What is a CRM for Small Business
and how to choose it

You can hardly use the description "tools of trade" for anything more precisely than for Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems. Sitting on top of the list of most important tools for business management, CRM systems are often the victims of confusion in small business circles. This is mostly because, throughout a decades-old history of CRM software, it's been regarded as a costly investment that's difficult to justify for small business owners.

However, the times have changed. You can hear the term "Small Business CRM" more often every day. They are becoming more mainstream, simpler and significantly less damaging for the budget. So let's take a closer look at what makes a CRM system accessible and appropriate for a small business.

We'll be looking at some characteristics of a CRM that you should consider while choosing a system for your company. At the end, you'll find several suggestions as to which Small Business CRM you should try.

Table of contents

  1. The purpose of CRM
  2. What is a Small Business CRM?
  3. Benefits of Small Business CRM
  4. 7 things to consider when choosing a Small Business CRM
  5. Top CRM systems to consider for your Small Business

1. The purpose of CRM

Matthew Guay in his book "The Ultimate Guide to CRM Software" defines a CRM as "an app that helps you manage your relationships with current and prospective customers". While this definition is somewhat simple and broad, it catches the essential purpose of this kind of tools. CRM systems can have dozens of features and integrate with multiple services, but they have to contribute to this broad goal. "They’ll help you see the big picture, and then know exactly what to talk about the next time you email someone—or what your colleagues have already asked them", Matt continues.

There's seemingly a little limit to what a modern CRM system can do for a company. From tracking every step and click of a potential client to powering the analytics with the most advanced AI available to consumers, the usual question is "Do you actually need all of that". Not to say that the advanced CRM functionality is nothing more than a gimmick, but not every business needs it, let alone, can afford it.

Because of all the associated heft of a CRM in its traditional sense (price, installation and support costs), it's often considered a tool for big companies and enterprise. But the overall goal of implementing a CRM is something every business struggles, no matter it's size or market presence. This is where a subcategory of this software takes the stage - a CRM for Small Business.

2. What is a Small Business CRM?

A Small Business CRM is a lightweight CRM system aimed at satisfying the needs of small business companies and solopreneurs. Small businesses usually don't need the top tier advanced functionality geared towards major market players, so CRM vendors mostly include the basic CRM functionality.

Such systems are designed around the most common needs of small companies, at the same time excluding top obstacles that prevent companies from implementing a system in the first place. While there's no clear defining line when a Small Business CRM turns into an enterprise-level system, here are some of the most characteristic features of such systems:

Core Features

Small Business CRMs do not provide as many features and capabilities as their enterprise-aimed counterparts. Major CRM systems cater towards deeper analytics and including a whole range of specialized services like custom app development. Small Business systems mainly concentrate on core CRM functionality, trying to keep entry pricing to a minimum and providing more advanced or supplementary features in their top-tier packages.

Easy to Start

With Small Business CRM systems (especially cloud-based ones) all you need to do to get started is just create an account. From there on, you only need to add team members and adjust the system to your workflow to start using it right away.

Aimed at Small Teams

Theoretically, most CRM systems can be used by any number of users, from 1 to 100 and more. However, Small Business CRM systems usually design their pricing to be most suitable for a small team of around 5 users. This way small teams can make an easy choice of committing to the system.

Affordable Pricing

While the CRM systems are getting more affordable with each year, the difference between enterprise and small business solutions is measured in hundreds of dollars. Even the smallest difference can become noticeable over time, especially when a team is growing.

Some CRM solutions for small business even provide free service to small teams, although. While the feature range might be limited when compared to the paid tiers, it's often enough for the small companies to get into managing their workflow with the help of a CRM.

3. Benefits of Small Business CRM

A CRM system, first of all, is a tool for business management. A very powerful tool, that is. Without getting into the details of added features that many CRM systems have, here are the key aspect of your business that a CRM system can help you improve.

Analyze buying patterns

Even though a CRM system isn't only a sales tool, salespeople will get the most use of it. With all order history and clients data, CRM presents itself as a powerful analytical tool. It lets you analyze the buying habits of your regular clients to custom tailor special offers for them that they would likely be more susceptible to.

You can discover your most popular products, proving that you might want to concentrate your resources on them, instead of spreading thin on the stuff that nobody's buying.

Follow-up on client and deals

As Shayla Price from Kissmetrics puts it, "Automation can become dull and too predictable." With a CRM system, you can create a follow-up schedule to reconnect with leads and remind them about your offer. A rare client is ready to instantly make a purchase, but a non-intrusive personal message, which wasn't sent by a bot, might help them decide in your favor.

