Small businesses and startups often cut corners because of costs, but customer relationship management (CRM) software is so important that these businesses should devote the time and money to pick the right system.
CRM software can help you reach out to more new customers in less time than manual methods like spreadsheets. The additional time will help you nurture relationships, sell more and increase growth.
To save money during this process, you need to have a clear view of the software landscape and the features you need. You may already be familiar with CRM software and know the costs and vendors. In that case, this guide will help you decide which features to focus on, based on your business size.
But if you’re new to CRM software, this guide will show you what to start with and what benefits to prioritize. Most importantly, it’ll tell you how to stick to your budget.
Here’s what we’ll help you with:
Use a Features Checklist
Check Out Free and Open Source Tools
Use a Features Checklist
Marketers will try and dazzle you with promises of “half-price” or “free” features. Instead of falling for these traps, some of which we’ve listed in this article, focus on individual CRM software features and match them to your needs. To help you do that, we recommend checking out this Essential Features Checklist for CRM software.
You should also take a look at the CRM functionality starfish, which lists the five main arms of CRM for enterprises—sales, marketing, customer service, digital commerce and field service. This breakdown will help you identify the exact features you need and some vendors who offer those features.
The essential features are categorized into two distinct types. While essential-for-all features are beneficial for most small businesses, essential-for-some features fit specific use cases. Below is a quick summary of these features, which you can match with your specific CRM software requirements.
|Feature type||Feature name||Feature description|
|Essential-for-all features||Contact management||Stores customer information in an easy-to-use and searchable interface|
|Interaction tracking||Collects detailed records of any and all forms of customer interactions to analyze trends and preferences|
|Lead management||Surfaces leads that are most likely to convert, so that the sales team can pitch to them better|
|Essential-for-some features||Email campaigns||Helps manage, launch and track email campaigns|
|Workflow automation||Standardizes and automates common business processes|
|Forecasting/reporting/analytics||Tracks, aggregates and visualizes data on past performance and predicts future trends|
Questions to ask yourself as a business when considering features:
- Does the software plan you subscribe to include the essential-for-all features mentioned above?
- Are the functionalities built-in or offered as third-party integrations for which you have to pay extra?
- Would buying the software as a bundle result in cost savings?
You can learn more about the features of a specific CRM vendor by calling us at (844) 852-3639. Our advisors will offer you a free consultation to get your CRM software purchase journey started.
To put it simply, if plan A fails, have plans B, C and D ready to deploy. It’s wise to be ready with alternatives to your main software selection, especially if these scenarios come to pass:
- Vendor doesn’t agree to your customization or price requests
- Employees find the solution too cumbersome to use
- Last-minute discovery of additional costs (i.e., for license, hardware or consultant/IT specialist)
To help you know what to expect, in this section we’ll compare top-rated software and their alternatives that offer similar capabilities. Here are the tools, and their alternatives, that rank high on our FrontRunners Quadrant for Customer Relationship Management:
Note: You can learn more about our alternatives methodology here.
What is Pipedrive?: Pipedrive offers a centralized visual dashboard to track the sales cycle, as well as integration with other CRM systems reporting functionality. It can also be integrated with other CRM systems, such as Zoho and Salesforce.
Business need: Pipedrive’s dashboard streamlines each action in the process of converting a potential deal into a successful sale. Users can track pending actions in their pipelines with the activity and goal feature.
What is HubSpot CRM?: HubSpot is a cloud-based CRM platform that suits both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-customer (B2C) companies. The company offers the CRM solution for free, but charges users who want to combine its CRM application with its marketing and sales software.
Business need: Hubspot differentiates itself with its social media engagement offering and sales platform. Its is also known for its tools such as the free Marketing Grader that provides metrics for SEO, site performance, mobile readiness and security on websites.
What is Salesforce Marketing Cloud?: It’s a CRM suite that offers sales management, marketing automation, partner relationship management and customer service.
Business need: Given its popularity, Salesforce is the solution to beat in the CRM software market. It offers all the core and additional CRM functionalities as well as numerous add-ons.
Once you identify the features you need, you should decide whether your employees need access to a piece of software’s full suite, or if you can gradually add features and users as your business grows. Bear in mind that adding more features usually translates to higher costs.
