What’s The Most Appropriate CRM For Your Firm?

Let’s talk about a common question I get, “What’s the right CRM for my firm?”

Many, many, firms don’t have a CRM. If you are one of those or you feel your CRM isn’t the best fit…don’t fret.

There are many options out there. And I have some advice for those looking to find the right CRM for their firm.

But keep in mind that this is my personal advice…and nothing more.

Let’s start by discussing why you feel you even need a CRM in the first place.

Everybody Says You Need A CRM, But Are They Right?

Everywhere you turn, there’s an expert telling you that your firm needs a CRM…

…CRMs are a critical component to any successful organization….

…if you don’t get a CRM in place right away, you’re going to be a failure…

…what are you waiting for, are you a bunch of idiots?…

…Don’t you know what will happen if you don’t use a CRM?!?!…

…OK, if you’re fine with being a failure and ushering in total disaster to your firm, no skin off our back!!!!

But is that really true?

There are firms that have grown very large without a CRM in place. In reality, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t have a CRM.

In a lot of cases, it’s a very helpful thing to have…with this caveat…you dedicate the resource to keep it up to date and accurate.

Firms with CRMs fall into two camps. They either love their CRM or they hate it. You’ll rarely find anybody in the middle of the road.

That’s the first of many car analogies you’ll get from me today. So, bear with me.

Here’s the first question you’ve got to answer.

Is Our Firm Ready To Implement A CRM?

Trust me when I say that implementing a CRM firmwide is not a task to take lightly. Unless you’re just opening up shop, we could be talking months before you’ll have it fully up and running.

But on the other hand, people far less intelligent than you have successfully implemented CRMs. If you want to do it, you can.

Many people will tell you that CRM implementation can be very difficult without the full support of your leadership. In some cases, that’s true. But I’ve know people who started off small and convinced their leadership by showing them what a CRM can do.

If your firm isn’t ready, it’s going to be harder…not impossible. The question becomes, “How big of a personal priority is it for you?”

A bigger question is about money.

How Much Is Our Firm Leadership Willing To Invest In A CRM Implementation?

There are numerous CRM choices out there. The first factor to narrow down your options is cost.

A mid-market CRM will cost you around $60-$80, per user, every month. If you plan to have three people use it, you’re talking around $2,160-$2,880 each year. If you have 50 users, you’re talking $36,000-$48,000 per year.

Other CRMs, what some might refer to as the “Cadillacs,” might cost you tens of thousands just to start. And the maintenance costs could rival that of a full-time person’s salary…just for software.

As I once told a firm owner, if you want to drive a Tesla and can afford to drive a Tesla…go test drive a Tesla.

If you can’t afford a Tesla, don’t go to the Tesla dealership.

What I’m saying here is if your leadership is willing to buy a Tesla, and you feel that’s the best move, take them to the Tesla dealership first. Even if they don’t buy the Tesla, every other option they look at will be cheaper.

Think With The End In Mind

This is a critical consideration for any firm in the construction or professional services business. What does success look like for your CRM?

How exactly is this going to work?

  • Who will maintain your CRM?

  • Who will use it and how will they use it?

Then there is the question of features: what do you ultimately want your CRM to do?

  • House your project and resume info?

  • Spit out proposals?

  • Send out email campaigns?

  • Work from a smartphone app?

  • Transfer data to and from your accounting software?

  • Have lots of cool third-party add-ons?

  • Have a slick user interface?

  • Send out sales reports?

  • Or just track your customer contacts?

If you’ll need one of these features five years from now, there is no guarantee…

…even if a vendor swears on its mother’s grave…

…that it will be available in a CRM that doesn’t have that feature when you buy it.

Therefore, you have to envision every feature you will need five years from now. Otherwise, you may catch a bad case of CRM regret later down the line.

Proposal-Related Features Narrow Down Your List

If you need your CRM to manage all project, resume, and other proposal-related data…

…there are only two legitimate choices I know of…

Deltek Vision and Cosential

Full disclosure: I have no contractual ties to either of these CRM vendors. I use now-extinct Deltek software to manage proposal-related information. I am familiar with both of these CRMs, but do not use either.

