CRM for Startups: What You Need to Know Before You Buy

By: on May 24, 2016

Are you a new business considering customer relationship management (CRM) software but struggling with where to begin or how to make the best choice?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Startups often don’t know what to look for in a CRM system or how to vet their options. This can make the selection process a bit overwhelming for startups that are new to the software selection process.

To make your search for a CRM solution easier, we’ve gathered together recommendations we typically give to new businesses about how to find the best system for their unique needs.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

(Click on a link below to jump to that section.)

Are You Even Ready for CRM Software?
Questions to Ask When Evaluating Options
Cost Considerations: Free, Free Trial and Inexpensive Options
Next Steps

Are You Even Ready for CRM Software?

Getting a CRM system in place before your business is up and running does have some benefits—such as avoiding a time consuming implementation process down the line. But, it’s not always necessary to jump the gun.
In fact, there are some benefits to waiting:

  • You’ll know how many customers you’ll be tracking. It is difficult to predict how many customers you’ll have before your business is even operating. You’ll need this information to select a system that can handle the appropriate volume of data for your business.

“In the beginning, startups don’t need a CRM solution. Excel or Google docs is more than fine for managing customer data. However, when you reach 100 or 200 new customers, then you should look at investing in CRM software.”

Steven Macdonald, digital marketer at SuperOffice CRM

  • You’ll know what types of customer data you want to track. You want a CRM system that offers the means to capture the most important data for your business. What data to track can be difficult to assess before your business is up and running.

“CRM software provides you with insight into who your customers are and what they do. It’s this kind of data that can drive business growth. For example, using a segment of new customer signups within the last 30 days gives you an understanding into the type of customer you are attracting. You can then base your next 30 day strategy on targeting the same type of prospects.”

Steven Macdonald, digital marketer at SuperOffice CRM

  • You’ll know how much you can spend on software. As MacDonald from SuperOffice CRM points out, startups can take time to generate predictable revenue. Waiting until you have stable income allows you to accurately estimate your budget. In other words, it will help you choose a system you can afford in the long run.

“Cost always matters and certainly if you are bootstrapping, cost is a bigger priority. However, as with any cost of a business, you need to determine what you can afford to spend. Cost and function must be looked at in unison and then as the owner you must make a decision.”

Scott Eisenberg, founder and CEO at Swap The Biz

For information on free, open source and free trial options, skip to the Cost Considerations section.

If you decide to wait to purchase CRM software, don’t wait too long. Here are some signs it’s time to start looking for a CRM system.

Should You Consider Purchasing a CRM System?

Yes Not Yet
Status of business Your business is off the ground and has customers Your business isn’t yet off the ground and/or doesn’t have customers
Client base You already have, or expect to have, a large client base in the near future You have just a few clients and don’t expect to grow rapidly
Data You need to analyze or segment customer and client data You don’t need to analyze customer and client data yet
Access Multiple people need to see the same client data Staff only handle a few clients each, and they don’t need access to others’ clients
Sales process You have a well-defined sales process and are ready to start actively selling You are still defining your sales process
Current methods Your current methods no longer support your customer relations, have become cumbersome or are taking too long to complete Your current methods are working very well, and there’s no immediate sign that will change


Questions to Ask When Evaluating Options

In a nutshell: You’ll want to look for CRM software that is affordable, easy to use, scalable and designed to support startups and/or small businesses.
To be sure you find those things in your new CRM system, ask yourself these questions:

How will you access the system?
If you want to access your system offline, look for an on-premise solution. If you want to to access your system from anywhere, choose a cloud-based solution. Startups looking to keep costs down might want to choose a cloud-based platform, which are usually less expensive upfront.

How many people need to use the system?
Many software solutions are priced according to the number of users. Knowing how many people will use your CRM system before purchasing will help you avoid overpaying or choosing a system that you’ll soon outgrow.

Does it offer capabilities that match your current needs and goals?
CRM systems can be used for any combination of contact management, sales, customer service and marketing. While some offer functionality for all of these, others focus on just one or two capabilities.

Additionally, some systems are designed for either B2B or B2C operations. Before you purchase, define your goals and what you hope to accomplish with your new CRM system. Then use those goals to build a checklist of needed functionality.

Will it grow with your business?
This is arguably one of the more important considerations for startups. Your software should be able to scale with you as your business grows. Otherwise, you’ll quickly be replacing it once you outpace its capabilities.

Look for vendors that offer tiered pricing based on a growing number of contacts and flexible, seamless switching from one tier to another.

Is it easy to implement?
If you don’t have the time or energy for a lengthy implementation process, or want to reduce the downtime associated with implementation, you’ll want a system you can set up with minimal effort.

Consider vendors that offer implementation training and support. While some do this for free, others charge an additional fee. Be sure to read the fine print.

Is it easy to learn and use?
As a startup, you’re already juggling multiple tasks. The last thing you need is a difficult to use system that takes you away from other tasks. Look for a system with an ease-of-use that aligns with the resources and time you have available.

Also consider any additional materials vendors offer (such as video tutorials or online guides), as these can increase your ramp-up speed. Some vendors even offer classes, training programs and workshops (for free or an additional fee).

User reviews are also a great way to get a feel for how intuitive a given software platform is. For example, you can check out the many user reviews of CRM software we have on our website.

Cost Considerations: Free, Free Trial and Inexpensive Options

There are three types of free CRM software:


We’ve put together a few options of each type to help get you started:

Freemium CRM Systems

Contacts Users Upgrade fee
Insightly 2500 2 $12/user/mo
Bitrix24 Unlimited 12 $39/mo for up to 24 users
ZohoCRM Unlimited 10 $12/user/mo
Really Simple Systems 100 2 $8 for 10 users and 200 contacts
Hubspot CRM Unlimited Unlimited Always free
CapsuleCRM 250 2 $12/user/mo


Open Source CRM Systems

Contacts Users Upgrade fee
SuiteCRM Unlimited Unlimited $16.40/user/mo
Zurmo Unlimited Unlimited $35/user/mo


Small Business CRM Systems With Free Trials

Contacts Users Lowest Price Free Trial
Highrise 250 2 $24/user/mo 30 days
SalesforceIQ CRM * 5 $25/user/mo 14 days
Base CRM * 5 $25/user/mo 14 days
Less Annoying CRM Unlimited Unlimited $10/user/mo 30 days
OnePage CRM Unlimited * $12/user/mo 21 days
Nutshell CRM Unlimited * $20/user/mo 14 days

* Unable to verify

Next Steps

We’ve listed a few tools here that can help you choose the best CRM for your startup or new business. However, if you still need help choosing the right CRM solution, here are a couple steps you can take to narrow down your options and get more information:

  • Email me at I’m available to help you start the software selection process or to answer any additional questions you might have about choosing the best CRM software for your startup or small business.
  • Check out detailed comparisons and real user reviews of popular CRM software.

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