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10 min read

Choosing the best small business CRM software

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software can seriously elevate how you interact with your customers and improve business efficiency – but the range of features and functionality can be overwhelming. Choosing the right CRM software for your needs, therefore, is a big decision, especially as you’ll likely be establishing it as a key business component over many years.

What is CRM?

CRM stands for ‘customer relationship management’ – a strategy designed to improve a company’s interaction with current and prospective customers. CRM software does this by collecting and organising customer data, analysing it to understand their needs and automating marketing campaigns to increase sales. It will streamline your sales pipeline and save you time liaising with and retaining customers.

Picture this: You’re a shop owner and meet your customers face-to-face every day. You get to know their purchases, preferences and are there to help with any queries or requests. Establishing and maintaining strong customer relationships is key to your business’s success. CRM is the modern equivalent to this. Your shop-front consists of your owned assets such as your website and social channels. It’s where you present your brand to customers: What you sell, your story, your style. Your CRM system is your shop counter. It’s the place where you get to know your customers. You then take their data, improve your service and grow your business.

As you’ll have heard before, keeping an existing customer happy is less expensive than acquiring a new one (which can be between 5 to 25 times more expensive, depending on your industry). CRM software gives you the best opportunity to do this. Invest time in your CRM – once it has the data and you/your team know how to populate and use it; it will become the gift that keeps on giving.

What are the benefits of CRM software?

Here are some of the main benefits of using CRM software:

  • Better service – analyse and segment your customers. Target and service them more effectively.
  • Increased sales – manage and streamline your pipeline by keeping track of performance metrics.
  • Staff productivity – one central base to log customer interaction, organise workflows and auto-assign tasks.

Turning insights into actions

One of the key benefits of CRM software is it takes away the guesswork and allows you to shape a more accurate picture of your customers.

Reward loyalty

Quickly identify the customers that have the best transactional relationship with your business, helping you reward them with exclusive discounts and rewards.

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Encourage positive word-of-mouth and online reviews for your business by taking care of those who are already purchasing from you.

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Identify and resolve issues quickly

On the flip side, you can quickly determine customers who might be trailing off and need a bit of nurturing.

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Catch them before they’re gone with incentives such as exclusive discounts, free trials or showing them you’ve pro-actively addressed any negative feedback from them.

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Futureproof your sales and marketing strategy

Embrace all that a CRM system enables: a better service, increased sales, staff productivity.

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It’s very likely your competitors are using CRM software already and making gains in your industry without you realising. Adapt with the times to stay top of your game.

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Give your customers what they want

Customers expect more than service with a smile. If they opt-in to hear from you, they expect to be approached with products that reflect their preferences and purchase history.

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Make it easy for them to buy a product or book a service by approaching them with a tailored, relevant package.

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Surpass expectations

Many customers demand a certain level of service and availability from businesses, especially online. There’s an unspoken assumption that many brands should have a social media presence.

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Whether it’s producing engaging content, announcing news and offers, going behind-the-scenes or fielding customer service questions, a brand’s digital presence regularly goes beyond its own website. Having a system that can inform and streamline this activity to meet demand will not only save time in-house, but it’ll be much more effective.

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Types of CRM software

 

1. Operational

The primary goal of an operational CRM is to integrate and automate sales, marketing and customer support. Most CRM dashboards will display a snapshot of these three areas including client information, sales history, previous marketing activity and a relationship summary between the customer and the business. It will help you effectively target customers during various stages of the sales funnel such as a welcome email following a subscription or a ‘you might also like…’ email following a recent purchase. The same can be applied to prospects – you can track contacts and turn them into qualified leads once they’ve met certain criteria, triggering specific marketing campaigns. You can also automate customer service interactions, freeing your team up to focus on other important tasks.

Screenshot of Salesforce dashboard

This Salesforce dashboard gives you a view into how sales and marketing are working together, helping both departments make data-driven decisions.

 

2. Analytical

Make informed business decisions by analysing your customer data across multiple channels. Analyse pre-existing databases to generate new information (“data mining”) and look at correlation to uncover and address any problems. For example, you might learn that different groups within your customer base prefer a certain type of marketing approach or have particular pain points in relation to your service. A group of customers may not have made a purchase recently, so you might want to tailor a marketing campaign specifically to them via a particular channel. There are thousands of targeted marketing approaches out there; you just have to look at the data to tell you which direction to go in.

Screenshot of Zoho dashboard

Zoho CRM’s advanced analytics dashboard helps you monitor every aspect of your sales cycle.

 

3. Collaborative

This type of CRM software is particularly focused on customer experience. Streamline communication across everyone – the customer, the company and even external stakeholders. By sharing customer data across departments, you can provide the best possible service. For example, if your technical support team logged a call, they can record within the CRM software and this could inform how your marketing team communicate with them moving forward.

Screenshot of Insightly dashboard

Insightly offers a dashboard that helps users view onboarding account details, sales status and where this fits into the pipeline.

 

Most well-known CRM software packages offer these elements under one roof. It’s important to note however that some features are included within a CRM package, while other more specialist features can be included for an additional fee (e.g. Zoho MarketingHub is an all-in-one marketing automation software that you can purchase in addition to Zoho CRM – see table below). This varies from company to company so keep an eye out on what is exactly included in a CRM package, and what’s considered as an add-on or a separate package in its own right.

Do I need CRM software for my business?

