CRM, or Customer Relationship Management, can make a significant improvement on your business and amplify your sales and marketing automation efforts.
If you are not sure which customer relationship management CRM is best suited for your needs and want to know how to choose the best CRM software for small business, read this guide to help you make an informed purchasing decision.
What is a CRM?
Let’s start with the basics. Traditionally, the term “customer relationship management” is in reference to the entire business strategy used to manage customer information and interactions. However, what the term “CRM” typically refers to is the CRM tool used to manage, record and analyze information such as contacts, sales, productivity-related metrics, and any other important data related to client relationships.
A customer relationship management CRM isn’t just for sales and business teams — a CRM tool can also be used for contact management, marketing campaigns, customers service, accounting, and more.
Customer Relationship Management may also refer to:
- The business strategy that concerns interactions with sales leads and existing customers.
- The processes that businesses apply to interactions with sales leads and existing customers.
For the purposes of this article, we are going to focus on the most common definition of a CRM: the management software used to optimize the way you engage with your customers across email, social, and more.
How CRM Helps Your Business Grow
Establishing a proper workflow in regards to sales processes and marketing automation can make a huge difference for your business by successfully distinguishing you from your competitors. There is no better way to organize your business processes than by using a CRM.
CRMs such as Nimble work within your existing Office 365 or G Suite apps to unify you and your team’s inboxes, calendars, social platforms, communication histories, and more into a single database.
As mentioned, CRM tools aren’t just for sales teams. Here are some overlooked benefits:
- Manage your sales leads: identify, record, and categorize contact information on potential customers in a quick and easy manner.
- Improve your customer support: all client history (including customer interaction history and any issues that may have come up in the past) is saved in one place, making it possible to provide faster, more personalized support.
- Improve collaboration between departments: a CRM unites all teams while still giving them the means to focus on their specific task. By making all details accessible in one database, you eliminate the need to contact another team every time specific deal or contact information is required.
- Increase work speed and productivity: a good CRM can also help with marketing automation such as follow-up emails or posts on your company’s social media.
- Give your sales a boost: Track and manage your deal pipelines and sales funnel in one scannable platform. Analyze them to create forecasts and strategies.
All things considered, the question is not whether your business needs a CRM – it is how to select the right CRM system.
Decide on CRM Deployment: Cloud vs. On-premise
One of the most difficult decisions on the way to choosing the ideal CRM system is to choose a deployment model: cloud (on-demand) or local (on-premise). Let’s weigh the pros and cons of each of these options.
Pros and Cons of Cloud Solutions
Cloud computing is at its peak. By purchasing a cloud CRM, you:
- get the perfect solution for a small company. Unlike the CRM system in the on-premise model, there are no maintenance costs. In addition, the load on the system administrator is reduced, and some of the tasks are transferred to tech support at the vendor’s company;
- save your money. The on-demand model is more cost effective because you no longer need to buy servers and invest in their deployment and administration;
- provide real-time access to data for physically remote offices. When comparing on-demand and on-premise solutions, it should be noted that the former accelerate the implementation of the CRM system. You do not need to search for additional resources such as hardware or IT staff. Moreover, the suppliers of cloud CRM solutions will take care of the system updates and its maintenance and support.
Nevertheless, despite the fact that every year more and more companies transfer all their digital business solutions to the cloud environment, there are situations when the choice of on-demand CRM may not be the most successful:
- low level of data security. A cloud CRM system is not reliable enough for some businesses that need special privacy;
- rather difficult integration with third-party solutions. Since the server is located outside your local network, the integration of a CRM system with other systems becomes possible only through special protocols.
Pros and Cons of On-Site CRM Systems
Even taking into account the high popularity of cloud solutions, some companies still choose on-premise CRM systems, and here is why:
- extremely easy integration with applications. If you understand that in order to successfully implement your business processes you will need to integrate with third-party software solutions, you should definitely turn to a CRM system with the ability to deploy on your own physical servers in order to use direct access to the database;
- enhanced data security. When comparing on-demand and on-premise deployment models, it should be noted that the latter is more often used to ensure a higher level of data security and reliability;
- end-to-end data control. Placing a CRM system on your own server allows you to gain absolute control over data, customer information and all company activities.
Talking about the cons of such systems, there are not that many:
- you will probably need to hire a staff system administrator to maintain the system. To manage a local CRM system, you need to have a specialist at your disposal who will take on all the responsibilities for deployment, configuration, administration and support;
- as the computing requirements of your local network increase, you will need to purchase and install additional hardware.
