How to Choose a CRM for Your Small Business

You're sick of typing CTRL + F all the time, searching through your emails, Excel and Google Drive, as you try to manage your growing customer base. You used to be able to remember all your profound client relationships, but, all of a sudden, business is booming and you have so many customers and prospects that you've hired two sales reps and an intern to help you maintain and grow that base. Your small business is reticent to ditch spreadsheets and adopt a customer relationship management software or CRM, but you know it’s just not working the old-school way anymore.

Today, we talk about the questions you should be asking about you and your clients' business needs, all to help you learn how to find the right CRM for your small business and some tricks for CRM implementation that offers you and your growing team the best ROI.


In a nutshell, when used correctly, a CRM or customer relationship management software can be a Godsend to sales and lead management. The world’s dictionary Wikipedia, as always, sums it up succinctly with “Customer relationship management (CRM) is a system for managing a company’s interactions with current and future customers. It often involves using technology to organize, automate and synchronize sales, marketing, customer service, and technical support.” Wiki rightfully puts it out there that, while a CRM helps you organize your sales leads, its main purpose is helping you to offer better service to existing customers.

At a bare minimum, a CRM is a glorified address book or contact management system, and it usually will integrate right with whatever contact management or email contact list you already use, as well as automatically import from those Excel spreadsheets you’re clinging to. At the next level, it integrates with your inbox and even social media to keep track of all your prospect and client communication across different platforms. Most CRMs integrate directly with a help desk app, live chat software, or perhaps a project management software, all further ways to keep you in touch with clients.

An online CRM is your way of automating and tracking multiple sales and marketing activities across different cloud-based platforms, always with an emphasis on customer success and customer support. It’s typically mobile, with even native iPhone, iPad or Android apps, or at least housed in the cloud, enabling you to manage your CRM and your client relationships from anywhere.

Now, that’s a lot more than your boxy old spreadsheets can do, right?!

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Choosing a CRM

Learning how to choose a CRM is like planning your weekly trip to the grocery store. You have limited space to fit it in, you have limited needs, and all the bits you have need to work well together. If you just go to the app store hungry for a CRM solution without stopping to ask about your needs, you're going to bring home a bunch of crap that you can't use or don't want to. Ask you and your team:

  • Why do you need a CRM?
  • Why now? What about our current contact management system doesn’t work anymore?
  • How much information fields do you need?
  • What do you already know about your clients?
  • What details do you wish you could keep track of?
  • How many customers do you have? Intend to have?
  • How many staff members need access?
  • How much are you willing to spend per month on your CRM subscription?
  • What are similar business using? (Ask your small business owner friends or contact your local chapter of the American Business Alliance.)
  • What other software do you already use that you want to talk to your CRM?

How to Choose a CRM Based on Your Customer

There are a LOT of customer relationship management systems out there. Heck, we have more than 200 online CRM software with user reviews listed on our website -- that's a lot of folks not only using a CRM but ready to offer their opinions about it!

There are a lot of things that go into comparing CRM software against each other -- price, user reviews, business needs, business size -- but probably the most telling way to compare CRM software is through customer lifetime value or CLV. This is because your sales process should be linked to the length of time it takes you to close a deal, the volume of sales you have, blended with the size of those deals.

CLV based on Length of Sale

If your clients are organically inbound and your client interaction is more of the low-touch, customer support variety, you'd be better off using a help desk software that integrates with your invoicing and accounting software. This dynamic duo will pair all of your customer contact details with customer support info and billing information. Salesforce’s, while being an online customer service software, is also known as a social CRM, fielding customer requests and inquiries from in-app or online live chat, phone, social media, or email. If you find that you like but feel like maybe it’s not quite solving all your CRM needs, then the fact that it has a built-in integration with the forefather of the CRM, probably the largest and most customizable CRM platform out there, should attract you. This is often the case with software and electronics sales -- you don't need to do a lot of outbound sales work with detailed sales notes, but you need to do a lot of short-term customer support needs that track the whole conversation, preferably with an issue-tracking tool that can let your IT department know about any bugs.

On the other hand, if you work in real estate or website design, where you have to gain a client's trust and where multiple sales reps and other staff may need to access the same client information, you need a CRM built for a longer CLV that guides you along the sales pipeline. That’s why aptly named Pipedrive CRM or Pipeliner CRM could be a better fit as it helps guide you and your client down the sales funnel with pipeline visualization, allowing you to prioritize in a Kanban-like way. The CEO of my old company used Pipedrive to track investor relations leading up to the seed round.

CLV based on How You Interact with Clients

Do you take your clients out for coffee? Are you stalking them on social media? Do you actively call them, or do they just call you when needed?

We all know that this is that Age of the Customer, which is probably why Salesforce decided earlier this year to buy its competitor RelateIQ. RelateIQ starts by having you import all your email and contact accounts, and then uses data and analytics to track and give alerts for things like when is the last time you spoke with that customer. RelateIQ isn’t just a customer relationship manager, but a relationship builder, which allows you to make business decisions about customers and prospects based on past communications, both on likelihood of sale and priority of client.

Even more than ever, it’s about who you know, not what you know. This means that you may have built and continued a client relationship solely on LinkedIn. Or maybe you want to show off your customer loyalty by following and retweeting your customers’ business news. SproutSocial is a social media lead acquisition tool that gathers brand keyword mentions across social media, allowing you to do a bit of lead qualifying before having to resort to cold calling.

Of course, if you are still doing door-to-door sales, so to speak, you want to make sure you have an incredibly mobile CRM application that you can use on the go. Insightly small business CRM has native iPad, iPhone and Android applications that maintain the same user interface as their website, allowing you to add tasks, view contact details, log calls and catch up on a project’s status from anywhere.

How properly to implement a CRM

All this being said, the biggest mistake with CRMs isn’t that people decide on the wrong one for their needs. Failure comes once you choose to adopt and pay for an online CRM software, and you don’t go ahead and implement it to your team in the right way. Here are five tricks to make sure you implement a CRM like a sales champion:

1. Tell your team in advance what you are going to do when and why it’s beneficial.

2. Give a specific plan of action of when it will be fully implemented.

3. Also give a plan of action of when you will STOP using spreadsheets and move exclusively to the CRM. Make it clear that CRM usage is mandatory and there’s no going back.

4. Schedule group trainings with your CRM’s customer success team. Follow up with one-on-one trainings if necessary.

5. Ask for feedback. What would they like to change? Most CRM software offer different levels of customization that can help make it a tool your team will actually want to use.

Like with all business software, how you choose a CRM isn’t nearly as important as whether or not you use it. So once you decide on a CRM or even if you decide to take advantage of the free trials of a couple CRMs, set up that training with you, your whole team, and the app’s customer success rep. Only when you know how to use your CRM properly, can your small business get the most out of it.

About the Author

Jennifer Riggins, headshot

Jennifer Riggins is a Jersey Girl in Barcelona, using her passion for writing and marketing to help small businesses define their vision and brand. This eBranding Ninja has a special love for Spanish start-ups, SaaS, and any innovation that helps you grow your business.​

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