If you run a small business, you may be thinking that you’re able to conduct your operations without as many resources as the larger variety. And while that’s true to some extent, there are certain common denominators that benefit businesses of all sizes across the board.
Such is the case with customer relationship management (CRM) software. When you take into account all of its benefits — both for your team and for your customer base — you start wondering how you ever lived without it. That’s not hyperbole. From keeping your contacts organized to elevating the customer experience, these platforms are crucial to stay organized as you grow your business.
What Is CRM Software?
CRM is a platform where you can store and organize your contacts; but this is just the starting point. Once they’re all filed in one centralized location, you can segment them based on their categories (job roles, demographics, preferences, whether they’re a repeat customer, etc…)
This enables your sales, marketing, and customer service teams (or just you, if you’re just starting out) to keep track of all pertaining data. The ramifications of being so organized are many, as you’ll see in more detail below.
In a nutshell, it enables you to reach for the data you need, when you need it, so that you can provide a significantly better customer experience.
Signs Your Small Business Needs CRM Software
When businesses first start out, it’s common to keep track of leads and customers in spreadsheets or some other form of rudimentary record keeping. While this may work when you only have a handful of clients, at some point, it’s bound to get complicated and impractical. Signs that it’s time to upgrade to a CRM include:
You’re Losing Track of Leads
Maybe they’re coming as referrals, or they reached out to you after finding your website. Maybe it’s someone you met at a networking event. Or a social media algorithm suggested your business to them. The possibilities are many. And if all the emails, Facebook messages, voicemails, and text messages from a friend of a friend are making it hard to keep track of everyone, it’ll behoove you to start researching CRM platforms.
Leads and Customers Are Falling Through the Cracks
Let’s say those spreadsheets and notebooks are working just fine. You know who’s whom and why they reached out to you. But not everyone’s ready to buy. Some people may just be inquiring about a good or service. Some are contacting you as they do research and compare your business with your competition. That’s all fine and dandy, but you’ll always want to know when it’s time to follow up, return a phone call, or resolve a customer service issue.
If anyone falls through the cracks, that’s enough to cost you a sale or a repeat customer. In an age of instant gratification and fierce competition, you can’t afford to place people on the back burner and hope to remember them at some point in the future.
You Aren’t Measuring KPIs
Let’s look at scenario number three: Let’s say that you are keeping track of everyone and nobody’s falling through the cracks. Congratulations! You’re an organizational wizard! Yet, that’s not all you need as you grow your business.
In order to know how to move forward, you have to be able to measure what’s currently working and what needs to be modified. For example, do you know how many website visitors you get? Where are your customers coming from? (organic online searches, social media, backlinks, paid ads?) What’s the open rate for your marketing emails? What’s the click through rate? Conversion rates? A CRM will gather all this information, so that you can continue doing what’s going well and strategize better for what isn’t.
10 Ways a CRM Benefits Small Businesses
Now that you have a better idea of why you may need to invest in CRM software for your business, let’s go over a list of specific benefits:
1. Centralized Database
With a CRM, you’ll no longer have to search around for where you wrote what. Everything’s in the same database; regardless of whether they’re prospects, customers, vendors, contractors, freelancers, whomever. And yes, it’s all segmented into further categories within the CRM, but it’s all right there, at the tip of your fingers.
2. Enables Collaboration Between Teams
As your business grows, you’ll have more people working to make things happen. Your sales person will want to meet with your copywriting team regularly to get on the same page and attract more qualified leads. A CRM makes this process seamless by enabling them to tag each other on files, as well as leave feedback regarding interactions with contacts and other marketing efforts.
3. Nurtures Leads
It can take a while for a prospect to go down the sales funnel — especially within the B2B context, where the research process is longer, the investment larger, and more people need to be convinced for full buy-in. A CRM puts you in a better position to attract and educate leads by connecting with your email so that you can send drip campaigns. You can also send communications based on user categories, specific behaviors, and where they are on their customer’s journey. All of these lead nurturing practices will help keep you top of mind when they’re ready to buy.
