Cloud CRM: everything you need to know

Better technology, improved security and falling prices has led to a large increase in IT cloud services. According to the International Data Corporation, spending on cloud services is set to reach $160 Billion in 2018 (up $23.2 Billion over 2017). Cloud CRM software is now used by small start-ups right through to large multinational corporations, with many businesses seeing it as a viable alternative to on-premises software which is hosted and managed locally.

A look at the client base of Salesforce, one of the cloud CRM market leaders, gives us a good insight into the diversity of businesses using cloud based platforms, ranging from multibillion dollar businesses with complex problems to sole traders.

In this guide we'll cover:


Cloud CRM versus on-premise CRM

Before deciding on whether a cloud CRM suits your business, you should first work out what you need from your CRM and what resources you have available. Consider in-house expertise, flexibility required in the system and financial resources – these key areas will play a part in driving your decision.

The tables below highlight the key differences between cloud and on-premise software:

The pros and cons of cloud CRM

 Pros Cons

It can be accessed remotely from anywhere with an internet connection.
There is a limit to how much you can customize it.
Generally a lot cheaper to get started. Although set up may be cheaper you are tied into long term licence costs.
You can be up and running relatively quickly – there is no need for any hardware installation. Designed to work on most devices so typically has lower barriers to use.
No ongoing maintenance required. There are no database size limitations.
There is normally comprehensive support packages available from the provider.  

The pros and cons of on-premise CRM

 Pros Cons
You have absolute control over security as data is stored on your own servers Typically larger upfront license fees and setup costs
There is more flexibility to customize the functionality as necessary. Your in-house IT team are responsible for maintenance and updates
Long-term costs can be lower - if you can afford upfront license fees. Often a slower deployment than cloud CRM.
There are no size restrictions. You need to set up data storage internally.
On-premise CRM is less susceptible to external connectivity issues.  

Overall, the best solution depends on your business requirements. A technology company with good in-house expertise, extensive customization needs, and very high security may consider on-premises as the better solution.

Cloud CRM solutions are highly popular for the reasons discussed here, and this trend is likely to continue. Very few CRM-specific vendors offer on-premise solutions - but you could find it an easy option if you use an on-premise enterprise suite like SAP or Oracle.


How much cloud CRM costs and how to set a software budget

When businesses think about CRM costs they tend to look at the licence fee, and whilst this is a key factor to consider when budgeting for a new CRM, there are other costs that need to be considered as well. These include:

  • Support
  • Setup 
  • Customization
  • Cost of in-house staff managing the system
  • Training

When setting a budget we also tell businesses to think about what they need and why they need it. For example, if you’re using a CRM to boost sales and you want to add $1m per year but are only willing to spend $50,000 a year on a CRM then it’s worth considering increasing your budget.

Use this CRM pricing guide to forecast baseline costs for your software budget

Your main ongoing cost is the licence fee and these do vary a lot between providers from $5 per seat per month to over $1000. Generally, you get what you pay for but some vendors are cheap and some are way overpriced - it’s important you’re clear on what you’re getting for your investment. These screenshots show us the disparity in pricing

Salesforce Marketing Pricing


Zoho Pricing


The money you spend outside of the licence fee is important to make sure you get the best value from your cloud CRM. Below are some costs that may seem high but are well worth budgeting for, bearing in mind these costs will vary a lot depending on the scale of the project (this is assuming a small selection and implementation project (5-20 users) with a relatively standard set of needs. Some costs are ongoing (denoted by ‘pa’)).

  • A project manager to oversee the CRM selection ($3000)
  • A project manager to oversee implementation ($5,000)
  • Training costs ($2000)
  • An internal staff member to manage the CRM ($15,000pa)
  • Customizations ($5000)

You can see how even for a modest implementation program these costs can mount up really quickly. Most businesses fail to account for them and run the implementation in-house, which generates two key problems:

Using external consultants can help you navigate the long process of CRM selection more effectively.
By using in-house team members you may be saving an extra cost but the lost productivity can often be significant as these projects take a lot of time to complete.


