by Sheryl Tuttle

Throughout my career in sales, I’ve had the opportunity to use various sales management and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools. I’ve sampled a handful of good CRM software solutions, including Goldmine, Entellium, ACT, and Salesforce.com to name a few. Robin and I both have even used Microsoft Access databases for managing our prospect calls!

While I am sure there are numerous good products available, the one I currently use is Salesforce.com. Here are some of the things that make this a good tool and qualities you should look for when researching a CRM.

  • Customizable – Let’s face it. Not everyone follows the same process for prospecting, qualifying, and closing leads, nor do they use the same terminology. The CRM solution you use needs to be customizable to your particular situation. Different data points are more or less relevant business to business, so it is important that fields and objects can be added, removed, renamed, etc.

NOTE: In almost every system I’ve used for leads management, I use most (and have often had to add) a lead summary status field. This is a snapshot of the current status of the lead. This enables you an overview of the lead without having to read the detailed activity history line item by line item.

  • Flexible reporting – CRM users have different needs depending on their role. For users that engage in prospect calling, they need to be able to report how many calls they’ve made and how many resulted in appointments. Sales managers will utilize reports for forecasting, identifying trends, and more. Your system should provide you with flexibility to create custom reports.
  • Upgradable – As your business grows, so may your need for enhanced functionality. By starting with a CRM system that is upgradable, you eliminate the need to start fresh with a new system later on down the road. Enhanced features can include campaign management, partner management, customer service tie-ins, and more.
  • Help and Training – Especially while you are learning your new CRM, but even in customizing the application later on, it’s imperative that you have help available. Tutorials, user guides, and online help are features every good CRM should offer.
  • Affordablity – While I don’t advocate going with the cheapest CRM solution based on money alone, I also don’t know that you need to buy the most expensive either. The best way to acquire a successful CRM package that is adopted and used by your organization is to buy the package with the features that most match your needs.

NOTE: As mentioned in the “upgradable” section above, a good CRM is not one-size fits all, and neither should be its price tag. You should only pay for the features you need now, and add on as your needs change. Some of the very basic CRM packages can be very inexpensive, even free for a single user.

  • Ease of Use – Finally, unless the CRM solution is easy to use, adoption may be an issue. Be certain to select a CRM package that is user friendly.

I’ve put together this list rather quickly and may have inadvertently left off some other considerations. If so, won’t you please add your thoughts to the comments below?