4. Prospects Follow-Up
A CRM will alert you when it’s time to follow up with someone, whether it’s due to having scheduled a call, a prospect telling you to wait a certain amount of time, sending follow-up emails, communicating with leads after a form submission, and/or reminding them of an abandoned cart. This means that you stay on top of everything — setting up the stage for your leads and customers to feel appreciated and taken care of and for you to generate even more business.
5. Automates Mundane Tasks
As you get more customers, it becomes extremely onerous to complete every task manually. This is especially the case when you have a long list of more complex tasks to attend to. A CRM simplifies your day-to-day with the ability to automate gathering information, data entry, marketing emails, send documents, schedule meetings, connect with live chat, etc…
6. Keeps Contacts Engaged
Out of sight, out of mind. This is why it’s good to have a CRM platform that keeps you on your target audience’s radar. This can be done by integrating your CRM with your social media accounts, creating a knowledge base, and/or sending cold leads and customers re-engagement emails. This helps you build brand awareness and remind email subscribers that you very much have a product or service to make their lives easier.
7. Monitors Communications
When you set up your CRM with your social media, you are able to track all mentions, monitor conversations, receive all private messages, and pay attention to industry trends via hashtags and what people are talking about on competitors’ pages. This is yet another way to ensure that no message goes unanswered, and for you to have conversations with your target audience — whether by thanking them for a positive review, addressing a negative one, or identifying services/features people wish you or your competitors would offer.
8. Prevents Missed Opportunities
Since CRM software gathers so much information about contacts, every interaction is automatically taken within context. This means that the platform is able to identify cross-sell and upsell opportunities as soon as they arise — even in instances that they may otherwise be missed by your sales team.
9. Provides Data Analytics
As previously mentioned on this blog, you can’t track what you can’t measure. And since every business has different goals (or even varying goals depending on a quarter or a specific marketing campaign), a good CRM enables you to create customized dashboards so that you can track the metrics that are important to you on a given moment.
If you notice that something is working, continue doing it. If you’re not sure, try A/B testing. And if it isn’t, you can stop wasting time and resources on that and pivot to something else.
10. Sales Forecasting
It’s common for people to get so caught up in their day-to-day tasks and responsibilities, they fail to see the forest for the trees. After all, many things do need your complete attention. However, if you have a CRM that prepares sales forecast reports, you’ll get valuable insights that will help you predict sales based on how your pipeline is looking. This way, your sales team can focus on leads who are most likely to make a purchase.
What to Look for When Selecting a Small Business CRM
There are several needs you’ll want to keep in mind when narrowing down your CRM options for your small business, including:
Your Specific Needs
In order to know which features will be instrumental to have, it’s essential to have specific defined goals. Although many CRM have similar core features, some are designed to put more emphasis on certain aspects, such as better organized data, lead generation, team collaboration, or better pipeline management.
How Many People Need Access To It
Not everyone needs to work with your CRM. Identify key job roles that can be optimized with this type of software. Certainly someone from sales, someone from marketing, and someone from customer service. The fewer users, the more likely it is that you’ll find a CRM within your budget — which brings me to the next point on this list.
I get it. Small businesses and startups can sometimes have a hard enough time just covering their overhead and payroll. Fortunately, many CRM vendors offer tiered services, and some of them even include a free, basic option. These still have significant storage capacity and many of the features you need for contact management and email marketing.
Small business owners wear many hats. You may be the CEO, but you gotta do what you gotta do. Therefore, you likely won’t have the time to get a PhD to learn how to use new software. While every CRM has a learning curve, opt for one that’s user-friendly enough that all your team needs is an onboarding process and maybe watch several instructional videos. It’s also helpful to have self-service resources, such as a knowledge base that can provide you with quick, easy-to-understand answers.
Make a list of all the software you’re currently using to run your business. This likely includes email, calendar, video conferencing, e-commerce, and any other sales or marketing platforms. Then browse through each CRM provider’s app marketplace to ensure that what you're considering will interconnect with everything else you’re already using.
