Sales are undoubtedly the most important part of any business, and customer relationships are the key to unlocking more sales. The relationship between a business and customers goes beyond the moment someone walks into a store; it starts with the very basics - names, addresses, etc. - and builds over time.
Managing customer relationships correctly, from beginning to end, leads to better marketing, increased sales, better customer loyalty, and a host of other benefits. It’s not a small task, however. It involves tracking lots of basic data as well as monitoring communications and purchase history.
The task of managing customer relationships used to be far too big for any one person; it involved teams of people from secretaries to sales managers. Today, the entire process has been streamlined and simplified by using dedicated Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software.
What is CRM?
CRM is a modern solution to an age-old sales problem: how to manage all of the information that comes with recurring customers. In today’s digital world, companies can use CRM software to track and store all of that information, from emails to address info, in a single source.
Think of the simple Rolodex - a physical index of business cards. The staple of many a businessman’s desk in the second half of the 20th century, the Rolodex give marketers an early database of people who might be interested in their products. It also let them keep track of key individuals on the supply chain for their businesses. Nothing was digital, of course, but the Rolodex was still a hugely helpful tool.
It was also an early form of CRM. The cards in the Rolodex represented people who were current or potential customers. Each one had a relationship with that particular business, a relationship that grew over time. Today’s CRM packages use the same principles; they provide a digital method for keeping track of potential customers, with the added benefits of also tracking communications, sales, and other pertinent information.
The earliest attempts at a digital CRM approach began in the 1970s and 1980s, and amounted to little more than a digital rolodex of contact information. Nevertheless, the idea of database marketing was born from those earliest efforts; the idea that customer information could be collected, tracked, and used to improve marketing efforts.
What does CRM do?
Today’s CRM aims not only to track and store customer contact information, but also to help manage current marketing efforts as well as to inform future efforts. In other words, CRM tries to be a one-stop shop: a database of current and future clients as well as a program that helps facilitate current marketing and sales efforts.
Modern CRM software packages track client communications, sales, and invoices, among other options. They allow the business owner to see, at a glance, the status of the company’s relationship to a particular client.
CRM software is just one part of a broader CRM approach. Those approaches emphasize the need for a strong relationship between business and client, and CRM software makes maintaining that relationship easier.
Current delivery models
Today, most CRM software packages come in the form of Software As A Service (SaaS). These are typically cloud-based applications, often billed monthly rather than as a one-time fee. The cloud-based solution allows SaaS CRM software to be updated frequently and easily, without a cumbersome installation process on-site.
Good CRM software solutions also provide a high degree of automation; automatic responses can be sent to certain communications and certain actions triggered under the right conditions. Because of the automation factor, many CRM software packages specialize in certain industries. You’ll find CRM for restaurants and restaurant managers and CRM for real estate agents, and of course you will find more generalized CRM packages that aim to provide everything with excellent options to better manage their customers.
While businesses of every size use different CRM packages, this article focuses primarily on small to medium sized businesses. Businesses at that size can see a vast improvement even from a basic CRM subscription.
Best CRM Software for Solopreneurs
Even one-person businesses can benefit from CRM software. Since a CRM suite performs the work of several individuals, from secretaries to sales managers, small and one-man businesses gain the advantage of several additional workers in one suite of software.
With that said, what’s the best CRM for the smallest businesses out there? If you’re a freelancer or solopreneur, consider these choices. Most of them offer some project management features as well as customer relationship management.
A CRM aimed to help you streamline your leads and sales processes. Close lets you automate communications and marketing campaigns, integrating multiple channels with each other - emails, calls, video conferencing, the entire works.
NetHunt keeps things simple; essentially, it works as a CRM suite add-on for G-Suite’s tools. Most importantly, it integrates seamlessly with Gmail, which most small businesses are already using as their default email client. The basic subscription plan starts at $24 - perfect for an entrepreneur just starting out.
Automation and analytics - that’s Zoho in a nutshell. The automation features for marketing outreach and communications alone make the software worth it, but Zoho adds an entire suite of analytics tools. Zoho offers over 40 built-in reports that can be generated, allowing you to see the effectiveness of every step of your process. Zoho has features enough for larger businesses, but can be incredibly useful for businesses of any size.
