Step fourBefore we get into evaluating a CRM’s fit for marketing here is a definition and delineation:

Marketing is the stuff we do to gain our prospects’ attention and regain our clients’ attention. Marketing tools include mail, email, phone, and web-based interaction — to name the most common tools. (Prospecting is marketing, too; it’s the things we do more directly, like calling and canvassing.)

Selling begins once the prospect agrees to evaluate the fit between what we offer and what they want and need. We’re not selling unless and until we have that agreement.

Does the CRM Delineate?

Many CRM lump marketing and selling together, often calling all of it “selling.” This can lead us to believe the CRM’s process is how things should work; for example, we should be able to qualify prospects before we even talk with them. Don’t let a CRM intimidate you because this is not about “should,” it’s about having tools that suit your marketing reality. Start by looking at these things:

  • If the CRM has some sort of “pipeline” or funnel:

Does qualifying show up before needs assessment or analysis? If so, that’s a sure sign its features, reports, etc. are designed for selling to enterprise-size companies, making the CRM a poor fit for everyone else.

But before you drop this CRM, can you change the titles within the funnel? For example, can you name the top layer “marketing” and the one beneath “appointments”? If it was easy to do that, keep testing the CRM. If it was hard to make the change, the reports and functions linked to process probably won’t work well for you, either. Move on to the next CRM.

Important: If you have to buy a higher-priced version to make the above change, that’s another sign the CRM won’t actually fit well.

Also important: CRM without a pipeline or funnel may be preferable!

  • How many fields are shown by default and near the top for each contact? Can you choose just the ones you want? (Some CRM do this with a user-specified “view.”)

Marketing involves a low level of detail; usually name, phone, address, and a few other things. You want just a handful of fields near the top of your screen so working directly with the data is a streamlined experience. If the CRM won’t let you do this, move on.

  • If the CRM has the most-used fields near the top, look for two more things: A notes field in extremely easy access, and a “tickler” or reminder function also in easy access.

You don’t want to have to scroll down a bunch before you can make notes; and you want to set up a next call or email in just a few clicks.

  • Does the CRM have some sort of rating function for prospects you are marketing to? And/or does it want you to identify prospects or leads as “qualified” or “unqualified”?

Most CRM’s rating systems are completely unrealistic and therefore counterproductive. The same goes for “qualifying” prospects — doesn’t have practical application at this point.  See if the reports and marketing features, such as reminders, work without rating prospects. If they do, good. If rating prospects is required, move on to the next CRM.

Now for the more complex and hidden issues.

Activities or Type of Contact?

For most of us, marketing is an activity we do with various contacts at various times. But lots of CRM treat marketing as if it’s a separate group or type of contacts, which creates numerous problems that don’t become clear until after we’ve locked in a subscription. Test these things:

  • Using the contacts that came with the CRM’s trial: If the CRM has a “leads” (or similar) tab or group, see if these contacts are also easily found in a section showing all contacts regardless of category or status. If leads don’t also show up on a general list or section, this CRM’s functions will be too narrow.

But before you knock this one off your shopping list, give it one more chance… Using the contacts you personally added in prior steps, see if there is a way to mark some of them as contacts you are marketing to (don’t mark all of them or you won’t test these issues). For example: Can you change status of some contacts to “lead” or something similar? If you can do that; make the change, log completely out of the CRM and then log back in.

Now see if those contacts show up as a lead and in that general area of the CRM (e.g., in a Contacts tab). If they only show up as a “lead” this CRM is too narrow and is going to be a hassle to use. Move on to the next one.

  • If the CRM passed the above test, you also need to test whether you can remove contacts from marketing activities or status such as “lead.” Using the contacts marked as a lead (or prospect, etc), see if you can remove them from marketing.

For example, can you uncheck a “lead” box or change the status? Do that for just some of them. Log out and back in to double-check that this change stuck and that the contacts still show up on the general list. If they have disappeared, this CRM won’t work well.

Important: Some CRM have just two options: A contact exists as a lead (marketing) or as an opportunity (selling). These CRM don’t readily handle all of the other types of contacts we have, including existing customers. Move on to the next CRM.

