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Customer is King. Isn’t that what they’ve always said?! And if that’s the case, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) must be the king maker. We live in a time when business is more competitive than ever before, and a well-implemented CRM program utilizing the right software could be the difference between your business thriving or it barely just surviving.
CRM has come a hell of a long way since the days of the Rolodex. Today’s CRM software is all grown up, utilizing AI, machine learning and automated workflows to help your sales, marketing and customer service efforts move client relationships forward in meaningful ways more efficiently. And when that happens, your business is undoubtedly better off. But there are so many CRM platforms available. Which one is best suited to the needs of your small business?
To help you through this process and hopefully point you in the right direction (fingers crossed), we spoke to over 40 CRM professionals that make a living from setting up CRM programs the right way, and a big part of that is selecting the right software for each business they work with. Each expert was asked a very simple question: “Based on your experience, what is the best CRM for small business?” We allowed them each to recommend up to 3 platforms and have published the results below.
So whether you’re a small business owner looking to set up your first CRM program or a marketing manager helping your company to find a new platform as you scale, the advice shared by the experts in this article should help you on your way.
Best CRM for Small Business? Here’s How the Experts Voted
|CRM Platform||# of Votes|
|#1. HubSpot CRM||12 Votes|
|#2. Salesforce CRM||11 Votes|
|#3. Microsoft Dynamics 365||9 Votes|
|#=4. Klaviyo||6 Votes|
|#=4. Zoho CRM||6 Votes|
|#5. Mailchimp CRM||4 Votes|
|#=6. Iterable||2 Votes|
|#=6. Braze||2 Votes|
|#=6. Pipedrive||2 Votes|
|#=6. ActiveCampaign CRM||2 Votes|
|#=6. Sendinblue CRM||1 Votes|
|#=7. Exponea||1 Vote|
|#=7. Act!||1 Vote|
|#=7. Leanplum||1 Vote|
|#=7. SugarCRM||1 Vote|
|#=7. dotdigital||1 Vote|
|#=7. Selligent||1 Vote|
|#=7. Keap CRM||1 Vote|
|#=7. Constant Contact CRM||1 Vote|
|#=7. Zinrelo||1 Vote|
|#=7. Maximizer CRM||1 Vote|
|#=7. Nimble||1 Vote|
|#=7. Listrak||1 Vote|
|#=7. GreenRope||1 Vote|
|#=7. Nutshell||1 Vote|
|#=7. EngageBay||1 Vote|
|#=7. MoEngage||1 Vote|
|#=7. WebEngage||1 Vote|
|#=7. CleverTap||1 Vote|
The panel of experts that we surveyed mentioned 30 tools in total when asked which CRMs they think work best for small business. While that’s quite a few, the number that received a significant number of votes were relatively few. Five CRMs stood out with five votes or more. These were Hubspot, Salesforce CRM, Microsoft Dynamics 365, Klaviyo, and Zoho CRM.
Hubspot and Salesforce find themselves at the top of the list, each with ten votes or more, and both of these platforms have a very established reputation in the CRM space. The top 5 options contain a nice blend between simple CRMs and more complex tools, meaning there’s a good chance that one of them would be a great fit for your business.
We’re going to attempt to help you figure out which one that may be below, as we give you the rundown of each tool based on our conversations with dozens of CRM experts and our own research.
A Closer Look at the 5 Top-Voted CRMs for Small Business (Including Both Paid + Free Options)
HubSpot often pops up in conversations about “the best CRMs for small businesses and start ups”. One thing that makes it very popular? IT’S FREE! It’s a cloud-based tool that provides you with all of the basic features you need to run your CRM program successfully, including contact management, email tracking, web analytics, and much more. All of this allows you to keep your finger on the pulse and know where clients are in the sales process. HubSpot also has a superb interface that makes it easy to use even if you’re not that tech-savvy, and they also offer tons of free training via the “Hubspot Academy”.
The other great thing about using HubSpot’s CRM is that they also offer a whole suite of other products that can be added on as and when they are needed to provide additional marketing, sales and service functionality. So if your business grows, HubSpot can grow with you and you can put together a relatively sophisticated system for a fairly modest price.
Salesforce has been around for what seems like forever and is one of the biggest hitters out there in the CRM space, which provides more than a few advantages. They set an extremely high standard when it comes to training, professional assistance, and automation, and the platform integrates with pretty much any tool you’d ever need it to. And if you envisage rapid growth and need a CRM that will scale, Salesforce is a safe bet. Sales, marketing, and customer support can be run through the one platform, delivering exactly what your business needs, regardless of whether you’re a small startup running a simple CRM program or a bigger company with more complex needs.
Salesforce is one of the more costly options on this shortlist though, and while that might be fine if your business is growing rapidly, for a tiny start-up trying to keep costs low it will likely be overkill. It’s also a platform that will require some technical expertise to set up. Does someone in your team have that expertise? If not, you’ll be paying someone external to get you set up properly too (and potentially beyond). But it has to be said that Salesforce is a highly customizable system that offers virtually unlimited potential in the right hands (and that last part is the key!).
3. Microsoft Dynamics 365
The best thing about Microsoft Dynamics 365… is that it’s Microsoft! If you already use a lot of their other products in your business – Outlook, Word, Excel – you’ll feel right at home very quickly with Dynamics 365. The look and feel of the platform will feel familiar and it integrates seamlessly with the rest of the Microsoft ecosystem, including Microsoft Teams. Once you get over the initial learning curve (which you may need some help with as there are a ton of options that your business may not need), the user interface is relatively simple to navigate.
Microsoft also offers various licensing tiers (so many in fact that it can get somewhat confusing, but they do have customer support agents that can help) so you can tailor a package to the specific needs of your business, only paying for what you actually need and leaving the rest on the shelf. It’s also one of the best CRMs if you’re desperately trying to avoid constant re-platforming, as it has the capacity to accommodate small businesses, enterprise-size businesses, and everything in-between.
If you run an ecommerce business, you have to check out Klaviyo! It integrates with Shopify and most of the other major e-com platforms, and uses cutting-edge AI to gather data about each customer’s habits to ensure that your company’s communications are always perfectly optimised (i.e. knowing when it’s best to send an email vs a text message). Pre-built workflow templates, and its ability to retrieve legacy information and adapt it to new automations are other features of this CRM that small business owners appreciate.
And if you fall a bit short when it comes to technical proficiency, Klaviyo is an ideal choice. It’s easy to setup, easy to learn and it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. In fact, it may be the best low cost crm for small business. Creating email templates is simple, and sophisticated (yet still easy to use) segmentation features such as conditional splits, filters, and triggered events ensure each communication is on-point.
If value for money is of huge importance to you (and it normally is for small businesses…), then Zoho CRM is definitely worth further investigation. Their CRM as a standalone product is on the more affordable end of the spectrum, but what really sets this particular option apart is their Zoho One package. You see, Zoho isn’t just a CRM software company. They offer a suite of 40+ business apps (basically everything you need to run a small business) and with the Zoho One subscription you get access to their CRM and the rest of these tools for a very fair monthly fee. And as you’d expect, all of these tools integrate seamlessly with each other (it also integrates with a whole host of popular 3rd party tools too). All of this has to make Zoho another contender for best low cost CRM for small business.
The CRM itself is easy to use (no super steep learning curve here), while still offering advanced features including workflow automations, in-depth analytics and a nifty AI Assistant called Zia to help your businesses run its CRM program as efficiently as it possibly can.
Read What The Experts Said
The recommendations in this article aren’t our own. We don’t have a hidden agenda or a product to push. We simply asked a group of CRM experts for their opinions about the best CRM for small business. These are industry professionals who have advised small business just like yours and helped them through the selection process that you currently find yourself in. So have a look at what they had to say. We’ve published all of their comments for you below.
