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What is CRM Software? Analysis of Features, Types and Pricing

HubSpot: No. 1 Free CRM

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What is CRM software?

The short definition is, CRM software is a system that enables you to nurture relationships with customers and prospects to drive sales or sustain long-term profitability. It also aggregates streams of customer data to surface insights that help you make better business decisions.

As more customers look for products and services that understand their needs and responsive to their situations, businesses find it necessary to personalize customer interactions to stay competitive. Indeed, a Forrester study revealed that 72% of customers believe “time is the most important thing that a company can do to provide them with good service.” Even with a huge customer base, companies can keep tab of customer engagements, thanks to CRM software.

In this article, you’ll gain a better understanding of CRM and the definition of its many aspects. It will make you better informed, so you can make the right decision navigating through hundreds of CRM solutions in the market today. Specifically, we’ll guide you through the following:

What are examples of CRM software?

1. HubSpot CRM

Popular CRM platform HubSpot CRM is a leading tool from app vendor HubSpot. This intense popularity among users stems from the fact that the solution comes for free. It is a highly-flexible and intuitive product that can be used immediately after setup completion. This is because users need not make changes to their own workflows to be able to optimally use HubSpot CRM. It was designed with SMBs in mind, most of whom are known to want to give CRM systems a try. The platform is also known for its ease-of-use, doing away with complex processes while providing all basic features.
The software can organize just about any customer detail so that users can construct both contact and company profiles. It assigns and tracks transactions while handing over total control over agent performance. All activities, meanwhile, are monitored by team members through the software. It has numerous integrations, such as Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, Zapier and Shopify, to name a few.

You can easily sign up for a HubSpot CRM free trial here and get to know the features firsthand at no cost and without commitment.

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HubSpot won our Expert's Choice Award for 2017

2. Salesforce Essentials

Salesforce Essentials is part of the vendor’s CRM and customer support platforms, only intended for small businesses. It is specifically targeted at small teams who are known to have limited time and resources, helping them sell both faster and smarter. This is made possible by the built-in intelligence tool that comes with the software. It also makes CRM implementation a relatively simple task. Setup is a breeze, not taking weeks as many other tools in the category are known for. Users get help in setting up the system from apps that come with the software, namely, Trailhead and the Einstein Artificial Intelligence.

What makes the product even better is that it has powerful integrations, which include G Suite, Gmail and Google Calendar. Salesforce Essentials also helps businesses improve their customer service, centralizing and connecting a variety of support channels automatically. These can be accessed from any device, allowing them to be resolved at the soonest possible time. Aside from this, repetitive tasks can be automated, saving personnel precious time and effort. 

If you want to know more about the features you can easily sign up for a Salesforce Essentials free trial here.

3. Freshsales

Freshsales is a robust CRM system from application developer Freshdesk. It is designed to cater to the sales teams of today, aiding them in tracking contacts while effectively resolving customer inquiries and concerns. The product came under development owing to the vendor’s own need to manage its sales process and the need to empower users to accomplish numerous tasks using a singular tool. This contact management program allows users to handle thousands of leads at a time through a very intuitive interface.

It can also function as a dynamic analytic contributor, offering critical sales tips and insights on how to best leverage them. It does not take much to set the system up as it does not come with complex procedures. The platform has numerous integrations and transactions are quite secure as they all take place in the cloud. Other prominent features such as direct calls, email tracking, sales management, event tracking, reporting, lead management and analytics also come with the software.

An appealing test drive of all software features is available to you when you sign up for a Freshsales free trial here.

These are but three of the top solutions in CRM. If you need more examples of reliable solutions you may want to check the list of top 10 CRM software prepared by our team.

Why use a CRM software?

You’ve learnt what is CRM software, but what are its uses? There are plenty of benefits of a CRM software. It can be set up for insights, automation, integration, visibility, accessibility, and collaboration—the result is increased productivity and more efficiency to your business. Here are the key advantages of CRM software:

