Customer relationship management (CRM) systems help micro business owners to keep all of their communications together.

If you’re a company struggling under a growing mound of paperwork, any kind of streamlining is hugely appreciated. But it can be easy for a micro business to buy the wrong system, overloaded with features that they don’t need, draining their pockets unnecessarily.

To give you some steer, we’ve asked an expert what you should be looking for in a CRM as well looking at what’s available on the market right now.

What is a CRM?

A CRM is a customer relationship management system. It’s a technology that’s used to manage interactions with customers and potential customers. They can help increase sales, improve customer service and increase profitability.

It’s a more advanced solution to keeping information in spreadsheets, electronic documents, in a notepad or even in your head.

They collate data and turn them into actionable insights. Everyone in a business can update records and access this up-to-date information. On top of that, they often have contact management, lead management, sales forecasting, instant messaging between employees, email tracking and integration and file content sharing as well as dashboard-based analytics. Some premium services provide extra features.

You can get a desktop CRM which runs on a single computer, a client/server database stored on a server and normally self-hosted or a cloud system hosted by a third-party provider.

What should I be looking for in a CRM?

David Midgley is the director of Total Processing, explains the most important considerations to make when you’re shopping around.

If you’re a micro business looking for a CRM system, it’s likely you’ll be looking to improve the relationships you have with your existing customers as well as potential new customers. Through adding information to leads and existing customers, you can build and maintain quality relationships.

As a micro business, you’re looking to grow and you need a CRM system that will enable you to store data in an organised manner, even as you expand. As you expand, you’ll also need greater insights into your sales reporting. It’s important to know exactly where each lead stands in the sales funnel so that you can target them appropriately, whether this is through call, email or any other marketing method.

If you’re an e-commerce micro business, it’s advantageous to use a merchant provider that offers both a payment gateway and a great CRM system. You don’t just need a provider that can take secure payments; you need one that can provide reports and insights into your sales data, as well as in depth customer insights. This way you can use different targeting strategies for new customers, existing customer and loyal customers to upsell or retain.

A greater understanding of your commercial activity as well as your customer will enable growth.

If your CRM system is the same system that takes your online payments, you’ll want to ensure you check out their reviews for system failures and downtime. Downtime not only means that you can’t collect revenue, but it also means data cannot be recorded or it can even become lost during a system failure.

Take these vital factors into account when choosing your CRM system.

Cost-efficient

You’re a micro business; you don’t want to spend too much on a CRM system. Pick a reasonable budget and match your business needs to a CRM system that has the best features that meet your needs.

Some platforms have free trials so that you can decide whether you like it before you commit to purchase.

If you do go for it, make sure you know how the payment structure works. Some of them charge per user while others charge a fee for a certain number of users.

User-friendly interface that is easy to use

You’re new to CRM systems; you want one that is easy to use. It’s highly likely that in a micro business you’re extremely busy, which means you’ll want a system that you can use with ease. Remember you want a CRM system to streamline your day-to-day life, not complicate it.

Sales reporting and customer insights

Your business wouldn’t be running without sales or customers, so you really need to understand your data. Understanding your sales data not only highlights red flags, it also highlights opportunities. The more you know about your customers, the better you can meet their wants and needs as well as provide a positive experience for them.

Easy to integrate and offers integration with other tools

Later down the line, you’re going to be using a lot of tools – or maybe you are already. Your CRM system will be at the heart of everything you do, so ensure you choose one that connects to useful tools within your industry.

Good reviews

Reviews have become a huge considering factor for consumers and choosing a CRM system is no different. Don’t just listen to what the provider has to say about their company, take time to look at their reviews.

David Midgley is the director of Total Processing, a payment solution and CRM provider.

What CRM systems can I buy?

It’s a little more difficult to say as there isn’t a CRM specifically for micro businesses – though there are plenty out there for small businesses. The key is to minimise complexity so that you’re not spending money on features that you don’t need.

Prices listed are per month and billed annually.