If you would like to read what was said about a particular CRM, please filter using the buttons below. We hope the advice we’ve curated helps you on your journey to finding the right CRM for your business.
- HubSpot CRM
- Salesforce CRM
- Microsoft Dynamics 365
- Klaviyo CRM
- Zoho CRM
- Mailchimp CRM
- ActiveCampaign CRM
- Sendinblue CRM
- Keap CRM
- Constant Contact CRM
- Maximizer CRM
Salesforce – “I’m a huge Salesforce fan and highly recommend you consider this option before selecting a cheaper CRM! My honest opinion is you’ve got Salesforce, and then everyone else. Fantastic for all businesses, but especially small businesses that do not have a lot of extra resources, time or money to spend because it’s so agile, easy to customize and user friendly.
I recently helped a small business that literally outgrew his CRM when he sized up from just 1 to 3 employees. Replacing his legacy system was a piece of cake with Salesforce! When I dug into his existing CRM it was a simplistic shell with a few objects similar to some of the Salesforce core objects; Leads, Accounts, Contacts & Opportunities. Products or the ability to add custom objects would have been nice touches in that other CRM. There are several options with Salesforce and it’s fairly easy to implement workflow to automate marketing and other email communications, easily design and send high quality professional content via List Email functionality & generate automated reporting and dashboards to provide consistent total visibility on a single page.
The sky is the limit with Salesforce! You can easily and effectively run your entire business on the platform and it will grow with you. Salesforce provides free online training and there is a massive Salesforce user community and partners that will help you succeed. If your business experiences rapid growth, you can focus on that and will not need to change your CRM system over in the middle of it all.”
HubSpot CRM – “Times are tougher right now for a lot of small businesses. If you’ve outgrown Excel and are looking at free options, I suggest taking a look at HubSpot. They’ve become a significant player and their app can help you manage pipeline and deals, track customers and activities such as calls and emails. You’ll be able to have some nice core features and there are various paid add-on options that can be selected to meet specific requirements. Their marketing automation tools are fairly impressive and raised the bar in this area, especially for small to midsize companies.”
Selligent Marketing Cloud – “It’s very easy to use for building email campaigns and creating dynamic campaigns. HTML and CSS are easy to amend. However, it requires quite a lot of training in creating segments and managing data. Overall, I would give a 7 out 10.”
Salesforce – “Thanks to Salesforce, Exact Target is the most complete tool I have ever used. Although it’s very expensive, I have never had an issue in developing and deploying campaigns. Easy analytics to read and a very good customer support. Overall, I would give it a 9 out 10.”
“Which CRM is the Best for Small Businesses? Before going that far, there is another important question to ask. ‘Do you really need a CRM?’
My short answer is ‘Yes’. But there are many factors to be considered to give you the right answer. I even wrote an ebook about it, which you can download for free from our website. It also provides you with the necessary calculator to help you answer this question first.
Whenever we get this question asked by our clients, ‘Which is THE BEST CRM for Small Businesses?’, the answer is ‘It depends on Your Business’.
Your business is special and should be treated that way.”
HubSpot CRM – “If you need ONLY a CRM, I would suggest going with HubSpot. They have a fantastic CRM system for FREE.”
ActiveCampaign CRM – “If you want to leverage Marketing Automation together with CRM, ActiveCampaign would be the best in my opinion to achieve your short-term and long-term goals. The reason is it’s scalable and budget-friendly and has all the functionalities a small or even a million-dollar business needs.”
Keap (Infusionsoft) – “If you want CRM and Marketing Automation and want a very sophisticated approach, either Keap/Infusionsoft or HubSpot are great options. But, those will require you to hire an expert to make sure things are built in a professional way as they are too complex for an average user who already wears several hats to run their businesses.”
Salesforce – “I believe Salesforce is doing some amazing work in analytics, marketing and from a community front – and the learning and development resources are best in class. It is expensive though, many of the new bells and whistles aren’t “out of the box”. If your organisation has the resources and the talent available, it’s the best option out there right now. I’d say the latter is more vital, too often you see organisations that get on the Salesforce train but lack the investment in the right talent to use the technology at hand properly.”
Microsoft Dynamics 365 – “Microsoft Dynamics is particularly strong in the B2B side of business. They have been making good improvements to the interface, and learning resources as well over the past few years. A notable downside is Click Dimensions (their marketing technology platform) – which just doesn’t compare with platforms like Pardot/SFMC (e.g. email builders, segmentation ease, forms). So if you adopt Microsoft Dynamics, it’ll be worth making the investment into an integration with a more versatile marketing arm.”
“The CRM world is VAST! There are numerous solutions available that can have a long-lasting positive impact on your business, however, it is imperative that you think about the impact of the implementation and adoption of a CRM for your organisation OR transition to a new CRM should you already be using one at your organisation.
Some CRM’s are more suited to particular sectors and others are broad and can be configured or customised to suit your needs.
PipeDrive and Salesforce are my top recommendations.”
Salesforce – “Salesforce is the worlds leading CRM and can do anything you want it to, however, note that buying an out of the box Salesforce license may not do everything you need it to do to start with and will require some configuration/customisation or you may need to engage with a CRM Consultant to help with this.”
Pipedrive – “Pipedrive is very user friendly and cheaper than Salesforce and is a good starting point in the CRM world. It has some add ons and some really handy automation features that can help speed up your mundane day to day tasks that are quick and easy to roll out.”
“As there are so many CRM’s researching them yourself can take a significant amount of time so my suggestion is to reach out to a CRM consultant and have an initial chat so they can start to point you in the right direction and potentially help you along the way.”
Mailchimp – “Mailchimp is the obvious answer and they really deserve the recognition. The UI is very easy to navigate. There are plenty of beautiful, customizable, mobile-friendly email templates to choose from. While setting up a proper A/B test on other platforms and analyzing results can eat up so much time, their testing features and clear reports take the guesswork out of testing.”
Constant Contact – “Constant Contact is best for simple sends. It’s great for small businesses to keep in touch with their customers about events and updates.”
Microsoft Dynamics 365 – “Microsoft Dynamics is a great choice for small businesses. I’ve heard it described as “a sledge hammer to crack a nut” for anyone that isn’t a big corporate organisation but this is a common misconception. The overall Dynamics suite is extensive and offers a solution for just about every part of a business you could think of. However, even many of Microsoft’s large corporate customers don’t use every part of the entire Dynamics package.
So, what makes it such a great choice for small businesses? Well for starters you can pick the module that’s right for your business meaning that you’re not spending money on parts of a system you’ll never actually use. There’s also no minimum license limit so even micro business can benefit from an industry-leading solution. Plus, the range of licenses available provides a great deal of flexibility to help keep costs down too. There are different prices depending on what a user can access, again saving money on things that won’t be used. There is even a license for businesses that hot desk, or roles that job share allowing you to have a license per machine instead of a license per user.
Dynamics is also massively customisable and the best part is you don’t need to be a developer to customise it. This means that you can have a bespoke solution tailored to your business at a fraction of the cost usually associated with customising other CRM systems. Plus, with a small amount of training, you’ll soon be able to make any further tweaks yourself. It really is that easy!
Finally, it’s a Microsoft solution, so for anyone that uses any of the Microsoft family of services it instantly feels familiar. Also being a Microsoft solution means that it seamlessly integrates with the rest of the 365 ecosystem. Your Outlook emails are tracked against the relevant client record, customer files can be organised and stored in OneDrive and SharePoint, templates can be created for frequently used documents that generate in Word files. These are just a few of the possibilities and they can all be automated to save you time and effort.”
HubSpot CRM – “My favorite CRM platform for a small to medium-sized business is HubSpot, hands down. The CRM tool is free, so you really pay for their marketing automation software. Most SMB aren’t able to take advantage of both marketing automation AND CRM tools, and this is a great way to get the best of both worlds.
