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Create your CRM checklist: a comprehensive guide

CRM Checklist
Why you should prepare a CRM checklist
7 questions to evaluate your CRM requirements
The CRM requirements evaluation process
Key features every CRM needs
Why a CRM requirements checklist matters
How to evaluate CRM systems
Final thoughts

A customer relationship management (CRM) system is a must in today’s business world. However, choosing one from dozens of options is difficult. A quick Google search of “CRM for business” yields 339 million results.

Selecting the wrong vendor can cost you valuable time and money. So how can you sift through all that to find the right CRM for you?

In this article, we’ll explain how to make a comprehensive CRM checklist you can use to find your business software match.

Why you should prepare a CRM checklist

A CRM checklist is your blueprint. It identifies what you need, as well as some nice-to-haves, so you don’t waste money on modules you don’t end up using.

Putting that blueprint together solidifies expectations from everyone in the company, from stakeholders to sales managers. You get a picture of everyone’s needs so no one gets left behind.

Once you’ve identified your expectations, you can search for a CRM with confidence, choosing the right feature modules without getting distracted by software that’s not right for you.

Compiling a CRM requirements list also identifies weak points in your sales process you need to solve. From there, you can choose the CRM system best designed to solve those problems.

Going in blind can mean spending money on the product and time training staff only to realize your new software doesn’t do what you need it to. You’re forced to start the search over, expending twice as many of your resources in the process.

7 questions to evaluate your CRM requirements

The best CRM systems boost the efficiency of business processes, improve the customer experience and create more revenue.

Asking the right questions will help you lay a firm foundation to begin your search and cut down on the time you spend looking for a good CRM system.

1. What are your business goals?

Mapping out concrete goals will help guide you toward the right CRM with the features to meet them.

Some common business goals include:

  • Closing more deals

  • Improving project management

  • Growing your business

  • Getting more leads

  • Increasing revenue

  • More efficient marketing campaigns

  • Better information management

Anything you want to improve about your business goes on your goals list, then you can find the CRM with the right tools to make those goals a reality.

For example, if you’re trying to save time and bring in new leads, automation features help by reducing the time your staff spends on repetitive administrative work and automating lead generation efforts like email drip campaigns. A CRM system with features like automated email marketing, reminders and chatbot functionality lends itself well to those needs by creating a more efficient workflow.

Your CRM of choice will also depend on your business model and target audience. An e-commerce company selling to consumers has different needs to a SaaS brand attracting B2B buyers. Consider the audience you’re reaching when evaluating vendor features.

If you run a smaller business and want to grow, look for a CRM that meets your current needs but scales with you. Enterprise-level CRMs are often more expensive, so use something designed for companies with fewer people until you scale up.

2. What is your budget?

Free CRMs can show you what it’s like to use specific features and work with the software in your day-to-day operations, even though they don’t have as many tools as paid options. You can try out templates, automations and other features you’re interested in and test out use cases like automated welcome emails or page analytics.

However, to get the most out of a CRM, choose a paid solution. Once you’ve narrowed down your list, test a few CRMs with a free trial to find out which you like best. CRM vendors will also usually walk you through the system with a live demonstration or demo video.

In addition to the upfront cost of the software, which can vary by provider, make sure you account for other CRM fees. If the cost is per month, per user, make sure to factor that in and multiply it out to see what the real monthly charge will be.

A CRM’s pricing doesn’t just include the monthly fees, there’s also the cost of time spent in meetings and training sessions. Figure out how much it will cost you to train everyone on the system before implementation.

After this process, revisit your goals list. If you’re spending 10 hours a week compiling reports manually and one of the CRMs you’re considering will help you save money while getting back the time, that’s a feature to prioritize.

3. What’s your level of technical expertise?

Whether or not you have someone with IT knowledge on your staff will affect the kind of CRM you buy. Cloud-based systems, for example, require a lot less maintenance on the business owner’s end since they use servers maintained by the CRM company.

On-premise systems, however, require the installation of new hardware – hardware that will need regular upkeep. If you don’t have IT staff, an on-premise system might mean you need to contract an IT specialist and the CRM vendor regularly.

Many cloud-based CRMs have staff dedicated to troubleshooting and training, so you may want to go with that option if your business is small and needs to save money on maintenance.

4. What kind of access do you need?

CRM implementation is different for each company. Is your business centralized or are your team members spread out? Will they be largely working from desktops or do they need the freedom to work from anywhere?

