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Updated Apr 18, 2024

Keys to CRM Success for Small Businesses

Small businesses need a straightforward CRM solution with features that can improve operations.

Mark Fairlie
Mark Fairlie, Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
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Table of Contents

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Small businesses can choose from a vast array of customer relationship management (CRM) software solutions. However, while bells and whistles can be tempting, more isn’t necessarily better when it comes to a CRM. In fact, overly complex software can hamper the successful installation of a CRM solution. If your solution isn’t intuitive, your team won’t use it and you’ll lose the potential benefits of CRM software

We’ll explain why many CRM implementations fail and what businesses can do to successfully add a CRM solution to their tech stack and reap the numerous benefits of this wide-ranging, powerful software. 

Reasons why CRMs fail

CRM adoption is widespread. Businesses deploy CRMs to centralize customer relationship management and streamline numerous aspects of business operations. However, when implementing a CRM, your best intentions can backfire for the following reasons: 

  • Employees don’t use the CRM. Employees may avoid using the CRM because it doesn’t integrate well with your other crucial business software solutions or because it’s too complicated.
  • The CRM implementation process is faulty. You can’t install a CRM and expect everyone to start using it without modifying the solution to fit your company’s needs and processes. Proper CRM implementation is a long-term process. Your initial focus should be on customizing the system, followed by gradual employee adoption.
  • CRM training is lacking. CRMs are incredibly complex; introducing a CRM to your team without proper training is like asking someone who doesn’t know how to swim to jump into a lake. Your team will avoid the platform if they haven’t been trained properly.
  • You’ve chosen the wrong CRM software. CRM solutions are many and varied, with features and functionalities designed for various business types and industries. A CRM well suited to your business will likely enjoy employee buy-in. However, a CRM that’s ill-suited to your business is destined to fail.
  • You don’t take employee feedback into account. Most CRMs have robust customizability, allowing you to tailor them to your business’s needs. However, you need employee feedback and advice when customizing your CRM solution. After all, your team will use the software and can tell you precisely what they need it to do. If you don’t listen to your employees, the solution won’t suit their needs. They won’t use it to its fullest extent – or at all – and your CRM implementation will fail.
TipBottom line
Ensure any CRM you choose integrates with your existing tech stack, including your accounting software, human resources software and POS system.

How to set up your CRM for success

Follow these steps and best practices to ensure a successful transition to your new CRM.

1. Carefully consider the CRM features you need.

CRMs are robust tools with myriad features. All solutions come with a specific feature set out of the box. Many allow you to customize your package with the features you need, or you may need to upgrade to a higher tier for crucial functionality. 

While you likely won’t need every available CRM feature, some will be critical to your organization. Consider the following CRM features and carefully weigh the ones your business will need:

