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Updated Apr 18, 2024

How to Make Your CRM Your Company’s Most Flexible Tool

This guide describes how to choose and implement flexible CRM software for your small business.

Mark Fairlie
Mark Fairlie, Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
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Customer relationship management (CRM) software has gone from a handy tool for after-sales inquiries to an essential platform that’s central to keeping businesses operating efficiently and profitably. Finding the right CRM for your business is the best and most effective way for companies to unite their sales, marketing, customer service and many other business departments.

A flexible CRM can help small businesses shine. In this article, we’ll show you how a CRM can make your business, allowing it to achieve higher sales volume and greater customer satisfaction.

How CRMs help a company stay flexible

One of the biggest benefits CRMs deliver to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) is the ability to share the same accurate information across all team members. This can increase productivity and profitability since everyone’s working from the same information. 

Without that, your staff may try their best but they can only really focus on doing what they do well. While part of a team, they’re also isolated. With the right CRM, a business can improve its performance across the board. This includes new CRM functions to invoice faster, run a tighter credit control system, complete payroll easier and more. With the increasing integration of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) into CRMs, much of this can be automated, leaving your staff extra time to work on more productive tasks.

Automation helps marketing, sales and customer service teams. For example, marketing teams can automate the segmentation of their contact and customer lists by demographics, buying behaviors and other factors to personalize marketing campaigns. 

Sales staff, who struggle constantly to stay organized managing multiple prospects at different stages of the sales pipeline, can automate chase-up call reminders or email drip campaigns to speed the process along. Your after-sales team, when contacted by a customer, can see their entire history at a glance to read the situation better and receive AI prompts on how to resolve an issue or a problem.

CRMs collect and store an enormous amount of client, order and team performance data constantly. There are even plug-ins, of particular use to business-to-business companies, that stop data decay within a CRM. They also give companies the ability to analyze that information allowing SMBs to course change when a particular approach is not working as well as expected or wanted. By looking at the data, they can now adapt more quickly than ever to changing market and customer needs.

CRMs also give extra reach to SMBs through the ability to market via email, phone, short message service (SMS), multimedia messaging service and private messaging channels like WhatsApp. They can also use these channels to make sales and look after customers. Customers now demand more than ever that the companies they do business with are available on all touchpoints from social media and SMS to private messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Telegram. This is why social CRM plug-ins are now part of every major platform.

Out-of-the-box, CRMs work very well. It’s usually easy to adapt them so your business can add agility and flexibility to work tasks. And, if a feature you want isn’t there natively, there’s a great chance a customizable app can be added to your CRM platform.

For all these reasons, a CRM system is now an essential tool within millions of businesses across the country.

Bottom LineBottom line
When deciding on a CRM, first identify where you’re doing well and the places you’re struggling. Try to assess the impact on your company of those areas you’re finding challenging to come up with a list of priorities for what you need your CRM to do.

CRM features that help companies stay flexible

There are several key benefits that a properly implemented CRM can offer small businesses. Here are some features to look for in a flexible CRM.

Predictive analytics

You don’t need a crystal ball to tell the future when you have the right CRM software. Many CRMs now feature predictive analytics technology that can help sales teams identify which prospects to chase as well as when the deal might close and for how much.

The increasing adoption of AI and ML by CRMs is an exciting development, particularly for their ability to adjust in real time to incoming data. Without the right tools, efforts to forecast the most effective next step to take with a lead can be both unreliable and frustrating. This is helping companies to better understand how to react to changing customer behaviors and market trends.

Predictive analytics can allow your small business to take both macro and micro views of every scenario, maximize each interaction and analyze how that engagement can lead to a sale.

Marketing tools

Marketing plays an indispensable role in ensuring the financial success of almost any company. The trouble is, that small businesses don’t normally have sizable marketing budgets.

Your CRM can help stretch those dollars by providing a single platform to launch campaigns including email marketing campaigns, social media marketing campaigns, text message campaigns and more. Whatever channel you use, you can create targeted marketing campaigns with personalized content that recipients react to and engage with. You can run paid search and search engine optimization campaigns too so that your website finishes higher on Google.

