In 2018 thousands of small businesses will purchase Customer Relationship Manager software. Many of these will be young startups acquiring their first piece of sales technology while others will be in the midst of a digital transformation. No matter what your background may be, if you haven’t paid attention to CRMs in the last few years, you can expect to be overwhelmed with the number of new tools and features as well as diverging philosophies about what makes a CRM relevant in today’s economy.
Of course, the temptation is to follow the crowd and buy into Salesforce, but not everyone is looking for a cookie cutter solution. Today, CRM options abound, all of them offering an array of partner integrations, artificial intelligence and a fluid customer experience. So what do you need to know to cut through the noise and what can you expect from the best CRMs in 2018?
2018 CRM Software Trends
Let’s consider three of the most talked about and least understood aspects of sales technology: artificial intelligence, ease of use and vendor types.
1. Artificial Intelligence
Every CRM advertises their AI as a central piece of their technology and will claim that it revolutionizes the sales process. The challenge is understanding which vendor is using cutting-edge AI and which is just throwing out the term without anything to back it up.
“When it comes to making AI a value-add in a CRM, you have to focus on the data inputs,” explains Uzi Shmilovici, founder and CEO of Base CRM. “What the AI can do will be completely dependent on what information it has access to. If you have to manually bcc your CRM on email correspondence, you can be sure you are not collecting 100 percent of the data you need. Because of the increasingly flexible nature of work, CRMs also need to work on mobile, or you miss another huge slice of data. All of this adds up. So when you are looking for a CRM with a credible AI, look to see how and where it is gathering data from.”
It is imperative to ask these questions because much like every company claims to be eco-friendly, every CRM claims to be a pioneer in AI. Making a wrong choice can cost substantial sums of money and precious time in discovering the mistake and finding a new CRM.
2. Ease of Use
The single biggest lesson that CRM developers learned in the last 10 years was that design and functionality must cater to everyday users or they will not be used. Salespeople are notorious for working around their CRM if it fails to be a value-add or requires too much manual data entry. The standard for ease of use is also rising as the consumer technology that salespeople use at home continues to improve.
“Think about what tools your team is currently using and what processes they follow,” write Rob Marvin and Molly K. McLaughlin for PC Mag. “Figure out how those tasks map to the CRM software you’re evaluating. Consider what some of the most common tasks are. For example, if the users have to dig through menus and submenus every single time they want to log a call or email, then the tool will complicate their jobs instead of simplifying them. Make a note of how many clicks it takes to conduct a basic task and how easy or difficult it is to find the features you need.”
You cannot expect the same sales representative who told their coffee pot to turn on and make a cappuccino this morning to be patient with a CRM that demands hours of their day manually filling out names, email addresses, phone numbers, etc. Find a CRM your team will want to use.
Much can be said about different CRM vendors and what makes them better or worse. Right from the outset, it should be noted that many preferences come into play. But there are two routes you can go when it comes to selecting a vendor that every small business should be aware of, and both come with their own pluses and minuses.
One avenue is to find a vendor that utilizes a third party ecosystem to customize and install the CRM in clients’ businesses. Salesforce is the most significant operator in this space with a network of sub-vendors that account for billions of dollars of business every year. If you choose this route, you will get to customize your CRM to your specific needs and work with a vendor who has only a handful of clients, not hundreds or thousands. You will need to go the extra mile to verify the quality of this third-party vendor, however.
The other option is to utilize a self-contained CRM vendor, meaning they do all of their own integrations, training and support. Choosing this route means you will get hands-on attention from the people who designed the technology and know it best. It also indicates that the people you are working with have staked their reputation to the quality of the product, so you can reasonably expect a high quality of customer service.
By cutting out third-party vendors, you can save money. All of that said, most of the CRMs that operate in a self-contained ecosystem are specialists, focusing exclusively on doing one thing well — like sales. Your larger vendors are more generalists, catering to many departments within your company.
“Choosing the right CRM vendor is critical,” Shmilovici says. “You are buying something that will live in the heart of your organization ideally for years to come. The vendor behind it needs to be invested in your success, which means being expertly capable, available to update and repair as needed, and constantly pushing the boundaries of what is possible.”