With that said, here’s what I tell people about this choice.

There is no deal or coupon that I know of that will make Deltek Vision as cheap (or in close price comparison with Cosential.)

Recently, I had a chat with the current head of marketing for Cosential and I told him this:

“For many firms, your product is going to be the only option.”

I’m sure he’d prefer me to say the “better option.” But that brings me to another important thing you need to do before choosing any CRM.

Talk To Real Users

Once you choose a “most likely candidate,” find some users and talk to them.

Don’t ask vendors to provide you references. Ask around, email people in your network, or send a message out through LinkedIn. Find people who use the CRM, exactly how you will use it, and get their experience.

It’s best to find people who have used it for several years. Someone who just started implementing it will not give you the perspective you need. Aim at talking to three different users.

If you skip this step, you’ll hate yourself later.

Don’t trust me, a vendor, a consultant, or anybody else who hasn’t used the CRM exactly as you intend to use it.

If You Just Want The Basics

If you only need a CRM that just tracks your sales efforts, you have many more options beyond Cosential and Deltek Vision.

I’ve mentioned my use of Zurmo (which is now CRM.me). But there is a laundry list of CRMs out there.

There are several you can implement with very little cost. But the low cost can bring with it IT hurdles and software (or privacy) limitations.

The Bottom Line

It’s not as simple as me telling you which CRM to use. You’ve got to be realistic about your situation and what you’ll need out of a CRM.

And most importantly, you have to connect with and discuss your CRM of choice with real users.

Now it’s your turn. What’s been your experiences with CRM (good or bad)?

Share your experiences in the comments because it will help others.


  1. Dwayne Rice says

    The most important fact I’ve had to come to term with is, you only get out what your willing to put into it. There isn’t a CRM out there that will do it for you…yet (hint: artificial intelligence). Salesforce has so many options that I ended up treating it as a glorified excel sheet. For the last 2 months I’ve been using Spiro. It’s missing the relationship building part of CRM if you ask me but it’s AI capabilities are pretty neat.

  2. I have used both Deltek and Cosential and Cosential is by far a superior product. It is easier to use and Cosential releases updates to all users unlike Deltek which makes you pay. Deltek also does not have actual customer support. They use outside consultants so that makes working through issues difficult. Additionally, the user interface for Cosential is much easier than Deltek, and if your PM’s/BD’s find it too difficult to enter information, they won’t.

    As with any database, it is garbage in and garbage out so make sure you put a lot of thought on the types of information you want to track and report on. Implementation is time consuming so make sure you get it right the first time!

  3. I’ve used spreadsheets for all of the above, targeting clients, mapping marketing strategies, and yes, even project data. The ugliest spreadsheet I’ve ever created was a Capture hybrid that mapped out applications for Capital Infrastructure Funds and “predicted” which funds would pass and when the projects would come online. If only I’d had an AI assist for that!

  4. Jay Appleton says

    Hey Matt! Great post!! Having used both Deltek and Cosential CRM systems, I can say confidently that Deltek is the significantly more powerful application, especially when used in concert with the financial and PM packages. Cosential is good, but doesn’t provide the functionality of an enterprise-wide database. Of course, as you noted, Deltek comes at a huge cost and, given that they are the industry giant, there is no bargain to be had. You emphasized the most important point… absent an eyes-wide-open approach to the commitment of resources ($$$ and staff) to the CRM culture, it’s not worth the effort.

    Thanks for sharing your insights!

  5. I spent two months on the hunt for the perfect CRM to fit the AE field, specifically for a relatively small engineering firm- and was wildly disappointed by the options presented. Scaling is critical, and most products do not seem to offer it in clean manner. We stuck with managing a simple access database, but I am hopeful better solutions will pop as AI and general data collecting methods improve! I hope you get to make an amendment to this article in the near future- I know many are nearly desperate for a good solution fitted to this field-


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