  • Lead and contact management features: Most CRMs provide ways to track leads and contacts throughout the sales funnel. You should find your CRM’s lead management features straightforward and intuitive. Any CRM you select should centralize lead and customer information, including all contact details, customers’ purchase histories and email campaign responses. Consider if you need your CRM solution to analyze and score leads based on interest and qualification standards.
  • CRM reporting features: CRMs amass vast amounts of data. You should be able to harness this data via detailed reports that are easy to access and run. Consider the CRM reports you’ll need and ensure your CRM solution has those capabilities. Examples include sales reports, reports on email campaign click-through rates, customer inquiry response time reports and customer satisfaction reports. 
  • Revenue-tracking tools: Many CRMs can help businesses track sales, including lead sources and what channels people purchase from. They can also monitor sales team performance, profitability and other revenue-tracking analytics. You may even want a CRM with advanced sales forecasting capabilities.
  • Data customization features: All CRMs facilitate data collection. However, the more you know your customers and prospects, the better you can market to them. Many CRMs allow you to add extra data fields to customer and order records, making them easier to categorize and separate for more targeted, personalized marketing campaigns.
  • Interactive CRM dashboards: Consider the degree of dashboard customizability your CRM provides. Many CRMs let you control what each user can see and access. For example, your customer service team must view vital support data and client interactions, whereas senior management will need broad business overviews.
  • Individual dashboard personalization: You may want to allow your team to further customize their dashboards. Some systems allow team members or managers to add specific KPIs to their CRM dashboards or gain quick access to particular functions. Dashboard personalization helps employees get better results and makes the CRM more intuitive.
  • Automated workflows: Some CRMs provide robust automated workflow capabilities. Workflow automations help teams automate and offload nonproductive but essential tasks. Automations can shorten the sales cycle and improve customer service management.
  • Omnichannel communications: Ideally, you want your CRM to help you centralize all external communications. Consider your omnichannel communication needs. Do you need to contact customers by phone, email, text, social media, or other channels? Your CRM should log all interactions across all channels and append customer records. 
  • Marketing campaign features: You may need your CRM to assist with your marketing campaigns. Many solutions allow you to run email marketing, telemarketing, text message marketing and other campaigns directly from the platform.
  • Information-sharing features: Many CRMs feature various employee collaboration tools that allow smoother, more efficient work. Consider your collaboration needs. For example, do you want your sales team and marketing team to share campaign performance insights and access the same data? Do you want your customer service reps to transfer customers to a sales agent if they’ve expressed interest in a new product?
  • Mobile access: Some CRMs have mobile apps that facilitate customer interactions and data sharing on the go. Consider the level of mobile CRM access you’ll need. CRMs with mobile access ensure all staff members, wherever they are, can be effective and productive while working with the latest information.
  • CRM integrations: CRMs have varying integration capabilities. Some integrate with hundreds of third-party applications, while others integrate with only a few. Carefully consider the third-party and built-in integrations you need, and select a CRM that can accommodate your requirements.
  • AI integration: AI features are becoming more prominent and popular in today’s CRMs. Consider if you need a CRM system with AI and machine learning capabilities that provide advanced data analytics. A CRM with AI functions can streamline workflows, help with strategic investment decisions, provide in-call prompts and tips to your customer service teams, and much more.
  • Data security features: Many CRMs feature data security safeguards to help businesses comply with laws like the GDPR, HIPAA and the CCPA. If you’re concerned with protecting your business from a data breach and safeguarding customer data, ensure your CRM has robust data security features. 
Did You Know?Did you know
Many CRM systems have plug-ins that help businesses collect customer feedback automatically. You can use this feedback to improve after-sales processes and secure faster resolutions to customers' problems.

2. Compare CRM options based on crucial factors. 

After getting a handle on the CRM features your business needs, you must consider additional factors related to the quality of any potential CRM and how it operates. 

  • Can you turn off features? Many businesses want the ability to turn off features they don’t need to streamline the visual interface their team sees. If this is important to you, ensure your CRM has this ability. 
  • Is the CRM system scalable? Scalability is critical when choosing a CRM. Ensure any CRM you choose can grow with your business – and that you won’t pay significantly more if you add team members.
  • Is the CRM system easy to use? User-friendliness is a top priority for most businesses. While you (or the CRM provider) will provide proper training, you should ensure your CRM has an intuitive user interface and is easy to work with.
  • Will the CRM vendor provide adequate support? Customer service is crucial in a CRM. Will the vendor provide support if you or your staff encounter issues? What support options are available during your business hours? Will the vendor help you switch CRMs and migrate your data?
  • Is the CRM affordable? CRMs range from free to very expensive. Your budget will ultimately help determine your final selection. You must also determine if a CRM locks you into a contract or if you can switch tiers or walk away from the solution altogether if it’s not a fit. 

3. Take advantage of CRM free trials.

At this point, you’ve created a list of the most crucial CRM features for your organization and considered additional factors like scalability and support. Next, create a shortlist of potential CRM solutions based on these elements. 

Your next step is testing potential CRM platforms hands-on. Many CRMs provide free trials that allow you to interact with the software, test-drive features and have your team weigh in about what they like and don’t like.

During your free trial, pay close attention to the features and tools that matter most to your team. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How is the workflow on everyday tasks? 
  • Do I like the look and feel of the system? 
  • Can I imagine working with this system every day for five years or more?
  • Is this CRM flexible and adaptable to our business needs?

As you and your team test the software, invite feedback from various departments. Ascertain how much customizing you’ll need to have the system operate optimally for your organization. 

The CRM decision-making process will vary depending on your organization’s size. You may be the sole decision-maker, or you may need to present various solutions to a board of directors. Whatever your role, getting feedback from multiple points of view can help ensure a successful implementation. When people are invested in the process and feel heard, they’re more likely to use the system once it’s implemented.