Use the survey and customer satisfaction tools in CRMs to understand what your target audience thinks and wants as well as to find out how your after-sales service team is performing. You can even use X (formerly Twitter) as a customer support channel with your CRM.

CRMs also have the flexibility to add new platforms as they develop and emerge as well as they have recently with private messaging apps like WhatsApp, Telegram and Messenger; your marketing strategy may shift depending on the prevalence of new and emerging platforms.

Adaptability

Small businesses need to find a CRM solution that’s adaptable enough to capture the information they need both now and as they grow. This adaptability and scalability means that, as you expand, your CRM changes with you and you don’t need to go through the trauma of switching CRMs.

Choosing a flexible CRM will help strengthen customer engagement at every point of the company’s development. For example, a small business owner who’s looking to bolster sales and buyer satisfaction should seek a CRM solution that can be built around their specific sales and customer service needs, given their business model and organizational goals. The CRM should be customizable and capture data that’s relevant to your requirements.

Task automation

Rote tasks can take hours of your staff’s time that can be better spent on more complex projects. CRMs can help develop and execute the following tasks:

  • Send automatic responses to common questions
  • Automatically send welcome, order confirmation or other routine emails
  • Pass information to new leads
  • Measure data and run reports
  • Automate your customer follow-up and engagement sequences
  • Build and automate workflows

Industry-specific functionality

How prevalent is the specific CRM you’re using (or considering) in your industry? Does it provide the specific functionality you need to be successful in your space? The CRM you choose should be flexible enough to meet the needs of both your specific industry and your particular business.

Companies are increasingly recognizing the need for industry-specific business tools and your CRM should accommodate the unique challenges and opportunities of your space. Look for a CRM that has either native or third-party plug-in modules or features that are specific to how you operate your business and the types of customer interactions you have.

Your CRM doesn’t have to be exclusive to your industry, but it should be able to demonstrate how it will help your business achieve growth in your space.

Lead automation

CRM software can help field new leads and assign them to the right contact. This way, you can ensure that nobody misses a beat and no customer is overlooked accidentally. The level of detailed data contained in a CRM means that each contact is more personal and tailored to the recipient, increasing the chances of upping your conversion rates.

When you use these tools, your sales team should receive an email whenever someone inquires about a possible new customer or client. A flexible CRM can schedule follow-up actions as your company sees fit, as opposed to making your workflows fit into the software. If you force an inflexible CRM to work for you, it can mess with your own processes.

Did You Know?Did you know
One of the hardest challenges is to build a sales team that’s successful and stays together. A great way to do that is with a CRM because it takes care of many mundane tasks. Employees can also see where every deal is in their pipeline at any time.

Mobility

Now that working from home and hybrid employment is so popular among staff, mobility has become a vital issue for small businesses. 

Flexible CRM software allows you to meaningfully engage with customers in an environment where sales are made ― and customer support is provided ― outside office hours. It ensures that you and your employees can work from anywhere without missing a beat.

Be careful when choosing a mobile CRM strategy. A full-featured mobile version of complex CRM software can often lead to frustration and minimal use among small businesses. Instead, opt for a smaller-scale CRM that’s optimized with the features your business and employees need while working on the go.

A streamlined mobile CRM with the right features allows sales reps and other employees to access data remotely, thus improving sales and customer satisfaction. The growing popularity of mobile CRMs can boost the performance of sales representatives, who can connect with clients at all hours as they work toward making a sale.

Third-party integrations

The world has become an information superhighway with data hitting us from a multitude of sources and directions. Adapting third-party integrations within your CRM can ensure your reps are up to speed as the latest customer data pours in.

All CRMs, no matter how sophisticated they might be, can benefit from incorporating outside applications. Whether you’re linking your CRM to X or a customer support system, third-party apps can strengthen your sales, organizational and communication efforts.

Aside from helping you keep pace with the latest data, incorporating outside software can be a valuable way to manage schedules, enhance marketing, connect with customers and achieve other organizational objectives.

