What is an "easy to use" CRM and how do you find one?

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No one in the world is selling a "hard to use" CRM, I can guarantee that. Because of that, I can also guarantee that "easy to use" is how every CRM describes itself (just run that search in Google!).

But what does "easy to use" even mean when how or what you use a CRM for can vary drastically? A salesperson is using a CRM when they track sales, log notes, enter leads, and a manager is also using a CRM when they pull reports, add users, and delegate important items. These are all very different types of functionality that can't really be grouped together.

So when someone tells you their CRM is "easy to use", what does it really mean, and how do you distinguish between ten different "easy to use" CRMs?

To do that, let's break "easy to use" down to the three real key components that matter:

Easy to learn

Every piece of software has a learning curve to it, unless it's a blank Notepad document in front of you. It's impossible to expect a CRM intended to streamline your day-to-day to be immediately adopted without a need to learn a new way to do something. But how easy it is to learn is certainly variable, and definitely something you can pick up on during a CRM trial or demo. Here's what you should look for when determining whether or not a CRM will be easy to learn:

  1. Does the company give you enough time to learn it?
    Different levels of tech-savviness means that something one person considers easy will not be the same as what someone else finds easy. A sufficient free trial length helps ensure that anyone, regardless of tech skills, gets enough time to learn the tools they need to see if a piece of software will work out in the long run.

    If you know your pace of learning, work with a company that can accommodate that with an adequate trial length. Trials can range from 7 days to one entire month. Does that CRM's offered free trial cover the amount of time you would need to learn at your own pace? The last thing you want is to be paying for a full year of a CRM that you don't know how to use!
  2. Does the company provide you with enough resources for you to learn on your own?
    My learning style is to get my hands dirty and dig into the learning process on my own. My biggest pet peeve is when a software company forces you to talk to someone in order to even begin trying out their system, and then encourages this with lackluster help documents.

    Ease of learning means ease of access to learning opportunities. A new system can have many complicated and powerful tools but also be easy to use if they're supported by good help documentation. Take a peek at the CRM's help center, or resource page -- does it exist, and can you find actual answers to questions there? Or is it a glorified advertisement on how great their CRM is?
  3. Does the company provide accessible customer support if you need additional help?
    Customer support is the key to an easy to use software. Even if you prefer to learn on your own, there's always something extra that you may not have considered or a feature that isn't as intuitive as it can be. Accessible customer support is the final piece of the puzzle that lets you fully learn a CRM. It means you have an expert to consult with, someone who can answer a question quickly, and someone who can make sure you haven't missed anything.

    Many CRMs make you pay for customer support, or only offer customer support if you're on a specific price tier. If you don't consider yourself tech-savvy, customer support is a must-have. Are you willing to pay for it? If not, the easiest CRM for you will also be one that offers free customer service.

Easy to implement

You've taken the time to learn how this CRM works, and now it needs to be set up for your team, and set up to handle all the existing data in your business. The second component to how easy a CRM is to use, is how easy it will be for you to implement and get the ball rolling with your current needs. Here's what you should be thinking about here when figuring out whether a CRM will be easy to implement:

  1. Can you import your current data into it on your own? 
    If you're currently storing your contacts in a spreadsheet, in Google/Outlook, on your phone etc. is there a way for those contacts to get easily entered into the CRM? Data entry is the most time consuming part of using any CRM and the more ways your CRM can help minimize the initial data dump, the quicker it'll be to start really using the CRM to track your leads.

    Some CRMs have set-up fees for migrating data over, regardless of how your data is stored. If your contacts are currently easy to access (e.g. already laid out in a spreadsheet), look for a CRM that gives you the option to import your own data without fees. This way, you can get started on your own without waiting for customer support to get back to you, and without having to incur additional fees.
  2. Can you customize the account on your own, or do you need to hire someone to do it?
    Any CRM you choose should be tailored to your specific business to address your specific needs. For most businesses, this means that some customization will be needed to get your processes and workflows set up, additional fields for the information you need to store and so on.

