Choosing a CRM system for a small business can be a bewildering process. You only have to type “CRM” into a search engine to see how much choice there is on the market and what a big industry it has become. There are some well known names, like Microsoft and Salesforce, who have sophisticated CRM systems available. But they are often not suited to small businesses whose needs differ from large enterprises. Why Does a Business Need a CRM System? You can keep track of customers and leads using email and spreadsheets quite easily, so what is the point of buying a special system to manage your customer relationships? Most businesses buy a CRM system to help them stay competitive, keep customers and track sales. Or, in other words, they want a system that will help them handle the detailed business of keeping customers happy. Using spreadsheets and email to manage your customers might work if there is just one of you in your business. But, when you have two or more people in your business who deal with customers, then basic spreadsheets and email systems make sharing of information about the customers very difficult, which can have a negative impact on your overall management. For instance, let’s say you have a conversation with a customer and record it in a spreadsheet that is only accessible by you. If you go away on holiday and your customer rings up to follow up your conversation with a different colleague, how are they going to know what was said and agreed in the conversation you had? CRM systems help you to be more professional and productive with your customers. So, where do you start in choosing a CRM system for a small business? There are three questions you need to ask to get the right CRM tool for your business: Is it easy to learn and use? Can I use it on my smartphone? Is the pricing understandable and affordable? 1. Is It Easy to Learn and Use? It is vital to buy a CRM system that is easy to learn and use. It’s tempting to buy a system rich with features and the possibility to do cool things, but the more features you have in a CRM, the trickier it is to learn. If it is not easy to learn then you will need special training courses. Training courses cost money and take time. In a small business, you rarely have the luxury of either of those items to spare. Out of the wide array of online CRM systems on the market, here are three to compare that show the difference between advanced services and those that are easier to master: Salesforce - This is the “Big Daddy” when it comes to CRM. It is used by many businesses around the world and is packed with features and capabilities. However, if it’s the first CRM you try then it can be quite a task to understand how to use it effectively for your small business. Microsoft Dynamics CRM - Microsoft is better known for Windows® and Office®, but they also have an online CRM system. If you use any other Microsoft products then it will look familiar to you and should be easier to learn to use. Base - This is one of the simplest CRM systems on the market. It is easy to learn and easy to use for people who might be using a CRM for the first time. Base comes with a set of online videos to show you how to use it. Keep it simple and get a system that you can learn to use in less than an hour. 2. Can I Use It on My Smartphone? It seems like an odd question to ask, but many CRM systems are great to use online through a web browser. But, you need to choose one which has a mobile version that can be used by smartphones. Why is this important? When you are visiting a customer, you need to be able to remind yourself what you last spoke about before you go into the meeting, and then note what you agreed in the meeting afterwards when it is fresh in your memory. It’s much easier to open up your CRM on your smartphone than it is to boot up a laptop before and after the meeting. Here are three CRM systems that can be used on your smartphone: Capsule CRM - This is not only a simple CRM to use but one of its great advantages is that you can use it on recent versions of the three major smartphone platforms (Blackberry, Android and iPhone) making it ideal for companies whose staff do not all use the same smartphones. Base - Base has mobile applications for Android and iPhones. The mobile version synchronises with the online system seamlessly and has a neat feature that asks you if you would like to record calls from customers to your smartphone to the CRM. WebCRM - WebCRM provides a mobile version of its CRM free for all users of its web version. It is available on a wide range of smartphones. 3. Is the Pricing Understandable and Affordable? Cost is an important factor and most CRM systems are surprisingly expensive. They often require a monthly fee per user with add on costs for using it on your smartphone, or other features. Find a CRM system with a simple pricing model that you can easily understand and has a free trial period, so you don’t commit before you know you can use it. My personal favorite CRM is Base by Future Simple. It is ideal for small businesses and meets all three criterion. It’s simple to learn and use. The mobile application works brilliantly on Android, making it really accessible, and it’s cost nothing so far to use. Benchmark FTW Don\'t miss your chance to win a Kindle Fire. Each comment, Tweet and ReTweet of a Benchmark FTW post gives you a shot at winning. Check out the full details on the Benchmark FTW series and contest.
Will Hawkins is the sales supremo for Lighthouse IP and writes about technology and business on his blog, Digital Business. He has worked for technology companies including Microsoft and Hewlett Packard, and runs his own online retail, online training businesses and affiliate marketing websites. Will focuses on helping small and medium sized businesses find new customers and generate new business through social media, creating effective presentations and internet marketing consultancy. Will lives in the UK with his wife and two children, and travels extensively for business and pleasure.