CRM solutions have been on the market for a long time. The first products were introduced over two decades ago, and many features are commoditized. New vendors are continually pushing the envelope on CRM capabilities and exploring the “white space” of capabilities that are not necessarily core to CRM. Old stalwarts are working on capabilities that differentiate them from others – like verticalized offerings, offerings tuned to to mobile user, offerings tuned to a certain size or complexity of organization.

CRM buyers need to remember that more capabilities these days is not better; more is simply more. In fact, when you don't need — or perhaps can't use — extra functionality, more is sometimes worse. Small businesses — and small customer-facing teams in larger enterprises — need to carefully evaluate vendors that they are evaluating in order to pick a solution that is right-sized for their needs. Categories and criteria that should be closely evaluated include:

  • Ease of use. Our research finds that 58% of employees interface directly or indirectly with customers. Small customer-facing teams don't have the luxury of deeply configuring or customizing CRM user experiences. Make sure the user experiences that come "out-of'the-box" from your CRM vendor are highly intuitive; that they work on the devices and platforms that your team use; and that they don't impede your productivity in any way.  
  • Process  management. Smaller customer-facing teams have simpler processes and slimmer organizational hierarchies. Complex multi-step scripted processes may be less important in these cases – so make sure you understand the difference between "process-centric" CRM solutions and "interaction-centric" CRM solutions. 
  • Cloud deployments. Our research finds that the majority of CRM implementations are now done in the cloud. Cloud deployments allow you to roll out innovation faster to your customers and employees, and require less IT overhead – an important criteria for small organizations. However, cloud CRM solutions tend to be lighter-weight, and  don't always support deep industry processes that are available in on-premise CRM solutions.
  • Functionality needs created by scale. Smaller companies are building marketing programs for a smaller product portfolio, are and generating leads for a more singularly focused sales team, and have simpler customer service processes compared to larger organizations. Make sure the breadth of  CRM capabilities is right-sized to your business. 
  • Integration. Smaller companies need "out-of-the-box" integration to a range of applications – from marketing automation solutions, to telephony providers. Vendors who have cut their teeth in larger enterprises have not always developed sufficiently complete integrations, largely because enterprise CRM systems are often so customized that any vendor-delivered interface does not do the trick. Smaller teams need to carefully define their CRM solution ecosystem and evaluate their integration needs, as they likely won't have access to technical support when the process breaks.
  • Capabilities to support global operations. These include capabilities to support teams in multiple geographies, languages and are able to accommodate local currency and time zone conventions. 
  • Pricing and pricing models. Smaller customer-facing teams have smaller budgets, yet they are often competing against Goliath-sized competitors. These price-conscious buyers need price points, and operating costs, that don't break the budget.
  • Vendor history. Many CRM vendors have been acquired or have done the acquiring in the last 5 years. Understand the history of the product you are evaluating, and how many company resources are dedicated to product innovation.