Know What Features and Functionality You Need
Let’s see what features and functions you need to pay attention to when choosing a CRM.
- A simple and intuitive interface that can be customized. Users should not be distracted by unnecessary elements of the system. It will be great if you can perform the target action within your CRM in no more than three steps. This will not only significantly reduce the entrance threshold for those who are slower to figure out technological innovations, but also minimizes the likelihood of errors by employees who adapt quickly and perform their duties “on automaton”.
- The ability to manage security and differentiate access to data. Of course, your CRM system should ensure the safety and security of data. Therefore, it is very important to understand whether specific software provides employees with access only to that information which they need to work. Otherwise, an error of one employee may lead to leaking of your company’s commercial secrets.
- The history of changes. The system administrator should be able to see who and when made changes to the documents in order to replicate the course of events if there are any problems with inaccurate data. Therefore, the application should provide for the possibility of autosaving for previous versions of documents, so that they can be restored if necessary.
- The ability to independently add new functionality. The implementation of a CRM system is usually quite a long and complicated process. Therefore, if it provides the ability to add new functions, this will be a significant advantage to ensure that you won’t need to search for software from third-party vendors or contact the developers.
- Ability to disable extra functionality. According to the number one requirement on our list, redundant functionality is not good at all. Too often it slows down the work of employees and disorients beginners. Therefore, in order for all your employees to work comfortably, your CRM system should offer the ability to turn off the functions that are cluttering the workspace. Thus, your employees will be able to see only those buttons and fields that they need to work.
- Quality control of input data. If an employee enters data that duplicates existing ones, or data that does not correspond to valid parameters for a specific input field (for example, numbers instead of letters and vice versa), the CRM system needs to inform them about this. This will eliminate situations in which a good part of entries in the CRM will be incorrect.
You may have some individual requirements for your future software. For their systematization, you could use a standard Excel spreadsheet or Google Spreadsheet. List these requirements in order of priority and set estimates for each item on your list for all CRM options you are considering. This will prevent you from getting lost in the sea of options and make an informed choice of the right CRM system for you.
Make Sure the System Integrates with Other Applications
We can all agree that it is more convenient to send emails directly from the window of the client management system rather than a separate web service for emails. In the same way, it is convenient to edit documents and publish corporate news on social networks without leaving the CRM application and without switching between numerous windows.
Therefore, no matter how impressive the functionality of your future CRM and no matter how intuitive its navigation is, all these advantages are negated by just one feature: the lack of integration with third-party solutions.
Generally, solutions “custom-tailored” for a particular company and a specific business niche are guilty of this. Nevertheless, we are sure that there are already fully-prepared commercial solutions with a very limited list of integration options. Therefore, whether you are engaging developers for a similar project or looking for a ready solution, do not forget to make sure that the chosen option meets this crucial requirement.
What Are The Most Important Features of a CRM?
There are certain features you’ll want to have in your CRM. The requirements may vary depending on your business’s specifics, but some things are universal.
When looking for the best CRM software, you have to think about which functions are absolute must-haves. Here is a handy checklist for you to refer to:
1. Tracking interactions
This is absolutely the most important feature a customer relationship management CRM needs to have. It is standard in 94% of CRM solutions available on the market. Store your records in one place to provide fast, high-quality customer support and seamless interdepartmental interaction.
Nimble’s Today Page allows you to quickly track interactions and scan your sales pipeline, calendar appointments, tasks, sales intelligence, and social signals to stay on top of priorities and work more effectively.
2. Document storage
The ability to attach documents to records within the customer relationship management CRM can significantly speed up the workflow. Some CRMs integrate with an external storage system such as Google Drive or Dropbox, while others offer their own internal storage folders.
Similarly, Nimble syncs with +130 others SaaS Business Apps including Salesforce, Hubspot, Quickbooks, Zendesk, MailChimp, and more to unify you and your team’s contact records.
3. Pipeline view
Having the possibility to see the progress of every stage in your sales pipeline is a great help in identifying the weakest spots in your business processes and to optimize them accordingly.
How many clients that you’ve reached out to proceed to the negotiations stage? How many potential leads end up becoming your customers? Are there any cross-selling opportunities? These statistics help you understand which stages you need to focus on improving.
Nimble automatically ties your team’s tasks, events, and communications to each deal to ensure everyone is on the same page with each of your customer interactions and opportunities.
