Yes, you need a CRM

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New BSF Business CardsOver the past couple of days, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to businesses large and small, in virtually every industry from non-profit rescue missions to Fortune 500 companies about their digital marketing, and one of the greatest consistent gaps I’ve seen is that few are using a CRM, or customer relationship management system.

For those who aren’t familiar, a CRM is a piece of software that does pretty much what its name says it does: helps you manage customer relationships. They’re used to stay in touch with customers, look for business-generating opportunities, stay on top of opportunities you’ve created, prevent customer loss by staying on top of support and service issues, and many other things.

In this day and age, when information flows freely and data capture requires the advanced skills of copy and paste, there’s no excuse not to use a CRM for your business. Price isn’t an issue – there are free and low cost systems out there that offer 80%-90% of the functionality of the top end systems. Here are a few options and some of the tradeoffs: Salesforce is the 800 pound gorilla in the world of CRM, and for good reason. It offers an incredible amount of power, but that power comes at a price. Salesforce isn’t cheap (as much as $150/user/month), and it’s a bear to set up well. Out of the box, it’s okay, but it requires extensive configuration and expertise to make it sing. If you do set it up well, however, you will find that Salesforce can make a huge improvement in your business profitability. We use it at Blue Sky Factory email marketing and it’s amazing.

Zoho CRM. Zoho is the small business CRM of choice for me. I set it up for the Boston Martial Arts Center and I like to say it’s 80% of Salesforce at 5% of the price, around $12/user/month. Zoho requires configuration time too, but integration with other services is relatively painless. For the small business, Zoho is probably the best choice.

Sugar CRM. Sugar is an open-source Salesforce clone that is usually about 1-2 releases behind Salesforce. It’s financially free, but the free comes at a hefty price: not only do you need to be an expert in configuring a Salesforce-like web service, you also need to be or have a very competent developer & systems administrator to get it even installed on a server. If you have the skills but not the cash, Sugar is a great solution. I set several up in the past, and it’s not fun but it does work. If you lack the skills, pay the money for a hosted service like Salesforce or Zoho.

Are there other CRM solutions out there? Sure there are. These are the three I’ve had direct experience with, setting them up and configuring them to make them work.

No matter what CRM you choose, you will be doing a lot of configuration time to make it conform to how your business does business. This is a good thing, because in the process of setting up a CRM, you’ll also be confronted with the gaps where your organization does not conform to best practices, like following up on sales opportunities rigorously. It’s that process which will help you become a better-functioning business.

Are you using a CRM? If not, why not?

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15 responses to “Yes, you need a CRM”

  1. Hey Chris. Agreed. CRM is vital in business today. It is nice to have so many options depending on your needs. I have integrated Salesforce, Siebel, and Zoho into organizations and currently use Batchbook. I like using them for collection and segmentation, as a relationship thermometer, and for communications archive.

    Would love to hear how you use CRM?

  2. I’m a photographer and I’ve been using BatchBook for a while… it’s great for small businesses and has a lot of features of some of the more widely-known CRM solutions (such as Highrise) and a lower cost.

  3. Great comparison Chris. On the flip side, I use Highrise from 37Signals. It’s straight forward, easy to use, mobile, and painless integrates with things like Wufoo, MailChimp, and Freshbooks.

  4. Chris:

    I can’t imagine anyone running any business without a CRM.

    I think you are being a bit harsh on SugarCRM. They offer a fantastic hosted service for only 30/mo/user and are now about even with all the features of SalesForce (which costs125/user/mo). Moreover, SugarCRM gives you access to ALL of your data (SalesForce does not) and Sugar has made the technical stuff far easier. If you want the free version of Sugar — you can host it with a one-click install on (~4/mo) or RackWire (~5/mo). Best of all — all SugarCRM installs give you access and control over all of your data. SalesForce does not as it is build on a legacy Oracle database that they control.

    Another one worth mentioning is Highrise by 37signals. Great system for small and medium businesses.

