Choosing a CRM system – an idiot’s guide for SMEs

Are you an SME that has just decided that selecting a CRM (customer relationship management) system – or business development in general – is a priority for the coming year?

Or you’ve finally decided to migrate all your prospect or customer data out of the wonderful world of Excel and into a cloud-based CRM system – because you are a growing business that is going to do things properly from now on.

Choosing a CRMPerhaps you’ve survived – and grown very nicely so far – on referrals, word-of-mouth and recommendations; but are now determined to grow your customer base at a faster rate, moving into new markets with new products and services.

It might also be that you’ve seen big changes in your industry recently and you’re having to do everything differently simply to survive – and your new business, sales and marketing is simply part of that process.

If these sound like you, you’re in the right place.

Sorting out your data and CRM system does need some focused attention to get it right, but once you’re up and running it can move into the business as usual stage.

So, what (briefly) is a CRM?

For anyone newer to business development, sales and data – a CRM system is the name for the software that manages all your customer and prospect data, the contact and relationship you have with them, some of the communication you have with them, and your sales and sales forecasting pipeline.

You can get systems that are little more than glorified rolodexes (sorry, showing my age…), and ones that do all your project management, accounting and admin – plus a host of different ones inbetween. If you’ve got all your other systems in place and you’re happy with those, you may be best off with a specific CRM that purely manages your prospects, your pipeline and your new business forecasting.

For the smaller businesses out there, hefty CRMs such as Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics are likely to be quickly ruled out due to cost, complexity and sheer size.

If you’re new to CRMs, then finding one that gives you a one or two user licence for free can be the best way to start.

Get your first tranche of data in, start using it, get a feel for HOW you need to use it and WHAT you actually do want it to do. Check back with your own internal resources, and once everyone’s got the hang of it you can decide to stick, upgrade or switch.

My advice on CRM systems

Is really quite short and simple.

  1. Allow a reasonable amount of time to find one you like. Focus on it, don’t grab the first one you’ve heard of, but equally (if you’re small and only one or two people will be using it) don’t let it drag on for weeks and weeks.
  2. The person with responsibility for sales – or client development – needs to want to use it, be happy to use it and encourage or teach others to use it. So they really need to be the main voice in researching and selecting it.
  3. Ask anyone you know who is currently and actively using a CRM whether they would or wouldn’t recommend theirs – bearing in mind how similar (or different) their needs are to yours – then head over to the G2 Crowd review site and start doing your homework.
  4. Look around the demos and tutorials, and sign up to a bunch of free trials. Contact the sales people and help desks so you know what it would feel like to get support, and ask them all the same questions. Best question to ask, before they know anything about you is, “Who is your product best for?”
  5. Upgrading from a basic, free CRM is much, much easier – and feels an awful lot better – than trying to manage or escape from a big, costly one that does far too much and no-one uses.

To get you started, here’s a few CRMs I’ve come across that I suggest you include in your own review.

Some CRMs I’ve come across (that SMEs may like)

Insightly – good allrounder, both a client and a friend have recently gone for this one, with the concise YouTube tutorials being cited as a real help.

Highrise – simple, takes a little while to get used to the layout if you’ve used bigger CRMs before. Built by the same guys who own Basecamp so if you run that as your project management system, might be a useful fit. Continually being updated but seen (by some) as a bit small and lacking in functionality.

Nimble – positioned as a social CRM to help build communities. Here’s a quote from a friend (thanks Wendy S!) who reviewed it. “Nimble has has won plenty of awards and I think the premise of relationship building as sales driver is definitely the right way to go, however I can’t get it to work for me very well without needing demos etc. It removes a lot of data input and was developed by the person who developed Goldmine so I suggest you do have a trial of it.”

Really Simple Systems – does what it says on the tin, described as easy to use and great for straightforward businesses. Does pretty well on the G2 Crowd review site, scoring 4.3 out of 5.

Zoho – perhaps better for the bigger companies. Wendy’s review, “Can be clunky and not as intuitive – kind of a leaner Salesforce – so bigger companies love it. Has 15 million users. Feels corporate but has all requirements covered with no need for 3rd party integrations.”

Nutshell – I don’t know much about this one, though it scores a healthy 4.4 out of 5 on the G2 Crowd reviews. Positioned as a powerful cross platform and cross device solution so if you’ve got a workforce on mixed devices this could be a good fit.

Hubspot – there is a free version available, it’s grown rapidly in recent times and was getting some top reviews. Lots of functionality in the paid version, increasingly there are comments about being expensive.

You may notice that I have completely avoided recommending any particular system.

This is because I have learnt – through experience – that every company needs to choose their own. There is no ‘best’ software. Every firm is different, and even if they have great similarities (e.g. SME selling B2B services, turnover around £1m), they can like radically different systems.

Choosing your CRM is about what is best for you, and can be a surprisingly subjective decision.

They need to have ‘had a go’ at the trials, looked at some of the demos and got their own feel for what’s out there. Because it seems that even though it’s only a (free in some cases) cloud based software system, it’s still a very personal decision.

Your comments and recommendations on a CRM

If you have any positive, negative or educational experiences of choosing or using a CRM recently, then please tell us all about it by leaving comments that other readers may find helpful. Take a moment to mention the type of work you do, so that the comments can be seen in context.

We will all thank you for it. Bye for now.

4 Comments

  1. Jan said:

    It feels like you’ve written this blog for me personally. And in doing so given me a leg up and saved me about 6 hours of boring research.

    December 16, 2015
    Reply
    • Kim Mason said:

      Thanks Jan, glad to hear it was useful – now you can spend those 6 hours doing something far more exciting!

      December 23, 2015
      Reply
  2. My colleague and I use Capsule for logging enquiries in our training business. We find it quite straightforward to use. The free trial version allows two users and up to 250 records and then it works on a monthly fee per user basis, which is appropriate for micro-businesses. And I was interested to read your round up of some of the other options out there. This will be helpful to return to when we next undertake a systems review.

    December 21, 2015
    Reply
    • Kim Mason said:

      Thanks Felicity for your comment and the tip – I’ll take a look at Capsule, as the 250 record limit may suit some of my smaller clients.

      December 23, 2015
      Reply

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