Are you keeping track of customers and new leads on Excel spreadsheets? On documents? In the notes app of your smartphone? Why?
When your business is really small it’s one thing, but as you get more customers and sales leads, it’s harder to use these methods to record all the information you have about your customers. If you have multiple employees interacting with customers, you need to make sure they share and maintain data in consistent ways. It can be confusing for your sales team to keep concise notes about interactions in a spreadsheet or word processing document. And then you end up neglecting some customers or bugging others with the same questions over and over.
Time for customer relationship management (CRM) software. A good CRM platform can gives you—and your whole sales team—an easy interface across devices to consistently record all of this information. It can move sales lead tracking from individual employees’ devices to a single, backed-up repository that anyone can access. It can help track the performance of individual sales and customer service employees. Many CRM systems can assist with marketing and contact automation, letting you send automated emails, text messages and other correspondence to your customers.
What to look for in CRM
Cost – Naturally, you’ll want to understand how much CRM software will cost to use. Many charge a fee based on how many people within your business will use it, but some may have other plans available. Do a rough estimate of how much the CRM software programs you’re considering will cost.
Data storage and security – Also consider how exactly the CRM software will store your customer data and how easy it will be to import and export information. Most CRM tools store the data on cloud servers owned by the software maker, so you don’t have to worry about storing the data locally. Keep the bulk of your information stored in the platform’s server, then occasionally export active customer lists, reports on sales conversion rates, emails sent to and from customers and other information as you need it. See how easy it is to do this and to load it into other tools you regularly use, like spreadsheet programs. At the same time, make sure the CRM program delivers practical security. This might include requiring your employees to use secure passwords and other security protocols, like potentially confirming logins through two-factor authentication. And consider whether it logs who is accessing sensitive customer data.
Ease of use – You’ll want to think about how easy it will be to get started using the CRM tool you’re considering. Figure out how intuitive the software is to use. Try a free demo if the maker has one, and see if your core employees who will be using it find it useful and efficient—or annoying. And check to see if there’s an easy way to import your existing customer lists without having to retype data.
Added features – Another factor, of course, is exactly what the CRM software enables you to do. See how well it lets you log your interactions with customers and, if it’s a feature you’re interested in, set up automated email interactions to woo existing customers into new purchases and leads into new customers. Make sure there is a robust listing of capabilities, so that your chosen plan grows with you as you need it.
Popular CRM software
Check out these four platforms, all known for reliability and ease of use.
Zoho CRM – You can track lists of customers, set up automated emails, generate sales reports and charts and even host informational webinars for customers. It offers plans at a variety of price points, including a free plan if you have a very small business with just a few CRM users in your group.
Salesforce Sales Cloud – A giant in the industry, Salesforce has adapted its enterprise-level software for small businesses. This platform is known for its extensive customizability, so you can select your own process management, integrate with third-party tools, control access to information and more. Start with a free trial before signing up for a monthly plan.
HubSpot – The company offers a free plan that’s suitable for many small businesses with simple needs for contact management and automated emails. With an emphasis on tracking, contact and marketing functions, HubSpot also features hubs for help desk service, content marketing to optimize your website and more.
Pipedrive – Known for being easy to configure and use, it’s a good choice for small businesses without a lot of resources to devote to learning and adapting CRM software. Test it out with a free trial. You can sign up for a plan, priced per user, then add more features.
Shop around for a CRM product that has both the features you want today and additional features that can help you in the future. Also, be sure to choose a platform with strong customer support to provide guidance if and when you need it.
And, of course, be sure that your company’s internet service is up to the task. With all of that uploading and downloading, fiber, if it’s available to you, is a great option.
Product features may have changed and are subject to change.