    I have had nightmares with ZoHo. Yes, they are cheap. But they were unable to provide any assurance that the data stored on their servers is secure. Not sure what you tried to integrate with… but I had a terrible time setting a client up with a simple website & email integration to ZoHo.

    1. Rodrigo Vaca Avatar
      Rodrigo Vaca

      Olin –

      Not sure where that security non-info came from, but I can assure you that all of the data that you put in Zoho services is safe. You can read more about our data security practices and policies here:

      I’m sorry you had problems integrating your email with Zoho CRM. Our email add-on is quite a popular addition and we have thousands of customers using it on a daily basis. If you are still having issues, please contact me and I’d be more than happy to get you going in the right direction.

      Rodrigo Vaca
      Director of Marketing, Zoho
      vaca / at / zohocorp / com

  5. Like @Aaron, I use BatchBook and recommend them a lot.

  6. Hi Christopher. Don’t rule out some of the newcomers in this space. Nimble – which is in private beta – was founded by Jon Ferrara (who also started Goldmine) looks like being a market leader for SMEs. I interviewed Jon a little while ago – – worth signing up for the Beta if you are looking for a multi-site solution that integrates with Social Media.

    Also, there’s a very nice service called Connected. This is a start up in San Francisco by a really nice guy called Sachin Rekhi. Again interviewed him – – and just paid $99 to keep going with service for a year. This is probably more for the individual who is looking to maintain their Personal Network and customer relations.

    P.S. Thanks for following me on Twitter today – your made my day! Honoured….

    1. Oh, I don’t rule the others out. As I mentioned in the post, these are the three that I have had personal experience deploying in a production environment. I’ve tried out Batchbook and Highrise, and while they were nice, I didn’t have to use them in production, which means I can’t speak to them.

  7. I like Highrise from 37 Signals. It’s the “less is more” CRM solution for growing businesses. I like it because it’s web-based. And I like it because it comes from 37 Signals – a very cool company.

  8. Last year I did Microsoft Dynamics CRM for a company in Cincinnati, Ohio that does payroll software solutions. I was so impressed by what CRM does, from setting up and managing the sales process, to tracking customer interactions, and even more. Like you said, each business needs to spend time looking at the business to see what information needs to be captured. Many of our clients had not set up a formal sales process yet. Fortunately, there are numerous examples and folks to help out with that.

    Are you using a system for yourself, Chris, as a personal relationship management system? If so, please comment.

  9. Joseph Ruiz Avatar
    Joseph Ruiz

    Really appreciate this post have been looking for a personal CRM lot’s of options here. Timely.

  10. Chris,
    So true that businesses have all of this information, but fail to keep track of their customers. It is so basic. It’s like we jumped from the Rolodex and then forgot to put a system in place.

    I’m starting to like Highrise. I think it will be interesting to see how CRM integrates social profile data soon. More proof that the enterprise needs a tech/marketing hybrid role to better use all of this rich information!

  11. Thanks for posting this Christopher. This is one of those things I’ve been meaning to get to, but always found something else more important to do without realizing this IS one of the most important things to be doing.

    I tried Highrise, but ended up going with Capsule CRM. For me, the interface is just perfect.

  12. I agree Chris. Not enough companies are using a CRM system right now. It seems as though SharePoint (or any other document management system) is all the rage right now. And an ECM is great, but companies are missing the point between systems that capture unstructured data, like documents, and systems that capture structured data, like CRM’s.

    I think this might just be an evolution thing though … it is easier to take a baby step to a system that manages your documents and workflow around those documents … but after that reaches enough saturation point, people are going to have to come to grips with the fact that systems like SharePoint are not designed to effectively and efficiently capture structured data elements like a CRM can.

  13. Christian Avatar

    One true statement on this article is that a CRM solution is an important part of any organization. However, I do not agree with what you say about SugarCRM. I recently purchased their Pro Edition for only 30 a month per seat. Salesforce is 125 a month that is less than a 3rd of the cost. SugarCRM is more customizable and integrates better. SugarCRM can be SaaS Product or I can host it, while with salesforce you don’t have an option. SugarCRM is an open source. We control what we want. ApexTwo helped me out.

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