Generate a lead through a form, send them nurture emails (they can even come from your sales team without the team needing to do anything), leverage the user friendly interface to build a lead scoring model, and pass the lead straight to sales as soon as they’re qualified. The sales team will have access to view all kinds of information about the lead, including how they’ve engaged on your website.
Bonus – they have an incredible resource library to help you every step of the way.”
“When it comes to CRM tools for small business, I feel there are a few key factors which one needs to keep in mind during the decision-making process.
- Ability to act as a “single tool serving all (most of) needs”. Given the fact that many small businesses would not be able to invest in multiple tools doing different functions from CDP, analytics platform to campaign platform.
- Ability to create cross-channel consumer experiences and be able to reach consumers in the channel and manner that consumers prefer.
- Ease of implementation.
- And last but not least, ease of use.
While most of the CRM / marketing automation tools claim to offer all of these things, it turns out to be quite a different story when you look under the hood in detail.”
MoEngage – “Keeping these factors in mind, my top recommendation is MoEngage. This tool with its mobile-first approach is fast to bring innovative features to its users. It provides a comprehensive single view of customers, has a robust analytics engine to help create numerous segments and has the ability to send personalised communication to each of those segments. It also has the ability to create a cross-channel journey with ease.”
WebEngage and CleverTap – “The second position on my list would be a tie between WebEngage and CleverTap with both being good at cross-channel engagement and analytics and segmentation, but lacking a bit in advance features like standard templates and bringing innovations first to its customers.”
Pipedrive – “Pipedrive is a great platform for those very small businesses and start-ups. It is really simple and intuitive, which for start-ups and very small businesses is really important when the focus needs to be getting on with the job of sales, rather than configuring a CRM platform.
There are lots of cool short videos, which are also worded in really simple, easy to understand language, which makes onboarding the platform seamless. It is also very configurable for the basic tasks e.g. integrations into calendar, email etc. It’s also pretty cost-effective too.”
SugarCRM – “For more mature small businesses that want enhanced functionality, you can’t go far wrong with SugarCRM Professional. It integrates well with many 3rd party platforms. It is great for customer service, if that is an area of the business that is growing, with easy-to-read dashboards, self-service portals and routing to the correct department.
It also has strong marketing functionality and built-in advertising capabilities, social tools, landing page templates and email forms. These are all available with drag and drop editors and personalisation functionality.”
Listrak – “One of the best tools I’ve used in my career is Listrak. It’s great across the board, but it’s exceptional for retailers or businesses that manage a lot of SKUs on their website. Once we got the product feeds set up, we were able to turn on an automated campaign that doubled our revenue from automated campaigns.”
Sendinblue – “If you have a simpler set of products, I’d recommend Sendinblue. They’re great for growth-oriented businesses who are thinking beyond email. Sendinblue scales with you, which is apparent in their suite of features, which include SMS, chat for your website, managing paid ads and more.”
Zoho CRM – “Zoho One is my favourite as it provides many apps that a small business is likely to use including a CRM all under one low subscription. Small Businesses can now delve into Marketing, CRM, Finance, website integration, Project Management, web site analysis, and much much more without having to pay for additional applications that do not talk to each other. Extensive with a broad range of applications and a great fit for any small to medium business. A small business ERP solution.”
Act! – “Act is a golden oldie that has a great user interface that looks good and is easy to use. It can now be used via the web. Key strengths are ease of use, Activity process, Groups and Marketing Automation.”
“When we are asked to advise organisations on their CRM platform selection and implementation, the request normally comes from large organisations who are looking at an existing failed CRM project. Our advice will focus on how the company differentiates itself and its offer to customers. Building your CRM around your differentiators is a good way of embedding CRM into your culture.
However for smaller businesses, sometimes it’s more important to get the basics right. The “me to” stuff that could otherwise swamp you in admin. Making your data GDPR compliant, automating sales forecasting, and providing tools to get emails in and out of the system are all key requirements. So when we look at the CRM tools for SMB we have a clear recommendation.”
Maximizer CRM – “Maximizer has been around for over 20 years. A huge part of its success has been its list-based interface. What does that mean? If you are used to working from Excel spreadsheets then the way Maximizer presents your data will be instantly familiar. That’s important because small businesses rarely have the time or budget for lots of training.
That being said – there are a lot of training resources available. Video guides are built into the product, there’s a vibrant YouTube channel, supplemented by content from a global network of partners.
That’s the thing. When a product has been around as long as Maximizer, it creates its own eco-system of add-on applications and implementation partners. All of which reduces the time and expense of getting up and running. It also means that applications like MailChimp, QuickBooks and Zapier are keen to provide links.
Other highlights include fully integrated Customer Service and Email marketing tools included in the price. We also love that it has probably the best Outlook integration of any product.
Overall Maximizer is incredibly simple to configure, and has great tools to allow you to import data from multiple sources. If you lack the time or inclination to do the work yourself there are plenty of companies and consultants out there to help.”
Microsoft Dynamics 365 – “We have been working with many different sized businesses, and whether small, medium or large, there are some basic common business themes that influence how to choose the right CRM solution, and that are particularly critical to small businesses when investing in CRM.
- Scalability – A CRM must continue to be relevant as your business grows, and cover all of your customer relationships. Your business will evolve with more users; with different roles; more products and services to offer with potentially different sales, service and marketing processes; and different customer segments. Many small CRMs are niche and inflexible, with fixed data models for products, customers and the type of business they support. You don’t want to spend money on something that is rigid and short term, that will not evolve with your business, then have to spend money to migrate to the next tool.
- Interoperability – You have other tools in your business – such as Outlook email, Word, Excel – that are critical, as well as other key applications, such as Xero or other Finance apps. A CRM will need to cover the whole customer interaction with your business, and work with these other tools when your team needs them. You need your CRM to be the source of truth for all your customer data, and for all of these interactions to be captured. Otherwise, you are double-handling, losing productivity within the team, losing information, and not knowing which system to trust.
A CRM must provide productivity improvements via functionality and business process, not just be a database of contacts or a source for reporting with no Team benefits. Your team will demand to know “what’s in it for me to use the CRM?”. Your CRM should drive consistent business process, so that everyone in the team (no matter if in the office or the field) can capture, use and drive the same information in the same way as your best team members, and easily so. Not only will this provide a consistent customer experience, but it will provide a consistent team training and on-boarding experience. Your team will identify process improvements which can be easily rolled out and adopted by all.
Many small business owners have an exit strategy – how do I sell my business but prove to the new owners that the business will survive and thrive after my exit? A CRM will provide that solutionised and consistent business process, as well as a database of customers, sales and order history.
Dynamics CRM used to be for larger or medium size companies to solve all of these challenges, but we have been working with Dynamics CRM for many years and have been able to scale Dynamics CRM for use by small business, so that your first CRM can also be the only one you need.”
Microsoft Dynamics 365 – “I have to recommend Dynamics, I have spent the majority of my professional career working with Dynamics.
The key thing to mention is that while Dynamics 365 can and does support enterprise clients, it is perfect for small to medium businesses too. The Power Platform (Common Data Service + Power Apps + Power Automate) allows for very customized solutions for every business’s needs.
With that said, most small businesses won’t need deep customization, and this is where Microsoft’s First Party apps like Sales Professional or Customer Service Professional really shine!
Pricing can be fairly complicated but there is always a Microsoft Partner that is able to help ensure you have the capabilities that you need.”
Zoho CRM – “Zoho CRM is likely the next solution I would recommend, but I only have very limited experience with Zoho CRM from years ago. It was a great experience though, I was able to get a client onto Zoho in a matter of weeks with minor configurations. That client recently migrated to Dynamics 365 with the need for Field Service Support.”