Support for both acquisition and retention

Acquiring new customers often requires different strategies than maintaining existing clients. By now, you may have a handle on your longtime customers’ buying histories, communication preferences and shopping habits. Conversely, there’s much to learn about the new and prospective customers you’re trying to woo.

Your CRM should be capable of supporting customer acquisition and retention efforts with equal aplomb. This includes providing sophisticated yet easy-to-use data analytics and reporting tools to get a real insight into your customers’ behaviors and preferences. Then, you can segment them into distinct groups and take a tailored marketing approach towards each.

The software should provide functionality for tracking new relationships through the sales funnel as well as following established connections as you look to sell upgrades and add-ons and generally maintain those relationships.

The CRM industry has become one of the largest software markets in the world and the technology’s popularity shows no signs of slowing. As the market grows, the best small business CRMs continue to expand upon and improve the features that benefit the small business community.

The best small business CRMs can capture complex and relevant data sets, help small businesses take sophisticated collections of information and make them actionable to drive business growth through successful interactions with both new and existing customers.

There are a lot of CRM options and many of them position themselves as offering business tools and features in addition to basic contact management functionality. However, the key is to determine which CRM can adapt to the needs of your organization.

TipBottom line
CRMs are significant investments for any business. Give yourself the best chance of reducing the cost by getting quotes from different suppliers so that they compete for your order.

Best flexible CRM systems

If you’re looking for the best flexible CRM systems for your small business, check out our recommendations.

Pipedrive CRM

  • Starting price: $14.90
  • Free trial: 14-day trial
  • Email features: Bulk send, scheduling, tracking and templates
  • Integrations: 400

Read our comprehensive Pipedrive CRM review.

monday.com CRM

  • Starting price: $30
  • Free trial: 14-day trial on the Pro Plan
  • Email features: Email templates, tracking and native integration
  • Integrations: 150

Read our in-depth monday.com CRM review.

HubSpot CRM

  • Starting price: $30 (on the CRM bundle)
  • Free trial: 14-day trial
  • Email features: Campaign scheduling, analytics and templates
  • Integrations: 1,000

Read our latest HubSpot CRM review.

Salesforce CRM

  • Starting price: $25
  • Free trial: 30-day trial
  • Email features: Bulk sending, templates and list segmentation
  • Integrations: 2,000

Read our updated Salesforce CRM review.

Oracle NetSuite CRM

  • Starting price: Custom
  • Free trial: 14-day trial
  • Email features: Build target lists, personalization and email automation
  • Integrations: 2,300

Read our comprehensive review of Oracle NetSuite CRM.

Zoho CRM

  • Starting price: $14
  • Free trial: 15-day trial
  • Email features: Bulk send, campaign insights and email templates
  • Integrations: More than 1,000

Read our in-depth review of Zoho CRM.

Freshworks CRM

  • Starting price: $15
  • Free trial: 21-day trial
  • Email features: Campaign analytics, templates and email automation
  • Integrations: 500

Read our latest review of Freshworks CRM.

Keap CRM

  • Starting price: $129 per user, per month
  • Free trial: 14 days
  • Email features: Segmentation, templates, workflow automations and analytics
  • Cloud document storage: 10GB

Read our updated review of Keap CRM.

Zendesk CRM

  • Starting price: $19
  • Free trial: 14 days
  • Email features: Bulk send, templates, insights and priority notifications
  • Cloud document storage: From 2GB
  • Integrations: 1,200

Read our comprehensive Zendesk CRM review.

Stella Morrison and H. John Oechsle contributed to this article.

Mark Fairlie
Mark Fairlie, Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
Mark Fairlie brings decades of expertise in telecommunications and telemarketing to the forefront as the former business owner of a direct marketing company. Also well-versed in a variety of other B2B topics, such as taxation, investments and cybersecurity, he now advises fellow entrepreneurs on the best business practices. With a background in advertising and sales, Fairlie made his mark as the former co-owner of Meridian Delta, which saw a successful transition of ownership in 2015. Through this journey, Fairlie gained invaluable hands-on experience in everything from founding a business to expanding and selling it. Since then, Fairlie has embarked on new ventures, launching a second marketing company and establishing a thriving sole proprietorship.
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