If your team members work remotely, a CRM system with a native app is the smart choice. It also allows for:

  • Real-time software updates and communication between staff members

  • On-the-spot data entry and migration

Consider what devices your reps usually use. If you need a mobile CRM solution, you’ll want one designed relatively recently and made with mobile devices like tablets in mind.

5. What are your goals for your CRM?

Think about what you need versus what would be nice to have. What that means will depend on what you need the system to do for your business to function at peak efficiency. That could be anything from better contact storage to a dashboard function to track your sales team’s goals.

Once you know what you want, look at what you’re using now. How is it falling short? Identifying the gaps in your current system lets you know where to improve.

Mapping out specific goals for your CRM software helps you go into the buying experience with set criteria in mind, which makes you less likely to get distracted by things you don’t need.

6. What CRM systems are other companies using?

If you work in a niche industry, there may be vendors that offer CRMs specific to that field. Find providers with a track record of serving businesses in your field and see what they have to offer.

It’s also worth looking at what your peers use. Ask your colleagues for recommendations in person or use social media like LinkedIn to conduct a poll. What criteria did they have going into the search that you could apply?

Competing businesses in your field, at about the same level as yours, are a good test case for what can work for your company. If you find out what CRM they use and it seems like they’re doing well, it’s worth considering.

7. What integrations will you need?

Most CRM systems today come with a multitude of integrations, so examine your goals and needs as a business to see which of them would help you the most.

For example, Pipedrive has a growing app marketplace that allows you to sync business data seamlessly to over 400 tools.

If you’re an online retailer, payment processing integrations like Stripe, which integrates with Pipedrive, could be what you need. If you regularly handle legal documents and contracts for sales deals, something like PandaDoc, another tool you can connect to Pipedrive, would make sense.

It all comes down to what your business does every day and how CRM integrations can help it run more smoothly.

The CRM requirements evaluation process

Once you’ve narrowed down your needs as a business and what you expect from a CRM, the next step is to talk to your staff and stakeholders to determine their needs. An easy way to do that is to put together a template and send it to everyone for feedback.

That template will lay out every aspect of a CRM system and ask whether they consider it necessary, mandatory, or not needed. It can also have respondents rank each feature on a priority scale from 0–10, with 0 being not a priority at all and 10 a top priority.

One section of your CRM requirements template might list, for example, Sales Force Automation as its main category. Subcategories like “opportunity management” go under that heading, with features related to sales opportunity management listed one by one after that.

It would look something like:

  • Sales Force Automation
    • Opportunity Management
      • Primary contact designated for each lead – rank 0–10

      • The potential dollar amount of each deal estimated automatically – rank 0–10

      • Contracts created with pre-made templates – rank 0–10

This document can be as simple or as granular as you want.

Once you have made your template, distribute it to company stakeholders and department leaders. Encourage feedback and brainstorming sessions. Ensure everyone has access to the same set of questions and stays on the same page.

Collect your CRM checklist document and check the responses. See what most people think is important and what your departments mark down as essential needs. Distilling all that information will paint a comprehensive picture of your company-wide CRM needs.

Being this meticulous in your approach from the start will save you time and effort later. You can zero in on the exact CRM system you need, test out the right candidates quickly and make a decision more efficiently than you would going in blind.

Key features every CRM needs

Some features will be specific to your company, but there are certain requirements every CRM system needs.

There are four main categories:

  • Mobility. How easily can you take your CRM with you? Can you log in on the go as effortlessly as you can from a desktop computer? Can your reps use a designated app to access your CRM from anywhere?

  • Usability. A CRM must be easy to use, with an intuitive interface and controls that are easy to grasp. If your reps don’t like using a CRM, that will make company-wide adoption difficult.

  • Functionality. A good CRM has features like dashboards, reporting, forecasting, integrations and automations that every business can use to run more efficiently no matter its niche.

  • Security. CRM data contains very sensitive information. Your system must keep it secure.

The standard features you’ll find with most CRM systems usually fit into one of the above categories. We’ll break down some of them more specifically here.

1. Contact management

Every business needs a CRM that can centralize and keep track of contact data. As you scale your business, that becomes even more vital. A good contact management system will store details for everyone from established buyers to leads to suppliers.

Instead of digging through a physical address book, contact information is just a search away. That information helps drive business because it’s essential for both targeted campaigns to new leads and communication with your most loyal customers.

It’s more than knowing someone’s email address. Data on each interaction gets stored and attached to a contact in the CRM. That record serves as a gauge of satisfaction and a record of people’s buying behaviors so you know what products they like.

2. Sales force automation (SFA)

A critical set of functions in any CRM, sales force automation encompasses features that help automate the sales process. Those features include contacting potential leads with an automated email to move them through the sales funnel and tracking progress with a chart.

