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CRM Buyer’s Guide for Manufacturing

For companies in manufacturing, finding the right CRM can be a challenge. The CRM Buyer’s Guide for Manufacturing can help you cut through the noise and find the right CRM for your team.

Few business tools are as integral, valuable, and impactful as those provided by a modern-day CRM. Yet, sifting through the vast array of options and finding the right CRM solution for your business can seem daunting.

For companies in manufacturing, this challenge is exasperated by unique systems and processes that are not well supported by standard, one-size-fits-all CRM platforms. Such considerations for manufacturers include:

  • Unconventional sales processes- The sales processes that work so well in other industries don’t often translate to manufacturing. 

Long lead times, multi-department approval processes, and customized product requests contribute to complex sales cycles requiring more time, attention, and collaboration.

  • Specialized or proprietary software tools- Many manufacturers employ specialized tools and equipment that require custom integrations with other software applications. Finding a CRM that can integrate with these tools is essential.
  • Data security- Manufacturers need to ensure that their trade secrets and proprietary information are protected, not just from external breaches but from internal mishandling as well.

Compliance with local consumer data regulations is also a significant requirement.

  • Cost- While cost is a top consideration for any business, in manufacturing, the need for transparent and predictable pricing is as important as affordability.

At FreeAgent, we understand the challenges manufacturers face when looking for a CRM and we are here to help. 

Our CRM Buyer’s Guide for Manufacturing leverages our knowledge and expertise to provide the insights you need to cut through the noise and find a CRM platform that can meet all your needs.

What is CRM?

CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management. At its core, CRM is a set of tools that assist with the day-to-day management of people, processes, projects, and products. CRM software helps you improve communication, work more efficiently, and track performance.

Key CRM Differentiators for manufacturing

CRM tools are so robust and comprehensive that identifying what features will make the greatest impact on your business can be difficult. 

Our extensive experience working with manufacturers has taught us that four things matter more than any other:

  • Security
  • Integration
  • Reporting
  • Ease-of-use

The more aligned these aspects are with the needs of your business, the better results you will see, such as higher adoption, faster time to ROI, and improved business efficiency.

Manufacturers looking at a laptop
business man looking at a tablet


For any business shopping for a CRM, there may be no consideration more important than security. 

For manufacturers, this is doubly true because collaboration across departments and with 3rd party vendors requires sharing access to sensitive information. 

To ensure a CRM can meet the heightened security requirements of manufacturing, look for the following:

  • Data encryption- The ability to encrypt data, both in transit and at rest, helps to protect against data breaches and unauthorized access.

Asking a sales rep on the first phone call about the data encryption capabilities of their platform can help you eliminate a number of candidates immediately. 

  • Role-based access controls- A secure CRM platform should offer robust user authentication and access control measures that ensure only authorized personnel are able to view and interact with sensitive data.

These access controls should be flexible and customizable to meet the unique needs of your teams. If they are not, move on to the next vendor.

  • Compliance- Manufacturers are responsible for protecting customer data in accordance with regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

For a CRM to be in consideration, it must have security controls that comply with these regional standards.


Manufacturers use various software tools in their operations, and a CRM platform that seamlessly integrates with these tools can help improve efficiency, reduce human error, and enhance business performance.

When shopping for a CRM, ask the sales rep about: 

  • Native integrations- What integrations does the CRM provide right out-of-the-box?

A quick look at a CRM vendor’s integrations page can tell you a lot. 

If it provides a long list of integration partners that requires some scrolling to get through, that is a good sign. If it instead advises you to speak to a representative, you can check them off the list. 

  • Open API- A CRM with an open API (application programming interface) allows manufacturers to easily and seamlessly integrate the CRM with other software tools, such as inventory management (ERP, BOM), accounting, and e-commerce platforms, without the need for custom coding.

A CRM with an open API is a major boon to companies in manufacturing. Asking about this early can save you a lot of time.

CRM Buyer’s Guide for Manufacturing
A group of warehouse workers looking at a tablet


Robust reporting tools can provide manufacturers with valuable insights they can use to improve business efficiency, customer satisfaction, and product development and design.

The following reporting capabilities should be considered must-haves for any manufacturer: 

  • Real-time data and analytics- A CRM that updates in real-time allows your teams to collaborate more effectively while providing you the insights you need to make data-driven decisions in the moment. 

The speed of business is increasing every day. If you want to compete, you need to keep up. If a CRM doesn’t help you to do that, cross it off the list and move on.

  • Personalizable dashboards- Transforming data into easy-to-digest visualizations allows your team to monitor progress and track performance at-a-glance.

For these tools to be effective, they need to be user-configurable and customizable, so each member of your team can tailor them to their specific preference and need. 

  • Customizable reports- Every manufacturer is different and the data points that matter to one won’t necessarily matter to another.

A CRM should allow you to track the metrics that matter to you and display that data in a variety of ways.

Asking for a demo of the reporting features of a CRM vendor can provide a valuable glimpse into the functionality and usability of the CRM.


Almost every CRM on the market claims to make the day-to-day operations of your business easier. Yet, sit in on a few demos and you will find this to be far from true.

Clunky, outdated user interfaces and unintuitive navigation can make it hard to incorporate your existing operational processes into the new tool.

So, what are some indicators that a CRM will be as easy-to-use as promised? Look for a modern, intuitive design and well-documented knowledgebase with helpful guides and videos.

  • Modern Design- Companies have invested heavily in understanding how we interact with technology. Those investments have led to significant improvements in user experience and app design. 

In the world of B2B SaaS, however, change occurs at a much slower rate than in the consumer technology market. 

Most software tools released in the early 2000s still use outdated design elements popular from that era. Many legacy players in the space are trying desperately to dress up their outdated functionality with new skins, but these attempts are largely superficial, layered on top of outdated architecture, and this causes the user experience to suffer.

  • In-house support- The resources available to help you navigate obstacles are often overlooked in the early stages of your CRM search. This is a mistake.

If you need help understanding a feature or implementing a new tool, the kind of support you have at your disposal can make this simple or nearly impossible. 

A CRM with an in-house support team will know better than anybody how to help you. They are focused only on their software and customers, so the quality of service is higher and better than you will get from a third party.

Choosing a CRM: Asking the right questions

A CRM can improve nearly every aspect of your business, providing an ROI that goes beyond just dollars and cents (though a CRM provides plenty of monetary return as well). This makes finding the right CRM one of the most important decisions you will make. 

As with any important decision, the more you know, the better. Knowing what questions to ask and what features will have the most impact on your daily operations can help you navigate through your options. 

These questions can help you get started in identifying if a CRM vendor is right for you:

    1. Is data managed within the CRM platform encrypted in transit and at rest?
    2. Does the CRM system support advanced security features such as field-level security and role-based access controls?
    3. Is the CRM platform integration-friendly? Does it have an open API?
    4. Are customizations such as form field changes user-configurable? Can you create custom Apps / Objects? Can you customize stages for your unique workflows?
    5. Does the CRM system provide real-time data updates and analytics?

While these questions are not entirely comprehensive, they are enough to eliminate many CRM vendors in the first conversation, saving you time and allowing you to focus on the most promising candidates.

FreeAgent CRM powers manufacturing

At FreeAgent, we know firsthand the challenges that manufacturers face because we help manufacturers every day.

Check out these powerful success stories to learn more:

To see FreeAgent in action, get a demo, and discover for yourself how we are leading the way to a better workday.

CRM Buyer’s Guide for Manufacturing

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