4. Integration with different devices
Your team will need to be able to access the CRM from mobile devices if you want it to serve as an effective, omnipresent time-saver. Nimble’s customer relationship management CRM mobile app will help you prepare for meetings by delivering sales intelligence, customer information, and detailed dossiers about the people you’re meeting. Use it to follow up and follow through more efficiently with our visual pipeline manager.
5. Integration with social media
Social media is one of the most powerful channels for marketing and marketing automation, and the possibility to interact with customers straight from the CRM system will definitely come in handy. Nimble CRM solution works within popular social networks such as Linkedin, Twitter, and Instagram to help you surface prospects, sales leads, and contact information.
6. User-friendly interface
It is quite important to find a CRM solution that is easy to use and implement. An intuitive design and a simple, clutter-free interface will help your employees work more effectively. Thus, they will have more time to engage with top prospects and sales leads.
Nimble is optimized to work alongside your Office 365 and Google Apps inbox, so it’s everywhere you work without the stress and restrictions of having to log into a separate CRM tool.
You will be dealing with a lot of private information about a lot of customers. The worst thing that can happen to a business is a leak of client details. Rebuilding lost trust is a much harder task than making sure your CRM system is secure in advance.
Choose an Industry-Specific Vendor with Local Partners
As practice shows, it makes sense to begin the search for a CRM with solutions that are specific to your business niche. This will give much more guarantees that the acquired system will fully meet your expectations.
Another equally important factor in the choice of a CRM is the presence of regional partners. So, in case any problems occur, you can contact the technical support service. Within the stipulated time frame, an employee of this service will come to your office to complete all the necessary settings and fix the existing problems. After all, unfortunately, not every system administrator, no matter how experienced, is sufficiently authorized and competent to perform all these procedures on their own, without the skilled assistance of specialists from the software supplier company.
Questions to Ask When Evaluating CRM Software
Before you jump to figuring out which CRM software is best for your particular business, it might be a good idea to ask some general questions. Here is a small checklist for your convenience:
- What is the type of this CRM? A cloud-based CRM tool can be used from anywhere in the world, and on-premise CRM software needs to be installed on the company’s servers. Both types have their own pros and cons.
- How much does it cost? Some basic plans are available for free, other CRMs cost thousands of dollars. There are, of course, plenty of options in between for every budget. Nimble is great for business teams from 5 to 40+, but also benefits entrepreneurs.
- Can it be upgraded for free, or do you need to account for future upgrades when planning your budget?
- Can it be scaled up to fit your evolving business scenarios?
- Does this CRM tool offer technical support? Nimble has an amazing customer support team.
- How easy and intuitive is it to use the CRM software?
Research these factors thoroughly, and create a shortlist of potential CRM tools based on them. After that, you can start applying your business specifics to your shortlist.
How Do I Evaluate Which CRM Is Best For My Company?
When looking for the best CRM for small business, you need to ask yourself some more questions to get a clear picture of what you require.
Here is a handy guide for choosing the right CRM solution for your particular business:
- How many people will be using the system? CRM solutions typically charge per user, but some of them have free plans for a limited number of users. Nimble offers a 14-day free trial for you and your team to get started.
- What is your business area and how does it influence the functionality you need?
- What is your budget?
- Do you prefer to work with cloud-based CRM tool or on-premise software?
- What are the main features you need to be included in the CRM solution? Is it the lead generation tracking, the sales pipeline, storage, or something else? Are there any that can be omitted to reduce the cost?
- Do you need integration with other software, i.e. email or accounting systems?
After you’ve answered these questions, you are going to have a clearer picture of what you are looking for. Of course, we think Nimble is a great CRM solution for small business teams.
How Much Does CRM Software Cost?
The cost of CRM software depends first of all on its type.
On-premise CRM software installed on company’s servers costs several thousand dollars. Add to that the necessity for maintenance and the cost of installation, which requires professional work. On the bright side, this is a one-time payment.
Cloud-based CRMs such as Nimble, which are the more popular choice nowadays, charge per user per month (or sometimes per year). The prices vary depending on how many features are included in the plan.
It could be anywhere from $5/user/month to $500/user/month, but think $30/user/month on average. Nimble charges $9 a month when paid annually for its contact plan, and $19 a month when paid annually for its business plan.
Some CRMs, however, offer free basic plans or even free full plans for a limited number of users (e.g. up to 10), but many do not offer the robust features ideally needed.
How Many Employees Do You Have?
This is an important question directly related to the previous one, as the cost of a CRM depends on the number of people using it.
Large enterprises with many employees often find it more profitable to purchase an on-premise CRM solution, even with the additional maintenance costs. Several thousand dollars up front seem like a huge sum of money, but take a plan that costs $20/user/month, multiply by 100 users, and you will have spent the same amount within half a year.
