Customers are the lifeblood of every business.
But as a business grows, managing growth and organizing information becomes increasingly more difficult.
What used to be easy when you had one employee and two customers is more difficult when you employ five people and have 25 customers.
Not every business owner is prepared for their business to grow.
But if you want your business to succeed, you must evolve the way you manage your business to match the growth of the business.
This means doing some things differently.
For example, this is the time a smart business owner absolutely must double-down on great customer service.
As we wrote in our look at 7 proven ways to improve customer service,
Happy and satisfied customers are often long-term customers. If your company can show that it prioritizes the needs of its consumers, you’ll be way ahead of your competition. It should be obvious but worth a reminder: retaining customers you already have is more efficient, profitable, and impactful than having to seek out new ones.
Great customer service flows from strong communication, understanding your customer’s goals, and knowing what your customer needs or wants.
Ultimately, great customer service is about processing a lot of information about your customers.
In fact, your ability to organize information efficiently and effectively is often the difference between your business succeeding and failing.
That’s where a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution can help.
While there are hundreds (and perhaps thousands) of CRM solutions, not all are alike and not all are created with small businesses and startups in mind. Many are free while others cost thousands of dollars per month.
How can you choose the best CRM for your small business?
We’ve curated a list of the most recommended CRMs for small businesses and startups to help you evaluate the best CRM that fits your needs and the needs of your business.
Why a CRM?
A customer relationship management system is a way to track and analyze all of the interactions you have with your customers and prospects.
By collecting customer information, you can simplify and scale engagement by capturing all of the communications your company has with its customers.
Salespeople, marketers, and customer service staff are just a few of the people in your organization who can benefit from implementing a CRM.
Here are five reasons why a CRM could benefit your business:
- CRMs are a centralized source for all of your customers’ information. You can keep all of the information in one place instead of trying to find it in 10 different products and places.
- CRMs help you track the history and status of a customer’s interactions with your company. Don’t want to forget to follow up on a customer’s request? A CRM will help you remember.
- CRMs never forget and provide valuable statistics for predicting cash flow and future business. If you’re setting business goals – and you absolutely should be – CRMs can help you review your metrics (i.e. number of emails sent, number of meetings booked) to understand how your team is doing.
- CRMs increase sales and marketing efforts by making a customer’s communication history available to people in your company who need access to such information. This will help you to grow your business more effectively.
- CRMs help you to segment your customers (by location, industry type, etc.) so that you can start differentiating marketing to different cohorts of customers and not simply broadcast one common marketing message to all customers.
At their most basic, CRMs are specialized databases that contain all of the information you need about your customers.
No more scrawling notes from a phone conversation on a sticky or digging through your overflowing inbox for an email.
Not convinced yet that you might benefit from a CRM?
How about this: CRMs can boost sales.
A recent study showed that when properly used, CRMs can increase sales by up to 29% and sales productivity by up to 34%.
Who needs a CRM?
Thanks to their ability to organize and keep track of customers, CRMs are a natural fit for sales teams. But many other teams can get value out of a customer relationship system.
Marketing teams can use CRMs to optimize their marketing. Customers can be segmented into groups so that messaging is more effectively targeted. After all, while you want consistency in some of your marketing – you want a strong business name, a great logo design, and consistent branding – you also want to be sure that your messages are tailored differently to different groups of customers.
Customer service teams can take advantage of how CRMs bring together key customer data in a centralized place so a client’s history is available to the entire team. Otherwise, you run the risk of conflicting information and an ineffective customer-focused strategy.
Business development teams can use CRMs statistics and reporting features to inform decisions and track potential leads. By pushing yourself to be data-driven when making decisions, you’ll make better, smarter decisions.
Where to start
There are many niche CMRs that focus on specific industries, including for lawyers, doctors, real estate agents, and even beauty salons. And there are also more general CRMs that are customizable to work across many different industries.
The good news: whatever your needs, there’s likely a CRM out there for you, so let’s take a look at the best CRMs of 2018 for small businesses and startups.
Zoho has been offering SAAS (software as a service) since 1996 and boasts a huge slate of apps.
One of their most popular apps is Zoho CRM.
Like many of their apps, Zoho CRM has a generous free plan that allows for up to 10 users. It’s not as full-featured as their paid plans, but for many consultants and small businesses, it will work well.
Zoho CRM offers web-based and mobile app support. Plans start from free up to $35 per user per month for their enterprise edition.
Hubspot CRM Free is, as you would suspect, free.