Capsule

Pros:

  • Task manager + CRM
  • Sales team can track bids, deals and proposals
  • Mobile app for capturing new leads

Cons:

  • Difficult to sync with G Suite – need to contact support desk to enable it
  • No email campaign capabilities
  • Free plan is limited to 250 contacts

Capsule is a task manager as well as a CRM, so you can manage your sales pipeline and create reports. Its features allow you to track bids, deals and proposals too. On the personal management side of things, you can track tasks and emails, attach documents and share important bits of information with colleagues while the calendar allows you to create tasks.

It has a simple layout and design with emails attached to the contact card. It’s also customisable and comes with an app so you can use it on the go.

On the downside, the syncing with Google is a bit basic – you need to contact a support desk to set it up. You’ll also need to enter credit card details before you sign up to the 30-day free trial of the Professional and Teams packages.

Free (for up to two users): £0
Professional (per user, per month): £12
Teams (per user, per month): £24

Zoho

Pros:

  • Integrates with G Suite and Office 365
  • Can build apps for more customisation
  • Strong email marketing features

Cons:

  • Complicated – a lot of options to configure
  • Limited email marketing templates
  • Domain name verification lengthy

Zoho is a CRM product which is highly customisable with apps. Apps span across sales and marketing, finance, email and collaboration, IT and help desk, human resources and custom solutions. G Suite and Microsoft Office 365 integration. Apps for Apple Watch.

Apps include:

  • Invoicing
  • Mobile device management
  • Analytics

Zoho has social media integration and you can build apps that you need for your business. 15-day free trial to test out the full version which is free for up to three users.

It scores 1/5 based on 100 reviews. Some reviewers said that it was overly complicated and that domain name verification process is a slog.

Test version: free
Basic (up to three users): £30
Standard (up to five users):£60
Professional (up to ten users):£150

HubSpot

Pros:

  • Free version of software with lots of features
  • Split deals won with deals lost
  • Customisable per user

Cons:

  • Advanced plan is big jump
  • Doesn’t integrate with social media apps
  • Limited features as your company grows

This one is more directed at sales teams.

You’ve got a free version which can manage your pipeline with interactions being tracked automatically and displayed on one dashboard.

What’s more, you can split deals won from deals lost, appointments scheduled. Keeping up with matters in-house, HubSpot can be synced with Gmail or Outlook. You can make calls inside the CRM, as well as create and measure email templates.

The platform received 2/5 on Trustpilot based on 50 reviews. There were some concerns over the major price jump between the free and paid-for versions.

Starter (includes 1,000 contacts): starts at £42 a month
Professional (includes 1,000 contacts): starts at £655 a month
Enterprise (includes 10,000 contacts):starts at £2,624 a month

Salesforce

Pros:

  • Cloud-based CRM
  • Good for businesses with scaling potential
  • 30-day free trial – longer than most

Cons:

  • Can be expensive
  • Has a lot of features – overly complicated
  • Frequent upselling

Salesforce is a cloud-based CRM, so you don’t have to download anything – it comes with a customisable dashboard too. Its features let you generate quotes, forecasts and reports.

It’s a good fit for businesses with scaling potential, with opportunities to up your sales, service and marketing offering as your business grows.

Can integrate Office 365, Google Apps and Quip for easy communication. Prices start at £20 a month.

If you’re not sure, download the 30-day free trial which gives you access to the features on Sales Cloud’s Professional edition.

You’ve got a steep learning curve in picking up all of the features and deciding whether they were necessary for your business.

It scores 1/5 on Trustpilot based on 59 reviews. Complaints about customer service, making unauthorised changes to customers’ cards and not being adaptable to larger data sets unless you pay a large sum.

Out-of-the-box CRM for up to ten users: £20
Complete CRM for any size team: £60
Deeply customisable sales CRM for business: £120
Unlimited CRM power and support: £240

Insightly

Pros:

  • Good for project management
  • Integration with other applications
  • Mobile-friendly features

Cons:

  • Features limited on free version
  • Interface outdated
  • No two-way sync with Google Calendar

Insightly focuses on project management – it can track project activity and performance and help you manage leads, customers, partners and suppliers. It also features workflow automation, relationship links and can convert closed deals to projects.

