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Small business CRMs

Small Business CRMs: Where to Start?

This is part one in a series that aims to help people at every stage in their business make an informed decision when choosing a CRM. In the coming weeks we’ll cover everything from seed-funded startups to examining the massive market of billion-dollar enterprise systems.


The CRM market is expected to expand to a $37 billion business over the next three years. As it stands today,  five CRM companies command nearly 48 percent of all platform use, according to research firm Gartner. However, a mere 1 percent hold of a $37 billion market means revenues of $370 million annually. With that in mind, it’s no wonder that we’re seeing so many new systems come to life.

But which one is right for you?

Finding the Right CRM

The question of “which CRM is right for my business” has a lot of potential answers, but most of them require another question – “what do you need?”. Though it’s important to note that we’re not simply referring to your needs for today, because every company is in business with the idea that it will grow. With that in mind, being able to look six months, a year or even five years down the road is paramount to long-term CRM success.

Fortunately, breaking down the needs of typical companies within different size and life sectors makes the decision process a bit easier. That’s what we’ll attempt to do here, based upon information that we’re pulling from our previous SaaS survey as well as other sources around the Internet.

We’ll start out with small business CRMs, then work our way up to Enterprise CRMs over the next few weeks.

CRM for Young, Small Businesses

At this stage in the life of your company, you’re probably keeping closer tabs on expenses than you will at any other point in the future. You’ll also do well to integrate systems that play well with each other while not forcing you to branch out of your established workflow. That said, here’s our checklist for finding the right CRM for younger, smaller companies:

  • Free or Freemium
  • Interfaces with existing applications
  • Fits into existing workflow
  • Fills a verifiable need

What Do You Use?

Let’s start by taking stock of what tools are already in your arsenal. Your email client and provider are good places to start, because many systems integrate directly with them. Are you using Google Apps Gmail, or have you chosen a custom solution from someone else? Where do you read that email? If it’s in the browser then a many options are going to be available through extensions or plugins. If you’re using a dedicated client, you’ll lose some of those capabilities.

The other, huge system to look at is your marketing. Are you using a marketing automation platform to stay in touch with current and prospective customers? Make sure that whatever CRM system you choose fits in with that platform.

If you use a separate email service provider for things like newsletters and product announcements, you’ll also want to look at them. Many companies choose to separate these from their marketing automation, so make sure that your chosen CRM is going to play nicely with those contacts.

What’s the Need?

Now that you’ve taken stock, you have to ask yourself what need a CRM fills. In short, are you having a funnel problem or a closing/retention problem? Solutions to a funnel problem will likely help you to focus more on outbound reach than on closing the deals that you already have. Conversely, CRMs that will help you close new and retain existing customers are going to interplay well with your email drip campaigns and they will deal with multiple “touches” between you and those customers over their lifetime.

Closing & Retaining

If you’re looking for a close/retain focus, simplified systems such as Streak (which works inside of your existing Gmail or Google Apps inbox) will be a good bet. Not only does Streak work within your Gmail, it lets organizations of any size collaborate and share information about the different communications that have happened with a customer.

In addition to Streak, Yesware has another great option that operates in a similar manner. Yesware’s focus on operating from within your inbox will speak to many business owners. From email templates to tracking and analysis, Yesware boasts a load of features. And as your company grows, it will even integrate directly into Salesforce if that’s the route that you choose.

Improving Your Sales Funnel

The other side of this story are social CRMs, which will help to increase your sales funnel. There are loads of great options here, but three stand out to us for their balance of features, ease of use and affordability:

These are just a few of the companies that have offerings which should meet your needs. Even better, some of them are FullContact customers. Ultimately, there’s no single best decision for any company, but arming yourself by asking the right questions will certainly make the decision easier.


While big names like Salesforce, Oracle and Microsoft Dynamics can certainly be used in newer, smaller businesses, they’re not always the best choice. You’re starting small and running lean, and you need a CRM system that operates the same way that you do.

In the next few weeks we’ll take a look at CRM systems for medium-sized business. While some of the determining factors will stay the same, there is a decided shift in focus that happens when you cross the 100 employee mark – especially when a good portion of the whole is focused on marketing.

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