Selecting a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) System

In our current age of technology, the use of an effective customer relationship management (CRM) system seems to be more and more a necessity than a luxury. According to WebFX, a digital marketing agency, 91% of companies with 10 or more employees use CRM systems. The days of paper, snail mail, scheduling whiteboards and Kanban boards seem to be remnants of a bygone era.

While some of us remember those tools with nostalgic fondness and struggle to abandon the comfort of familiarity they offer, others look back with disdain and openly embrace new solutions designed to automate processes and minimize user input. In this article, we’ll examine the benefits of utilizing a CRM software system, provide considerations for finding the best one for your business and share tips for the effective implementation of a CRM solution.

As someone who has been in operations management for nearly 20 years, I have to admit that I held on to older tools much longer than probably was prudent. There is something satisfying about many of the older tools. Creating a seamless machine customized to your specific needs out of several manual processes and tools can be a thing of beauty when it works. It can, however, turn into a nightmare when it doesn’t.

As CRM software has developed and become more robust and customizable, it has either rendered older tools obsolete or digitized them. I eventually saw the need to switch about 12 years ago, and I haven’t turned back.

What is a CRM system?

CRM is a system or platform that’s been designed to manage your company’s relationships with potential and current customers. It accomplishes this by streamlining processes and managing your customer interactions. CRM systems are designed to increase efficiency by centralizing the way you manage and perform various necessary tasks in your day-to-day operation. If the keys to success for a business revolve around the quality of the services/products you provide, your ability to sell and market your services/products to customers and your ability to deliver these things to the customer in an effective and efficient manner – thus creating a positive customer experience – then the goal of having a CRM system is to have it help you at each step.

Benefits of a CRM system

Integrating different departments, some of which naturally compete for resources to accomplish different goals, such as Sales, Marketing, Operations, Finance and Human Resources (HR), can be a real challenge. The tools we bring to bear in order to successfully integrate these functions and departments can greatly affect the morale of our teams and the outcomes for both customers and the business. Utilizing a CRM system is a powerful tool in this endeavor.

If implemented effectively, the right CRM system can be a game changer for companies of all sizes. For example, the ability to determine a job’s cost and gross margins quickly can help you identify areas where you can reduce labor and material costs, or help you rethink your pricing strategy for certain services in order to maximize profitability. Easy access to data, partnered with the ability to create customized reports for your managers, can help them track progress. This allows them to identify which lever to pull and what adjustments need to be made to deliver on key performance indicators (KPIs) and established departmental goals. The ability to invoice quickly and offer convenient payment methods can drastically improve your aging accounts-receivable balance and the effort and time spent on collections.

Components of CRMs

Today’s market offers a comprehensive range of CRM solutions with a wide range of components, integrations and pricing to choose from, allowing you to compare solutions and find one that is uniquely suited to your company’s needs. Available components for CRM systems include things like:

  • Inventory-management systems
  • Equipment-/vehicle-management systems (preventive-maintenance schedules)
  • Scheduling
  • Customer communication
  • Job costing
  • Report building
  • Vendor management
  • Invoicing
  • Accounts-receivable/accounts-payable management
  • Estimating
  • Sales/pipeline management
  • Material-purchasing systems
  • Customer portals for payment and communication
  • Various third-party-software integrations (bookkeeping, vendor, calendar management, etc.)
  • Employee time management
  • Project management
  • HR/employee-information management
  • Merchant services

Your company may not need all of these components, but, with the variety of options available today, you can be confident there is a solution out there that will meet your needs and fit your budget.

Selecting a CRM system

The best place to start is by evaluating what your business’s biggest pain points are. Identifying the shortcomings or limitations of your current processes or systems and then fleshing out what tools or components you would like to add to your business is the best approach. You can gather this information by meeting with your team and asking questions to help you prioritize a comprehensive list of problems and desires. This is a great opportunity to let your employees know you care not only about their perspective and pain points, but also that you care about giving them the best tools and resources available to make their jobs easier.

It will be very important to gather information from everyone who will be affected by the implementation of a new CRM system. Getting input from all the affected employees also helps when the time comes to implement a new system. You can spend money on new tools and resources, but that money will be wasted if your employees don’t believe they are necessary or refuse to utilize them.

Here are some suggested questions to ask your team’s input on.

Current pain-point questions:

  • What processes or tasks are you frustrated by in our current system?
  • What process or task do you currently have that could be simplified?
  • What processes or tasks currently take up the majority of your time every day?
  • What are our customers’ biggest pain points or areas that generate the most frustration or complaints?
  • Are you willing to commit to learning and using a new CRM system?

