A few years ago I started reviewing different CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tools, systems, and solutions again. This includes hosted solutions (SaaS), self-hosted solutions, and even WordPress-based solutions.
Before I jump into this any further, let me share a few thoughts on the simple CRM concept. While the software has changed (for the better) over the years, the basic premise remains the same.
If you remove “customer” from the acronym, you’re left with RELATIONSHIP MANAGEMENT.
Let that concept sink in for a minute. Software to manage your relationships. Imagine telling your spouse, girlfriend, or boyfriend that you’re considering buying software to manage your relationship more effectively?
That’s basically how I thought about this type of software in the past. I thought it was overkill.
Managing business relationships has always been something I’ve been comfortable with. Many of my clients have been with me for a decade or longer. I’ve met with them in person, had conversations in the Inbox, been to parties and functions with them. The time-tested, person-to-person approach works. It always has.
That said, there were more times than I’d like to admit when things fell through the cracks. Did I need software to “manage relationships?” No.
Would it have helped? The more I think about it, I’m sure it would have.
Distractions Come Easily
Getting distracted seems to come naturally to just about everyone, myself included. Building systems? Not so much.
My original “coping” and organizational systems were as simple as a whiteboard and post-it notes. Folders helped, too. The system was far from being airtight and things still fell through the cracks.
Eventually, I moved to a calendar and reminder system to keep better organized.
For example, my meetings and the notes I compiled about people, places, and things would go into a calendar app. The calendar app would then send reminders to me. This setup was put in place after an important meet fell through the cracks.
I don’t remember all the little details anymore. I just remember I was driving down the road when my cell phone rang. It was one of my newer clients. She asked where I was and I think I told her I was heading to the store? Anyway, that’s when she told me I was supposed to be at her office (five minutes ago) for a meeting.
Talk about snapping out of it! Thankfully, I was only about 10-minutes away from her office when she called. I apologized profusely, turned the car around, and drove straight to her office. I felt like an idiot. Thankfully, everything worked out.
It’s one thing to have a system, it’s another to use it. I’d gotten lazy. Back in the post-it-note days, sometimes I just didn’t write things down. I didn’t add everything I should have to the whiteboard. Over time, it got a bit messy with notes, files, and papers all over the place. Things would get lost. I’d lose track of time, lose a note, or forget an important date.
In other words, things went wrong.
CRM Tool’s That Originally Added to Overwhelm
I started exploring CRM tools about a decade or so ago. If you want to read a whole, basic history on the topic, here’s a link for you – https://crmswitch.com/crm-industry/crm-industry-history/
Initially, I wasn’t impressed. Making better use of tools such as Microsoft Office (and later, Office 365) seemed to make more sense to me.
The CRM’s of the time felt clunky and overly complicated. They didn’t provide a good, overall user experience. The premise was there, but that was it. A good analogy would be – trying to wear clothes that don’t fit quite right. They’re either too loose or too tight. Trying to convince yourself otherwise is pointless. It either fits or it doesn’t.
That’s how I felt about the CRM tools of the time.
As time passed, I’d revisit the subject – always coming to the same basic conclusion. Over the past six months or so, that’s changed.
Years of user feedback have resulted in a newer, easier-to-manage generation of CRM solutions.
The same could be said of some of the older generations of CRM platforms. They, too, have changed with the times – benefiting from years of experience and user feedback.
Unlike the tools and platforms that are developed for the masses, (think Microsoft or Apple products), the CRM industry has become more “solution specific” over the years.
For example, some CRM’s (like Bitrix24) focus on communications with both customers and sales team members. That includes email, video, chat, Intranet, and more.
Others, like Agile CRM, focus on sales and marketing. There are CRM’s designed to help you with prospecting, customer management, email marketing, project management, business management, sales team management, and more.
For those who just want to get started with a simple, basic CRM, there are products like Less Annoying CRM (https://www.lessannoyingcrm.com/). Other platforms (like Zoho.com) offer a little bit of everything.
