Finding a great product or service can really make all the difference to your business. It’s vital that you choose something that does what you need it to and something that your team will embrace (so you actually get to measure your ROI). So what is the best CRM for your SME and how do you go about finding one that fits?
I’ve seen so many posts across social media for advice and/or recommendations for a CRM, Marketing Automation and other Sales Tools, that initially confused me. Fortunately, I absolutely love software, to be fair I’m a bit of a geek, so, I managed to work my way through the myriads of tools out there. So, don't worry if you feel as confused as I was - finding the best CRM for your SME does take time but I can assure you it's worth it.
How do you start looking for the best CRM for your SME ?
At that time I could really have benefitted from advice. So, in support of SMEs out there who could do with some impartial advice on my experience in comparing CRMs for small business, I thought I'd take 'e-pen' to 'e-paper' and write this short article on our CRM journey - and hopefully help you find the best CRM for your SME.
It all started in March 2016 after we formed TalentintheCloud. Our philosophy then, as it is now, is to use the very best tools to help accelerate the growth of the business. We went on a mission to find the best suite of tools available. So, in the early months, we 'played-the-field' to identify the best technologies and services that would benefit us - there's just so much out there from which one can choose. Choosing the best CRM was going to be fundamental.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
The great thing about Software these days is the many offers of free trials with no need to enter your credit card! We were now able to try and compare and test CRM’s for ourselves, in a real life business environment. I remember years ago when we wanted to implement a new system at my previous business, the vendors all came in with their shiny demos and many sold to us on the features that looked fantastic - but once implemented they were never used! This makes searching for the best CRM for your SME even easier.
Speed dating... SaaS style - Testing and Comparing CRMs
So we took advantage - and we really did! We must have tried and tested over 20 different CRMs, each one had its pros and cons. Quite a big part of my decision process was the User Interface (UI), i.e. its look and feel - and this may sound silly to some. However, we figured that since it’s going to be critical to our business, being used every day, it needs to look appealing and be intuitive, so that our team actually wanted to use it.
Second to the UI were the features - here’s a list of the core things that we knew we needed:
- Contact Database
- Deal Tracking
- Company database
- Task Management
Pretty much every CRM on the market does all the above - however, some better than others. Notable mentions here are PipelineDeals and Nimble - both are fantastic CRMs with lots of added features. In fact we used and paid for Nimble for a few months and was really happy with the overall CRM.
We outgrew each other
As our business grew, the demands and requirements for the CRM also evolved. We now needed to look at marketing automation, website integration, social media linking, document tracking, call logging, online calendars and analysis of our various digital campaigns.
We spent time looking at how we could use tools like Zapier to integrate all sorts of things with each other. The possibilities are endless (check them out) - and we started to map out a variety of workflows. That’s when we stopped!
There’s nothing wrong with integrated software but remember you have to pay for each service as well as your Zapier account - and if you’re churning large amounts of data it’s going to be expensive.
At that point we went back to the CRM market and looked at the alternatives. Talking CRMs would not be complete without including Salesforce in the picture - it has a huge customer base and following; it pretty much has every workflow and integration you can think of. However, for us, it was; a) too expensive, b) too complex and c) just not very pleasing on the eye!
Finding the best CRM was going to be a challenge !
We thought we found true love…
We looked at numerous other platforms and thought we'd found the crown jewels when we stumbled across AgileCRM. It was an all-in-one platform that did everything and more - and the UI was fantastic. Was this the answer we'd be looking for? We started using it and loved it, apart from a few teething problems.
However, love turned to disappointment when we really got into the nuts and bolts of the system. For example, the drip marketing module was very poorly designed and the emails being sent out looked terrible despite the claim that it was simply drag and drop. There were other parts of the system that seemed to me they were far too basic to have been released - it felt like they weren’t tested and were full of bugs. It quickly became apparent that AgileCRM also wasn’t right for us.. the search continued as we were determined to find what the best CRM
And then, true love - Why we chose Hubspot CRM vs AgileCRM, Salesforce and all the other alternatives
Quite a while back I was looking for ways to try and make some sense of my LinkedIn contact database. LinkedIn closed their API’s making it virtually impossible to keep track of people, so I was looking for a free CRM where I could sort my data. I found Hubspot and given it was free and really simple to use, it did that trick just fine. I did try to use Hubspot to power TalentintheCloud when I first launched. At that time, I felt there were a few flaws and it was difficult to really customize things.
So, when looking again and with some experience behind us as to what we needed, Hubspot came up in my searches as a viable solution. Now we was compelled to have another look at it again, to see if it could actually work. Thankfully we did, we were then actually blown away, it was fantastic. Hubspot had also clearly listened to the feedback of their users and made some drastic changes.
Adding Hubspot Sales gave us a powerhouse of a CRM!
We decided to subscribe to the Sales package which amongst other things gives you:
- Email tracking & notification
- Calling and call logging from inside the CRM
- Document tracking and storage
- Email sequences
- Online calendar
- Lead Capture software for your website
Hubspot Sales is a great tool – it allows you to create templates, sequences (I’ll explain that shortly), hunt for prospective clients and track all your emails.
Sequences are fantastic – you can set up a series of templates and then subscribe your contacts to the sequence. As an example, you could have a sequence for prospective clients;
- first email is an introduction,
- next could be a phone call (which you can also do straight from within Hubspot),
- then a second email with some more information,
- then another call,
- then a third follow up.......
Here's an screenshot example of how sequencing works
You can configure the emails to go out whenever you like and Hubspot has some amazing content on their website to guide you through best practices. This allows you to nurture your relationships with your customers. It's not just emails, it also automates some of the contact processes - forgetting to call or email someone becomes a thing of the past. As soon as someone replies to one of your emails, they are removed from the sequence.
Our favourite feature !
Lastly, there is the web-based Calendar that allows people to book slots in your diary without you needing to mess around with emails back and forth. This is one of my favourite features. It’s so simple to set up – you send a link to whoever wants to book a meeting, they click, select a time and it gets booked straight into both parties calendars ! It also supports international time zones, you can choose when you’re available and it syncs with your main calendar so you’ll never have conflicts.
This is what it looks like to your contacts once they click on the link:
HubSpot Sales Pro is $50. Here's an article that explains what you get in the free versus paid product just for clarification purposes, e.g. for the unpaid version, you won’t have access to the sequences, prospects, or calendar.
What we now have is a simple to use, hugely functional CRM that allows us to really focus on our customers and our deliverables without having to worry about the integrity of our customer data.
Additionally, we have built some other integrations using Zapier that make lead generation and research a doddle. It's bit too involved to explore here, but please feel free to contact me.
In sickness and in health......
The question for us now is can Hubspot grow with our business…. time will tell but looking at the features and upcoming releases, I’m pretty excited.
So, what is the best CRM for your SME and is Hubspot the right solution for everyone's small business?
While it is for ours, I can't answer that for your particular business. However, I hope the above gives you some ideas on some of the CRMs to investigate and what features you might need to look out for.
N.B. The opinions expressed in this article are solely based on my experience and what I feel are relevant for my business. I have no relationship with any of the products mentioned, other than that of a customer.
About the author: Darren Franks is the founder of TalentintheCloud. Having lived and worked in the UK, Middle East and Africa he has gained considerable experience across a multitude of sectors, regions and industries. With a passion for HRTech and the Recruitment Industry, Darren launched the business to provide a unique approach to Talent Acquisition using the latest technologies combined with international best practice.