Zinrelo – “In my past, I had the pleasure of working with a great team here that was focused on maximizing customer conversions and increasing lifetime value. The software was easy to implement and automated the process of customer capture and loyalty marketing. In addition, here are 3 key reasons why I would recommend the Zinrelo CRM platform:
- Loyalty – Extremely versatile package for loyalty program development with quick and easy program customization. Awards can be built for Transactional, Social, Behavioral, Referral activities and much more.
- Segmentation and Reporting – The application comes out of the box with quick and easy customer segmentation variables to drive highly personalized and more targeted programs and robust program reporting via a loyalty dashboard.
- Marketing Automation – Provides a built-in and low-cost activity-based triggered email messaging engine that allows users to essentially develop “set it and forget it” type loyalty marketing campaigns. But also has the flexibility to easily integrate with other third-party email platforms via APIs.
I would highly recommend this application and, more importantly, the team at Zinrelo due to their commitment to developing successful partnerships.”
Zoho CRM – “This is an application that I tested for developing a partnership program at one of my previous employers. It provides an affordable and easy to use platform that helps track contacts with the ability to create customized pipelines and it easily identifies leads with the highest conversion potential. As well, it offers a powerful marketing automation engine with various built-in email templates for quick and targeted marketing campaigns.”
Braze – “A must for businesses that have a Mobile App. Braze offers a great variation of integrations with tools to digest all the data companies are currently tracking. It is easy and clear to use, offering full autonomy to the CRM team to test, personalise and create real-time user journeys.”
Hubspot CRM – “It is free! A simple tool to organise and track sales and customer lists. It is very simple to use and allows you to create landing pages. It is the best option for small businesses.”
“As small business owners search for new ways to keep in contact with their customers, attract new ones, and discover insights to increase sales, one of the first topics that comes to mind is CRM (Customer Relationship Management). Although the average business owner might not be able to define what CRM is without a quick Google search, they certainly understand the need to accurately track and manage their clients and see their shopping behavior. Most get by through a manually maintained Excel spreadsheet, until their customer base grows and efficiently tracking behavior can no longer scale.
For small businesses specifically, one of the primary factors for picking a CRM software to implement is ease of use and ease of implementation. Small business owners likely are not prepared to design and build their own SQL database, and have limited or no technical staff to help them, so the easier to start with, the better.”
Hubspot – “The most seamless all-in-one CRM and marketing solution.
Hubspot wins in a few areas: they provide FREE cloud-hosted CRM and marketing tools that allow the user to get familiar with the software before fully committing to a more advanced set of features. A small business owner can simply start an account, import a spreadsheet of their current customer list, and immediately begin tracking sales efforts and purchase history. Their marketing suite references the same core database, which makes it more nimble and more user friendly than other second recommended platforms, like Salesforce.
If the user decides that email marketing automation would be beneficial, Hubspot has affordable packages that allow the additional, powerful digital marketing, email marketing, and service-oriented tools. Their interface is one of the most user-friendly and easiest to understand, making Hubspot a top choice for entrepreneurs that don’t want to spend too much time fiddling with their CRM software.”
Salesforce – “The biggest player in the CRM space.
Salesforce is one of the largest, if not the largest, CRM software companies in the industry. Their Sales Cloud platform is used by small businesses and Fortune 500 companies alike for tracking leads and converting sales. If a small business owner has some technical support staff available to help them, Salesforce would be a great choice.
However, the user interface is not as friendly as Hubspot, and additional marketing and service tools require purchases of additional packages and can require separate databases to set up and maintain. If the business has a robust sales staff, and a decent-sized budget for an awesome CRM platform, Salesforce is the #1 choice.”
Mailchimp – “This is the most popular email platform for small business. It has a user-friendly interface at an affordable price. The drag and drop functionality gives the flexibility to design your own campaign and you don’t have to be an html developer. The platform offers social advertising, landing pages, website pop up and e-commerce integration plugins with most popular platforms such as GA, Salesforce, Magento and more. You can also upload your own data and create segments or audiences very easy to deploy your marketing campaigns.”
ActiveCampaign – “ActiveCampaign is a platform for small-to-mid-sized business and offers email marketing capabilities, marketing automation, sales automation and more. In addition to a user-friendly interface and affordable price, its marketing automation capabilities including site tracking, lead scoring, sms and advanced features like dynamic content and AB testing. The template builder, email builder, automation builder and form builder have a drag and drop interface enabling responsive email newsletters with personalized automations without technical knowledge.”
Klaviyo – “Pretty easy to use and if you’re not tech-savvy, this is a great platform. Has really good integrations with Shopify which is great if you’re using that channel. They have built-in automation flows and pre-baked templates which are great and very useful. If you’re a small company with little data, this is for you as it’s very cost-effective. The only downside to Klaviyo is their live support is US times only and is not available to the UK until 14:00. And a lot of the time, you’re in a queue – there have been times when I’ve had to wait almost an hour before someone is available to help me.”
Mailchimp – “Exactly the same as Klaviyo. When I used them a few years ago, they had a great integration with Shopify but I’ve heard (and read) that they no longer integrate. The one massive advantage I found with Mailchimp over Klaviyo is that they have 24/5 support. So no matter what time I needed some support, there was always someone to help me.”
Zoho CRM – “Facilitates customization and scalability thanks to the features available in the platform and the broad selection of add-ons. It is easy to use. Free version available as well. Has interesting features in data analysis and marketing automation. Overall, it’s a good tool for small to mid-sized companies.”
HubSpot CRM – “Available with a very good free version. It’s easy to set up and to use. Those in need of complex customization may find the platform limiting. Good HubSpot marketing function. If your organization’s rate of growth is fairly high, I might not recommend Hubspot CRM.”
“A key requirement for your new CRM system should be efficiency. Working with a smaller team means you’ll want to be quick on your feet with tailoring the most relevant messages and promotions, and being able to fine-tune content dynamically to get the right message to the right audience segment at the right time.
Keeping email marketing in-house can afford you a greater degree of control and autonomy over your communications. Across a small and multi-functioning team, the solution you choose should be one that can simplify the creation and building process, plus seamlessly unite the different digital marketing facets to inform the best possible overall engagement strategy.”
dotdigital – “My preferred CRM is the dotdigital platform. I find it’s the most marketer-friendly tool for teams of small-to-medium size. There are more technical tools that are better suited for developers and coders, but with a smaller team this is by far the smartest choice.
Dotdigital offers a built-in Litmus test, Spam test, Global Suppression List (GSL), which allows you to check and make improvements to your content and contact database. Cutting out many contacts through the GSL can at first be a scary move, but this may, in turn, lead to greater results of your campaigns, with increased open rates, click rates and conversions.”
“I’ll share two recommendations because they stand out.”
Klaviyo – “I recommend Klaviyo to any eCommerce based business because, simply put, it’s the one that will get small businesses amazing results. It’s designed specifically for eCommerce with excellent and powerful integrations available for Woocommerce, Shopify, Shipstation, Aftership, and so many more. It’s powerful, easy to use, and quick to implement with prebuilt templates guiding the way. If you’ve ever been interested in targeted messaging to your customers (nurture sequences, thank you messages, VIP messages) then Klaviyo is really the one you want.”
Hubspot CRM – “I recommend Hubspot CRM for service-based businesses. It’s the best free CRM hands down with features like web analytics, email open tracking, forms, and live chat. The integrations and add-ons are many – and I’ve helped many businesses build out pretty great systems on a shoestring budget – that’s the bonus of going with the free version of a really big industry leader. With its sales, marketing, and service plans, businesses can easily add on features when they’re ready and grow into a more sophisticated system. I’ve seen businesses really supercharge their Sales teams with the $50/month Sales Starter license for example.”
“The CRM software offering is a world on its own; to be honest it’s a jungle out there! It’s not that easy for a beginner to differentiate one platform from the other. Navigating in the world of CRM functionalities, pricing models, configuration capabilities & solution extensibility is quite a challenge as they all seem to be offering similar advantages and potential flaws.
