If you’re a small business or a small business owner, you may find yourself in a place where you feel you have too much data to stay organized.

From experience, I can tell you that you don’t need to have been in business for a very long time before managing your data becomes overwhelming and a literal headache.

Having worked with many startups and small business on a consultancy or long-term basis, I have seen many inefficiently struggle to stay on top of leads and create a well-functioning pipeline using a Google Sheets or other inadequate methods. “Messy” isn’t enough of a word to describe the cluster of disorganization that can erupt just after a few hundred lines of information are input.

Notes, attachments, documents, and to-do’s pertaining to the customer that have to be stored outside of the spreadsheet database become nearly impossible to track efficiently. Many of these things are simply doomed for falling between the cracks. This often causes poor employee performance, with the next reaction in the chain of effects being the deliverance of sloppy customer service, and ultimately it can end with teed-off customers who will either fight with you or flee from you.

As a small business, these scenarios in the smallest doses can be fatal to achieving your dreams.

This is where the CRM, or Customer Relationship Management database comes in to save the day.

Some small business owners are a penny-wise-a-pound-foolish and think investing in a decent CRM to avoid all the BS won’t possibly be worth it.

I am incredulous when I meet entrepreneurs that refuse to spend even $30 per month on a system to manage their customer data – especially when most of them, like the rest of us, manage to waste $30 a month or more on junk food, unneeded impulse buys, or other things that will do nothing to serve them in the future. Whereas, a CRM for their business most certainly will.

CRMs can cost $30 or less per user, and most systems in this price range serve small operations well. But before we get into a CRM for your small business should be chosen, let’s talk about why having a CRM will make your life at least 10x better at work.

Good Organization Makes Success Easier

The main purpose of a CRM is to gather all of your customer information in one place, and then be able to access and manage it upon command. The second purpose is to record activities and attainment, then be able pivot on the information reported to determine where tweaks need to be made to improve business.

As recently as 2016, I was hired to help a company that wanted to grow through sales and marketing efforts and refine its processes. The first thing that I noticed was that the company’s filing system was similar to those in use across modern offices circa 1990.

Every time you needed to access customer files, you would have to get up and hunt for them on shelves around the office that housed huge binders with customer records organized in alphabetical order, and separated by sheet protectors. Naturally, documents were misfiled, entire sections of files were often completely of place, and sometimes they would vanish altogether never to be seen or heard from again. Besides the record-keeping debacle, sales goals and activities weren’t being written down or tracked by any means.

The owner of the business was frustrated at the lack of progress being made. There were two obvious solutions that needed to be implemented immediately: To establish goals and track them electronically, and convert and organize all of the customer records to a digital format where they could be stored and managed.

This would allow success to be defined and tracked, and it would stop unnecessary office scavenger hunts, loss of time and data, and allow more attention to be devoted to taking care of the customer and growing the business.

Making CRM Selection Quick and Painless

As companies get larger, their CRM needs become more complex. An advantage to being smaller is that finding a CRM that “fits” can be quite simple if you have the right expectations.

Quite simple, that is unless you’re the kind of business owner that likes to take a long time to make small decisions and would rather let your data disaster pile up while you decide what to do about it. Don’t be that kind of business owner.

If your budget is on the smaller end, more than likely you’re not going to find everything you want in a CRM. But you can get most of what you need. The simplest way to decide is to focus on the points below that matter most to you:

Pricing – To define this is obvious. How much can you spend, and what systems are available in that price range?

Functions – What features do the systems available in that price range provide you?

Can you build multiple pipelines? Can you sync it with your email or make phone calls through it?

Take note of which functions you need and which CRM offers most of them. With entry-level CRMs you may not be able to get everything you want, so choose what’s most important to you. The CRM that delivers on at least a few of your top priorities should be your pick.

Customization – Is there a CRM that specifically caters to your industry or line of work? Many systems that cater to specific industries with specialized workflows are on the pricier side, but depending on your needs you may be able to find a budget-friendly solution that is intended specifically for your kind of business.

More good news is that if not, you’ll likely be able to find a cost-effective solution in the many customizable systems available on the market today.

Integration – Can your CRM be integrated with any of the tools you’re already using, or plan to use, to interact with your customers? If so, this will be a plus.

User Friendliness – When it comes to incorporating a CRM into the operations of your small business, there’s nothing as refreshing as being able to jump into a system and know instinctively where to click and what to do.

It’s also important to take note if a CRM system has built-in support link an FAQ’s section, a video library of How-To’s, or there is an easy way to get in touch with a support person in case you can’t figure an issue out on your own.

After Your CRM Selection

You may find it necessary to try out a few CRMs before you find the one that’s the best fit for you. Switching CRMs typically isn’t a fully manual process with it being easy to download and upload date from one system into another in case you do decide to switch.

One thing I’d like to suggest is that once you have a CRM, don’t be too lazy to fill in all of the important fields properly or take adequate notes. A CRM is a tool but it is not going to do your job for you. If you don’t use it properly, you may end up almost as frustrated as you were when there were stacks of files crowding your desk and you thought you would eventually drown in contracts and memos.

For our business, even when we’d just started out, we found it necessary to keep a CRM around whether it was for the integrated apps or just to keep track of things. Using a calendar or spreadsheet alone just never seemed to be enough, and being disorganized has never proven itself to be a worthy tradeoff for potential savings in dollars.

We have used Zendesk Sell (formerly Base) for the most part, which we feel fits our needs and find easy to navigate. We have also looked at others which we thought were not a fit for us like Zoho (not intuitive enough) and Freshdesk and Bitrix (too complex or us). However, just because a system works well for us or doesn’t, doesn’t mean that you’ll share the same opinion. You definitely need to weigh out your options if you want to find a CRM that you love.

This article isn’t meant to point you in any specific direction, but if you’d like to check out a detailed list of suggestions or side-by-side product comparisons, you may find this recent article from PCMag.com where some of the best-rated CRMs are reviewed to be helpful.

Do you have any questions about whether a CRM could help your small business? What firsthand experiences have you had while shopping for one, or implementing one? We’d love to hear if you have any suggestions that can be helpful with getting into one these great tools.

Thanks for reading!