Missing-tools questions:

  • What component or tool would make the most significant impact on your ability to do your job?
  • Is there any data or information you could receive in the form of a report that would help you better track, report and manage your current duties?
  • If you could automate one of your daily or weekly tasks, what would it be?

Other questions that the management team should ask and answer include:

  • How many departments and employees will need to utilize it?
  • What is your budget for a solution?
  • What are your immediate, urgent and important needs?
  • How will your needs change in the next three, five and 10 years?

After these conversations, the next step is to start researching CRM systems. Check out CRM company websites and read reviews from their current customers. Talk to other business managers and ask them what CRM software they use and what they like and don’t like about that system. Once you have narrowed down your options, it is time to contact the companies and set up a demonstration with them.

When you schedule the demo, I recommend inviting your key team members to the meeting so you can evaluate it from varying perspectives. This ensures you don’t purchase a solution that only some of your team find beneficial. During these demos, be sure to reference your list of pain points and desires to ask direct questions to the customer representative you are dealing with. Ask them what differentiates their solution from the many others on the market.

Once you have had a chance to compare the available solutions, talk it out with your team and make a decision.


Once you have selected the CRM system that best fits your company, the real work begins. It is time to implement your new system. Implementing a new system can be a daunting task and should not be taken lightly. After committing to a system and making the investment, you certainly want to avoid a failed implementation, not to mention the continuation of the problems you purchased the system to help mitigate.

To avoid this pitfall, it is essential to develop an implementation plan. Here are a few tips you may want to consider incorporating into your plan.

Set realistic and proper expectations with your employees and customers.

Everyone involved in the implementation should understand that a CRM system is not a magic bullet. It requires training, discipline, use and maintenance. It will create new problems before it fixes other issues. It requires an investment of time to learn the system and how various departments’ use of the system impacts certain functions and the big picture. If you do not set realistic expectations up front, users may become discouraged and abandon the system before really understanding it or reaping its benefits. You also may want to give your current or recurring customers a heads up that you are implementing a new system, and that if they experience any issues, to reach out and let you know quickly so you can correct them.

Create a realistic rollout schedule and a hard deadline target for full implementation.

Because of the time invested to learn the system, and to transfer or compile data from previous systems, it is important to create a realistic schedule of when the new system will be implemented. Ask the CRM company for advice on timelines, as they should be able to give you a good estimate on typical implementation timeframes.

Designate at least one person (or a few) as a “Master User” who will devote their attention and time to familiarize themselves with the new system and all of its components.

With the current offering of several robust CRM systems, you will most likely have several users who utilize different components of the same system. They will need to master certain functions and components of the system, but not all of them. Because many systems are designed to centralize several components, what is done in one area may affect another without the end user knowing it. It is very helpful to have a few users who master the whole system and understand how it all works together so that when issues arise, they can troubleshoot the problems and train other users on how to avoid them.

Set aside a specific time for all users to undergo the training provided by the CRM-system provider, and identify and provide a role-specific outline of the components and training they will need to master.

Test the system on a small scale before the hard implementation deadline, and ensure that any previous systems or processes are not abandoned until you are confident the new system is operating as it should.

You do not want to find yourself missing information that has not been imported from an older system. You also do not want to do something that will affect current or potential customers en masse before you have tested it internally or on a smaller scale.

Commit to using the system.

Once you have made the investment, commit to making it work. Challenges will come up, and there will be things you did not anticipate, but you and your team can overcome them. If you let some people start to abandon the system, it will only further exacerbate issues and leave you with two systems, neither of which will work as they should.

In closing

As you can see, a CRM system has the ability to drastically and positively impact your business. It can increase employee morale, improve your customers’ experience, improve efficiency and increase profitability. Who doesn’t want that? If you take your time searching for the right fit, create a good implementation plan and follow through with that plan, a CRM system has the ability to take your company, regardless of size, to the next level. I am confident that if you do not currently have a CRM system, adding one will be a choice you will not regret.

Joel Montgomery is operations manager with Rooted Arbor Care in Warrenton, Missouri, having worked in the construction, landscape and tree industries for the past 10 years. Prior to that, he served in the United States Army. He specializes in operations and project management. His industry credentials include TCIA’s Ground Operations Specialist, Tree Care Safety Specialist, Tree Climber Specialist and Crane Operations Specialist.

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