mapping out the selection and implementation process.

What about data hygiene?

No matter what portion of an enterprise-wide software system we evaluate at ERP Advisors Group, we always come around to the vital importance of data hygiene in the planning and implementation stages.

To restate the obvious: the effectiveness of any software system is only as good as the data you put into it, and this is no different for CRMs. According to Forbes, “A mere 33% of marketers feel they can rely on their CRM data to make decisions.”

But how do you address this? Start by focusing on the 20 percent of the data that is going to give you 80 percent of the value.

Here is a made-up example of how to approach the problem:

  1. Take a contact list and export the data into an Excel spreadsheet.
  2. There are all kinds of fields for each contact. Find the field that says “last contacted date” and sort the file by “newest to oldest.”
  3. Observe that a lot of contacts haven't been touched by sales for a while, and note that down for later.
  4. Notice that the top 20 percent of the contacts — who happen to be contacted more frequently — have generated about 80 percent of your sales.
  5. Concentrate on getting the data right on the top 20 percent.
  6. Over time, allocate resources to address the rest of the contacts.

An important aspect of data hygiene is to look at where you are getting your data from. Your marketing interface, web forms, or white paper downloads can be a primary source of dirty data.

When the forms are too long, or they get too personal, it can tempt customers to provide fake names or made-up phone numbers. So it is prudent to look at constraints, standardization rules, and form validation to curtail the entrance of dirty data into your system.

Determining what CRM is right for your organization

There are a lot of good tools in the market, but you do have to understand your needs and what your interactions with your customers and prospects look like. Selecting the right CRM application depends on the stage of your organization.

For example, if you are a fledgling startup or a small business, Microsoft Excel is probably fine — you just need to keep an Excel spreadsheet or a Google Sheet to track contacts, potential opportunities, and demographic data.

Then when you start to see what data you need, and what manual tasks are getting repetitive, you start to know what you want a CRM system to do. If you don't have a feel for your requirements, it is hard to look at different software vendors and be able to differentiate them.

This is what we help our clients with at ERP Advisors Group. For instance, we have startups and green-field companies that will say, “We're going to be manufacturing products, and we don't know what software we need, and we need somebody to help us.”

The solo practitioner that is just starting out is best off finding a little best-of-breed CRM app that will work for a couple of users. But as you get bigger and you organically grow your sales force, you need to circle back and find out what you need from an enterprise-class CRM. This includes taking a step back from the brand of software, making sure you have the right type of CRM to fit your needs.

Your company may be getting a large number of forms from the website, so you need a CRM that can process a lot of contact information and route it to different salespeople. You might need marketing automation that integrates with sales automation. Or maybe you need a CRM that integrates well with your e-commerce platform.

Some of our clients focus on recurring orders from a core group of existing customers, rather than soliciting new business. These types of organizations don't have a need for pipeline tracking and marketing automation, so they are satisfied with an ERP that has a rudimentary CRM for looking at customer contact information, what they ordered last, and whether they want to order the same item again.

We have made this point before, but it bears repeating: the right software should meet the majority of your requirements without excessive customization or plugins. If you have an existing ERP, find a CRM package that integrates well with it. Look at enterprise level CRM solutions, and find a CRM designed for that ERP.


If you are looking for the right solution for your CRM, we are here to help you. That is why we provide a free introductory consultation to discuss your particular needs and concerns.