Don’t be intimidated by the unknown. A lot of CRM software is built for small businesses, or offer lighter, affordable versions of their main product. Many are simple to use, quick to grasp and offer technical support should any queries crop up.

If you want to grow your business, you need to seriously consider CRM. Not only will it keep your customers feeling loved and happy, but it’ll streamline your sales pipeline and lighten your workload via automation. Organise your contacts and segment data to fully inform the next steps in your marketing strategy. Don’t forget it’s not just what you’ll be able to achieve with a CRM system in place, but the other areas of your business the can receive increased attention as a result of introducing these efficiencies.

Checklist: Things to think about when choosing CRM software

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Who are the main CRM providers for small businesses?

Provider

Highlights

Cost*

Insightly

  • Easy navigation.
  • Good integration e.g. Microsoft Outlook/Office365, Xero, Google Apps/GSuite/Gmail, MailChimp, Slack.
  • Track sales and manage leads.
  • Automate routine tasks.
  • Create real-time business reports.
  • Good support including video tutorials.
  • Online access, mobile applications for both Android & iOS.
  • Business card scanner.
  • Affordable.

Per-user/month, billed annually:

  • Plus: £23
  • Professional: £38
  • Enterprise: £77

Trial for free or request a demo. Free needs assessment included, plus small business usage tips.

 Zoho CRM

  • A popular choice for SMBs that want to get going with CRM quickly and affordably.
  • A web-based CRM system that is highly customisable.
  • A great solution for tight budgets, looking for helpful data.
  • Good scalability and integration with other software.
  • Responsive support team.
  • Recently introduced Zia – an AI sales assistant, offering insights on trends, conversions, etc.
  • Zoho MarketingHub also available, offering additional features such as website behaviour tracking, survey campaigns and a marketing planner.

Per-user/month:

15-day free trial.

  • Standard: £10
  • Professional: £16
  • Enterprise: £30
  • Ultimate: £85

Free package worth trialling out the features but paid plan will offer more for your money if you’re planning serious business growth.

HubSpot

  • HubSpot offers a completely free version of its CRM, making it a popular option amongst SMBs.
  • Basic features provided such as a clean, visual dashboard, company insights, deal tracking and pipeline management.
  • Sales, productivity and individual performance reports.
  • Includes tools that notify your salespeople the minute a prospect opens their email or visits your website.
  • Free meeting scheduling, live chat, email templates and click-to-call functionality.
  • Customisable and integrates with popular apps such as SalesForce and Shopify.
  • Add-on services for when your business grows e.g. Marketing Hub and Sales Hub.

FREE forever.

Unlimited users, data and up to 1,000,000 contacts with no time limit or expiration date. Whether you’re a team of 1 or 1,000. Full pricing details.

Starter, Professional & Enterprise pricing options per ‘Hub’ e.g. Marketing Hub, Sales Hub, Service Hub if you want extra features.

  • Starter: Starts at £42/month
  • Professional: Starts at £330/month
  • Enterprise: Starts at £990/month

SalesForce

  • Coined the world’s no.1 CRM platform for business of all sizes.
  • Massive range of features.
  • Great customer support.
  • Track sales journey, automate.
  • Single view of each customer.
  • One-click reports.
  • Good scalability.
  • Can be integrated with 3,000+ apps. Secure mobile app.
  • Sign up for a guided tour.

Per-user/month, billed annually:

  • Lightning Platform Starter: £20
  • Lightning Platform Plus: £80
  • Lightning Platform Unlimited: Request a Quote

SugarCRM

  • A low-cost solution for SMBs with a straightforward sales process.
  • Good scalability.
  • Mobile version.
  • Sales-force automation.
  • Marketing campaigns.
  • Customer support.
  • Collaboration.
  • Mobile CRM.
  • Social CRM and reporting.
  • Guides and webinars available.
  • Free trial and request a demo feature.

Per-user/month starting at:

  • Sugar Professional: £31 (‘meet the needs of fast-growing small businesses’)
  • Sugar Enterprise: £51
  • Sugar Serve: £62
  • Sugar Sell: £62
  • Sugar Market: £780

Pipedrive

  • Built for salespeople in scaling teams. Great for managing leads, tracking communication and automation.
  • Good integration with other software. Mobile app available.
  • Useful Support Centre including webinars and videos.

 

Per-user/month/billed annually:

Free 14-day trial.

  • Essential: £12.50
  • Advanced: £24.90
  • Professional: £49.90
  • Enterprise: £99

*Costs as recorded and as per exchange rate on 27.10.19. Conversions rounded up to the nearest pound.

There are a lot of CRM systems to choose from. The above are a few of the popular ones, however, it’s always worth Googling and finding some more to trial, especially if they’re popular within your industry.

How do I pick the right CRM for me?

Shop around. Most CRMs offer a free trial that expires after a certain length of time. Make use of this to ensure the platform and features suit your business best. See how much you can get from the most cost-effective package. Trial the cheapest option first to see what features you might want to pay extra for down the line. Start small and work your way up based on how much you / your team use it, the results you see from it and what you’d like it to achieve for your business in the long term.

Don’t forget to ask around – see if anyone in your network would recommend a particular CRM software provider for your industry or business size. What features do they use the most? Do they have any pain points? Would they switch to a different provider if they could? See how they apply CRM to their business and get a feel for their day-to-day usage to help visualise how your business might implement one.

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