Best CRM for Small Business

Monday, March 4, 2019
Christopher Sirk
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CRM.ORG is a knowledge hub for all things work: digital tools, customer service relationship software, and other innovative methodologies for exploring work-related relationships. In “What is a CRM?”, we break down the meaning of the three-letter monster that is CRM and explore the history, benefits, and features of the customer relationship software.  
 
 

If you’re running a small business or a startup, we don’t need to remind you how busy you are. Neither does your CRM. Taking time out to learn a new, complex platform is not a thrilling idea.

Thankfully, you don’t have to.

These days there’s a wide range of CRM options that deliver value to small businesses fast. Here are some tips on features to look for and what platforms to check out first.

Choosing CRM software for small businesses

For any small business seeking a CRM solution, usability and simplicity are key—ideally, a platform that requires minimal training is best. You’ll also want something that doesn’t remind you of the early 2000s every time you load it up; something that feels intuitive; that offers easy access and interpretation of information.

In a small operation, or during the early stages of a business, it’s likely you won’t need a platform heavy on app integrations just yet. A few key ones will suffice—say with your email provider, document editing program(s), or the social media you use every day.

What you’re looking for is a CRM system with features including a strong—yet straightforward—workflow, reporting, automation, and contact manager tools.

Automating repetitive tasks save you a lot of time to focus on the real work, while the ability to streamline workflow within a single app offers a clearly defined set of processes like closing more deals, getting tasks done on time (more often), and reducing miscommunications or he-said-she-said redundancies.

Getting hold of a CRM with good reporting tools, meanwhile, will allow your business to stay on top of your team’s workflow and plot effective strategy. Marketing, campaign, sales, and customer reporting monitor information, identify problems, and show behavioral patterns, as well as show you how your overall return on investment is doing.

As a small business, you’re probably doing things your own way, rather than following a guidebook. Keeping that in mind, we suggest looking for customization features so you can tailor CRM software to your specific business needs. Being able to modify contact and opportunity fields, among other elements, is especially helpful if you’re working in uncharted territory.

Price is another obvious make-or-break for small businesses and startups. If you’re on a lean budget or on-the-fence about the usefulness of this kind of software, you may well want to start out with a free CRM.

When you don’t have a lot of hands on deck, and want to make every dollar spent count, these are the essential features to consider. Below are a few of our top picks for any small business or lean startup.

Copper

Copper integrates with G Suite, which is great if you use Gmail all day every day. The platform requires basically no training and installs in about five minutes. Once it’s up and running, you can look forward to features like automated data entry, smart identification, lead and customer tracking, plus optimization of sales contacts and opportunities.

The platform offers an eye-pleasing, easy-to-figure-out sales pipeline for managing leads through the qualification process. Communications are improved with easy access to contacts via email, voice, and text, and the ability to use accurate voice transcription to log notes in-app.

You can improve management of teams and workflows with weekly pipeline progression reports using drag-and-drop functionality, custom filters, and alerts when deals might be going stale.

That lets your team focus on what they do best, building customer relationships and closing deals.

There’s also a handy @mention function for sending alerts to other team members on-the-fly.

Copper has a 14-day free trial, and paid plans set at $19 (Basic), $49 (Professional), and $119 (Business).

Capsule

Capsule works to bump not just your customer relationships, but all your business relationships, to the next level. And this it does ever so simply, with a clean user interface and zero learning curve.

Rather than piling on extended features, Capsule quite simply hones in on being really good at managing daily work. You can instantly find out what’s going on with your sales pipeline (bids, lead generation, proposals, customer data, etc.) and what your team needs to do and when.

It also makes it easy to find key information—contact lists can be imported easily from Gmail, Outlook, and your CSV spreadsheet and database files.

If you run a business solo or with a partner, you can get by with Capsule’s free version (the cap is two users). The Professional version features Zapier, G Suite, Zendesk, Twitter, and

Mailchimp integration, helping you collect information and capture leads from across your apps.

The edition offers a thirty-day free trial and a pretty reasonable price point of $18 per user per month thereafter.

Insightly

Insightly is available on web and mobile versions for both Android and iOS. It also integrates with G Suite and Microsoft Office 365.

The platform has a rep for its smooth pipeline integration between CRM features, like managing contacts and customer data, tracking opportunities (aka sales leads), and assigning tasks to team members with handy to-do lists.

Business intelligence (BI) features (powered by Microsoft Power BI) can be very useful to your small business. BI aggregates historical and real-time data within your CRM platform, allowing you to make more informed decisions from observable trends and metrics. In the past, it’s been difficult for small businesses to make effective use of BI tools, but Insightly builds it into its various dashboards in a visual, legible way—without the learning curve.

The Insightly Sidebar runs as a handy Chrome extension, letting you save Gmail messages directly to your CRM and cross-reference contact information.

Like Capsule, it’s free for up to two users. So if you’re a dynamic duo, you can breathe a sigh of relief and save the cash for a couple of fancy office chairs instead.

However, it should be noted Insightly’s free version does not include a data backup system, contains daily caps for mass emailing, and limits the number of custom fields that can be added to each record.

Paid plans start from $29 per user per month, billed annually.

Nimble

Nimble is a simple CRM tailored for social media, with smart social search and powerful tools for market segmentation. It integrates with Office 365 and G Suite, so you can quickly import and organize contacts from the platform you’re already using.

This CRM has all the classic features you’d expect from this type of software, with a distinctly contemporary user interface and agile, dare I say nimble, ease of use.