You’ve also got configurable reporting, social media integration and integration with other applications including Google Drive and the ability to take your work on the go with the mobile app.

It may be worth forking out for one of the paid versions as the features are more limited on the free version.

Free (up to two users)
Plus – $29 (~£23) – 100,000 records

Professional – $49 (~£34) – 250,000 records
Enterprise – $99 (~£78) – unlimited records

SugarCRM

Pros:

  • Can self-host if you have developers on-staff
  • Mobile-friendly features
  • Clear pricing structure – no hidden fees

Cons:

  • Users have said the features are a little dated
  • No customer issue reporting feature
  • Difficulty in using certain features

SugarCRM says that it has a simple interface and no hidden fees, so you can see pricing terms clearly. It has flexible CRM solutions so that even as a small business, you can shape a suitable plan. It promises that it doesn’t do feature overload – perfect for micro businesses – with automation of certain processes to save you time.

Can self-host the program to make it ultra-customisable – granted you have good developers on staff.

If you value aesthetics, be warned that the platform and its features look somewhat old-fashioned.

A seven-day free trial will give you some more time to decide.

Sugar Professional: $40 (~£31.50)
Sugar Enterprise: $65 (~£51)
Sugar Ultimate: $150 (~£118)

Pipedrive

Pros:

  • Highly customisable with apps
  • Many integration opportunities including Slack, Trello and Mailchimp
  • See what stage your deals are at and how you can progress

Cons:

  • No internal platform for email messaging
  • No email on the mobile app
  • No dashboard view

Pipedrive is another sales-focused CRM, promising minimum input and maximum output. Everyone lands on single-page sales process for added simplicity.

Use customisable web forms to get leads into the CRM – see what stage your deals are at and how they can progress. What’s more, you can customise it with apps in Pipedrive Marketplace, with handy apps that can help you scale.

It has performed by far the best based on Trustpilot, scoring a whopping 5/5 based on 700 reviews.

There isn’t a dashboard view or internal email messaging capabilities so if those are features you value, look elsewhere.

Unsure? Experiment with Pipedrive’s features on its 14-day free trial.

Silver: £12.50
Gold: £24.20
Platinum: £49.17

Apptivo

Pros:

  • Has project management, invoicing and other capabilities
  • Create targeted lists for mass email marketing
  • Free starter package

Cons:

  • Slow operating speeds
  • Interface is dull
  • Not enough support for complex issues

As well as CRM, Apptivo does project management, invoicing and other tasks. To broaden its functionality, it can be integrated with Google Apps, Dropbox, Office 365, Dropbox and PayPal.

On the internal features, you can create email templates and send emails to contacts, creating targeted lists for mass email marketing. Team that with the mobile expense reporting and simple approval workflow tools to keep up your productivity.

Take control of your supply chain with supply chain management which has vendor tracking and inventory.

Like a couple of other CRMs, the software looks a bit dated.

The starter package is free and gives you accessibility for up to three users and 500MB of data storage. On Apptivo, you’ve got a 30-day free trial of the full version.

Starter (up to three users): free
Premium: $8 (~£6)
Ultimate: $20 (~£16)
Enterprise: Bespoke (contact Apptivo)

Bitrix24

Pros:

  • Group chat and instant messaging functions
  • Online document storage
  • Website builder included

Cons:

  • Free version doesn’t include all of platform’s features
  • Bitrix24 signature at the bottom of every email on free version
  • Interface a little outdated

Bitrix24 has group chat and instant messaging, project management, online document storage and a social intranet. You’ve also got support for repeat sales and sales automation.

Just be aware that you’ll have a Bitrix 24 signature at the bottom of your emails on the free version.

The platform accepts payments via PayPal, Stripe, Braintree and Authorize.net and it can issue quotes.

The free version doesn’t include all the platform’s features, but it does have 5GB of storage and can be used by up to 12 people.

Free (up to 12 users): $0
CRM+ (up to six users): $69 (~£54)
Standard (up to 50 users): $99 (~£78)
Professional (unlimited users): $199 (~£157)  

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