Careful! Many of the lower-end versions of CRM don’t let us easily change marketing status for contacts, they actually require us to reenter contact information in the right tab or section. Here is how this huge hassle may slip by you in trial mode:

Because the CRM is new to us, we often figure we just don’t know how to use it yet and reenter data without a second thought. Newness is not usually the issue but let’s accept the premise we don’t know how to use the CRM yet. That’s a big red flag all on its own because this kind of functionality should not require us to learn anything. Move on.

Activities: Essential Marketing Functions

Some CRM manage marketing activities using specific features and functions. For example, they let us choose certain contacts or contact categories, send all of them the same email or series of emails, and perhaps track response — ditto for mail-merge with word processing programs. These are not flashy functions but they have tons of value for most of us. One clue these functions exist are tabs called “marketing” or “campaigns.” Look for these or something similar and when you spot them, dig in:

  • Does the CRM let you create, send, and manage email campaigns using the CRM functions alone? Or does it actually require a platform like MailChimp or Constant Contact? There is nothing wrong with using another platform, just make sure you like using that platform.

Tip: Ignore any claims of seamless fit with other platforms. If you don’t like the idea of less than perfect integration, look for CRM that has email marketing functions within it.

  • Does the CRM let you use its contact data for mail merge? This is another basic function but some CRM play happily with certain word processing programs and require extra merging steps with others.

Unless you are fairly certain the CRM will play nicely (e.g., both are Microsoft products), be sure to test mail merge with your existing word processing program. And if that function is not available with a trial period, move on to the next CRM.

Important: A CRM that does not at least let you deal with sending mass (plain) email and mail-merge is far too limited. Even if you like everything else so far, drop this CRM and keep shopping.

  • Does the CRM include click-to-dial?

If you’re using telemarketing, see the note below. But even if you’re not using telemarketing, there are probably days when you want to call a bunch of contacts in a row. CRMs with click-to-dial make this much easier but for many people this a plus, not a deal-breaker.

Fancier Marketing Functions

Some CRM offer functions in addition to the above essentials. Most of these focus on “digital” marketing, which loops in action from your website and other websites and internet-based functions; such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. Many of these features also involve using email and other digital messaging to prospects’ mobile devices.

If you want these kind of functions, you may find the rest of the CRM is not a good fit. That’s because these functions are new enough that they cost more and so the CRM companies offering them also target enterprise-size customers. The good news is these functions are often available for separate purchase; for example, Salesforce offers a “marketing cloud” product. If you consider buying one of these, make sure it plays very nicely with your other CRM because you’ll probably need both.

The other good news is these functions will eventually come down in price and become standard.


Sadly, most CRM are absolutely terrible tools for calling. They’ve got too many irrelevant required fields, the notes spot is waaaay down the screen, the tickler function requires too many clicks or is non-existent, and they don’t have click-to-dial — much less practical reporting. If you use a lot of telemarketing these are the options:

  • Provided the CRM has everything else you want, dial manually! Track activity on paper if you want reports — this has the added benefit of helping to prevent frustration.
  • Provided the CRM does everything else, contact their sales department and find out what dialer programs integrate. Test those programs before you buy, and be ready and willing to deal with a few inevitable hiccups.
  • Shop for CRM focused on telemarketing. These tend to be sold as auto-dialer systems (do not buy a predictive dialer). Look for the simplest system possible because you may still need to buy and use another CRM.

Important: Many people decide they’ll continue to dial manually and they do that using information in Outlook, other address book programs, or a list in Word or Excel. This works very well for many people. If this works for you, too, you may want to rethink whether you need a CRM at all. (You may actually already have one.)

Closing Mini-lecture, and Next

Unless you truly do not handle anything even close to marketing, it is vital that your CRM include enough marketing functions and features to cover this important set of activities. These functions and features should be available as cleanly and conveniently as possible: fields you use most often at the top, and a reminder feature using one to a few clicks.

The functions and features should not be mushed in with selling, either. Provided the CRM meets this and the other requirements, it’s time to evaluate its fit with your wants and needs for selling.