Over the years I have had the opportunity to work with many CRM solutions. Hard for me to recommend one in particular as business requirements, IT context & financial capabilities of your enterprise will most certainly influence the selection criteria & final choice.
Before launching any type of CRM endeavour it is preferable to take some time to assess the business needs and document the functional requirements required. It’s also important to take the current and future IT landscape into consideration. Budget wise, prepare for the initial investment (professional services for implementation & data integration) and recurring fees (maintenance, evolution & software subscription).
This type of exercise will take some time and require minimal investment but it will provide value and accelerate the selection and implementation process. It is not a waste of time! On the contrary, it’s a sound investment that will increase the whole value of your CRM journey.
When we think about CRM some vendors name comes to mind immediately: SalesForce, SAP CX, Microsoft Dynamics 365, Oracle, Hubspot, Zoho, Sugar CRM, Creatio, etc. The best one is the one that fits the most with the conclusions of your initial assessment, but it’s not the only factor to consider.
A CRM implementation requires knowledge and experience. You will most likely need to select a professional service provider to deliver the implementation and provide support for the evolution of your solution. This is not the topic of this article but I would suggest that once the CRM solution is selected – run a thorough selection process to determine who will be the best partner to accompany you in your CRM venture.
My CRM Top Picks for SMB’s
The CRM acronym stands for Customer Relationship Management. Typically CRM software provides functionalities to support Sales, Marketing and Customer Services processes. Some solutions also provide business process management functionalities, artificial and business intelligence capabilities or event digital marketing features. Should you decide to use these functions expect your subscription fees to increase or additional modules/add-ons/professional services costs to be included in the global price tag.”
Salesforce – “Over the years Salesforce (SFDC) has become one of the most prominent CRMs in the market. It offers a complete set of core CRM functionalities, nearly unlimited extensibility potential and a wide variety of subscription options. Whether your organisation is an SMB or an enterprise, SFDC will most likely fill the CRM needs.
The ease of use and integration with some of the most common productivity tools (Gmail, Outlook, etc) is an interesting argument when it comes to user adoption. Mobile access and the overall solution performance has always been a strong selling point for SFDC. Digital Marketing and Business Intelligence are interesting add-ons as Einstein provides Artificial Intelligence functionalities if required.
SFDC is a standalone modular cloud platform that can be connected with enterprise data sources using standard technologies and protocols. The platform evolves on a regular basis, new functionalities are constantly added. Business Intelligence is now supported through Tableau, a well recognized Bi platform now embedded in the SFDC offering.
SFDC is a reference in the CRM realm. Many industry verticals (preconfigured processes and functions) have been developed over time. They are available for free or for additional fees through the Salesforce “AppExchange” virtual store.
The UI (user interface) has always been paramount to SFDC’s success. The solution design is sleek and response time is ultra-fast.
There is a plethora of professional services firms that can assist and/or lead your implementation. Some of them qualify as generalist, while others have specific industry expertise. Large consulting firms have added SFDC to their service portfolios, but smaller shops or even independent consultants could also be an option for your implementation.
SFDC subscriptions are not cheap. The subscription model provides a wide variety of options and you may need guidance and support to navigate through the many options. SFDC is not for every business – some of my customers would have loved to implement this solution, but the price tag was just too expensive.
SFDC is a quite sophisticated gem and will require proper care – you will have to budget either external help (consultation) or develop the competency internally.
As strange as it may seem, SFDC “rents” the IT infrastructure supporting the application. SFDC partners with Amazon (AWS Cloud) or Microsoft (Azure cloud) to benefit from their cloud services allowing industry-best performance and security certifications.
SFDC is the Lexus of CRM – it may be overkill for smaller businesses depending on their needs and objectives. I would recommend it for SMBs that have a combination of comfortable financial capabilities and strong CRM leadership and vision. Businesses that are ready to invest in a CRM journey because CRM is linked to their success.”
Microsoft Dynamics 365 – “Microsoft jumped into the field of CRM in the beginning of the 2000’s – these guys are not newcomers. Microsoft’s CRM offering has evolved from an On-Premise to a cloud model over the last decade.
The licencing model provides a variety of options suitable for small, medium or large enterprises. Sales, Marketing and Customer Services module subscriptions are available as well as other modules that are natively connected one with the other such as Business Central (complete ERP solution including finance, operation, distribution, etc..), Field services, Dynamics Marketing (digital, mass email), etc.
Microsoft’s cloud offering provides an end-to-end solution to support every business need, including data management (MDM) & state of the art secured data connectivity. This ecosystem has been recognized as safe by most global agencies including the Pentagon and the NSA.
Business Intelligence is available through PowerBi, Artificial intelligence could be activated as a CRM relationship assistant and best of all Dynamics is natively integrated with Office 365 (Outlook, excel), Teams, OneNote, SharePoint and other members of the Microsoft family.
Dynamics provides an easily configurable UI, low code/no code personalisations capabilities and formidable extensibility through the Power Platform. Performance has improved remarkably and is on par with other players.
CRM wise you get all the expected perks – in my opinion, the solution is very similar and even equivalent to Salesforce but the integration with the rest of the Microsoft ecosystem is unparalleled. A player to consider should your business use a Microsoft ERP or any Microsoft productivity tools.
The implementation partner ecosystem provides a full spectrum of interesting offerings. From a basic “quick” implementation to a complex enterprise-wide project, many options are available.
Like Salesforce, Dynamics is not a cheap solution. In fact, the price tag is similar but one could argue that it is in fact a bit less costly. Once the solution is implemented you will need to include operating, support and evolution efforts on top of the initial investment.
Professional services may be a little less expensive than for SFDC. Developing internal competencies should help in the day to day operations and support but it will not cover you for everything – external help may be required for solution evolution.
The complexity of the many subscription models and options is a little annoying as you’ll need to properly assess your needs to make the most appropriate choice. Licencing and subscription models change often – general Lingo may require external guidance to avoid confusion.
Microsoft invests massively in the Dynamics 365 offering and the solution is constantly improving as new functionalities are launched and made available for the user community – novelties are pushed regularly but it’s sometimes hard to keep up with “deprecated” or retired features and new “cool” functionalities.
Some of my customers told me that the solution UI is lame and slow & would need to be modernized compared to other CRMs, which would increase user adoption.
I would recommend Dynamics for any SMB that is already using (or think of getting) other Microsoft products, more specifically in the Dynamics family. Let me quote one of my customers: “It’s cheaper than Salesforce, it’s a great fall-back solution, and it answers all of our needs.””
“It is difficult for me to select a third CRM solution to include in this article. Creatio, Zoho, Insightly, Monday, Sugar, Nimble, Pipedrive and Odoo (among others) are clearly contenders to consider in your selection process. They present similar functionalities, weaknesses and strengths. They will cost less than SFDC/Dynamics and they are all great options for SMB’s.
But there is one solution that stands out in my opinion. For many reasons Boston based HubSpot is one of my favorites.”
HubSpot CRM – “In a nutshell, here’s what I like about the HubSpot CRM:
- Great CRM solution, free to use if you have less than a thousand contacts in your database.
- Easy to use, no-nonsense functionalities. UI is modern & interesting and performance seems to be fair.
- Strong marketing capabilities (comparable to bigger names in the field of digital marketing). This is great but may increase the pricing dramatically depending on volume & campaign frequencies.
- Process-based opportunity management capabilities. Visual and attractive-looking pipeline management. Sales folks will get a tool to follow-up on their leads & clients. Managers will be able to monitor progress & coach their teams.
- Complete customer service capabilities including ticketing, live chat, playbook, etc. CS representatives will access customer info and be able to follow-up on cases. Managers will monitor workload and agent performance.
- Integrated CMS with drag and drop editor, SEO support, bots, etc. Marketing folk will benefit from end-to-end basic digital marketing tools.