These features often come with a CRM system right out of the box, but ideally, you can customize them to fit your sales cycle. Sales force features also help departments communicate with one another by allowing sales and marketing to work on the same project in the same environment.

Other features under the SFA umbrella include:

3. Customer support

Enable customer experiences with your brand to go smoothly by incorporating new service features. Chatbots, call routing and auto-responders let people know their message came through.

CRM software tools let your reps create and track tickets easily. Case management tools like automated ticket generation and tracking, customer data retrieval and messaging can all empower your reps to handle customer interactions.

4. Lead management

Lead management features are essential for both sales and marketing operations. They include all the CRM tools that help you guide new prospects through the customer journey.

Several automated functions fit into the category of lead management, including:

  • Pulling contact data from online forms

  • Prioritizing leads

  • Assigning leads to a rep

  • Tracking people’s progress through the sales pipeline

A CRM’s lead management feature set lightens your reps’ load by simplifying lead capture and distribution.

5. Marketing automation

The more your customer base grows, the more automation will free up time. Automation tools are critical to helping your business run more effective and efficient marketing campaigns.

CRM tools in this category include:

  • Email marketing automation

  • Email tracking

  • Auto-responders

  • Customer targeting and behavior tracking

  • Customer segmentation

Marketing automation also lets you manage multi-channel campaigns (e.g., advertising on social, via email and in search). Every feature in this category can make marketing more efficient by delivering more qualified leads and closing more deals.

6. Analytics and business reporting

Since it stores data on every customer interaction, a good CRM must be an analytics powerhouse. Analytics tools help CRMs make sense of many data points over time and turn that information into insight to better target and serve customers.

Any good CRM will come with business intelligence and reporting features to gain insight into customer satisfaction ratings and sales performance. Use these features to generate reports based on the criteria you specify.

For example, you can run a report showing expected versus actual campaign revenue and share it with your sales and marketing staff.

Why a CRM requirements checklist matters

All this may seem like a lot of effort to determine which CRM system is best for your business. Though the process may take time, the upfront effort pays off when you onboard a CRM that’s perfect for your company and its growth plans.

Aside from that, there are multiple other benefits to making a CRM checklist:

  • It streamlines the process of gathering requirements. Rather than going to each department and stakeholder individually, you can send out your checklist and let them send feedback to you

  • It avoids scope creep. A CRM checklist pre-defines your requirements for software and gives everyone a guideline to stick to. Creating that constraint prevents you from going over budget by continuing to add and pay for extra features that you won’t end up needing. It also saves time in the overall search for a CRM.

  • It creates a complete list of requirements. Make a checklist and get feedback or functional requirements from each department. That way, you know what everyone wants out of a CRM before you go looking for one.

  • Its easy to update. A standardized checklist in the form of an editable template is easy for people across your entire company to modify and access. Since your CRM requirements will inevitably change by the end of your process, making edits right away will keep everyone up to date.

How to evaluate CRM systems

Once your checklist is complete and refined with input from people across your company, the actual CRM selection process begins.

Start by making a list of top vendors and include ones specific to your niche. Look for a CRM that aligns with the goals outlined in your evaluation (e.g., bringing in more leads, growing revenue and organizing data).

Use the criteria from your checklist like budget, number of integrations and ease of use to narrow down the list of potential candidates. Create a scorecard to grade candidates based on how well they meet those criteria.

Review sites like Capterra and G2 are also good places to browse reviews of CRM systems you’re considering before you make a purchase.

Once you have a selection of vendors, you can take the following steps to reach a final decision:

  • Schedule demos with each CRM you’re considering to see each one in action and review case studies. Ask the vendors to specifically demonstrate the most important features.

  • Rank each CRM according to how well it meets your criteria, the cost and whether you judge the cost to be worth it.

  • Negotiate terms with your top choice and get those terms reviewed by a lawyer, if at all possible. If the terms don’t seem right, choose another option.

  • If you’re satisfied with the terms of the contract, sign with your chosen vendor and start the process of integrating your new CRM into company operations.

Again, always make sure to ask about upfront fees and recurring charges. Know exactly how much you’ll pay and make sure it’s in your budget before you sign a contract.

It’s also useful to have a list of prepared questions to ask vendors. For example, you could ask if their solution helped other businesses like yours.

Final thoughts

The best CRM for your business is one that helps both now and later. It’s worth the time to make a comprehensive CRM requirements checklist and get input from everyone at your company to decide what you need as your business grows.

Driving business growth