Faster communication

When you integrate your CRM system with your preferred channel of communication with clients, your response time significantly increases. Because of CRM system automatically pulling up client data, for example, the moment you receive an email from a client, you can run through this data and get into the context of the deal. So even if you weren't originally dealing with that client, you can get into the stream without digging through spreadsheets.

Improve marketing strategy

By analyzing your client buying patterns and habits, you can implement them in your marketing activities. This goes for both, you general email marketing and for the personalized messages.

When your marketing activities go hand-in-hand with the sales efforts, there's a higher chance of closing a deal and, what's more important, sound consistent in your overall activities.

Provide a better customer service

Customers treat your company as a single entity. It doesn't matter whom they've previously spoken to - they remember giving you their details so why should they repeat that? With a CRM you can pull out all of the necessary data that would help you to sort out any customer support case before the clients get frustrated.

Standardized processes

When several people work with the same system or on a document, it might lead to discrepancies in data or its formatting. But when you setup a CRM that where every field follows particular rules, you don't have to deal with contradicting information, duplicated data or occasionally see pieces of client information that do not follow your requirement.

4. 7 things to consider when choosing a Small Business CRM

The best part about choosing a CRM system for your business is knowing that you can actually allow yourself you make mistakes. While this is possible, do not expect that your first-choice CRM system will stay with you for long. In reality, after some time of use, you’ll eventually notice where it falls short. So, while you’re still running your CRM in the trial mode, test as your actual use cases as possible.

Also, judging a CRM system by some of its key aspects will help you make a weighted choice. Sara Angeles in a research for BusinessNewsDaily defines 7 characteristic features of an SMB CRM system:

1. Easy to use. CRM systems for enterprises are generally geared towards the needs of management, not the actual people who use the system on a daily basis. Because in small business the decision maker is often the same person who'll also be using the system, CRM software for small business must be easier to master to be chosen as an appropriate solution by the small business owner. If the system is simple enough to onboard its users without paid webinars and training, it'll additionally cut the costs of implementations.

2. Customizable. There are no two same businesses. Even if you decide to go for a CRM system that caters to the broadest audience, you'll quickly find yourself in need of tuning it up a bit. Adapting a CRM to exactly your business is what makes or breaks the CRM adoption for many companies.

During a trial period (which most systems have) it's important to run your use cases through the system and see how it complies. CRM may come in several packages with different functionality, so it's worth making sure that the one you're choosing fully satisfies your company needs.

3. Third-party integration. Many CRM systems try to cram as many features as possible into their service. This often results in an overpriced and complicated product.

Instead of hunting for a CRM that can do everything, search for a system that integrates with what you use. Come up with a list of integration requirement and see how they do it. For example, not many systems include the lead capturing capabilities natively, but they can be easily added via Zapier integration.

4. Niche-based. Depending on the industry you're in, there might be a CRM for that. CRM systems are generally geared towards a sales process. However, a common procedure may vary from one business to another.

For example, if you're in real estate business, a dedicated real estate CRM system would allow you not only manage deals with potential property buyers but would also integrate with third-party property listing or would be preset to create your own listing. Keep in mind that such CRM systems might be more pricey than a generic one, although, the later one, might allow for customizability that provides you with similar results.

5. Cloud-based. Deploying a CRM system on your own equipment is a way to go for having a complete and unquestionable ownership over your business data. However, for a new business, deploying a standalone CRM system is a significant expenditure item (both deploy and support).

A cloud-based CRM allows to quickly set up a CRM and access it from any device. Additionally, nothing holds you back, so if after some use a particular CRM proved to be unsatisfactory, you can easily migrate to another one.

6. Mobile access. Many businesses may be working in the field much more often than sitting in front of their desktop PCs. An effective small business CRM should provide you with a mobile access to its data. Hence, a native Android or iOS app would be a great supplement to the core system. Worst case scenario, a system should at least allow for an access via a mobile web browser.

7. Security. The CRM data is one of the most valuable resources for your business, so you should feel safe about entrusting it to a service provider. Carefully read the software privacy and security statements and, if you still have questions, better ask the CRM company representatives directly.

5. Top CRM systems to consider for your Small Business

Choosing a CRM system for Small Business is a more difficult task than it might seem at first. The problem is, there's no one size fit all solution. You need to carefully think through what are the key activities you're planning to use a CRM for, what is your budget, how many people on your team will be using it, etc.

Here are some popular systems that generally fit the purposes and limitations of a small business.

NetHunt CRM

NetHunt is a user-friendly email CRM inside Gmail. It introduces a simple, yet effective concept. NetHunt lets you turn any email into a CRM record. This way, when a client or order email arrives into your inbox, you put it into the CRM folder with all of the related client data. The best part - there's no "other" app or service to keep open. The CRM database, pipelines and todo's - everything is available from inside Gmail.