    An easy to implement CRM will have options that you can tweak on your own without needing to hire a consultant, talk to a rep, or sign up for a higher tier. Look for a CRM that offers help but gives you access to all the customization tools you'll need. This way, you can set up your CRM your way, and if your business changes in the future, you can easily change your CRM to match that without needing to pay someone to set up new customizations again (or worse, get a new CRM).
  3. Does your least tech-savvy team member feel comfortable using the CRM?
    A CRM is only as useful as the data put into it, and in order for a CRM to have the best data in it, you will need your entire team to be diligent about using it. A successful implementation means having your entire team onboard. Everyone knows what the CRM is meant to do, how to use it, and how they are supposed to use it as it relates to their job. As I've mentioned earlier, tech-savviness varies, but if you need your entire team to be using the CRM, it's most important for you to make sure that the most tech-phobic team member knows how to do so. That's because they will be the one who most likely falls back to their old ways instead of use the CRM if they feel overwhelmed by a complicated system.

    The moment your CRM's data becomes unreliable (i.e. when folks stop using it the way they should), that's when everyone starts to fall off the CRM bandwagon and you end up with a CRM that is a source of stress instead of productivity. Look for feedback from your least tech-savvy team member when trialing a new CRM -- that will give you insight on whether or not that CRM ends up being adopted by the whole team.

Easy to maintain

The best CRM is one that you will use and keep using over the long run. The last major thing to think about as you're deciding between all your easy CRMs is how easy it would be to maintain your data in the CRM. The more cluttered a CRM gets, the less likely you'll use it because if you log in and see out-of-date information, or just a whole mess of data, the first thing you'd do is log right off. So knowing the answers to these questions right from your first CRM demo or trial will let you know whether you will find it an easy system to maintain:

  1. Can you import new data into the CRM?
    As your business continues to grow, you'll have new sources of incoming leads. What you'll need is for the CRM to grow with you, and key to that is the ability to continue importing new sets of contacts when they come in. Does the CRM let you import as many times as you want? Or is there a cap to the number of contacts you can add, or the number of imports you can do? 

    Not only does an easy to maintain CRM let you keep your existing data clean, it allows you to add new data without messing up anything you already have set up in the CRM.
  2. Does the CRM integrate with the other tools you use for your business?
    If manual data entry stinks, then double entry reeks. Having to enter the same piece of information into multiple systems is time-consuming, and worse: totally unnecessary. Depending on the tools you and your team use the most, check to see if the CRM you're evaluating integrates with that. However, don't fall into the trap of thinking that your CRM needs to integrate with every single piece of software that you use. Chances are, a CRM that integrates with everything you use will be pricey, will charge extra for every integration you need, and the integration will likely not work in the way you'd expect it to.

    All you need from an easy to maintain CRM is for it to integrate with the most important tools you use frequently. For example, if you're sending out an email blast once every two months, you do not need to pay extra for a CRM that integrates with your email marketing tool, when you can easily export that data out to add to your email marketing software without an integration.
  3. Can you add/remove users easily and without unexpected costs?
    When your business grows or changes, it's not uncommon for your team make up to also grow and change. In addition to having a CRM that can adapt to new business strategies, to an influx of new data, you want a CRM that can adapt to a changing team structure. An easy to maintain CRM allows you to move things between team members seamlessly in case someone leaves the team, or joins the team. This minimizes friction during transitions and lets any team member hit the ground running, always.

    Complicated CRMs may also lock you in at specific numbers of users, or force you to upgrade to the next tier if you hire a temp or an intern for just a few months. Easy to maintain CRMs give you flexibility on the users you can have. They charge only by user, or don't have caps on the number of users you can have.

Despite how long this post is, I promise you that genuinely easy to use CRMs exist (I'm biased, but Less Annoying CRM strips out the complicated for simplicity whenever possible). What constitutes as "easy to use" will differ based on your team's needs, but instead of following marketing materials, considering these main components of ease of use, and thinking about the answers to these questions will help ensure that whatever CRM you settle on will be the easiest for you and your team.

Want to see how Less Annoying CRM compares to other popular small business CRMs? Check out our comparison breakdowns here.

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