During the last five years, the customer relationship management (CRM) solutions market has experienced considerable growth and turmoil. Quickly evolving technologies like multichannel digital customer engagement, real-time decisioning, social computing, business process management (BPM), and mobility are creating new ways for organizations to deliver differentiated customer experiences. There has been a rapid rise in the popularity of solutions deployed through the cloud, and vendors have acquired direct competitors or snapped up companies in adjacent spaces to broaden their customer management offerings. As a result, business and IT leaders are often confused about which solution to choose.

I have just finished Forrester’s Wave™ evaluation of the leading CRM solutions. We evaluated 18 solutions against 411 criteria and will publish our findings in June. While every CRM solution has its strengths and weaknesses, here are the key questions you need to ask to pin down the right solution:

1. Will the solution help us deliver great customer experiences? More organizations are moving beyond empty goals like “becoming customer-obsessed” to define clear and actionable customer experience strategies. Look for solutions that will help you to break down organizational silos and support the full customer journey that traces how buyers interact with your organization.

2. Will the solution support convergence of multichannel customer interactions? Forrester anticipates the union of technologies from varied sectors to form the core of customer experience management (CXM) solutions. Vendors from a diverse set of solution categories — from eCommerce platforms to content management, site search, personalization, and customer service — are expanding their capabilities to support the management and optimization of cross-touchpoint customer experiences.

3. Will the solution help domesticate our “untamed” business processes? Processes that touch customers and suffer from inefficiency and disconnects include customer onboarding, order administration, loan processing, incident management, customer service, and investigations. As result, solutions with a strong business process management (BPM) backbone are getting increased attention from organizations seeking to better manage fragmented customer interaction processes.

4. Does the vendor support mobile solutions to empower our customer-facing workers?  Despite the high levels of investment in CRM solutions over the past decade, mobile workers often still do not have the necessary information at hand to sell and to serve customers effectively when they are away from the office. Newer mobile device form factors (smartphones and tablets) have become ubiquitous, opening up new possibilities for improving employee productivity.

5. Does the solution support customer engagement through social channels? Forrester observes more and more use cases that spotlight the demonstrable business value of social computing in areas like market research, marketing communications, customer self-service, and product development.

6. Does the solution help us exploit big data? Organizations increasingly face the challenge that social-sourced customer intelligence can become a never-ending data gusher. As result, there is growing interest in big data. This is an emerging paradigm that focuses on architecting analytic and transactional applications so that they can harness petabytes of complex information flowing in from social media and other new and traditional sources.

7. Will the solution help us become a more agile enterprise? Organizations want to become more flexible in their approach to managing interactions with customers. As result, they are increasingly adopting Agile project management and software development methodologies based on the principles of iterative development, where requirements evolve through collaboration between a self-organizing cross-functional team. This desire for increased flexibility and agility has been a key driver of the rapid adoption of CRM software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions.

8. Will the solution help us harness the voice of the customer? You need to tie together insights about customers to prioritize process improvement opportunities and help back-office employees to better understand customer expectations. Look for solutions that will help you distribute customer feedback to employees across the organization in the form of survey results and social sentiment data. This will help employees to better understand the impact their decisions have on the customer.