- Limited configuration capabilities. Good enough for most of your CRM needs – extending functionality is clearly not as strong as Dynamics or SFDC. Data integration may need help and guidance from external parties.
- Vendor helps you with your initial set-up & implementation firm can offer additional services.
- Subscription fees are less expensive than other players. Bundles are available – the offering is worth a look but you may need assistance to grasp every subtility (not always clear to me).
- Typical HubSpot implementation partner will most probably offer an Agency / Retainer model type of agreement to support your business. All-in-one partnership including strategic consultation, software maintenance and campaign support could be an interesting CRM turn-key avenue.
I would recommend HubSpot for a CRM project that has a marketing bias. HubSpot’s overall price tag will be lower than others and will answer most SMBs’ CRM needs.”
Microsoft Dynamics 365 – “In my experience, Microsoft Dynamics 365 provides everything an SME needs in a CRM software platform. It is a scalable solution providing intuitive functionality for everything from lead collection to marketing automation. As the business grows and their needs expand (for example, e-commerce functionality), it offers API connectivity to support the addition of multiple cloud services.”
Klaviyo – “The top competitive advantages Klaviyo has to offer to any small business can be translated into 4 main pillars:
- Relevancy – Its rich segmentation without limitations opens the door to craft more relevant emails and experiences, which in turn increases engagement and conversion rates across the board. Personalize and optimize experiences by using conditional splits, filters, A/B tests, triggered events, personalized content blocks for different segments.
- Well-Timed – Klaviyo AI detects the optimal send time for business specific audience to uplift significantly the open rate and conversion. It will increase subscriber satisfaction with its “Smart Send” feature that ensures one doesn’t get multiple emails in a specific short amount of time. Klaviyo also automatically generates predictions for lifetime value, churn risk, expected replenishment/repeat purchases, and more to support your business’s strategies.
- Ease of Use – When it comes to building email templates, segments and lists, and an overview to campaign performance, a simple to use tool comes in handy. It’s also easy to integrate with third party tools to meet ever changing business needs (think: SMS, Mobile App, Personalization, Email Deliverability etc.)
- Multi-Channel Marketing – This will allow businesses to be where their customer is. One can build rich trigger automation and mix channel in the same flow, manage them all in one place. Complement emails with Text Messages, Facebook Messenger, Mobile App push notifications to maximize results. Ex. If X didn’t open Y Email, then send a Text Message. Klaviyo will also help Paid Media Ads targeting with its built-in sync feature. It allows you to build lookalike audiences in Facebook by generating the best customer list in Klavio. Notify customers about any order-related details at each step of the journey by text messages with its recently launched feature.”
HubSpot CRM – “The advantage of the HubSpot CRM, which is free for small users, is that it is integrated with the HubSpot marketing automation platform. Today many small businesses may need a marketing automation tool more than a CRM platform. The deciding factor is what percentage of the customer nurturing happens via direct sales, the strength of CRM, or via email. CRMs can handle a small number of not fancy emails.”
Salesforce CRM – “Salesforce is the most universal choice for CRM and for a reason. A wide range of martech stack categories are integrated via their partner marketplace. Further due to its enormous user base, it will likely integrate easily with anything already in your stack. It’s pricier than other choices that are more narrowly focused on small business. However, its enterprise users drive the tool to deep functionality. Do not confuse it for a marketing automation tool; it really isn’t adequate for this essential part of your MarTech stack. As a direct sales tool, it’s excellent.”
“While most of us have heard of Salesforce and Mailchimp, I’ve personally found that if you need easy to use, scalable and good support for your CRM, Iterable and Exponea, are two great choices. Both support businesses starting off or those looking to grow and scale their operations. Not to mention the amount you can save on price!”
Iterable – “CRM platforms should be easy to operate, not only to save time but to allow anyone to set things up. Iterable has certainly made my life easier. From drag and drop templates, to visual workflows, you can set up basic and complicated automations without much confusion. If you have more complex data entry or unique fields, I’ve found Iterable support is personable and timely.
The price of the setup should be negotiated based on your needs, but otherwise they are competitively priced. They host events and have online resources to help guide your work, so before you take the leap I would recommend having a look at resources available online. I currently use Iterable and have had no complaints!”
Exponea – “Exponea is another system that allows the user to set things up without much fuss, utilising data and getting support for your company’s goals are two pluses for this platform. The ability to easily work across all channels and visualise your data means it doesn’t require a great amount of training to set up a number of journeys and flows for your customers.
I especially found their support to be personable and fun – who doesn’t love the free merch and events. Exponea is able to help you understand the customer, and at the end of the day that’s how your company will succeed and grow. Check out their resources online, a stand-out platform from the big vendors out there.”
“Migrating platforms can be a long task, but any platform worth your time will support your unique company’s needs, and give you the tools to easily scale your business. Speaking to various platforms will help you understand which unique extras your company will need. Good luck with your search!”
Klaviyo – “My current favourite has to be Klaviyo. It feels like they’ve come into the market and covered all bases for small businesses and it even has the ability to grow with a business.
My three main asks from a good CRM tool are:
- Can I easily have access to the data I want?
- Do I have the ability to set up automated campaigns based on customer activity both live on the website and post-purchase?
- Can I make those emails personalised enough?
In Klaviyo’s case, it’s perfect on all of these counts. The integration with stores like Shopify is seamless and it can even ingest historical data and back populate new automations you set up to reach anyone who matched that criteria X days ago.
The set up of automated campaigns is simple, yet also sophisticated enough to allow split testing and conditional steps based on if a customer makes certain actions between email 1 and 2 for example.
And lastly, the email build is simple, but again allows personalisation in the form of data fields but also the ability to bring in items a customer has viewed or even recommend products if the campaign requires.
Ultimately, this reasonably priced tool allows businesses to start with the basics and ramp up activity as they scale. It can even help with SMS and Push too!”
Klaviyo – “I often recommend using Klaviyo for small businesses. It’s a step above other platforms in the price range (like MailChimp) and it has the added power of linking to your Shopify store. For small businesses just starting out, Klaviyo’s products set up a solid email foundation, while for small businesses that have experienced rapid growth, Klaviyo can be harnessed for more sophisticated segmentation and personalization. Klaviyo is a CRM platform that a small business can grow into as their business scales.”
Iterable – “Thinking even longer-term? Iterable is a powerful CRM platform that is completely customizable to your small business needs. If your marketing mix is driving strong traffic to your website, you’ll want a CRM platform that will help track and personalize your customer’s journey across multiple touchpoints.”
“Small and expanding businesses face a challenge when selecting the business technology that will enable them to run their operations. Selecting a CRM solution, with hundreds on the market, is a minefield!
When helping stakeholders select a solution we recommend a CRM that is flexible, simple for users, robust enough to meet requirements such as customizations and process enablement, scalable and can be integrated with other technology in their company.
There are times when I personally recommend Salesforce or Pipedrive but 99.999% of the time I recommend Zoho CRM.”
Zoho CRM – “Zoho is a self-funded, private company, with a bootstrap mentality that invests in community and technology. With over 10m users and a flagship solution (Zoho CRM) that was created 20 years ago, they offer a comprehensive solution at the fraction of the price of their competitors (e.g. $35 per user per month vs Salesforce at $150 per user per month).
Price isn’t everything, it helps though. Most importantly you want a solution that helps you meet your objectives by tracking and processing customer data. Zoho CRM is a fully customizable cloud-based solution with advanced features such as workflow automation, process alignment and reporting.
Zoho also has over 50 applications in their suite of products so users can run their entire business on their technology if desired (Zoho has a bundle of 50+ apps available for $30 per employee per month). Zoho CRM also has hundreds of integrations available with third-party applications (e.g. Website Form Builders, Microsoft Office365, Google Apps, Quickbooks etc.), an open API for those custom requirements.
