Step threeHave you created the list of groups of contacts you deal with? Now it’s time to see if a CRM will map to them. First, a few reminders and tips:

  • Step one was about identifying and listing groups of contacts using a simple approach, not CRM-lingo.
  • Your list should be on paper.
  • Do not let the CRM boss you around. Your groups and needs rule. As soon as you realize you’re trying to force those into the CRM’s mold, stop. I mean that literally: stop. Step away from the CRM and take a break. When you return, call the CRM’s support to see if they can help, or take the CRM out of consideration and move on to the next one.
  • Apply a five minute rule. If you cannot figure something out in five minutes that CRM is not worthy. Move on to the next one.

Alright, now to how the mapping process works using the example list from step two.

Fire it up

Open the CRM. The first thing you see may be “getting started.” I recommend you skip this and go right to working with the CRM. This not only avoids getting distracted by bells and whistles presented in a sexy video, it allows you to evaluate how truly intuitive the CRM is. If you have to watch a video for the basics: stop. Cancel the free trial and move on to the next CRM.

Example list: People and Organizations

Start your evaluation with the following:

  • Most free trial versions come with contact data in them. See if the CRM lets you find and work with contacts both ways. Can you look up a person and also see the company? Can you look up a company and find the persons? Was it easy to figure out? How many clicks are involved?
  • Think about how the CRM identifies people versus organizations. Some CRM use “contact” for persons and “account” for organizations. Does that work for you or not? Would you prefer a CRM that uses “contact” and “company” or something else? Can you change the titles or are you stuck with what the CRM offers?

Now for the things that often slip by in the trial period and drive us crazy later…

Organizations Over People?

See if the CRM favors organizations over people. The best way to do this is to enter a new human contact. CRMs that favor organizations will not let you create a contact for a person unless the organization was entered first. Let’s use good ‘ole Salesforce as an example and enter Shawn Greene, who owns Savage and Greene.

Using the current basic (i.e., least expensive) version of Salesforce, you have to create a new “account” for Savage and Greene first. You don’t have to put much information in there but you have to do that first and then you can add a new “contact” to get Shawn Greene into your CRM. This is a perfect example of a CRM that focuses on organizations. The question is whether or not this will work well for you.

Important: Think about the types of contacts you want in your CRM. If most of them are individuals — persons — a CRM with the above requirement adds a bunch of needless steps and is a poor fit.

Important: As you consider the human contacts you want in your CRM, think about all of those who don’t have a company. For example: people looking for work, people who scribbled their contact info on a slip of paper and you can’t read all of it, people who provide a service and you just don’t remember the company, people who have retired, etc. If the CRM requires an account or company, how will you enter these contacts at all?

The answer is that you will have to create a pretend company for them. Some users handle this by creating companies named “retired” and “friend” and so on. The question is whether that would that work well for you or become a needless hassle. For example, would you forget which retired people are “friends” and which are something else?

Important: Think about your typical prospects and customers. Do you tend to work with large organizations and drill down to sell to many individuals and/or departments within those organizations? (e.g., You have ten assigned major accounts and hundreds of prospect-contacts within those accounts.) If this is your target market then CRM that favor organizations will be a good fit.

Or do you usually sell to one or a handful of people and departments per organization at a time? (e.g., You have hundreds or thousands of prospects, many of them one contact per organization; and/or you contact consumers at work.) If this is your typical prospect, then CRM that focus on organizations will be a huge hassle. These CRM will also have many features you have little or no use for — but you’ll pay for them. Don’t set yourself up for hassle and low value. Keep shopping.

People Over Organizations?

If you usually sell to individuals or small businesses you don’t need to test this issue. But if you usually sell to organizations then you need to see if the CRM actually favors people. There is less to test here:

Start by entering an organizational contact and see what happens when you do that with zero or very little data for a person associated with it. Now, most CRM will let you enter the data so this next test is more telling… Add several more contacts who all work for the same organization. Does the CRM give you an error or “duplicate” message? That’s a sure sign the CRM won’t work for you and you should keep shopping.

Important: Even if you don’t get an error or duplicate message, pay attention to the field options the CRM gives you. Are the options you want there by default or do you have to add them using user-defined fields? If you have to add them, the CRM’s filters and report functions may not work well. You may save some money but will probably get less value.

Finding Stuff

See if the CRM makes it easy for you to find people and organizations. To do this, add ten to twenty new contacts — the higher number lets you test what entry would be like, too.

Enter a variety: humans, companies, networking groups, events, vendors, friends (if you want social contacts in there), people who do and do not have company information, companies you have very little info for…you get the idea. As you do this:

  • Do not look at the CRM and fill in the fields with pretend information. Instead, enter data from business cards you have laying around and your address books. This is a better test of entering data on an everyday basis, and avoids following the CRM’s lead.
  • Include identifiers you may want to use in searches. These may be a type of industry (e.g., banks, high tech), a territory (e.g., Alameda, Contra Costa), as well as things like “mentor,” “trainer,” “vendor,” “supplier,” “trade show,” etc.