Best CRM for Medium Size Businesses
From non-profits to restaurants, the “mid-sized business” category encompasses a wide range of businesses, each of which can benefit from CRM software. Here are some of our favorites.
Funraise is a CRM that focuses on non-profits, uses a simple overview to let you track every aspect of your donor relations, from payment methods to donation frequency. You can also view basic contact information and assign members of your team to specific donors. Funraise also provides the normal range of CRM functions, including communications and subscriptions. Funraise subscriptions begin at $350 per month.
Mention CRM, and you have to talk about Salesforce. One of the first and best CRM solutions out there, Salesforce comes loaded with features. In fact, one of the few drawbacks to Salesforce is that it arguably has too many features, making for a fairly steep learning curve. The company has also expanded beyond a simple CRM package, with software packages for customer service more specifically, as well as ones for building app and service platforms. Salesforce remains an in-depth CRM solution with built-in chat, contact management, and AI analytics options. Subscriptions begin at $25 per month.
A CRM designed for smaller teams, LionDesk is an excellent CRM for real estate agents, nonprofit organizations, or small businesses. The software features an AI assistant to automate communications and responses. Indeed, the LionDesk CRM is built around communications - you can design and automate a text or email marketing campaign and see all the responses in one location, with dozens of options regarding how and when to send out your campaign. LionDesk is also one of the cheapest specialized CRMs out there, with a free trial and then prices starting at $25 a month.
Copper provides one huge advantage for anyone who uses it; it integrates almost seamlessly with G-Suite, Google’s huge array of tools. That means that you can use Excel to track inventory and your accounts, and Google Docs to share memos and policy updates. Copper is marketed at individuals, not businesses, which means it’s billed per user; plans start at $19 per month.
Best CRM for Enterprise
Most CRM suites will provide similar tools regardless of how big your company is or what market you focus on. Here are some of the best CRM suites available, packed with features and loaded with options. If you’ve got a busy schedule and lots of clients, trying to balance the customers you have while trying to add new ones, consider one of these to take your enterprise to the next level.
Customer relationship management aims to develop connections and relationships with potential clients, with the end goal of generating leads and sales. Pipeliner makes that idea explicit in its very name. With an impressive app and a simple design, Pipeliner provides an easy-to-use suite that can be adopted quickly by new users.
An incredibly popular CRM solution that warrants further attention, HubSpot has gained a huge following for at least one major reason - its most basic plan is free. HubSpot offers premium subscriptions, of course, but is loaded with many features - such as custom deals for your clients and contact management - that are free without a paid subscription.
Commence is another CRM giant; the software suite includes help-desk features to boost your customer service, as well as integrated email systems and project management software. Like Salesforce, Commence is far more than “simply” a CRM suite. You’ll find a nearly-endless array of tools, allowing you to customize your approach as needed.
Choosing the right CRM software
How do you choose the right CRM software for you and your business? Here are a few things to keep in mind.
The size of the CRM package doesn’t matter; the size of your business does. Are you managing yourself? Your own restaurant? Or an international non-profit organization with donors from all over the world? Each one will demand a slightly different approach to your CRM software.
Does your ideal CRM incorporate social media channels? Will you need integration with accounting or tax software? After you consider the size of your business, you’ll be better able to assess the features you’ll need. Both of those together factor into the third consideration, which is:
A good CRM can easily pay for itself. Even a CRM that costs hundreds of dollars a month might only need to gain you a single new client to pay for itself for a year. Large organizations may find the cost of even the most expensive and feature-rich CRM packages to be a mere drop in the bucket. Of course, if you’re just starting out for yourself, a free CRM software package might be ideal. Just make sure that it meets your needs and provides the features your organization requires in order to thrive.
Customer relationships are ultimately at the core of any business. The traditional methods of face-to-face networking aren’t gone, replaced by faceless, AI-driven CRM software. Instead, good CRM software works with you to enhance your opportunities for those face-to-face relationships. Choose a CRM package that provides you with the best tools for your favorite methods of building a relationship.