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Picking a Small Business CRM Platform

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Dave Pelland has extensive experience covering the business use of technology, networking and communications tools by companies of all sizes. Dave's editorial and corporate experience includes more than 10 years editing an electronic technology and communications industry newsletter for a global professional services firm.

Picking a Small Business CRM Platform

Picking a Small Business CRM Platform

Customer relationship management (CRM) software can provide a number of powerful benefits for small businesses, but the wide range of features and CRM providers can make identifying the most effective solution for your company challenging.

CRM features vary by provider and customer industry, but most platforms are designed to help companies track their pending and recent sales, customer contacts and order history, email interactions, payments, and other important details.

Some important features to evaluate when you’re comparing CRM platforms include:

  • Lead management and sales tracking. CRM will help you track leads through several methods, such as notifying your sales team when a prospect contacts your company or downloads information from your website. The platform will also remind sales reps about the need to follow up at the appropriate time.
  • Customer records. A single screen will list every interaction a customer has with your company, as well as their latest contact info. Some platforms will import customers’ social media feeds if those tools are part of your sales process.
  • Email marketing. Some CRMs include email templates with messages you can customize and send automatically to prospects at different stages of the buying process. Depending on the platform, similar functionality may be available for text messages.
  • Reporting and dashboards. Most platforms summarize data such as daily, weekly or monthly sales and customer interactions into reports.
  • Collaboration tools. Some platforms allow sales reps and managers to share documents and hand off the next interaction with a customer to help reinvigorate a stalled sales process.
  • Task management. Some platforms help teams coordinate next steps and offer basic project management tools.

Understand Your Needs

Because CRM tools offer different features, knowing your goals and understanding your sales processes are important early steps in researching potential providers. Common reasons for implementing CRM include increasing customer satisfaction (and sales), helping your sales team close more deals, tracking a customer’s interactions with your company, integrating your marketing tools with your sales process, and other goals.

As you’re considering your CRM needs, be sure to talk with the sales reps and customer service staffers who will be using the platform daily. Your team members may have used a CRM platform at a previous job, and can share helpful feedback about how well it may have supported them.

Other important factors to consider include:

  • Ease of use. If a CRM platform is too complicated, people will revert to their old habits and your investment will be wasted. It has to be really easy to enter information such as comments after a call, or people won’t bother.
  • Integration with other tools. Some CRMs allow the automatic exchange of data to and from your finance, billing, email service provider, ecommerce platforms and other tools. This automated exchange of data increases efficiency dramatically while reducing the risk of mistakes from manual data entry.
  • Mobile app. Some CRMs have a mobile app that lets sales reps or field workers access or update information remotely. Similarly, business owners or managers can run reports and review data after hours.

CRM providers offer trial periods or stripped-down versions to allow potential customers to test their platforms. While research is important, hands-on testing will probably provide the most valuable insights as you compare CRM tools.

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