  1. Generate insights for better decisions. You can consolidate disparate customer data to look for patterns, trends, and other insights critical to strategic decisions or a timely response to market behavior. Likewise, you can translate customer data streams from different sources like social media posts, support calls, and sales data to see the overall sentiments on your brand.
  2. Increase sales opportunities. With more information on hand, you can qualify new leads faster and focus on promising prospects. You can also see which customers are up for an upsell, cross-sell, or sort out and reactivate dormant customers. Likewise, better engagement means customers are kept happy and profitable for the long run.
  3. Profile customers easily. By organizing customer data in a centralized database, anyone with access have a 360-degree view of customers. Information like contact details, demographics, transaction history, support engagement are easily retrievable through tags and filters.
  4. Align sales and marketing. Sales can feed on-the-ground data to help marketing craft campaigns and brand messages. Marketing can feed sales with new leads in bulk. Both teams can share contacts, deals, and insights that fast track the sales cycle.
  5. Make accurate sales forecast.  With a clear sales pipeline it’s easier to see what deals and tasks are coming in and out, what are moving and stagnating, giving you patterns for forecasting.
  6. Keep track of customer social posts – You can manage your social media pages from one place, making it easier to respond quickly to customer rants, praises, and brand mentions.
  7. Collect data fast. Sales can quickly store customer data on the field via mobile access. Support can save customer interactions in phone, email, chat with a few clicks. Marketing can automate sorting of campaign feedback. Staff do less administration and work more on their core tasks.
  8. Get real-time data. Your reports and analytics use the latest data.

What are the types of CRM software?

We’ve defined what is CRM software, but what are its different types? CRM software is generally classified into three types based on function: operational, analytical, and collaborative. Most solutions feature all three, but usually are strongest in one or two only. What you deem your priority function will dictate your choice of software.

Operational

The CRM’s main goal here is to streamline and automate workflows in sales, marketing, and customer service. Solutions that are strong in this area have excellent lead management, contact management, help desk, and sales pipeline. This is commonly used by managers, marketers, salespeople, service reps, and tech support to offload repetitive tasks and fast track work.

Examples: Pipedrive, Zoho CRM, and HubSpot CRM.

Analytical

A good analytical CRM can source tons of data from multiple touch points and consolidate them into insights that are useful to strategic planning. The software features robust reporting and dashboards and can generate real-time data. Quick look-ups and drill-down tools are standard. This type of CRM is useful for CEOs and executives, department heads, and team leaders.

Examples: Salesforce CRM, Oracle CRM, and Microsoft Dynamics CRM

Collaborative

This CRM type promotes teamwork and transparency among sales, marketing, and support by sharing customer information and syncing their activities. It features excellent communication tools including social discussion, chat, and integrated email. Also, this CRM is strong in file sharing, editing controls, and activity streaming.

Examples: bpm’online CRM, Freshsales, and Base CRM

HubSpot CRM is a very popular solution available for free

What does a CRM software do?

We’ve answered the question what is CRM software, now let’s consider its main features. Various features of CRM software can organize contacts, manage deals and tasks, automate workflows, track leads in sales cycle, run and measure campaigns, and generate reports in one platform. CRM software also aligns the workflows and data of various departments, mainly sales, marketing, and support, and promotes collaboration among teams. How does a CRM software work will depend on how many of these features it has.

Here are the key features of a CRM software:

  1. Contact management. Organizes customer data in a centralized location. Contact details, demographics, transactions, customer service interactions, and other customer data are easily saved and retrieved.
  2. Reporting and dashboards. Consolidates streams of data in meaningful ways that help you to spot patterns, trends, behaviors, and other market insights. Many CRM solutions can also generate real-time data that makes reporting more timely and accurate.
  3. Lead management. Manages leads from prospecting to conversion. It lets you track sales activities, deals, and tasks and move them across sales stages. It also connects to contact management to let you view customer interactions and profiles in one window. Most CRM solutions allow you to customize the pipeline stages.
  4. Deals and Tasks. CRM lets you add, assign, and track actionable items and feed them into the sales pipeline. Deals and tasks can be automatically populated with customer data or updated with real-time information.
  5. Campaign management. Manages campaigns from start to end, including setting up target customers, automating workflows, and measuring success based on clearly defined metrics.
  6. Email tracking. Tracks opened or clicked emails and usually works with popular email clients and mailers like Gmail, Outlook, and MailChimp. Email tracking can be a part of campaign management or sold separately.
  7. Social media management. Tracks social media activity of your audience, such as, likes and dislikes, comments, mentions, and shares. It can also be a part of campaign management or sold separately.
  8. Mobile version. Many CRM solutions have Android and iOS apps, while others have mobile responsive sites.

What are the factors to consider when getting CRM software?