Useful for simplifying your operations across social media channels like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, Nimble aggregates posts in one place so you’ll have instant, real-time visibility on how people are interacting with your brand. Part and parcel to this is Nimble’s Contact Record feature, which has the ability to combine cross-channel contact and lead information into a single unified in-app profile, creating more cohesive, informed interactions overall.

Social listening and engagement tools help you seek out and generate new leads. Data organization, sales pipeline, and reporting features keep your operations on the right track.

You can try a 14 day free trial without a credit card. After that, it’s priced per user/per month at $12 ‘Contact’ and $25 ‘Business’ editions, with discounts for annual rates.

Zoho

Zoho CRM targets small businesses with its simple user interface, customizable modules, automation, and social media features.

The platform lets you define workflows and rationalize your everyday tasks, manage leads, and do all that other good ‘ol fashioned CRM-y stuff. Integration with Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ allows you to reach out and engage with leads quick and snappy, at just the right time.

Zoho is available in free and paid versions. If you’re on the hunt for a free CRM, you may want to give their gratis offering a whirl. It’s available for up to three users, although it also (perhaps not surprisingly) is somewhat limited features-wise. For example, there’s no mass emailing feature and limited customizability.

Paid versions start at $12 per user per month (billed annually). The Standard package pumps up the usability factor with robust sales forecasting and KPI tracking. The Enterprise version ($35 per user per month, billed annually) adds ever more sophisticated tools, such as stage-by-stage sales funnel tracking and customizable data comparisons across teams, users, regions, and more.

Pipedrive

Pipedrive, in keeping with its name, places its focus on driving the sales process and tracking contacts. The CRM has a simple, highly visual and straightforward user interface, designed to help move the customer down the sales pipeline and clinch that almighty closed deal.

The platform is useful for picking up leads, managing contacts, and keeping you on top of deals. It helps you prioritize key sales activities, synchronize information from other channels and consolidate your workflow in one place. That chops down the amount of time spent on pesky admin tasks, and lets you concentrate on relationship-building and fine-tuning the sales process.

You can construct multiple sales pipelines with customizable, unique stages appropriate to a specific product/service’s context. Reminders, notifications, and follow-up alerts automatically keep your head at where it needs to be. A mobile app for both Android and iOS gives you further mileage.

Full email sync ensures you can view messages from whatever email service you use in-app.

Gmail integration, in the form of a handy sidebar app, lets you add contacts from your fave email platform, make notes, and schedule sales activities.

Pipedrive is available starting at a quite reasonable price: $12.50 per user per month (billed annually).

Freshsales

Freshsales is the CRM component of the Freshworks 360 customer engagement suite. It’s simple, effective, and certainly a few hundred times better than running the back end of your business with a bunch of Excel spreadsheets.

Lead capture lets you grab leads from emails automatically. You can also sort out your own lead scoring criteria to better keep track of who’s who and who’s most likely to convert. You can set your own custom organizational parameters as well—that is, create your own ‘sort’ categories.

The platform is built to help you scale your business, monitor deals, chop down mundane tasks, run sales email campaigns, and create efficiencies through data centralization. A built-in phone module offers auto-dialing, call recording, and call routing features.

All Freshsales plans can be checked out as a 30 day free trial. The most basic paid plan is $12 per user per month, billed annually.

Zendesk Sunshine

Zendesk Sunshine is the CRM arm of the Zendesk customer service and support empire. Perhaps not surprisingly then, it’s focused on facilitating customer relationships and conversations.

The platform is designed to take your business’s ego out of the equation, leaving you free to gain clear-headed and true understanding of customer needs. As a “multidimensional” customer relationship management tool, it’s set up to work alongside Zendesk Suite, Zendesk Sell, Explore, and all the other products in the company roster.

Built on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) public cloud, Zendesk Sunshine is thoroughly contemporary and agile. We already use AWS infrastructure a lot of the time, meaning data migrates in and out of the CRM easily. The fact it’s based on AWS also makes it easy to do custom app creation for your specific small business needs.

HubSpot CRM

Finally, there’s always HubSpot, a big name app that offers a free option with basic features.

The free version of HubSpot has full-fledged inbound marketing tools, helping you guide blog posts towards search engine hits, and does a good job of managing workflows for improved project management. It can effectively assign and track leads, keep an eye on the sales process, and record customer interactions across channels.

HubSpot is designed to work with both G Suite and Microsoft Office, so whichever platform your business favors, it runs without headaches. Zapier integration makes it easy to share

information across apps (Google Sheets, Slack, Facebook Lead Ads, etc.) and streamline tasks.

On a more low-tech note, HubSpot also allows you to find out if clients ever opened your emails. An OCD fantasy finally realized.

Paid versions of HubSpot pile on features like reporting, AI assistance, and advanced automation. There are separate packages for Marketing, Sales, and Service at $50 a month each.

The all-inclusive Growth Suite starts at $113 a month (for one user).

Weighing the CRM scales for your small business

Whichever CRM you choose, you’re sure to pick up a lot of knowledge about what this kind of software does, and can do, for your everyday working life.

And as they say, knowledge is power!

CRM software offers many true blue advantages for your startup or small business, from identifying pain points to widening the scope of your target audience.  

They’re indispensably useful for getting a handle on that beast known as the sales process. Tracking sales activities, managing sales teams, and improving customer support will allow you to sell more and reduce churn. Social media marketing and marketing automation will make your business more competitive and help you to stay on top of trends.

The list goes on and on, my friend.

Once you’ve seen the return on the time (and possibly even money) invested, we’ll wager you’ll want to keep on the road to harmonizing and humanizing your work with an all-in-one solution for outstanding customer relationships.

 

Some Recommended Reading:

What is a CRM?

Open Source CRM: How Does It Work?

Gmail CRM: CRM for Everyone

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