How to Choose a CRM that Scales with Business Growth

by | Dec 11, 2015

With a $23 billion-dollar software market and enough vendors to form a small country, choosing a CRM is already hard enough. Add the pressures and restraints of running a small business, and you’ve got a recipe for confusion.

The best CRM software for a small business will simplify customer management and support growth. Whether you’re the business owner, sole proprietor, or IT manager, you need to choose a CRM that makes sense for your team now, but will also expand to accommodate new markets, product lines, and users.

First, identify your key challenges and objectives. In a 2014 survey by Statista, U.S. small business owners listed their most important challenge as “attracting customers/targeting business opportunities.” Others may include:

  • Improving customer experience
  • Reducing churn/increasing loyalty
  • Driving the pipeline for new products
  • Entering new markets

During your selection process, look for CRMs that support these objectives. Here are six important areas to consider when evaluating CRM vendors.

Features and Integrations

What core functionality are you looking for in a CRM? Make sure the vendor offers enough out-of-the-box features to address your immediate needs — whether that be help desk ticket management or B2B sales.

It’s also important that a CRM can exchange data with other overlapping systems, especially if you already pay for them. One common example (for a small business) is email marketing. With bi-directional integration, the email marketing platform could run campaigns using CRM contacts, which would be subsequently updated as readers click, open, and engage with messages.

Your CRM vendor should either offer native compatibility (just provide log-in credentials to set it up) or manual integration through an API (application programming interface). Check for both.

Product Tiers

If you’re working on a limited budget, chances are, you’ll start out with a simple product package — something designed for a small team and basic contact/lead management. But it’s also important to think ahead. As your company grows, you’ll acquire new customers and expand your sales team. You may even develop a need for more advanced features.

If your CRM provider only offers one product tier, you’re pretty much stuck with what you have. If they offer premium upgrades and an enterprise edition, on the other hand, you’ll be able to move into a bigger product when the need arises. Before signing a contract, ask the vendor how they handle requests to add users, features, or storage space. If a CRM vendor can’t grow with your business, then you’ll be right back in the purchasing seat agonizing over which vendor choose again.

Vendor Credibility

Vendor credibility is a qualitative measure of a vendor’s presence in the software market. How long have they been around? How many customers do they have? Are they a private company, or funded by venture capital and governed by shareholders?

Though it may seem less crucial to your decision than other factors, vendor credibility is ultimately about protecting the longevity of your investment. If you want to buy a CRM that scales with business growth, you obviously shouldn’t pick a vendor that’s at risk for early sunsetting. There are plenty of lesser-known CRMs that offer reliable functionality and a solid user experience. Just be cautious about considering unestablished vendors that don’t have a proven track record.

All-in-One vs. Best-of-Breed

It’s not a bad idea to pick a vendor that offers multiple product modules. You might only need a CRM database now, but what will your business look like in a year? Two years? What new needs and processes will arise, and what systems will you implement to support them?

Here are a few modules to consider:

  • Marketing automation
  • Business intelligence
  • Enterprise resource planning (ERP)
  • Project management

You’ll have a much easier time (and spend less money) implementing products from a vendor you already work with, not to mention the obvious benefits of native integration.

Business Process Automation

With business growth comes sophistication of business processes and the inevitable need to scale. For example, you might be able to send a manual follow-up email to every new lead when you’re only managing a few dozen, but as you start to generate more leads in a shorter period of time, this will become inefficient without some kind of automation.

As you grow, automation will help you minimize administrative costs and resource drain associated with routine or repetitive tasks. Make sure the CRMs on your shortlist offer canned and custom workflow automations where you’ll use them the most.

Mobile and Cloud Compatibility

Your team may work from a single location now, but as you expand operations and hire new talent, this will likely change. It’s important for growing businesses to look ahead and anticipate the needs of a dispersed team. Will you hire telecommuters? How will salespeople and service agents access customer data outside of the office? According to the Internet Data Corporation (IDC), mobile workers will account for almost 75 percent of the U.S. workforce by 2020.

A cloud-based CRM gives users real-time access to the same data, regardless of location. It can also help you sidestep the high costs of IT maintenance and server provisioning. And of course, mobile compatibility extends the same access to non-desktop devices. Look for a CRM that offers a mobile web interface or native mobile apps.

There’s nothing wrong with choosing a simple, cost-effective CRM to fit your current budget. But you also need to think about the future. If you outgrow your first platform, you’ll have to switch vendors later down the road, which means laborious data migration, implementation costs, and the hassle of configuring a new system. It’s like buying a house. You might only have one child now, but what will your family look like in two years? Three years? Maybe that two-bedroom cottage isn’t the best choice.

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