My first business smashed through all of the sales records in our industry. I’ll share with you our secret to success:

I had a CRM (Customer Relationship Management System).

It’s amazing how people open their wallets to buy your product or service when they feel like you are LISTENING to them and that you KNOW them.

I suffer through so many business plan pitches that list excellent, personalized, customer service as what makes them different. Every time, I ask “Great – how are you going to collect the information you need, what system are you going to use to record it and how will you report back on it at the instant you need it?” No one can answer that question – and I bet you can’t either.

You’re in luck – technology can make it easier!

Gone are the days of hauling around a laptop and sneaking into a bathroom stall to look up the name of someone’s kid. (Or better yet, whispering it to your sales rep who is calling you because you have the only copy of the data). There are hundreds of web based systems out there accessible by your entire team instantaneously on the device in their pocket.

Most organizations that generate revenue understand they need to constantly improve the sales process:

 Sales Process Graphic

Improving the process is the first lever in efficient business. Yep, you get that.

The second lever is managing your information well. This is the struggle for most businesses. We have client information everywhere – or nowhere. It’s in the heads of our sales team, scribbled in margins of contracts, in our phone, in our email or hopefully findable on Google or LinkedIn when we need it.

The third lever of success is choosing the appropriate technology. This is where everyone says “Salesforce is what I need, right?”

Salesforce is the monolith and market leader that has become a household name. I applaud them for their successful brand awareness - it’s the knee jerk answer whenever someone says CRM.  It’s what business publications laud as the best in the market and most managers suggest because no one ever gets fired for recommending the market leader. I’ve found it’s an excellent solution if you have an unlimited budget, a highly skilled technology team and a good integrative technology strategy. Oh, and you need all of your data well organized and specified so you can provide it to the customization group. Recently, I attended a cocktail party and the sales exec from a well known company bragged to me he “only” pays $3,000 per user, per year for 100 employees to use Salesforce. I choked on my cracker.

Luckily for you, there are plenty of other options to get you started managing people information well:

BatchBlue manages people, companies, events, to-do's and deals (including potential deals). It’s the kind of system you can setup and just start using. Three big wins are 1) It has an excellent LinkedIn integration (all social media really) 2) merging duplicates is a snap 3) “Supertags” allow an unlimited number of custom fields. If I had a criticism, it would be that they don’t support Outlook integration and the reporting is very medieval –like DOS based queries. Regardless, it’s a nice solution for a startup or an established small business. Some other options like this are Address Two, Capsule and Nimble.

Highrise has made quite a name for themselves as a simple solution. It’s a freeform system – data lives in blocks of text instead of fields. This is a good for people who become overwhelmed with filling out forms of data – they just want to be able to keep loosey goosey notes. It also integrates well with Basecamp Project Management Software for companies seeking a platform. The biggest challenge I found with this system is that it’s extremely difficult to merge duplicates and it requires wayyyyyyy too many clicks to add simple information – like phone numbers. Lastly, it’s expensive and painful to migrate off of it when your business grows out of it so only consider if you’re small (10 employees or less) and plan to stay small.

Zoho and Sugar CRM are cost efficient competitors to the Salesforce monolith. These can support small to large businesses with dealflow, customer support tickets, vendor markups and other complex customer sales and prospecting processes. They do everything the little guys do with plenty more bells and whistles. The failure in both of these systems is the client expects them to be out of the box. They aren’t. They require an expert to help you with configuration and there will be add-on costs for integrations. All of this is necessary.  If your budget and company aren’t ready for this, go smaller.  If you are ready, they are very powerful and customizable to your business at a fraction of the Salesforce cost. Of the two, I find Sugar a more stable and well supported product so I find the small cost bump over Zoho is justified. Brain Memory Graphic

Don’t get caught in the paralysis of choice. It’s better for you to start putting your data in any CRM than holding off on the perfect solution. Implementing this technology provides the largest and quickest return because our human brains cannot process many three dimensional relational data points. By using a database to manage these connections, we can begin to see patterns and close deals we didn’t know were there. What are you waiting for? Good people data makes you money!

Want more? The Empire Builders Group is building a personal assessment tool at Today you can find lists of CRMs there. Join the VIP list and you’ll be the first to hear when the free personalized assessment tool is live.  

About the Author(s)

Amy Larrimore

Amy consults businesses in combining their information with a good piece of operational technology to power efficient humans. She is a certified SCORE business mentor with the Philadelphia chapter and serves as a SCORE volunteer District VP of Information Systems and Technology. | SCORE Mentors | @AmyAllStar | More from Amy

CEO and Chief Strategist, Empire Builders Group