CRM Trends for 2018: A CRM Buyer Report

The world of customer relationship management (CRM) is constantly changing, with new trends and an ever-evolving focus on how businesses can best serve their customers. And for small to midsize businesses (SMBs) like yours to grow, you’ll need CRM software.

Here at Software Advice, we talk to CRM software buyers just like you every single day, which gives us insight into the current state of the market. This Buyer Report is designed to tell you about the top CRM trends of 2018, so that you can be aware of the way the world of CRM software is changing as you make your own software decision.

The proprietary data from our conversations with thousands of CRM software buyers shows us:

  • That lead generation is becoming more important to them
  • That they are increasingly technically literate
  • That the real estate, consultancy and insurance market segments continue to help define what constitutes the base functionality of CRM systems

This report will go into those findings—and our data—in great detail, to help your own SMB identify the top trends amongst CRM buyers so that you can better determine your ideal software solution.

Key Findings:


  • Though the basic contact management functions of CRM systems remain the most-requested features, lead generation/management has become much more important to buyers. [Read more]
  • Fewer CRM buyers are coming straight from manual methods, indicating a higher level of technical literacy in the market. [Read more]
  • The real estate, consulting and insurance market segments account for almost half of prospective CRM buyers, and those buyers are looking for features that are most useful for their businesses. [Read more]

The Growth in Demand for Lead Generation

On the surface, the top-requested CRM features from our buyers do not differ all that much from the top-requested features we found in our last CRM Buyer Report:

  • Almost everyone wants contact management, interaction tracking and schedule/reminder creation—this is basic functionality.
  • About a third of buyers want email marketing and sales pipeline/funnel monitoring, and a quarter want reporting/analytics functionality and specific integrations with other platforms—this is slightly more advanced functionality.

Top-Requested CRM Software Features

Chart of Top-Requested CRM Software Features

The steady demand for these features is not a surprise, since these features are the most intrinsic aspects of CRM.

What is more notable is that the next most popular feature for our current buyers is lead generation/lead management.

In our previous Buyer Report, lead generation/management wasn’t a requested feature at all, but now it is something that a fifth of buyers are looking for.

This indicates a more concentrated effort on the part of CRM buyers to obtain and nurture leads throughout the sales process. CRM is becoming as much about gaining new customers as it is about managing and tracking existing customers.

In addition, since so much of lead generation comes out of marketing efforts, the increased demand for the feature implies that CRM buyers are forging stronger ties between their marketing and sales departments.

This is borne out by a few other marketing-focused features that newly appear on this list, including segmentation and social media/SMS integration.

CRM Buyers’ Increasing Level of Technical Literacy

In our previous CRM Buyer Report, almost three fourths of buyers were looking for a CRM system to replace manual methods of tracking their contacts and customers.

This time, though, that number has dropped drastically. Only half of our buyers are currently utilizing manual methods.

Prospective Buyers’ Current Methods

Chart of Prospective Buyers' Current Methods

This change indicates that CRM buyers are showing an increasing amount of technical literacy.

Previously a majority of buyers were ditching manual methods such as pen and paper or spreadsheets and coming to software for the first time, but now half of all buyers are already utilizing a CRM software system and are looking for a change or update.

Buyers are more discerning now:

  • A higher lever of technical literacy means buyers know what specific features they need.
  • They are prepared to turn down the features they know they won’t use.

Because your competitors know what they need, your own SMB needs to better learn its own technical requirements or else your customers will abandon you for those companies with greater know-how.

The Demands of Real Estate, Consulting & Insurance Help Drive The Market

Buyers are coming from a wide variety of industry segments. Perhaps the most noticeable finding from this data is that no single industry accounts for a majority of CRM buyers.

Industry Segments of Prospective Buyers

Chart of Industry Segments of Prospective Buyers

However, 45% of buyers are in either the real estate, consulting or insurance markets. The fact that these three industry segments account for almost half of CRM buyers is not inconsequential.

What real estate, consulting and insurance all have in common is the centrality of contact management.

All three industries require that companies carefully track and manage the data from customers, clients and other important contacts. As a result (and as we saw earlier), features like contact management, tracking interactions and scheduling/reminders dominate the field of CRM software.

For buyers in one of these three industries, most large CRM vendors will almost certainly have a product that fits your needs.

But buyers in a different industry should be prepared to take one of two different actions:

  1. Clearly communicate to your vendor about your precise, industry-based needs, so that they can either point you to their product that best works for your industry or else let you know that they aren’t a good fit for your business.
  2. Search for a niche CRM vendor that specifically serves your industry. Even though these may be smaller vendors, the specificity of the product should provide you with a better experience.

Buyers from industries other than real estate, consulting and insurance should not settle for products that are designed for those markets and must be sure to find a vendor that provides the features and functionalities that fit their own industry-specific needs.

Key Takeaways

The findings from this analysis of our buyer data indicate not only the current CRM trends for 2018 but also the upcoming trends for 2019 and beyond.

SMB buyers should take note of these trends so that they can both keep up with their competitors by implementing an efficient, impactful CRM plan, as well as make the most informed decision possible when it comes to purchasing CRM software.

Here are the key takeaways that SMB buyers of CRM software should keep in mind:

  1. CRM efforts should focus on new customers as well as current ones and should bring together sales and marketing departments.
  2. An increasing level of technical literacy among SMB buyers means that buyers are better prepared to know the specific functions and features their organization requires; you should be prepared to have the same level of knowledge if you want to be competitive.
  3. CRM buyers who are not in the real estate, consulting or insurance markets need to make their industry-specific needs clear to vendors.

These takeaways will not only prove useful to you as you look to purchase CRM software, but also as you develop a solid CRM strategy that will increase your customer base (and thus your profits).

If you want to learn more about CRM software, to make you into a better informed buyer, read our CRM Buyer’s Guide. This will equip you with the knowledge necessary to demand from vendors a system that will work for your business and allow you to keep up with the top trends in CRM.

Demographics

The buyers we surveyed are small business owners and managers, just like you, who’ve called into Software Advice and shared their organization’s specific problems and needs so that our advisors can direct them to the best software options to fill those needs.

The clear majority of our buyers are SMBs, with annual revenues of less than $1 million. Only 20% of our buyers have annual revenues of greater than $5 million.

Prospective Buyer Size by Annual Revenue
Chart of Prospective Buyer Size by Annual Revenue

These SMBs are not only small in terms of revenue, but also in regards to their number of employees. Over half of our buyers have five or fewer employees, and less than 15% have more than 50 employees.

Prospective Buyer Size by Number of Employees
Chart of Prospective Buyer Size by Number of Employees

A third way in which our buyers show their relatively small size is in terms of the number of people they’re looking to have use their CRM. Almost 75% of these buyers will have five users or fewer, which makes sense given the small number of employees in most of these SMBs.

Prospective Buyer Size by Number of Users
Chart of Prospective Buyer Size by Number of Users

What these demographics show is that our buyers are representative of the SMB space, rather than of larger, enterprise-level businesses and organizations.

Note: You can find more information about our methodology here.

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