All customer relationship management software can be categorized into analytical, operational, collaborative or marketing CRM solutions. Some might even fall under two or more of these buckets. While all CRM software are meant to help organizations manage business processes, clientele interactions and more, these categories are meant to explain the specialization or niche purpose of the platform.

Let’s dive into each of these categories and what their ideal use cases might be to help you decide which one is best for your business needs.

Analytical CRM software

CRM software with robust analytical functionality gathers both internal and external data and turns it into reports with actionable insights for businesses. These tools collect, manage and analyze client data and then present it to users for them to increase or adjust operations or client outreach.

Analytical CRMs are most useful for medium to large teams and organizations that require detailed data reporting for business strategy and planning. Industries such as banking, real estate and service-based businesses can benefit greatly from CRM software that can offer data mining and insight into consumer trends.

Salesforce forecasting and analytical dashboard.
Figure A: Actionable forecast view. Image: Salesforce

Popular analytical CRM providers

Common analytical CRM software features include data warehousing and mining, advanced sales forecasting and online analytical processing. All of these tools help businesses search, extrapolate and visualize dense data in ways that are digestible.

Here’s a shortlist of CRM software with advanced analytical and reporting capabilities:

  • Salesforce: Best analytical CRM for building custom reports and dashboards.
  • Freshsales: Best analytical CRM offering affordable reporting features plus AI-powered insights.
  • Microsoft Dynamics 365: Best CRM solution that provides enterprise-level business intelligence tools.

Operational CRM software

Operational CRM software typically supports the day-to-day operations of a business, from marketing to sales to back-office performance. While this type of CRM tool might overlap with general CRM features like lead nurturing, its purpose is to do so efficiently and effectively through automations for many business functions.

Businesses or situations that would benefit from an operational CRM include those needing assistance with managing customer relationships, especially post-sale. It can also be extremely beneficial for teams that need automations to route leads, schedule meetings and accomplish other administrative tasks so sales reps can focus on selling and building client relationships.

Freshsales workflow templates.
Figure B: Workflow builder page with preset templates. Image: Freshsales

Popular operational CRM providers

Robust project management, workflow automations and automated marketing campaigns or follow-up tools are all common operational CRM features.

Here are a few options of providers that offer these functionalities:

  • Pipedrive: Best CRM software with visual pipelines and operational add-ons.
  • Salesforce: Best CRM tool offering highly customizable dashboards to reflect day-to-day operations.
  • Freshsales: Best operational CRM with affordable plans and workflow builders.

Collaborative CRM software

Salespeople aren’t the only users of CRM software. Collaborative CRMs are meant to assist with cross-departmental communication and collaboration. Using a tool like this, sales, marketing, operations and beyond can share customer data, insights, performance trackers, forecasting and so much more.

The top collaborative CRM solutions provide a variety of communication channels for internal and external use, a hub of centralized data and multi-user compatibility. Collaborative CRMs typically offer robust integrations for this reason.

monday sales CRM live annotation feature.
Figure C: Live annotations and communication feature. Image: monday sales CRM

Popular collaborative CRM providers

Marketing teams that need to send newly generated leads to sales teams, sales teams that need to share prospect information and customer support teams working with clients are all examples of teams that should consider a collaborative CRM to help facilitate that teamwork.

Below are three CRM providers that offer great collaboration capabilities:

  • Freshsales: Best provider that offers multiple user views and task management tools for delegation.
  • Zoho CRM: Best for marketing, sales and services teams wanting to collaborate through different channels.
  • monday sales CRM: Best collaborative CRM with an intuitive interface for team members of all levels working together on projects.

Marketing CRM software

While the general use of CRM software is to manage and track client interactions and sales, some tools offer robust marketing and lead generation functionality. Marketing CRM software helps organizations build out lead generation and nurturing processes to funnel high-value leads into their sales funnel. This style of CRM is ideal for businesses looking to invest in their inbound and outbound marketing and wanting to grow brand awareness.

Beyond basic email marketing and automations, marketing CRMs include unique drip campaigns, social media marketing, website and landing page builders. These solutions also offer general CRM features like contact management, calendar integration and basic reporting. Marketing CRMs provide a suite of campaign management features, which typically entails automations and sequences, customizable templates and activity tracking.

Zoho CRM email campaign builder.
Figure D: Marketing email campaign builder. Image: Zoho CRM

Popular marketing CRM providers

General CRM providers that offer a combination of sales, pipeline management and marketing features help businesses streamline their entire sales process from beginning to end. The average price of marketing CRM solutions can vary from free limited tiers up to $50 to $75 per user per month.

Here’s a brief list of three popular marketing CRM providers and their ideal use cases:

  • Zoho CRM: Best overall marketing CRM with omnichannel marketing and campaign management.
  • Bitrix24: Best marketing CRM for integrating with social media for marketing campaigns.
  • HubSpot Marketing Hub: Best free marketing CRM software with premium upgrades and add-ons.

How to choose the CRM type for your business

The most important part of adopting a CRM platform is first choosing the option that best fits your business’s unique needs and goals. Criteria to factor in when deciding if a provider fits your needs include pricing, features, customization, integrations, ease of use and more. It’s an industry standard for CRM tools to offer demos, free trials or free versions of their platform for users to get a sneak peek into how the tool would realistically provide a solution.

Here are some key factors to consider when choosing a general CRM tool:

  • Business needs: Understand the exact reason your business is in search of a CRM tool. For example, if your business is growing quickly, a highly scalable tool that can grow with you to enterprise level is ideal.
  • Budget: Depending on your business or team size, CRM tools can get costly. Whether its cost per user or the additional fees for more advanced features, knowing what you can afford will be a major factor in deciding which tool you choose.
  • Ease of use: For small to mid-sized businesses that might not have vast technical expertise or resources, ease of use should be a priority. For example, open-source CRM providers require expertise, so if you don’t have someone on staff with the necessary skills, look for something that fits your needs out of the box. That way, all users can effectively sell without worrying about accessing or navigating the tool itself.
  • Industry or in-market experience: If your business is in an industry that requires specific features or data security compliance, it’s important to ensure on the front end that the solution you select is in accordance with your industry standards.

Ultimately, the success of a CRM platform within your business requires ongoing support on your part. Though these providers are meant to be solutions, they can only work well when implemented properly. So be sure to provide clear, thorough training for team members on how to use the platform. Administrators, managers or owners should also continuously monitor the platform so the productivity outcome matches the investment.