Choosing the Best Customer Management System for your Small Business

It's another guest post for you all today!! The wonderful Elizabeth of Simply Virtual is talking all about CRM solutions for your small business! If one of your goals in the new year is to get more intentional about how you manage your customer's information behind the scenes, this post is for you! 

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As business owners, customer management is the name of the game. Whether you run a brick and mortar business or an online one, getting to know your customers and making sure they’re taken care of is likely your highest priority. 

For many of us, the first step in tackling this challenge is a Google session or getting some recommendations from friends and colleagues. Unfortunately (or fortunately), no two businesses are alike and often the needs of one don’t necessarily line up with what you’re looking for. More often than not, you’ll end up with a ton of new websites to check out and immediately get overwhelmed by the vast number of options and customizations that are available. Before long, you’re seeing dollar signs piling up and you’ll quickly price yourself out of your first few choices and want to throw your hands up in exasperation. Sound familiar?

Before you dig in, there are a few things you’ll want to think about: 

  1. What is your single most important MUST HAVE requirement for a customer management system? Beyond recording customer details (names, addresses and phone numbers, notes etc.), do you need an all in one system to track work orders, invoicing and payments? Are you looking for something specific to your industry? 

For me, I needed a way to track customer details and conversations from start to finish and work with our accounting program. In a straight CRM, this can be a very costly endeavor. However, once I narrowed down my search to “business management systems”, I found more choices that were within my budget. Some of the enterprise level companies just aren’t cut out for small business and that’s ok. Just make sure you don’t overpay for the features you need when a smaller, lesser known company might be a better fit. As an added bonus, a smaller company is likely to be more willing to listen to your feature requests and make sure the product keeps you happy! 

  1. What are you willing to pay? Do you need something free for now and scalable in future? Many solutions are paid monthly or on a subscription basis, so it’s easy to add/remove features as necessary. There are also a number of free solutions that you can pay to add additional functionality or integrations like bookkeeping software, scheduling, inventory management, etc.

I really thought a free solution was going to be the way to go for us. I found one that I could tailor to do about 75% of what we needed and thought I could add the rest with integrations. Yet, I kept coming across the same roadblocksand when I jotted down the things I was compromising on, they were the same things I’d listed in step #1...the must haves. Instead, we found a great solution and compromised by not adding all of our people at once to help keep costs down. Not everyone is very tech savvy so a few employees were going to be hard sells anyway. This way, we keep everyone happy AND keep our costs from skyrocketing. As we prove the benefits of the system, we can add more accounts as we need them. 

  1. Start small. If you’re not sure apaid solution is exactly right, ask for a demo. Many offer demos for a certain length of time and will often extend them if you ask nicely. Arrange some time to let them show off their features too, you never know what you might discover that could be useful to you.

More often than not, you’ll want the company who goes the extra mile to prove that their system is right for you. Chances are, they also don’t want customers who will constantly complain because they can’t make things work properly for their business. A good company will give you some leads on other programs that you could try if they feel theirs isn’t the best fit.

  1. Still not sure? Try out some task management or communication programs first and get your system in place before you move forward. 

Long before we paid for a solution we went through a variety of other “systems” as we honed in on our process. There are lots of fancy programs out there that seem amazing, but if they aren’t intuitive and easy for you to use...you won’t use them. Start out with a spreadsheet (heck, we started on paper *gasp*), a Trello board, an Asana checklist or maybe just a Slack conversation. Figure out what you need to track and how it makes sense to track it. Do you have multiple steps to your customer interactions? Do you need to exchange information with another program in order to invoice/email customers? What information are you constantly typing over and over as you move a client from a potential customer to a fully paid, happy customer? This information will be invaluable as you start making your list of Must Haves for your future customer management system. 

Bottom line, don’t sell yourself short. Stick to your Must Have items and keep looking for what you need. It’s out there, even if you have to spend some time trying a few other solutions before you hit on the right customer management system for your business.

Are you struggling with choosing a customer management system for your small business? Feel like you’re spending too much time managing your current CRM? Download my worksheet and make sure your systems are working FOR you, not making you work overtime to keep your company moving forward.

More about Elizabeth:

She grew up in small business, think everything on paper…no really, everything. She has worked in the big city where red tape is the name of the game. She has built software solutions and spent untold hours perfecting them only to scrap the entire project. If there’s one thing she has learned it’s that technology shouldn’t get in the way of achieving your goals.