Remember how I mentioned tracking the progress of your efforts? This feature is fundamental to set you up for success, since it lets you focus on what matters most to you and set aside additional visuals that you don’t need to know at the moment. You’ll also want dashboards that are updated in real-time, so that you can make the most accurate data-driven decisions.
By the same token, you want to be able to receive help as soon as you need it. A good CRM provider offers several ways of contacting them — through live chat, email, phone, and maybe even provide discussion forums to browse through conversations with other users who may have faced similar issues. Do keep in mind that sometimes, the higher the tier, the more customer support options you get.
The 7 Best CRM Systems for Small Businesses
There’s a long list of CRM platforms that promise the world to your small business. But to make the research process a bit easier for you, below are several that are pretty much the cream of the crop:
Since we’re a HubSpot Elite Partner Agency, I’m obviously going to start with our favorite CRM platform. HubSpot’s basic CRM tier is free, and it offers so many features, it might make you do a double take. It has the capacity to add up to a million contacts. Yes. A million of them. You also get unlimited users, so if you want to add everyone who works at your company, go ahead. Have a party.
In addition to contact management, you can track website activity — such as traffic, page views, and landing page form submissions. It integrates with hundreds of applications, and it has ad management, lead nurturing email automation, email templates, reporting dashboards, and it makes your dreams come true.
Salesforce CRM offers plans that start at $25 a month, and includes features such as on-screen conference calls, email templates for your marketing campaigns, and the ability to create knowledge bases for your clients.
They also offer ongoing support for small businesses, and provide a customizable platform so that you can design how your CRM looks in a way that makes sense to you.
Zoho CRM alerts you when a contact interacts with your business, so that you can provide answers as soon as possible whenever time is of the essence. It also offers artificial intelligence to tackle simple sales questions so that you can focus on more complex tasks. In addition, it makes collaboration a cinch, with tools such as an internal newsfeed and instant messenger.
They’re also budget-friendly, since their free basic version allows up to 10 users, as well as essential features such as contact management and marketing automation.
Zendesk also offers contact management that allows segmentation based on your preferred categorization methods. And in addition to email marketing and automated workflows, it has nifty features such as scheduling and notifications for upcoming events. Their reporting dashboards are also easy to read, so you don’t have to waste time trying to figure out how to set them up or interpret data.
Zendesk offers a small business version with only the basic tools so that you can keep things simple and uncomplicated during the early stages.
Freshworks offers a CRM platform specifically designed for small businesses, with innovative features such as AI-powered insights, predictive contact scoring, and conversational chatbots. They also assign each business a dedicated manager so that they can better help you align your CRM strategy with your specific business goals.
Freshworks also allows you to download business records that you can store in mobile devices so that you can access them even when you’re offline; and their mobile app works seamlessly on both iOS and Android devices.
Streak CRM is ideal for small businesses that work with Gmail and Google Workspace. You can set it up to send you real-time notifications as prospects move through your pipeline so that you always know when it’s a good time to follow up.
The platform automatically shares emails, call logs, and team notes with all members working on a hive, so that everyone is updated on the status of client communications. It also has a simple interface without distracting bells and whistles, so that you can easily understand data at a glance.
HoneyBook CRM organizes your contacts, as well as enables end-to-end project management. It also offers additional features such as scheduling meetings,creating proposals, client portal, automated workflows, generating invoices, payment schedules and reminders, and contract signing.
Their starter plan is only $9 a month, and offers six months of concierge support. However, this basic tier is limited to a total of $10,000 in transactions, so you will definitely have to upgrade as you scale your business.
Running a small business is exciting, fulfilling, and time consuming. But it can also become overwhelming. Investing in a CRM makes the process a lot easier for you, for your team, and for your customers; so the question shouldn’t be whether you need one, but which one you’ll choose. And once you do, you’ll experience more effective, smoother sailing.
Alejandra Zilak is a content writer, ghostwriter, blogger, and editor. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism and a Juris Doctor. She's licensed to practice law in four jurisdictions and worked as an attorney for almost a decade before switching careers to write full time. She loves being part of the Bluleadz team and implementing SEO best practices with her content. When not working, she loves to read, write fiction, and long distance running.