I’ve personally helped over 5000 companies with their Zoho CRM needs and I can say that it’s very rare I have felt that it’s not the right solution for their needs. I do feel that the ideal users of Zoho CRM would be those that are Business-to-Business service providers even if it can easily meet the needs of those in other sectors and Business-to-Consumer environments.”
Zoho CRM – “We absolutely recommend ZOHO CRM for businesses of all sizes. I have a vantage point wherein I get to work with all the leading CRMs around the globe, and we have working partnerships with all of them.
But ZOHO stands out, in terms of the range of features that they bring to the table. I have got a list going for you:
- Features: ZOHO as a product company believes in providing solutions to all companies, whether it is an enterprise or a startup. Hence the conscious decision to make it affordable. Features like the Artificial Intelligence layer and Business Intelligence are charged separately by other SaaS competitors but ZOHO gives it as part of the package.
- Scalable Across Your Other Business Functions: ZOHO is known to deliver not only great CRM but other products that compliment your CRM. Like Marketing Automation, Social Listening, Customer Service, Field Service, Surveys, Forms, Chatbots and Web Analytics. When you have everything on one platform, you can easily get one single view of your customer, which is a dream come true for any business.
- Simplicity At It’s Best: Don’t be confused, ZOHO has all the cool features like AI, Business Intelligence, Workflow Automation. But their real achievement is still keeping the layout simple and the learning curve comparatively flat. You can get your team to adapt to ZOHO CRM very quickly and I guess, that’s what you should be focusing upon while making a decision. Ultimately your ROI depends on the adaptability of the software by your internal users (team).
- Great Ecosystem at your Disposal: Due to the sheer growth and market penetration ZOHO has demonstrated in the last decade, there are lot of professionals as well as Global Consulting Partners like us who can help you with your ZOHO Journey. Small businesses should focus on what they do the best, and leave all the non-core tasks to a specialist. To be able to do that, you need a robust ecosystem of ZOHO experts, and ZOHO has got many.”
“I have a whole list of ESPs to avoid, but when it comes to recommending, there’s only one I can 100% recommend, especially if you have an e-commerce business.”
Klaviyo – “Easy to use interface even by email marketing newbies, emails that look good without the need for HTML coding, multiple pre-built data signals when integrating with Shopify, automated email flows to get you started and scalable payment plan – you pay according to the size of the list you email.
Shall I go on?
You can integrate with a multitude of platforms, plus it supports SMS and sign up forms, too. It allows you to see all activity of a contact, which is very handy for understanding your customers’ behaviour.
Reporting is a little more advanced than on other platforms and it is customisable – but I would still recommend building your own reports.
Now if you have a non-transactional website you may be tempted to start with a cheaper solution, like Mailchimp.
But be prepared for your emails to look a lot less appealing and to spend plenty of time trying to work out how to perform simple actions, as the Mailchimp interface is unfortunately more complicated and clunky.”
“There’s no one-size-fits-all provider when it comes to CRM software. Listing and prioritising what you need the tool to deliver is a great way to arrive at your decision. Ending up with a tool that has all the bells and whistles but costs additional time and effort to integrate and then maintain may not be the best way forward.”
Mailchimp – “If you’re just starting out, Mailchimp is a good option. It’s simple to use and can be a cost-effective alternative if you opt for the freemium plan. But as you start scaling you may want to start looking at alternatives that will not only be more cost-effective but provide more sophisticated features.”
Braze / Leanplum – “Having worked on both CRM platforms, on mainly app focused products, I’ve found them both to be intuitive and powerful tools. As you progress in your CRM journey, you will want a tool a bit more sophisticated than Mailchimp – a tool which allows for a lot more testing and analytics. These tools give you exactly that, without the clunkiness and overwhelming UI that come with some of the other cloud-based tools.”
“WhatCRM? exists because many leading CRM brands (in all market niches) offer poor value for money to small and medium businesses, which all have widely different CRM needs. There are lots of simpler, cheaper applications which offer a good fit to most businesses coupled with good customer service – our CRM Application Evaluation Matrix covers more than 50 of them. On average, implementing a CRM generates a 10-20% sales improvement in 90 days and enables more and more further marketing, sales and service improvements into the future.
Many factors affect the CRM choice; just some of the important factors include:
- What functions a CRM needs to cover
- Volume and value of sales
- The nature of customer relationships (B2B, B2C, etc)
- The shape/ size of your team, their skills and the culture
- Your customers’ journey(s)
- The kind of campaigns you’re running
- The benefits you’re trying to achieve
- Integration with your other information systems
- Security / Availability / Cloud or not ? /mobile apps
This means I’m reluctant to list just three CRMs, but that is the challenge 😊!”
GreenRope – “If you want a good value all-in one marketing, sales and operations automation system, GreenRope is amazing value and copes with all channels and opportunity management, forecasting and reporting, etc. Prices are based on the number of contacts in the system (not users) and there are no additional charges.”
Nutshell – “If you want a sales automation application, then Nutshell works well for B2B and B2C users. It is easy to set up and use and I know that many of their users have tried a lot of different CRMs before settling on Nutshell. There are lots of native integrations and of course a Zapier connection. There are a few quibbles about pricing plans and limits, but these only come out when you ask the question “Come on, there must be something wrong with it?!””
EngageBay – “For a marketing automation application, you should consider EngageBay, which is a powerful marketing automation tool offering forms and landing pages with lots of templates. Amongst its many integrations, there’s a LinkedIn connection. Social Media posts can also be scheduled from within the App, allowing you to cancel another expense! One nice feature (at this price) is the visual email automation builder. EngageBay is trying to move downstream into sales and service, but doesn’t yet deserve to be called a sales automation app. It is astonishingly inexpensive, although the email limits seem quite low – check this out before signing up.”
CRM Pitfalls to Avoid
- “Business Owners / Users – CRM is not just an IT problem! IT people – don’t let Marketing, Sales and Service dump it all on you – get an “Executive Sponsor”.
- A lot of preparation and planning is needed before a CRM system can be used for real.
- Don’t just choose a CRM from the well-known brands – most of them are too complex for the needs of a small business and demand a lot from (even too much of) users and administrators.
- Users must be involved at all stages – otherwise they’ll fail to adapt to the new way of working. Train them.
- Dirty data will always be a headache – only import clean data and do everything you can to keep data clean. More and more business decisions will depend on that data being right
- Read the small print of your CRM vendor’s terms and conditions – look for extra charging mechanisms, built-in price rises, capacity limits on data storage, API calls, emails, etc and restrictions on transferring your data out of their system. Don’t forget GDPR.”
“Every CRM platform will do the basic job of tracking your sales pipeline and customer interactions, but we believe that two of them stand out from the crowd if you are a Microsoft 365 (office 365) user. The difference between them usually comes down to how complex your needs are, and how much time you need to spend configuring it to work for your business.”
Nimble – “The first CRM we recommend is Nimble, an ISV (Independent Software Vendor) product that Microsoft promote as the stepping stone between a spreadsheet or notepad and a ‘proper’ CRM – customers often don’t know what they need from a CRM until they start using one and discover the limitations. Nimble is great for retail businesses or those with simple needs to track individual customers and their purchases. Examples are car mechanics, or hairdressers, where your business is quite transactional with repeat purchases.
It is very user-friendly and has some cool features, such as automated connections to LinkedIn and Facebook to collect background data on your customers (if they share this on social media, of course). It also integrates directly with Outlook to help track emails with a single click. It also has a nice clean user interface, which is not something you always find in a CRM platform.
Where it reaches its limitations is when you want to measure more complex data like opportunity by type, customer by vertical or introductory partner etc. which require custom fields and custom reporting. This can make it very onerous for ongoing maintenance and management, which is why we decided against running it internally as we have lot of many-to-many relationships instead of one-to-one.”
