My favourite CRMs for Small Business.
A large chunk of my time is spent helping people streamline their marketing efforts. A CRM is an essential part of this. Here are my tips on:
Selecting the right CRM for your business
Identifying when your existing CRM is not working
I’ve also put together a list of my three favourite CRMs for small business.
Disclosure - Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning that at no cost to you I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. I have marked these links with *.
What is a CRM
CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management Platform. They help businesses take all of the companies data from various silos (Marketing, Sales, Accounting, Customer Service) and put it into the one place. This helps the company to make better decisions and streamline their operations.
Some smaller companies try to manage all of this information in spreadsheets, which is fine, but inefficient. Other companies make do with ancient CRMs that take a long time to load, are hard to use and require an IT degree to perform all but the most basic functions in.
This is not ideal, and will end up costing you time, money and potentially staff.
What is the right CRM for my business?
A good CRM is essential to your businesses day to day activities. It saves time, helps ensure that everyone is on the same page and ensures that you are aware of opportunities for new business development.
The right CRM for your company will depend on a number of factors including:
Budget - A CRM is usually a significant investment, but will also have a big impact on your sales and growth. Make sure to select a CRM that you can afford and suits the stage of business growth that you are in.
Users - Some CRMs have a lot of features, while others strip them right back. Chose a CRM that is right for your staff and their level of technical literacy. Some CRMs price based on the number of users, so it’s important to take this into account when making a selection.
Mobile App - If you have a large sales team who need to be on the road all the time, then you need a CRM with a mobile App.
Complexity - The more features a CRM has, the more difficult it tends to be to setup and use on a daily basis. Some CRMs tend to be more marketing focused, while others lean more towards sales of customer service. Choose a CRM that feels like it works with how your business already operates.
Legal Requirements - Some industries (e.g. Healthcare) have specific legal requirements when it comes to the collection and handling of customer data. This means that they might not be able to use cloud based solutions. Make sure you know about the relevant legislation in your country and industry before selecting a CRM.
Support - What happens if something goes wrong? You should always choose a CRM that has some form of support available. Do they have a support team based in your country? If not, can you afford to wait hours, potentially days when a problem arises?
Track Record - CRMs take a lot of time setup properly and you don’t want to go to all of that effort only to have to do it again in a couple of years when the company who built the CRM goes belly up. Likewise, some established companies have a history of making companies dependant on their product before ramping up their prices significantly. Do your research on the company behind the CRM.
Integrations - What other software does your company use. Ideally, the CRM you choose will integrate directly with these other software packages. If not, you might be able to integrate them with third party apps like Zapier or IFTTT.
Some early warning signs that a CRM might be a bad choice include:
No Demo/ Trial - Most CRMs offer at least a two week trial to get a feel for them. If a CRM doesn’t have this option, then you’ve got no way of knowing if it’s the right option for your business. The biggest cost when setting up a CRM is usually the time you spend configuring it and getting it right. Don’t take a gamble on a CRM, and only go for options that allow some form of trial.
Speed - CRMs are meant to save you time. If it takes ages to change from screen to screen, or load a list of customers then it’s time to ditch your CRM. It’s only going to get slower the more you add to it.
Rogue Automation - I’ve had triggered emails get sent out to customers multiple times because the automation of the CRM was buggy. The actual company (Agile) would regularly send out multiple copies of the same email to me, so I knew it wasn’t just the way I’d setup the campaign. Be sure to test anything involving AI or automation rigorously before involving your prospects, leads and customers in it.
No one uses it - A CRM should make people’s lives easier, and if it’s not, then you need to figure out why that’s the case. This is a tricky problem, and might not be so much about the CRM as it is your company culture. Staff not using a CRM could be because they don’t understand the platform, or it could be that there is a culture of blame within your organisation, and they don’t want to put themselves in the firing line. Try to fix the CRM first,
My Favourite CRMs for Small Business
Activecampaign* - Feature rich and affordablemarketing automation and CRM platform. From $49 per month.
Zoho Contacts Manager - Very simple to use CRM. $17 per month for up to 25 users and 10,000 contacts.
Bitrix 24 - One for the nerds out there. Bitrix 24 has almost too many features. It’s free for up to 12 users, and reasonably priced for any more then that. Be warned, only the most technical teams should try to use this CRM.
Pricing: $49 USD Month (1000 Subscribers)
Activecampaign is an all in one CRM. It is similar to popular but expensive platforms like HubSpot. Activecampaign has a range of features that small business owners will find particularly helpful including:
Email Marketing - Send emails to your customers with Active Campaigns built in WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get) editor.
Marketing Automation - Use triggers (such as a new signup, clicking on a link, viewing your website, or not viewing your website) to send emails, create tasks or assign customers to various lists. A must for growing businesses, particularly e-commerce, fitness, consultants or anyone who relies heavily on lead generation campaigns.
CRM - A centralised database of your customers and leads, along with the ability to create notes and assign tasks to team members.
Task Lists - Create tasks for other people within your organisation to perform
Lead Generation - Embed-able forms allow you to send customer details straight from your website (or any other page you control) through to Active Campaign. This includes popups, banners etc.
Activecampaign is brilliant not because of the sheer number of features it offers, but because of how easy it makes them to use.
Pricing is based on how many subscribers you have, so the platform grows as your business grows.
It also eliminates the number of other software packages you have to use and connect up to each other by incorporating a CRM, Marketing Automation Platform, Project Management System, On Page Chat, SMS Marketing etc.
Great For: Marketers, E-Commerce Stores, B2B Companies, B2C Companies, The Fitness Industry, Consultants.
Bad for: Companies with a large number of inactive contacts. Active campaign charges per contact, and it can get expensive if you’ve got poor quality contacts from bought lists in your database. I’ve put together an argument for why you should cull these contacts here.
Zoho contacts manager is a very basic CRM. It’s great because it doesn’t try to bamboozle you by having too many features, and sticks to the only the core features of:
Contact Management - With the ability to add notes and tags.
Task/ Deal Management- Create tasks for other people within your team
That’s it. It’s really simple to setup, quite powerful once you get the hang of it an best of all, is very affordable at just $17 per month for up to 10,000 contacts and 25 users.
It has integrations with Mailchimp, G-Suite, Outlook, Facebook and Twitter, and is designed to save you time. It also features an easy to use mobile app for accessing customer data on the go.
Good For: Sales Teams, Small Businesses, Companies with very small budgets, Companies who already use mail chimp.
Bad For: Companies with complex marketing requirements. For these companies I recommend Active Campaign*.
Bitrix 24 is the opposite of Zoho Contacts Manager. It’s not simple in any way. What it lacks in simplicity it makes up for in features.
It’s much more then just a CRM, and includes:
Staff Portal & HR Area
Tasks and time tracking
Invoicing and quoting
Social Media Management
Much much more.
It’s free for some features, with paid plans for others, and there is a lot more then what’s advertised on the front page under the hood. I even found a function that would record footage using your webcam, and then use facial recognition to link who it saw with their social profiles. This has awesome potential for events and retail, but its legality is questionable.
The only downside with Bitrix 24 is that it’s complex to setup, and not the most user friendly package ever. You'll either need a tech savvy team to use this CRM successfully, or to invest some time in training and support so that everyone is on the same page.
Good for: Tech savvy teams, Teams that want everything in the one place, Spies.
Bad for: Technically challenges people, teams that don’t want to spend a lot of time setting up their CRM.