CRM for sales: a complete buyers' guide

Choosing the right CRM for your sales team is arguably one of the most important business decisions you will make.

Everyone sees sales as bravado and brash salespeople closing big deals, but the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Sales operations that have been successful over a long time have one thing in common: exceptional information. They normally operate within a calm, driven and measured atmosphere. This is only possible with the best sales CRM software. It underpins everything a sales operation wants to achieve.

This complete buyers' guide covers all you need to know to select the right CRM for your sales department. We'll cover

What requirements do sales teams have for CRM software?

Let’s take a look at some of the key business requirements a CRM needs to deliver on:

Rich data

Information is everything for a sales team. From finding out who the main contact person is, through their past behavior, to their companies need and ability to pay for your solution, getting access to the right information when it is needed is critical for a sales team.

Identify and prioritize your unique software requirements with our customizable CRM requirements template

Think of a great CRM experience for Paul, a sales rep at a company selling medical equipment:

Paul is looking to target private hospitals and clinics in Utah who may be interested in his company’s new cancer screening technology. Within a few hours, he has a list of hospitals who screen for cancer and the correct people to target; he can also see if those people have bought before and how they’ve interacted with his company – every email and interaction for the last five years can be tracked at the touch of a button. Paul then approaches people that his company have worked with before and gets some warm introductions from his clinical colleagues who he knows are connected to his sales targets. Before going to the meetings Paul assesses the budget of his targets, their appetite to spend and their clinical priorities – all noted on the system from previous communications. This allows him to build tailored solutions which hit the pain points of his targets with a high degree of accuracy – he even knows that one target hates PowerPoint so he leaves that at home.

The opposite situation is that Paul sits on the phone contacting hospitals speculatively. I’d back an average salesperson in scenario one versus a good one in the opposite scenario. Ideally, good salespeople with good data are the winner, but getting the data right is critical.

Simple and detailed filtering

Taking Paul’s scenario, he had at his fingertips information about the hospitals that needed his product, ones with the right budget and within the right geography. This will have made his search ten times easier. Of course, the data needs to be collected but a good CRM will make data collation simple and give the sales team the ability to target potential clients precisely.

Ease of use

Salespeople are busy. Frontline sales is a stressful position where a lot of work is reactive because it’s hard to know when leads are going to reply or when opportunities may pop up. Salespeople often have extravert tendencies: together with reactive situations, this can lead to data not being updated perfectly. This is an age-old problem in sales teams, so the system needs to be simple.

"The best CRM setups have a complex infrastructure and reporting tools but are point and click for the frontline sales team, so they are spending their time talking to customers not sitting updating a CRM."

The best CRM setups have a complex infrastructure and reporting tools but are point and click for the frontline sales team, so they are spending their time talking to customers not sitting updating a CRM.

Dashboard functionality

Having a dashboard set up so a salesperson can see how they’re performing and what their priorities are is important. The best dashboards track a few KPIs which are understood clearly by the sales team. Many dashboards suffer by only working if a lot of complicated information is updated. The dashboard should pull out as few data points as possible, be easy to read and ideally gamify the process so salespeople are driven to hit their KPIs. Some dashboards compare salespeople, which is another nice gamification piece.

Workflow planning

Sales teams can very easily fall into dysfunction; not building the pipeline, relying on a few big clients and not updating data. A good sales CRM will allow a team to plan its work effectively so that managers can set priorities, sales reps can manage their tasks, and the whole team can communicate well. If it works it should balance planned priorities with reactive ones.

Which CRM features should sales teams look for?

With the above requirements in mind, let’s take a look at some features which are of the most use to sales teams.

Pipeline management in the form of a clear dashboard helps sales teams view their progress quickly and also assists with mapping out how they intend to transform leads to sales.

Screenshot from Salesforce dashboard; you can see it looks at progress on leads and the value deals at each stage.


Screenshot from NetSuite highlighting KPIs for the sales team

There are many ways a dashboard can be laid out but simplicity and appropriateness are the key factors to consider when deciding what and how to demonstrate key information.

Company communications which enable teams to communicate through a sales CRM is a good feature because those chats can be captured. Also if the system is easy and effective it will motivate the teams to communicate more. Another way a CRM can be used to enhance team communication is through company-wide updates, which can build momentum towards targets.

An example of company-wide updates from Microsoft Dynamics


Email integration is a critical factor because it means that email communication can be captured in the system and then used to inform decisions moving forward. Another advantage of capturing this data is that the level of email correspondence can be tracked and sales reps are aware their emails are being recorded so are more likely to retain focus.

Customer history is so important, so any interaction with a client should be logged. In the example of Paul the sales rep, he was able to tailor his sales pitches because of what he knew about companies and people in those companies. It should be simple to store history and I encourage companies to have a standard operating procedure on what information they must store on the system. For example, preferences of targets, budgets, and decision-making responsibilities are normally important factors to capture.

Screenshot from Salesforce which shows an easy-to-follow history of a deal, client or person


Filtering data quickly, easily and with relevance is important; in the example of Paul he was quickly able to find target companies and this saves considerable time.

Screenshot from Microsoft Dynamics showing detailed filtering functionality


APIs which integrate the system with other sources of key data is important. A classic example of this is integrating a sales CRM with an accounting system. This can be important so that invoicing and sales are aligned, and it can be a useful way in which sales and accounting can share information. If a company is late paying invoices and is in financial distress then it’s important for the sales rep to know they may not be a customer for much longer and to work with finance if necessary to clear all payments.

Mobile functionality is essential if your sales team spends a lot of time outside of the office - if you're a real estate agency, for example. With a native mobile CRM app, your reps will have access to useful customer information on-the-go, and can be prompted to update information immediately post-meeting to ensure all records are kept up-to-date. 


How much does a CRM for sales cost?

Most people look at the cost of seat per month and use that as a multiple. The costs can creep well beyond that figure and may vary significantly depending on the size of the organization - we've got an extended guide to calculating CRM costs here

Let’s use one example for context. Going back to Paul’s medical equipment company:

Medcorp implemented a new sales CRM in January 2015 and have been using it ever since. Let’s take a look at the Total Cost of ownership from January 2015 to December 2016.

  • Consultancy to decide on best CRM to use: $5,000
  • Tendering process: $3,500
  • Implementation Consultation (External): $10,000
  • Implementation Cost (Internal): $22,000
  • User cost @ $150 per seat per month (26 seats): $93,600
  • Ongoing changes to the system (External consultants): $21,000
  • Internal permanent team member (e.g. a Salesforce Administrator): $34,000

TOTAL: $180,100

These are direct costs so don’t include management time and wasted efficiency.

Out-of-box pricing for CRM

It is not always the case that the extra costs are as high as Medcorp but here are some examples of costs per user per month from Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics:

For more CRM pricing examples check out our free CRM pricing guide

Salesforce pricing


Microsoft Dynamics 365 pricing

Which vendors should you consider for a CRM for sales?

The list really is endless. From the big known players like Salesforce, Hubspot and Microsoft Dynamics to smaller players like PipelineDeals or Agency Core, it really depends on your needs. Why not start by using our interactive CRM comparison tool to compare systems with the features you need?

Here are a couple of good options to start off your search:

Pipedrive is a great tool to manage leads through a sales cycle in a simple way.


HubSpot is great for plugging into existing tools and giving you the information you need. In this example a Gmail extension allows you to pull data from Hubspot when sending emails.


Microsoft Dynamics is good for simple and visual dashboards

Choosing the right CRM for your sales team is difficult but the importance shouldn’t be underestimated. If you get this right it can drive your sales team for years to come.

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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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