What features and characteristics should you look for in a cloud CRM?

The features you should evaluate in a cloud CRM are considerable. Here are ten key areas you must look at:

  • Contact management: You need a system which makes it easy to store and effectively use customer information. A good system should allow you to find contacts, keep detailed information and create effective sales cycles.
  • Email tool: Or at least the ability to send out effective outbound marketing is an important consideration.
  • Reporting dashboards: Tracking the right activity quickly and easily allows the CRM to be effective for managers looking at assessing overall effectiveness of their team.
  • Mobile friendly: Looking at whether the CRM can be used on mobile or tablet is increasingly important.
  • Integrations: This includes with other systems, calendars and email to make sure that the CRM is used effectively across the business.
  • Reporting: Being able to provide detailed activity reports which drill down into effectiveness is important for businesses looking to use data for insights.
  • Usability: A system that is hard to use can be difficult to roll out even if it has incredible features – something that users enjoy using and find rewarding is important.
  • Customization: The ability to customize the CRM internally or use purpose built apps to customize is important for businesses looking to add functionality over time or businesses whose CRM roadmap is unclear.
  • Phone integration: Some CRMs allow you to automatically record calls and this can be a very helpful way of managing employees and tracking outcomes.
  • Sales funnel management: Being able to derive weighted values of current prospects or clients to make sales predictions is central to a CRM’s usefulness.

Find and prioritize more CRM feature requirements using this CRM requirements template

You should also be looking for a SLA that guarantees extremely low levels of downtime, and outlines a structure for compensation should this level not be met. You should also map out the security standards you expect your vendor to provide, and specification of your rights to end the contract should these terms be breached. As cloud CRM stores data on third-party servers (so you can’t do anything if things go wrong), this level of protection is important.

You should look for vendors who offer comprehensive support packages for the same reason. Self help materials and a user forum will be of limited use, and aren’t conducive to fixing issues quickly. Instead, look for personalised, 24/7 phone or email support.


Which cloud CRM solutions should you consider?

The market is laden with cloud CRM solutions; here are three options to get you started.


An industry behemoth with a range of features suitable for all types and sizes of business.  It’s a safe place to start in that it it’s easy to navigate, integrates well with social media and can be expanded through downloading Apps from the Salesforce App Exchange. The extended functionality and the price point might make it too much for some small businesses, but there are a range of packages available to suit different needs.


As a CRM that integrates directly into G Suite, ProsperWorks is great for businesses already using Google email and documents.  It comes with full G Suite Integrations, including Google sheets, Docs, Slides, Calendar, Inbox and Gmail. The integration is designed to reduce the need to duplicate work across different platforms. It’s affordable for small businesses with the basic version priced at $19 per user per month.

Zoho CRM

A low cost CRM (starting at $12 per month), focused on the sales pipeline and closing deals. In spite of the low cost it  still offers functionality across different channels, including Email, live chat, telephony, social media and its proprietary notification tool, SalesSignals. There are packages at price points up to $100 per user per month; at the higher price points AI and custom modules add considerable value.   

Oracle CRM

Powerful and generally for larger businesses with a range of features sets which can manage all elements of a business. With functionality across sales, call centres and partnership relationship management Oracle is used in a wide range of sectors that require high performance, including wealth management, insurance and Pharmaceuticals. Oracle is aimed at medium and larger businesses as the feature set and price point make it unrealistic and unnecessary for smaller businesses.


A CRM focuses heavily on sales and pipeline management, a favourite of sales managers and reps because of its simple UI and streamlined process. The Pipedrive marketplace is a growing catalogue of apps to help customize your CRM.  The price point ensures that Pipedrive is accessible for small businesses so meaning they have a range of clients from small through to larger teams.

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Doug Haines

About the author…

Doug Haines has worked on a variety of CRM implementation projects and now writes on a wide range of topics. He is a regular contributor to Discover CRM

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Doug Haines

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