TipBottom line
Ensure your CRM has a document management component so you can store digital paperwork and data in a central location.

4. Test the vendor’s customer service. 

When you’ve narrowed your options to two or three CRM platforms, work with a customer service rep to ensure the solution can be tailored to your needs. Many reps will conduct product demos to show you how to work with and customize the system. These interactions are a good indication of the type of support you’ll receive if you become a customer. 

Tell your rep precisely what you need the CRM solution to do. Share two or three situations your business may encounter, and ask for a demonstration of how the CRM platform would handle them. Additionally, determine how much customer service help you’ll receive during implementation.

Your relationship with the CRM’s customer service team will be much more important than your relationship with the sales rep; determine whether the CRM’s customer support is a good fit before signing a contract.

5. Make the final decision.

At this point, one CRM solution has likely risen above the others and is the obvious choice. With the careful consideration you’ve given, you’ve done everything possible to set your business up for CRM success.

6. Carefully integrate the CRM into daily business life. 

You may be certain you’ve chosen an excellent CRM solution for your organization. Now, to ensure the platform is successfully adopted, you must carefully implement it into daily business life. Consider the following four crucial steps to CRM implementation: 

1. Customize the CRM to your business’s needs.

Your first step is customizing the platform to your identified specific needs. You’ll likely need to do the following:

  • Migrate your data. Merge your existing databases, upload a single version to the CRM and add the extra fields you want to track.
  • Set up dashboards and permissions. Decide on users’ priorities and set up their dashboards to reflect their responsibilities and targets.
  • Set up integrations. Add the necessary third-party plug-ins so your CRM can connect to and share data with your other business software.
  • Set up workflow automations. Add crucial workflow automations and external apps that will benefit the company.

2. Train your team on the CRM.

Invest in employee training to ensure everyone understands the system. Provide all staff members with basic training on the platform’s shared features and functionalities. You’ll also need specialized departmental training on specific workflows and processes.

Department heads and senior management must understand the platform’s more complex features. For example, train marketing managers on running various campaign analyses, and train inventory managers on analyzing stock turnaround times for more accurate ordering.

FYIDid you know
Your CRM's campaign-analysis features should include scheduling, digital campaign ROI data, performance reports and more.

3. Roll out your CRM officially.

When initial training is complete, the companywide CRM rollout begins. Note that the system won’t be perfect immediately. For example, users may not be prompted to input necessary data at certain process stages. This is to be expected; it’s a complex process.

Start a pilot phase for each team and department to determine what’s right and what needs improving in the system. Gather feedback over several weeks, and share it with the project manager configuring the system.

After creating an iteration that performs well for a specific department, gradually expand the rollout to include more users and teams.

4. Build on the initial implementation.

Monitor how team members are reacting to the system. If some co-workers seem resistant, determine why and investigate if any system changes are necessary. Note where staff members get stuck and need help; consider creating screen recording videos to demonstrate how to perform specific actions.

Stay positive and keep working to improve the system. As its benefits become apparent, buy-in will increase and your CRM system will have an excellent chance of success. 

The best CRM software

The best CRM software for your business will meet your needs at a price you can afford. To help you get started on your journey, consider the following top solutions:

Salesforce CRM

  • Starting cost: $25 per user per month
  • Free trial period: 30 days
  • Email features: Tracking, personalization, template designs, bulk sending, market segmentation
  • API and integrations: Full API integration; over 2,000 marketplace apps

Read our full review of Salesforce CRM for more information.

Pipedrive CRM

  • Starting cost: $14.90 per user per month
  • Free trial period: 14 days
  • Email features: Templates, tracking, bulk send, scheduling
  • API and integrations: Full API integration; over 400 marketplace apps 

Read our comprehensive review of Pipedrive CRM to learn more.

HubSpot CRM

  • Starting cost: $30 per user per month (CRM Bundle); free tier available
  • Free trial period: 14 days
  • Email features: Analytics, scheduling, templates, tracking
  • API and integrations: Full API integration; over 1,000 marketplace apps

Our HubSpot CRM review details the platform’s pricing and additional features.

monday Sales CRM

  • Starting cost: $30 per user per month
  • Free trial period: 14 days on the Pro Plan
  • Email features: Tracking, templates, built-in integrations
  • API and integrations: Full API integration; 150 marketplace apps

Our full monday CRM review explains more about this platform’s functionality.

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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