While many systems concentrate heavily on sales purposes, NetHunt CRM has a very customizable structure so you can manage almost any type of activity in it; from sales and projects to customer support, real estate and software development.

Being a fully Gmail-based CRM, NetHunt also adds a marketing automation platform to your inbox, letting you send personalized mass mail messages, which openings you can track. If you're a Gmail user, you'll be quick to get used to how NetHunt CRM works. And with all those features included (with no limitations), it costs only $25 for a team of up to 5 people, making it one of the most affordable systems on the market.

Why it fits small business:

  • CRM for inbox and Gmail users;
  • Affordable for teams ($25 for 5 users);
  • All additional features included: email campaigns, tracking, follow-ups.

Insightly CRM

When you need a straightforward solution, Insightly might be it. Most of the CRM capabilities revolve around contact management and social integration. You get a system that's mostly preset for managing your leads and their passing through the sales pipeline, so there's little holding you back in terms of onboarding.

The second most important aspect of Insightly is it's project management capabilities, providing small businesses with a one-stop place for tasks management, projects or events. However, where it might fall short for a small business is customization. With so many preset aspects, Insightly is difficult to customize, to perfectly reflect your business workflow.

Why it fits small business:

  • Free plan (up to 2 users);
  • Straightforward and easy CRM;
  • Pre-setup for contact and project management.

HubSpot CRM

You might be familiar with HubSpot thanks to its marketing automation solution, so you can expect the CRM to complement its functionality. HubSpot provides you with a free system which spots the basic CRM functionality. There's enough functionality to manage your contacts and deal in a card-based layout or, which is probably the most satisfactory feature of HubSpot, to automatically fill in some customer related data, taken from his or her LinkedIn profile.

The interface of Hubspot CRM is pretty clean and simplistic, yet it manages to display the key customer information where it's needed. The records structure is also quite flexible, letting you rearrange fields on the fly, to keep the important stuff on top. The CRM features are basic, but enough for a small team. If you'd like to get the full advantage of the Hubspot sales and marketing platforms, you can easily connect them to your existing CRM database. However, this will cost you A LOT!

Why it fits small business:

  • Easy to use;
  • Free CRM system with basic functionality;
  • Automatically searches LinkedIn for customer data.

Zoho CRM

Before you jump into Zoho CRM, you should know that Zoho is actually a whole new and different ecosystem, somewhat comparable to G Suite in terms of services that it provides. So right off the bat, if you're willing to fully dive into this ecosystem, this might greatly complement your business management experience.

Zoho provides a free CRM experience to teams of up to 10 users. This will provide you with a separate platform for team collaboration, customer management, and analytics. There are some rather robust customization options and expandable functionality, but they're out of the free plan. While this is more than enough if you're a small and developing business, either the team limit or the outdated web interface of the free app will eventually force you to upgrade to a paid tier.

On the other hand, Zoho CRM provides its users with a wide set of features, ranging from lead capturing to automation. However, keep in mind that some additional features are actually the separate products that integrate with the CRM, so when approached recklessly, it might hurt your startup budget.

Why it fits small business:

  • Free for up to 10 users (limited functionality);
  • Wide range of additional features (native and 3rd party);
  • Social media integration.

Pipedrive CRM

If you'd like to go full sales pipeline and get it the most kanban-style possible, then Pipedrive is what you're looking for. Almost everything in Pipedrive CRM revolves around a sales pipeline. Every card in the pipeline view represent a deal and Pipedrive does its best to reflect as much necessary information as possible so you don't need to fully open the deal for the details. Another aspect is a customizable dashboard that provides sales agents with an overview of their current tasks and a recap of the latest pipeline activity.

Pipedrive is clearly actioned-focused. It's all about closing the deals even in whichever currency you need. However, this is where one might notice that while Pipedrive is great for managing the sales process, it lacks in supporting the actual relations behind the deals. So once a deal is closed you might have troubles returning to the customer to refresh the client information in your memory. Pipedrive might not have all of the features that top-tier CRM systems usually boats, but they aren't necessary for a small business.

Why it fits small business:

  • Simple CRM with sales-oriented pipelines;
  • Affordable ($12 per user/month);
  • Informative activity dashboard.

Even the best CRM for small business is only a small aspect of your venture success. Without a good sales team or the basic knowledge of how to use your CRM effectively, the system will not be able to demonstrate its full potential. Follow NetHunt CRM official blog for more CRM tips, tricks, and tutorials.

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