What to Look for in a CRM System for Small Business

12 Criteria for a Good CRM System

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A CRM system is essentially a sales tool. Its purpose is to turn customer contacts into buyers.

As anyone in small business knows, collecting contacts and generating leads isn't the problem. The problem is what you do with those leads. A CRM system promises an organized, consistent process to convert leads into sales, a process generally referred to as building customer relationships.

So CRM systems can be especially valuable to small businesses, giving them a competitive edge over businesses that approach CRM in a less organized manner or worse, ignore it.

Good CRM software or an online CRM system lets a small business automate its lead list, sales pipeline, sales follow up, and sales forecasting. It gives you the tools you need to provide the kind of CRM that delights your customers and improves your bottom line.

Here are the criteria I use to determine whether or not a CRM system is "good" for small businesses.

A CRM system for small business needs to:

  • Be more than a contact manager. Contact managers are great for what they do, but a CRM system has to go beyond being a database of contacts and provide systems for developing client relationships, closing deals, sales forecasting etc.
  • Handle email. Email is critical for handling/ following up leads and having to cut and paste information from a contact manager into an email program gets old really fast.
  • Have easy importing and exporting of data. This is especially important in the start-up phase (who wants to re-input a contact database?) but always necessary. In small businesses, data tends to be scattered.
    • Allow easy sharing of data among staff or sales force. I especially like CRM systems that have a document management and/or knowledge base feature built into them because in my experience, if there isn't an organized, in-your-face system to organize documents for easy reference, it doesn’t get done.
      • Have robust reporting features. You don't want to just record data, you want to be able to do things with it. And you need tools that will provide insight about the data you've collected.
      • Online CRM solutions also must have adequate file storage. CRM is the type of thing that grows exponentially as a small business ages and the space to keep track of past as well as current clients and/or customers is essential.
      • Meet the price point. The world abounds with CRM solutions that do all the above and more. But many of them have big business price tags. So a reasonable price tag from a small business point of view is another must-have.

      It's nice if a CRM system for small business also has:

      • The ability to synchronize data with MS Outlook and Office as so many small businesses are already using this popular software.
      • Integration with Inventory Management. If your small business has inventory, it's ideal to be able to run your sales quotes, sales orders, vendors etc. through your CRM system rather than having to use a separate program for this.
        • The ability to allow collaboration with others that may be critical to sales processes, such as partners or customers.

        Small Businesses Have Special CRM Needs

        Big businesses and small businesses operate on very different scales, and thus have different needs when it comes to a CRM system. Generally, small businesses have more need for an out-of-the-box or hosted CRM solution as many don't have IT expertise on staff and are unwilling or unable to pay for the installation and training required to implement an in-house CRM system. Hopefully the CRM system criteria I've itemized here will make it easier to find one.