Whatever solution you choose, make sure it has the following aspects to fulfill the main purpose of CRM software: nurture customer relationships.

  1. Analytics. The CRM software should do more than storing and retrieving data. It should be able to mine data, consolidate it, and analyze patterns to help you generate insights for better decisions. The more complex your business, the more advanced analytics you need.
  2. Customization. The CRM software should be customizable to fit your workflows or business scenario. It should give you control over data, access, approvals, and to some degree, interface design.
  3. Scalability. Can more advanced features or users be added? The software should be able to expand its functionalities as your business grows. It should be able to manage more contacts, leads, deals, tasks, and run more sophisticated campaigns or generate more complex reporting. You may want to consider that when you go for a free CRM software.
  4. Integration. The software should work with other popular business and productivity apps that you’re using. What are the most popular CRM integrations? These include popular email clients, mailers, document management, cloud storage, and calendars. It should also integrate with other customer-facing systems like salesforce automation, help desk, and content management systems.
  5. Ease of use. Setup should be quick, navigation is easy to follow, and the tools accessible. Overall, the CRM software should be simple enough for casual users to guarantee employees will use it.
  6. Mobile support. How does CRM software work when you step out of the office? It should have an Android, iOS app or mobile responsive website version that you can access via smartphone or tablet.

Freshsales is an innovative CRM from the makers of Freshdesk

How much does a CRM software cost?

Pricing depends on the type of CRM software and price points vary a lot across vendors. Generally, on-premise CRM runs into hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars with one-time payment. Thereafter, maintenance is still significant. Costs include one-time license fee, license type, number of users, and set features.

On the other hand, SaaS CRM costs in double- to triple-digits, and, for a few enterprise platforms, quadruple-digits. Payment is monthly or annually, with price points also influenced by set features, number of users and records, storage, service level agreement, etc.

Here are the price points of some of the popular CRM solutions:

  1. Pipedrive – From $12.00/user/month, which includes 2GB storage per user, sales management features, native integrations, and API access. Up to $75 for more robust features.
  2. HubSpot CRM – The basic plan is free with no credit card, contract, or training required. Features include Gmail and Outlook integration, email scheduler, and API. Pro plan is $50.
  3. Salesforce CRM – From $5/user/month for basic plan featuring contact management. More sophisticated packages range from $65 to $300/user/month.
  4. Freshsales – It has clear scalable features that grow with your business. Entry price point is free for basic features, then you move up for more features to $12, $25, and, finally, $49, all per user/month.
  5. bpm’online – It offers price points for different business types: $25 for teams, $30 for e-commerce, and $50 for enterprise, all per user/month.
  6. Infusionsoft – It bills by number of users, set features, and emails sent, among others, with five price points starting at $199/month.

For more pricing details of other solutions you may want to check our list of top 15 CRM software prepared by our experts.

What are the potential issues with CRM software?

  1. Security. Security is always a concern when data is placed online. Hacking, phishing, and malware attacks can compromise sensitive customer data. In response, vendors use encryption to protect data, while companies must have internal security protocols in place, such as, permission controls and sharing rules.
  2. Privacy. Some customers frown on having their personal details kept by companies. Coming across as too personal may rub customers the wrong way like greeting someone on her birthday.
  3. Sales not using it. CRM solutions with plenty of fields, difficult navigation, and complex workflows turn off sales people. Lack of mobile app also means sales cannot access the software when they need it most, out there when meeting with clients.
  4. Cost vs return. When managers or marketers see CRM software as glorified address books or spreadsheets, they see the software as a cost, not an investment.

What are the latest CRM trends?

Leading vendors are pushing the envelope on CRM solutions for more efficiency and deeper insights, and many of these trends are already happening this year.

  1. Going vertical and integrated. More industry-specific CRM solutions are being launched, such as for real estate, e-commerce, education, and retail. At the same time, CRM is being split out of its category with tech giants like Oracle integrating CRM functions into other systems.
  2. AI driving sales cycle even faster. Technologies like predictive analysis and machine learning are getting more accurate in qualifying leads and automating engagement (Gartner 2017). The result is higher and faster closure rates.
  3. Mobile first. Field users like sales are demanding more mobile features and vendors are responding.  
  4. Knowledge collaboration. CRM is integrating data across departments beyond sales and marketing. Accounting, purchasing, management, and other departments are becoming integral to newer CRM suites.
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