How to Choose CRM for a Small Business

Using a customer relationship management (CRM) platform in a small business can have a lot of benefits, from reaching new clientele to saving time by automating routine tasks. But one of CRM’s biggest benefits is actually what it can do for a small business’s customers.

To build those better customer relationships, it starts with how CRM collects a variety of basic customer information:

  • Email
  • Phone number
  • Street address
  • Social media profiles
  • Company or family information (as relevant)

Imagine that a customer calls or emails your support representative. With CRM in place, whoever fields the incoming request will have all of that customer’s information at their fingertips: A complete history of what they’ve bought from you, all of their service interactions, their marketing preferences, and even logs of calls and emails with your sales team. CRM also automatically brings up related information, like sales assets or product information.

But choosing a CRM for a small business can feel daunting as there are a number of solutions available. Let’s explore what to look for in a small business solution, starting with an explanation of what customer relationship management software is all about.

What is Small Business CRM?

First things first: What is CRM? And what makes a CRM right-sized for small businesses?

A small business CRM is a lightweight CRM application that’s designed to meet the needs of a small business. Small business CRMs are usually less expensive and faster to get started with, especially in comparison to enterprise-focused CRM software.

Beyond tracking important contact information, CRM can also store more specific information based on your interactions with customers, such as:

  • Individual customers’ communications and marketing preferences
  • Logs of your interactions with them
  • Email and chat transcripts
  • Notes from phone calls
  • Product history: Which of your products and services has each customer bought or inquired about
  • Service history: Logs of every time a customer had a customer service inquiry, including what steps were taken, and how the issue was resolved.

CRM is especially valuable as an organizational tool. It's like a digital address book that your whole team can refer to whenever they need it, with a single source of reliable customer information. That's something critical to businesses of any size.

Putting that information at your company’s fingertips can also help you get closer to your customers. For example, think of the relationships in your life: We all like it when people remember important details about us. Friends remembering our birthdays and anniversaries is great, but close friends also remember more personal details like conversations we’ve had, whether we’d rather text or talk on the phone, and what our goals and dreams are. CRM helps you remember those details about your customers but in a business context.

Being able to refer to the last time they called in with a product question, and knowing you should text instead of email because that’s how they prefer to communicate, are the kinds of details you can use to build stronger relationships with your customers. Many CRMs also use automation and other technologies to help a small business get more done by handling routine back-office tasks, reminding you when it’s time to reach out to specific customers, and even crunching numbers to help make sense of things like sales pipelines and revenue forecasts.

What’s the Difference Between Small Business CRM and other CRMs?

Small business CRMs are optimized for the needs and workflows of small businesses. Any CRM solution can help you focus on relationships with individual people — including customers, service users, colleagues, or suppliers. So what makes a small business CRM different?

Small business CRMs typically offer:

  • Minimal setup requirements
  • Familiar, app-style interfaces that make it easy for you and your team to get up and running
  • Support for easy integration with the tools many small businesses already rely on, like Google Docs, Gmail and Outlook email
  • Android and iOS-compatible apps so you can run your business on the go

The core functionality of small businesses CRMs and other CRMs is essentially the same. All CRM software is built to help you organize and manage your customer relationships, as previously mentioned. In terms of features and functionality, the main difference between “small” and “large” editions is that CRM software for small businesses comes without some of the bells and whistles found in the big business versions.

An enterprise CRM might offer advanced customization and automation tools that programmers and consultants can tweak to fit the specialized needs of different departments within a large organization. Enterprise CRMs often feature more high-level reporting and analysis tools targeted at upper management users. And enterprise CRM solutions usually support the complex infrastructures of large organizations with features for managing sales territories, help desks, and other “orgs within the organization” that small businesses just aren’t big enough to worry about.

Price is another important difference, as small business CRM is often significantly less expensive per user than enterprise-sized solutions.

How to Choose the Best CRM for Small Businesses

Small businesses shopping for simple CRM have more options than ever, so how do you choose the best CRM tools for your business? Here are the features and benefits to look for in small business CRM:

Better sales reporting

A small business CRM should document each step of the sales process, and make it easy to review and share the information across your business. A good small business solution will also feature dashboard-style reporting that makes it easy to check on the health of your business at a glance, giving you the insight you need to make decisions without having to spend time digging through spreadsheets.

Recording pipeline

Sales pros know how vital it is to have an accurate view of their sales pipeline. Look for a CRM system with robust lead capturing and forecasting functionality that’s easy to use whether you’re a seasoned account executive, or a first-time founder who’s doing it all.

Scalability

Even if you’re a business of one today, who knows how big you might become down the line. A CRM solution that can grow with your small business will ensure smooth customer experiences as you scale. CRM options like Salesforce Essentials offer clear and easy upgrade paths for when you’re ready to grow.

Price

Small business CRM shouldn’t break the bank — it should fit comfortably in the tech stack budget. Freemium options can also be a fit for smaller companies, but they often won’t have the needed capabilities to provide the best possible customer experiences.

Better customer support

Customer service functionality is built into many small business CRMs. At a minimum, CRM will help organize your data so it’s easier and faster to review a customer’s history with your company and products when they reach out to you for support. Some small business CRM solutions go further with automation and self-service tools like help guides and automatic email replies.

Ease-of-use

When a CRM solution is easy to use, employees are more likely to use it. Cloud-based CRMs that let employees log in from anywhere, including via a dedicated mobile app, make it that much easier for all of your employees to stay up to date and on the same page.

Connect customer information with other tools

Choose a small business CRM that works with the other tools your business relies on, or ones you might use in the future. Email and document sharing through Gmail/Gdocs or Outlook is a good place to start, but also look for integration support for document signing tools (Docusign and Hellosign), digital storage (Dropbox), and marketing (ActiveCampaigns) functionality.

CRM as a Small Business Solution

Building a successful business takes a lot of hard work, from offering great products and services to taking care of your employee family. A good CRM can help across your entire business by enabling better customer experiences. Beyond all else, it’s a tool that helps your customers.

When choosing a CRM, remember to look for a solution that’s designed for the specific needs of small businesses. It should be easy to get up and running with, simple to use, and affordable. To learn more, see how CRM is a killer solution for small businesses, and why it’s better than the spreadsheets that most small businesses start out with.

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