For small businesses, it’s wise to spread your software budget over a couple of years so that you give ample time for growth and can justify the ROI. Our “How to Build a Business Case for CRM Software” article explains how you can convince your company’s leadership to adopt CRM software or a particular CRM feature.
Let’s look at some common small business needs and some potential software workarounds:
Priority business need: Channel management
WORKAROUND: This feature suits businesses that work with various partners, resellers, distributors, wholesalers and manufacturers in an interdependent network. Businesses that plan to expand operations in other states or countries can use popular solutions such as Salesforce.com, Prophet CRM and 1CRM to reduce operational complexities.
Priority business need: Social CRM
WORKAROUND: Social media CRM is one of the top trends in the CRM software market. You need this feature if you operate on a B2C model and regularly interact with customers one-on-one. Adopting social CRM can help replace/reduce the costs of expensive traditional customer service centers. You can give social CRM a try with free solutions such as HubSpot CRM and Zoho CRM.
Learn more about other workarounds for CRM software in detail by talking to our advisors at (844) 852-3639.
Check Out Free and Open Source Tools
Many vendors provide free trials and demo versions that allow you to test their software for a set time period, starting from seven days to a month or even forever! This is a great way to check the software’s feasibility to your business. But, don’t confuse free with open source software. Here’s how you can differentiate between them:
Free CRM software
These are limited-feature versions of paid software that vendors offer to customers who have limited budgets. Most vendors offer basic features up front, but usually ask you to upgrade to a paid version for more robust features.
- No software cost or installation charges typical of open source tools
- Simple and easy to use, as most free tools can be used without any prior training on how software operates
- Upgrade options are available for those who want the tool to scale as the business grows
- Functionality can be limited as free solutions limit the number of users and features
- Additional costs can accrue, related to support requests, data storage and other functionality
- Capsule: Offers a ticket management module along with standard CRM features to help users resolve customer support inquiries.
- Insightly: Offers a free version for up to two users and integrates with multiple third-party solutions such as Google Calendar, Gmail and Docs, as well as MailChimp, Evernote, Box, Dropbox, QuickBooks Online and Xero.
Open source CRM software
In open source software, the source code is freely available and can be modified and enhanced based on a customer’s specific business requirements. On the other hand, you will need a dedicated IT staff that can implement and support the software, as open source software vendors rarely provide support.
- No license fee as the source code is free
- Customization of features is possible by making changes to the source code
- A strong user community, if available, can help address frequently asked questions or common issues
- Service can be an issue, if you are totally dependent on the user community
- Software can be vulnerable to threats, unless you have an experienced IT security team
- High total cost of ownership (TCO), as you have to take care of software maintenance and data management
- Vtiger CRM On Demand: Relies on customer feedback to make upgrades and improvements in its solution. It also offers a mobile app that makes working out of office locations easy for sales reps.
- Bitrix24: Lets users create personalized invoices by automatically inserting client info and sending them directly to the client’s email address.
Also, you should be aware of the latest trends in the market so that your software gives you a competitive advantage. We’ve discussed the hype surrounding some CRM trends and whether or not you really need these emerging features. And if you’re still unsure of which option to choose, talk to our advisors at (844) 852-3639 to analyze the pros and cons for your business.
Using the money-saving methods mentioned above, you can reduce your expenses, both now and in the future. Here are some more tips to help you save money while buying CRM software:
- Check out demos and free trials: Sign up with vendors for demos and trials so that you get a feel of how the software works. Ask your employees to make notes during the demo that they can discuss their feedback later with the decision makers. This will help you anticipate costs, deployment times, disruptions to work and other such factors.
- Look into software bundles: Go through each and every feature at the demo stage. Ask the vendor about the integral features as well as the add-ons. Check the costs of additional features and make a note of features you may require at a later time.
- Choose the best deployment option: Once you finish the demo, assess whether you need a suite or a couple of features at a time—whatever addresses your urgent needs. A cloud-based solution allows you to access the software from any location, but an on-premise solution makes sense if you’re dealing with sensitive data. Choose which option suits your business and decide on a vendor accordingly.
While this report aims to give you general tips on saving money when buying CRM software, you can find more information in our detailed buyer guide.Fill out this short questionnaire to receive custom price quotes of different CRM software. You can also call us at (844) 852-3639 for a free consultation with a software advisor.