Microsoft Dynamics 365 – “The CRM that resolves all these issues, and does everything you could ever want a CRM to do, is Microsoft Dynamics. It too is tightly integrated with Outlook for email tracking, and can surface the relevant details of a customer from CRM along with their email, right in the Outlook client. It also has modules for a dozen other specialist functions, such as Field Service, Project Operations, HR etc. so you will never outgrow it no matter how large or complex your requirements.
The disadvantage of Dynamics is that it is a beast of an application, and out of the box it contains lots of fields that don’t apply to small businesses. This is why we have built a Dynamics CRM Starter Kit within Dynamics, to hide lots of extraneous fields and simplify the process of capturing contact data, converting leads into opportunities, and calculating where to spend your sales efforts based on the likelihood of winning the deal.
We customised our own Dynamics CRM environment along the lines of the above, and realised that most small businesses are like us, they simply need to track who they are selling to, what they are selling, how much for, when it will close, the probability of winning it and what the next steps are to drive it forward.
We then turned our CRM into a templated solution, which means it is very quick and affordable to set up, and once you understand the power of the platform, we can enable any other features you need, including service tickets, marketing automation and customisation to fit your specific business model more closely.”
Salesforce – “Do not be discouraged by the price tag – if you are looking for a CRM platform that not only meets your CRM requirements but also looks after all the technical training needs/CPD for your team, then look no further than Salesforce. Their gamified training platform – Trailhead – will be an engaging (and free) resource to quickly raise the CRM knowledge level across your team and save you more on training time/costs than what you spend on the CRM platform. It comes with a 14-day free trial and there is a huge knowledge library with answers to every conceivable CRM question.”
Microsoft Dynamics 365 – “Even the most basic CRM platforms can represent a steep learning curve for you and your employees. If you are already using Office 365 applications (e.g. Microsoft Word, Excel and Teams) then Dynamics365 is just another application with a similar look and feel which integrates seamlessly with your everyday applications. You can add contacts to your CRM directly from your Outlook email, connect to SharePoint and connect to PowerBI for great visualisations and your team will be using one username and password throughout.”
HubSpot CRM – “I would take a look at HubSpot as it has marketing, sales and servicing in the same tool enabling a seamless ‘single-view’ of your contacts and companies. The reporting is also pretty powerful for small businesses as it will show you which of your marketing activities is the most successful.
The workflows mean you can automate chosen repetitive tasks saving small teams valuable time. The ability to store content, images, snippets and access the email templates will also save time as everything is stored in one place.
The system is fairly simple to navigate but the ‘HubSpot Academy’ with courses and certificate is worth doing – and it’s free! My experience of the HubSpot support and community has also been very positive, so there’s extra help if you need it. There are different levels for marketing, sales and servicing so you can start off small and build from there.”
HubSpot CRM – “This is a super easy tool to use, very intuitive and free to get started. It works for both small organizations and larger ones for both b2b and b2c CRM.”
Salesforce – “Salesforce started out as a b2b CRM sales tracking tool but has turned into an excellent b2c consumer relationship tool as well. It’s flexible, intuitive, scalable and doesn’t require much IT support to implement and run.”
“The CRM landscape is vast with many vendors offering solutions for companies of all sizes and specializing across many industries. Conducting a comprehensive evaluation of what technology is right for you can be challenging and while no single CRM platform does it all, there are so many good solutions available to small businesses that were completely out of reach ten years ago.
The fact is as technology improved (such as with the introduction of cloud-based hosting) and competition increased more and more, vendors have made products designed for the small business in mind with price points that are now attainable let alone sustainable for just about any company size.
The following are three CRM platforms that seem to be the winning choices for my small business customers. I must admit this is a hard list to cull down to only 3 solutions as there are so many excellent platforms out there, but these are the top 3 based on aggregate totals over the last 4 years.”
Salesforce – “Salesforce is the predominant player in the CRM space and while traditionally geared towards the enterprise, they have been investing in their offering to attract and be designed for the small business segment all along. Things have really picked up in the last 10 years or so when CRM technology really took off and competition exploded within the market. This has translated into their ability to offer more functionality at a price point competitive to what you cannot get from an alternative.
Most of my customers who land with Salesforce do so because they have ambitious plans for growth and understand you can start small and expand over time with various modules, functionality and configurations that allow the platform to grow as you grow.
The Salesforce platform has its roots in the sales force automation space (hence the name) but its core is around servicing the overall relationship with the customer (Sales, Marketing and Service/support). Most of my customers who pursue Salesforce have a technical resource internally that understands how to administer/configure the tool or rely on a third-party to do so as they expand it. So while the platform has an overwhelming array of functionality, modules, components and an infinite ability to develop and become the heart of any business, I always recommend that businesses start small and organically mature with it versus trying to do it all at once.
That said, I would say businesses that have clearly defined strategies and a mature outlook of what it means to have such powerful tools driving their sales performance or empowering their marketing initiatives or transforming their service operations are the ones who will most likely make the best candidates for using Salesforce.”
HubSpot CRM – “HubSpot has become a reputable platform serving the small business segment with their roots originally based in inbound marketing. Their platform has a comprehensive footprint (i.e. Sales, Marketing and Service/support) but you can clearly see that the platform has that marketing flair to it.
Most of my customers who are in B2C/Retail, Hospitality or Travel industries have been the ones who landed with HubSpot as their preferred CRM platform. Most of these implementations being marketing focused as well. Depending on the business, you may have a stronger necessity for customer retention vs. prospect nurturing, etc. HubSpot does need some technical expertise around content marketing but nothing a small business cannot handle themselves. Depending on the module or functionality of the tool some configuration is a bit more intricate than others but overall easy to use.
Most of my customers using HubSpot tend to run the platform within their Marketing departments (digital marketers) and are able to be pretty self-sufficient. The platform can definitely expand but is smaller in scope and complexity than what other “enterprise-grade” platforms may offer. Not to be confused here, HubSpot can definitely expand to meet the needs of an enterprise, and where they shine is by offering that top-tier functionality at a price point that is affordable to the small business.”
Microsoft Dynamics 365 CRM – “The last two years have been incredible for Microsoft and while the company has always provided small business solutions in the CRM space, it was with the introduction of Microsoft 365 that things have really changed for Microsoft customers.
The Dynamics 365 CRM ecosystem is made up of many modules, licensing tiers and add-ons with a traditional footprint around Sales, Marketing and Service. Where other vendors have developed cloud-based platforms with some really flashy UI’s (User Interfaces) Microsoft has kept things pretty simple, clean and all in tune with their 365 branding strategy. Naturally, that means if you’re a “Microsoft shop” then there are some clear advantages with purchasing a CRM Platform that seamlessly integrates with your other Microsoft applications (i.e. Outlook, Office, etc.).
I am surprised that many of my customers who end up selecting Microsoft Dynamics 365 tend to have a similar opinion. When asked they say, “It’s a brand that we trust and having comfort in a CRM Platform that will seamlessly integrate with our other day-to-day Microsoft tools is essential”.
Another factor has also been the pricing incentives that Microsoft offers when buying more within the 365 ecosystem. Most of my customers who selected Microsoft Dynamics 365 have internal or out-sourced technical resources to help support any administration or configuration of the tool, but in reality, I have found less customization with Dynamics 365 than I would have expected. While the platform offers a ton of flexibility and configurability, most customers seem to go far less “gung-ho” than they do with other platforms when it comes to configuring. I mean you can but oddly it seems they chose not to. Not sure if this speaks to the out-of-box configuration being pretty middle of the road and useable for most customers or whatnot but it’s a trend for sure.”
Salesforce – “An end to end solution for all things related to Customer Relationship Management. The platform(s) available are all customisable to exactly what you need. Salesforce prides itself on having a solution for every type of user – entry level users to UI/Devs to really tailor what you need. API, PI and local data points are available to suit any business application you’re in.”