Nimble is ideal for business teams with 5 to 40+ individuals, but it also works for small businesses and entrepreneurs looking for a marketing automation and contact management solution.
What is the ROI of a CRM?
The average price of a CRM might cause some business owners to question whether it is really profitable in the long run. What it comes down to is the cost of the software, its maintenance, the work of the development team, and the necessary training for your employees versus the increase in performance and speed, thus better customer satisfaction and higher sales that implementing a CRM solution will bring.
Nucleus Research ran a study which found that the average returns for every dollar spent on a CRM are $8.71. The numbers are, of course, approximate, but they paint quite an optimistic picture, don’t they?
If you want to dig deeper and calculate the possible ROI for your particular business from the CRM of your choice, there are calculators online that let you do just that.
The Key to CRM Success
If the calculations you have done are correct, and you have given careful consideration to the most important questions that were discussed above, you are already halfway to success. In general, CRM software boasts very good results in terms of ROI, so if your chosen software fits the needs of your company you have high chances that it’s going to work out well.
Just remember to select the functions you need carefully, and make sure your employees familiarize themselves with all those functions. Your goal is to facilitate their work as much as possible, and the key to CRM success is the user experience it offers.
Prioritize the User Experience
Once again, the purpose of the CRM is to optimize working processes at your company, which is why a simple and user-friendly interface is crucial. A CRM with numerous functionalities is not necessarily better than a simplistic one when it comes to user experience.
The less time your employees spend on trying to figure out features within a CRM solution they might never actually need, or a design that doesn’t look like anything they’ve encountered before, the more time will be devoted to productive work.
A perfect CRM software has an intuitive design. Besides, it might be a good choice to go for a CRM with the ability to assign user roles. Giving employees access only to those functions they need in their particular field of work will make things much easier for them, and for the smooth functioning of your project as a result.
Choosing Your CRM: Tips and Tricks
It is likely that you are still hesitating over how to choose the best CRM system.
For an owner of a small business, a cloud-based CRM that can be operated from anywhere is more convenient than an on-premise option. On the other hand, on-premise CRM is a one-time payment, which might be more cost-effective than regular payments if you are settling in for a long run. It’s up to you to decide the best CRM for startup in your particular case.
Pay attention to cost vs. value. The cheap solution might not include some features important for your specific business, and you will end up having to pay for another program to pick up the slack. The most expensive CRM, on the other hand, might have a lot of features, but not many that you actually need? Before making your choice, try to jot down your list of must-have functions, and go from there.
And finally, remember that the best way to evaluate a product is to give it a try. Most CRMs offer demo versions or free trials lasting for anywhere from a week to a month, so make good use of them! You can sign up for a free 14-day trial of Nimble here.
Step-by-Step Process of Choosing a CRM Vendor
Generally speaking, choosing a CRM vendor requires four simple steps:
start searching with industry-specific solutions. As we already mentioned, this gives a lot more guarantees that you won’t have to resort to using third-party software solutions or torture your system administrator with constantly tuning the functional components you need to work;
try to find a suitable solution among vendors with local partners. Even if your system administrator cannot cope with the configuration or troubleshooting of the system, you will be able to call an employee of the company that partners with the one that released your CRM. It is also a good idea to clarify whether the partner you’ve found specialize only in the implementation of the CRM, or if they also provide consulting services (this is especially important for those companies that have never worked with such systems before);
ask the local partner about the availability of certificates confirming the qualification level of the specialists, and learn about their previous experience of deploying a CRM system in other companies. It would be great if you manage to contact the companies (as a rule, the partners indicate them on their website) that have already used their services to quickly discuss their experience of cooperation. There is a possibility that the information you receive will come as an unpleasant surprise;
find out if your CRM vendor offers training for specialists. Most CRMs are quite difficult in the initial configuration and require a special level of skills from system administrators. Therefore, before giving preference to one or another CRM solution, do not forget to find out how much it will cost to set up a tailored solution, and also whether it is possible to conduct training for your employees (it’s very important to make sure that this is not an ordinary online tutorial but full-fledged live interaction with the experts of the software supplier.
With the number of solutions that are currently available on the market, selecting the right CRM software for your business is not an easy task. It is, however, crucial for your business’s development. Contact relationship management CRMs offer a wide range of useful functions at varied prices, so anyone can find a solution that suits them. Asking yourself the right questions and taking time to research the options before jumping in is the best approach you can take.