How to choose a CRM for a small business

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Businesses of all shapes and sizes may find themselves in need of a CRM. The best CRM software has broad appeal, catering to the needs of marketing teams and sales personnel, as well as a range of industries from insurance to real estate.

However, there are certain aspects of a CRM that are designed for businesses of a particular size - that’s why we have a guide specifically written to outline the best CRM for small business. These firms, which may not have the scale of multinational enterprises (yet) are likely to have different aims from larger organizations. For instance, they may be more focused on brand building or growth than profitability. 

As such, there are particular things that small businesses should keep in mind when they are choosing a CRM. Questions are likely to center on cost, with budgets possibly limited, ease of use, and support. If you’re looking for more information on the kinds of things to look for when choosing a small business CRM, then you’re in the right place. Keep reading for more tips on the key CRM considerations for small businesses. 


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A guide to choosing a CRM for a small business

What's your budget?

For many small businesses, cost is the driving force behind most decisions. That doesn’t necessarily mean scrimping on your CRM tool (you may end up paying for that decision in the long run), but it does mean taking extra care when evaluating the cost of any CRM platform.

First of all, define your CRM budget clearly. Today, many platforms are cloud-based, operating on a month-by-month or annual subscription basis so don’t think purely about how much your CRM is going to cost you today. How will costs build up over time? Will you be able to afford the cost of your chosen CRM when your sales team grows and the number of users increases? These are all things you should factor into your budget assessments when choosing a CRM as a small business.

Think too about the pricing plans that come with a particular CRM. Some offer payment monthly, while others operate on an annual basis. Some will charge a flat fee for the entire package, while others will only allow access to more advanced features if businesses pay for the relevant add-ons. And, of course, don’t discount free CRM software. There are several great tools that won’t cost you a penny, many of them open-source CRMs. If budgets really are tight, these are definitely worth a look.

What are your essential features?

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Feature sets can differ substantially between CRMs, so small businesses can’t afford to commit to a platform without assessing if it can truly meet its needs. Some common CRM features include lead generation, project management, database functionality, calendar views, analytics, and much more. Some of these features will be essential to your operations but some may not be needed at all. There’s little point in paying for functionality that your employees won’t use.

So before you select a CRM, carry out an assessment of your needs so it’s easier to determine the must-have features. Perhaps integrations are the most important aspect for you or maybe your sales team absolutely needs a holistic dashboard of all communication channels, from Instagram to WhatsApp. By setting out your business needs, it will become a lot easier to narrow down your CRM choices. 

Ease of use

Although ease of use and implementation is an important factor for all businesses when looking to embrace new software - whether they need cloud storage or web hosting services - for small businesses this can be particularly important. They might not have an IT department with plentiful resources to set up training initiatives or respond to troubleshooting. For many small businesses, ensuring employees can get to grips with a piece of software straight away is crucial. 

More than just aiding its initial use, a CRM platform that has a gentle learning curve is more likely to be used regularly by your employees. When tools are difficult to use, frustration is likely to increase and your staff are more likely to simply neglect the tool - even if it contains useful features. 

For instance, one of the CRM platforms that we have singled out as being a great option for firms prioritizing ease of use is Freshsales. Rather than focusing on advanced features, this CRM is designed to be simple for workers to pick up and use without support. It boasts intuitive desktop and mobile interfaces, with the latter bound to be especially useful if you’re a small business that offers hybrid work or relies on field support. Freshsales also offers an intelligent assistant called Freddy AI and drag-and-drop Kanban-style boards for sales pipeline management.

Support

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No matter how intuitive your chosen CRM solution is, there may come a time when support is required. For small businesses, having access to reliable support is particularly important because any revenue losses as a result of downtime can be especially damaging. Plus, they are less likely to have a well-resources support team internally to help out. 

The things to look out for when assessing the vendor support that comes with a CRM tool include the channels that support is offered over - such as email, phone, and live chat - the hours of availability, response times, and quality of support. The latter is especially important here, with review services and customer feedback serving as a good guide as to whether the CRM is likely to suit your small business needs in terms of support. 

One of the areas where support is most likely to be needed is in terms of integration. Although some platforms integrate natively with other tools, like Zendesk, which promises integration with over 1000 apps, others may take a slightly more convoluted path. For instance, with Apptivo, there have been a few customer complaints that integrations are not the easiest to implement.

Also, check to see if your chosen CRM comes with any training or other resources to help your employees should an issue arise. These might include video tutorials, FAQs, webinars, or documentation, which will mean that direct support is less likely to be required.  

Security

CRM tools may contain a large amount of sensitive data, making security credential extra important. For small business that may not have built up a long history of strong, reliable customer relationships, any security mishap could be fatal in terms of reputational damage.

Examine the security credential of your chosen CRM tool carefully and don’t forget about compliance. Depending on the industry and market you operate in, your compliance needs may vary so make sure sure that your CRM solution is up to date with the latest regulations. For example, if you operate in the EU, you’ll want a CRM solution that is GDPR compliant.

Encryption is another feature that small businesses would be advised to look for when choosing a CRM. It’s best if this is provided for data both at rest and in transit to provide the most robust protection. Role-based access controls are another useful security feature as it’s unlikely that all personnel will need access to every single piece of data stored within your CRM. You can reduce the likelihood of data leaks by limiting permissions to those individuals who really need access.   

Make use of the free trial

Small businesses can’t afford to be lumbered with a CRM platform that, while it looked good on paper, is completely ill-suited to their particular needs. Fortunately, many CRM tools, including heavy hitters like Salesforce, Workbooks, and HubSpot offer free trials. This means businesses can gain first-hand experience of a CRM solution before committing themselves financially. 

These free trials can vary in length, with many lasting 30 days, so check the length of time on offer so you don’t accidentally start payment without completing a full assessment of a platform’s suitability for your needs. Make sure you get the most out of this trial period by creating a checklist of the things you need to know before you are confident the CRM tool is worth paying for. 

Test all of the CRM’s features, check its relevant integrations, evaluate the support and ask your employees what their initial thoughts are. This period is crucial to understanding whether your chosen CRM is really right for your small businesses. Be sure to use it well.

Examine feedback

CRM tools are used by a wide variety of companies - so it’s quite likely that another organization somewhere will have used the tool you are thinking about employing. They may even be in a similar industry or be a direct competitor. If that’s the case, see if they’ve reviewed the platform. What do they think are its strengths and weaknesses.

Although external reviews are no replacement for hands-on experience, they could help you to rule out a CRM platform. It may even be possible to reach out to other organizations to ask them yourself about their opinions of a particular CRM. Make the most of the community of employees, developers and entrepreneurs out there. Ask them about a small business CRM. You might just receive some hugely valuable advice. 


Barclay Ballard

Barclay has been writing about technology for a decade, starting out as a freelancer with ITProPortal covering everything from London’s start-up scene to comparisons of the best cloud storage services.  After that, he spent some time as the managing editor of an online outlet focusing on cloud computing, furthering his interest in virtualization, Big Data, and the Internet of Things.