Our guide to choosing the right CRM for start-ups and SMEs in 2017

Every business no matter what its size should be looking to invest in a CRM (Client Relationship Management) system of some form to help them to collect and manage data related to their new and prospected customers, but with so many out there to choose from and with them all doing things slightly differently, which one should you use? Here’s our guide to choosing the right CRM for startups and SMEs in 2017.

What is a CRM?

A CRM is a platform that enables your business to manage its strategy for customer relationships and all your interactions with them. It is common at the beginning to rely on your email inbox to manage communications, or to keep a note of leads in a spreadsheet or in most cases just a notepad on the desk in front of you. Having a CRM that is integrated into your business from the beginning and is part of your culture can help to improve the sales and service processes of your business and improve its productivity overall.

What can a CRM do for your business?

It should be providing your business with a platform to record, manage and progress all interactions with your customers, and as a vehicle for you and your team to make the most of every opportunity without losing track of where you are in each stage of the process.


In a basic format, it has a sales focus and enables you to do the following:

  • Create a database of companies and contacts
  • Create custom fields to store additional data in relation to each contact
  • Create deals/opportunities within each company or contact
  • Create notes with information in context such as phone calls or meetings
  • Create and update tasks associated with each record, to keep on top of follow ups or call backs
  • Sync or store emails sent from your native tools keeping them in context of deals and opportunities and allowing team members to pick up in your absence
  • Manage calendar and events, often with sync to existing native systems
  • Capture leads directly from your website and set them up as a contact in your CRM

Additional features which are usually paid for are available such as:


Some CRM solutions offer an integrated marketing suite that is usually provisioned as an add-on and can enable you to target specific campaigns to your sales database without having to look at other solutions to integrate or operate separately (such as Mailchimp). They cater for items such as:

  • Marketing Automation – Deliver automated marketing campaigns, without human interaction
  • Email Campaigns – Email marketing and newsletters, with built in analytics to track how well they are doing
  • Social Marketing – Integrate social media into your campaigns and track its effectiveness
  • Web Engagement – Embed popups, signup forms and surveys to increase conversions
  • Analytics – Knowledge is power, track and monitor all your efforts in one place to see what works best
  • Track Email Opens – Send emails and see who opens them, to know when to contact or close the deal


All businesses will be offering a product or a service, so it makes sense to have a solution that integrates into the same database sharing the same data to provide support and reassurance to your customers after the initial sale has been made. Typically, a separate system would be procured, however it is more common to see purpose built solutions now available as modules to some CRM systems that you may already be using. They cater for items such as:

  • Ticketing – Create ticket based threads so that your team can respond to queries in an organised way
  • Service Level Agreements – Work within predefined SLAs in accordance with the agreements with your customers

What type of business are you?

Different CRM systems work better for different businesses and it may be that to start with, an easy to use system that works well with your chosen productivity platform (Office 365, Google etc) is all that you need at first. Key questions on choosing the right CRM we would ask:

  • Are you a start-up, or have systems in place already?
  • What sector do you operate in? Are you a charity?
  • What operational challenges or issues do you have currently?
  • What is the vision for the business in the foreseeable future?
  • How does your business operate, in terms of IT infrastructure?

What features are essential, and what might you need later?

There is no point in procuring a fully featured solution if your business is not ready to use them right now, however it makes sense to think about what features you can see yourself needing or using in the future and planning for this in your selection process.  This will ensure that you can obtain them easily enough later, either through native add-ons or integrations with other platforms.

Think about the bigger picture, and where you are heading

Most platforms offer such solutions or have integrations to enable you to work with different systems in a joined-up way. It’s much easier to put in the right system at the beginning that can grow with your business and choosing the right CRM carefully rather than having to rip it out and change it later –  some extra thought and advice at this stage will pay dividends in the future.

One size does not necessarily fit all

Although it would be great to have a system that can cater for all your business needs, such as Sales, Marketing and Service, it may be that there are other better suited tools that can integrate with your CRM that will do a better job for the individual needs of your business. The term “Jack of all trades,  master of none” can often be the case when providers try to bring too much technology together out of the box, without specialising in core areas and making them great individually. It’s better to take your time in choosing the right CRM.

What can it do and how well does it integrate with other packages?

Gone are the days where you seem to be at the mercy of your chosen CRM provider for getting data into and out of other systems. With a much more open approach to working with other systems, providers have an API (Application Programming Interface) to enable 3rd party application integrations, either developed purposefully or bespoke, to call on certain functions within the application.

There are many integrations with CRM solutions and other applications out of the box – the market has pushed for this change so that the focus is now about building a variety of great applications that can in most cases talk to each other, providing a more seamless experience for the end user and improving usability of systems end to end.

What if there are no native integrations?

Some clever technology exists such as Zapier and Workato to make connections between applications where native integrations do not yet exist, or to provide even more bespoke functionality on top of native integrations. These tools provide a great way of making applications talk to each other or perform tasks in a more automated way without a human needing to be involved in the process, and are often free depending on which applications you use. And let’s not forget, you could still have something bespoke developed for your needs.

What about bespoke/custom CRM solutions?

Bespoke or custom made CRM solutions are not always best option especially for start-ups and SMEs largely because they are very costly to procure and in all cases, will cause security and support problems down the line. Our recommended approach in choosing the right CRM would be to always explore off the shelf solutions that can be developed to meet your individual needs.  You’ll get a secure and constantly updated platform that will be supported throughout its lifecycle and is much cheaper and easier to change if your business needs were to change in the future.

What do you need to get started?

Usually nothing in terms of expensive IT infrastructure as most systems are provided as a service and hosted for you so you can literally sign up online and kick the tyres in most cases for up to 30 days to see if it works for you. This model is great for start-up’s and SMEs as it provides an opportunity to see how it could work for you and your business before taking the plunge, whilst requiring zero investment on licensing or expensive IT infrastructure.

How much do they cost?

A basic sales focused CRM package can be procured for about £5-10 per user per month, with additional functionality such as marketing and service modules costing extra. There are also some that offer their package for free for an unlimited number of users with some limitations around number of contacts, deals and tasks, such as Agile CRM and Hubspot – and for most start-ups and SMEs this will not easily be surpassed.

Harry has a broad range of experience with CRM platforms and has helped Eleven’s clients to identify and switch systems along with advising around the necessary IT infrastructure to support them. If you require any advice or guidance on choosing the right CRM in 2017 then we would be happy to help, why not give us a call on 01858 455100 or ask us a question today. 

Author: Harry Leak
Eleven’s dynamic and strategic IT leader has helped clients of all shapes and sizes discover performance enhancing solutions to make their businesses prosper. His extensive specialist experience and lasting relationships with management and IT teams have driven change and innovation through IT and improved overall organisational performance.  Harry’s broad experience comes from a wide range of IT service, sales and management positions, including working with SMEs, large corporate organisations with in-house IT teams and the education sector..

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