Important: Pay attention to how the CRM lets you customize fields for the above, what pre-set fields and options they offer, and whether you have to skip over fields you’re not using or can delete or hide them.

Now take a break — long enough so you won’t easily remember what identifiers you entered. Come back to the CRM and try to find the contacts. Be as dense about it as you can to test how helpful the CRM is. Finding everyone associated with one company should be easy. So should finding all of the banks, or contacts in Alameda, etc. But can you find your dry cleaner’s number? How about all of the people you’ve met at the last trade show or the trade show itself? A good CRM makes all of that easy, too.

Example list: Current Customers, Projects, etc.

Many of the big-name CRM–the ones we tend to try first–are focused on selling. Many CRM users need a system that is broader than that, one that also handles existing customer contacts, among other things. It can be hard to realize existing customers aren’t covered because CRMs often have a tab or group called “accounts.” This nomenclature is one of the most common trial period traps. Here is what to look for to avoid that trap:

  • Using contacts already in the CRM, including the ones you added, look for ways to mark some of them as customers.

Can you do that? Can you segregate these from other contacts? Is that segregation something that sticks (e.g., the CRM lets you store them in a separate tab) or do you have to filter contacts each time to see them?

The latter adds additional steps. That’s okay if you don’t need to work with existing customers very often. But if you need to work with this group a lot those extra steps mean hassle. Move on to the next CRM.

  • If you can mark certain contacts as customers and they segregate the way you want, make sure you can be as specific as you need. To test this:

Enter contacts for six humans who all lead different departments of ABC Industries. One person is your key contact for a current project so mark her a a customer. The other five do not have a project with you (they are current prospects). Close and reopen the CRM.

Can you see that one person as a customer and the rest as prospects? That is good. Or does the CRM lump them all together and show all of them as customers or prospects (or the organization as customer or prospect)? A CRM that does this is not worth it. Keep shopping.

  • If you can mark certain contacts as customers, make sure you can un-mark them just as easily:

Some CRM accomplish this through status functions. However, even more CRM do not let you make that kind of change easily and instead force you to re-enter all of the data in another part of the program or kiss it all goodbye. I kid you not. Run screaming away from these.

  • For contacts who are also customers:

Will the CRM’s functions for marketing work? That is good. Or do those functions only apply if the contact is marked as a prospect or lead? That is bad.

Example list: Archive and Misc

In the real world, we have tons of contacts who don’t fit neatly into prospect, customer, and so on. We have projects that move into new phases with new key contacts but the “old” contact doesn’t disappear. Companies change names or merge or fold. Wonderful business friends retire and terrific clients also become friends. We have potential vendors we didn’t end up hiring or vendors we want to make sure to never hire again. We have inquiries that went nowhere, proposals or bids that didn’t become projects and customers, and even accounts we got fired from. Your CRM should be able to handle all of these and more; however, it’s best to keep it simple:

  • Does the CRM let you put all of these into a miscellaneous category? If not, move on to the next CRM to test.

Tip: Some CRM do not require you to categorize contacts. That is, you can have many contacts in categories and a bunch without any particular category. As long as you can change contacts’ categories, including to “none,” this will probably work well.

  • If the CRM gives you a miscellaneous or “none” category, make sure its functions still apply to contacts in it. To test this: Enter several contacts with a “Misc” or “none” category or change some existing contacts to that category. Now exit completely out of that list or view. In fact, close the CRM and take a break.

Come back to the CRM and try to find individuals, companies, etc that should be there. Can you find them? Is their correct category showing? Look at the category carefully to make sure the CRM isn’t just remembering the last view command.

Also see if the CRM will show you all of the Misc or “none” contacts in a list or group.

If any of the above functions do not work, the CRM is not truly handling this important group. Move on to the next CRM.


If the CRM has passed all of the above tests it’s time to import some contacts to see how that goes. Do not import a full list. Create a file with no more than 25 contacts and import that. (Easier to delete them all if needed.)

After importing, see how the contacts mapped to the CRM’s fields, looking mostly for mistakes. Something like a person’s whole name in “first name” with a blank “last name” is not a red flag. A red flag is when someone’s name is in the company field, address or industry field (for example). These indicate problems with the import function, its instructions, or your ability to set up the right file to import.

NOTE: If you like everything about the CRM so far except the import function, ignore the five minute rule and try the import a few times to see if you can make it work.

Summary & Next

What you did in this step was to test a CRM for its ability to suit your reality: the people and companies in your world, how you organize them, how you find them without having to think too hard, and how you get contacts into the system. Any CRM that has passed is ready for an evaluation of how it handles marketing.