Just because it’s free doesn’t mean it’s light on features, however.
In addition to tight integration with Hubspot’s other two products (for marketing and sales) Hubspot CRM has rich email features, social media and phone call support, and integrated notes and meeting scheduling.
Hubspot CRM is considered a leader in this space. The robustness of its features and its flexibility and ease of use make it easy to see why.
The fact that you can use it free of charge makes this service a compelling choice.
If you’re interested in a suite of products that work together, Hubspot may fit the bill.
Based out of California, Insightly is a CRM with features that may appeal to small businesses.
On top of the usual customer relationship features like contact and sales pipeline management, Insightly supports transaction tracking and integrates with time-tracking services as well.
Well-designed mobile apps are available that make accessing Insightly easy from just about anywhere. The service also offers customizable forms to capture leads and customer information from the web.
There is a range of paid plans available, including a free plan that supports up to two users.
It’s a popular CRM with a suite of tools that supports the needs of small business all the way to enterprise-level companies.
Freshsales is well-known for its extensive analytics and reporting features.
As primarily a sales CRM, its dashboard design and workflow is optimized for salespeople, but it’s flexible enough to accommodate the needs of many different organizations.
Pricing ranges from free to $79 per user/month for the enterprise level.
Base offers a “sales platform” that has a full-featured CRM alongside a number of sales-related products.
There’s the eponymous Base, which is the core of the platform, with other services like Connect, which covers email and calling features, Apollo, a data-driven analytics tool, and Snap, which is Base’s system for 3rd party integrations.
The number of products you get access to depends on what account level you choose. Prices range from free (which gives you “basic sales communication tools”) all the way to $145 per user/month for the full package.
Pipedrive is targeted at small businesses who want a quick and easy way to get started with a CRM.
The interface is intuitive and straightforward, and it shouldn’t take you very long to get going.
Like many of the other services here, Pipedrive has solid mobile apps and integrates with a large number of third-party services.
There is support for web forms and email templates to make gathering and responding to leads fast and easy.
Pipedrive does not have a free plan but provides a 14-day free trial. Plans cost between $12 per user/month to $63 per user/month.
Heavily invested in the Google ecosystem? ProsperWorks could be the perfect match for you.
It’s often called the “G Suite CRM,” and for good reason.
It integrates deeply into Google Apps, with many of its features available directly from within Gmail or Google Calendar.
ProsperWorks is another CRM created with small businesses in mind.
It may not have as deep a feature list as some of the other more robust CRMs, but for many small businesses (and especially those that use Google Apps) it’s worth a look.
ProsperWorks offers a free trial for plans that start at $19 per user/month and go up to $119 per user/month.
Less Annoying CRM
There’s no missing Less Annoying CRM’s angle – it’s right there, in the name. Less Annoying CRM want to be, well, less annoying.
Built specifically for small businesses, Less Annoying CRM has an uncluttered interface that aims to be functional and straightforward.
The emphasis here is on tools that meet the needs of small businesses.
There are no fancy, complex reports here, just cleanly designed features that try to avoid overwhelming users.
Just like the service, Less Annoying CRM’s pricing is also simple and clear. There are no account tiers: it’s $10 per user/month, and that’s it.
Small businesses that need a clean, simple CRM should take a look at Less Annoying CRM.
Nimble has a different focus than the other services on our list. It’s optimized for social media communications, but also offers a full-fledged CRM with Google Apps and Office 365 integration.
You can set up alerts that find social media mentions of your company, and track conversations you’ve had with customers (potential and existing) on many social media services.
Nimble concentrates on the communications part of sales by helping you stay in contact with leads via many different social networks. Unfortunately, due to a change Facebook made, Blink cannot connect directly with that network. (There is a Chrome extension that works around some of these issues.)
Nimble has two plans: Nimble Contact, which is $9 per user/month, and Nimble Business, which costs $19 per user/month.
Are you ready for a CRM?
As we mentioned at the start of this article, customers are the key to most business’ success.
If you’re not using a CRM, chances are you’re using a system that relies on email, spreadsheets, or a combination of many tools.
With so many options out there (and with many of them free, or very reasonably priced) there isn’t much holding you back from trying a CRM. There is a time investment getting started, but many of these services try to make that less onerous.
Keeping track of customer information and conversations doesn’t have to be tedious and frustrating. Easy configuration and integration with tools you already use can make transitioning to a customer relationship management system relatively painless.
Take a look at what a customer relationship management system can do to help you grow your business faster.
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