Over the next few years, it’s been said that AI (artificial intelligence) integration will automate things such as ad-buys, customer segmentation, and more. In other words, marketing intelligence will migrate from human-driven to machine-driven.
I don’t see this as bad news, necessarily. Granted, some marketing people will be out of a job. That said, the desire for the human-to-human element is still hardwired into us. Even if you dislike people in general and fantasize about living on a private island, you probably envision sharing it with at least one other person!
Will a CRM Be a Good Fit for Your Business?
If you approach this topic like I originally did, you’ll probably find that a CRM system is great in theory, but will turn out to be disappointing in a practical sense. Let me explain what I mean. A CRM tool will present you with, let’s say, a dozen possible uses and strategies. As a result, a new user can quickly find themselves overwhelmed and frustrated.
That was my experience. It all looked good. I wanted to do it all.
If you’ve ever experience software getting in the way of productivity, you know exactly what I’m talking about. In the past, I’ve purchased big software packages even though I only required about two-tenths of the functionality the total package offered.
If you’re going to pay for something month after month that you’re not using, it doesn’t make any sense.
The other approach is to choose a CRM that’s specifically designed to do the tasks you’re already doing – better.
If you’re a solopreneur business owner, why buy a solution that was designed with teams in mind?
If you’re leading a sales team, then it’s a different story. You need a CRM that was developed for that kind of focus in mind. As of this writing, SalesForce is one of the more advanced platforms out there. For others, SalesForce would be overkill. Again, while something may sound good in theory, in practice it’s often a much different story.
It’s All About Relationship Management
Remember these words – relationship management. That was the original purpose of a CRM solution. You can add-on a lot of other peripherals and end up with something that looks a bit different if you want to. For example, you can focus more on project management. Or, sales projections. It’s up to you.
Or, you can simplify the whole process and start using a CRM tool to make your existing process easier and more effective. For example, if you’re focusing on email marketing, a CMS system could be used to take what you’re doing to the next level. If you’ve spent any time in the world of email marketing, you’ve probably noticed how advanced some of the platforms are becoming (Active Campaign comes to mind with the CRM functions).
With the inclusion of segmentation, landing pages, and other options, it appears that an increasing number of email marketing platforms are now adopting the functionality previously reserved for CRM’s.
Researching Your CRM Options Before Getting Started
Think of a CRM the way you would any other business investment. Be willing to invest some time and effort to ask questions and do research. That was/is my approach. As of this writing – the search continues.
To me, it’s worth the extra time it takes to contact CRM vendors directly to ask questions. That was the approach I took when I started reviewing reputation management systems a few years ago.
I went directly to the source and spoke to reps from some of the largest companies. Then, I did the same with the smaller companies and product creators. I learned more in a day (literally) with that approach than I would have learned in a month.
You also have options beyond the standalone solutions (SaaS apps).
There are also plugin-based, CRM tools you may want to look at if you’re a WordPress fan. I found a few articles (one written, or updated, a few months ago) that rank the best CRM plugins for WordPress.
WordPress comes with its own set of pros and cons, depending on what your needs are. Some people don’t mind managing all the moving parts themselves while others would rather have it done for them.
Let me also add this – the thought of managing every single business activity through a single login is enticing, but in my experience, it’s also unrealistic. That said, you can run a high-profit digital business with just a handful of tools today.
You can make better decisions that will result in the time, money, and effort you’re investing pay for itself many times over.
If you plan on selling your business somewhere down the line, how much better would it be to have a system in place to help the new owner to hit the ground running? That’s a bonus of having the right CRM system in place.
Current CRM Deals
If you’re into lifetime deals on software, there are are usually a few CRM deals running on https://appsumo.com/.
The best thing about a lifetime deal is – if you pick a winner, you’re all set. Worst-case scenario, the company folds and you’re back to square one with CRM solutions. There are plenty of questions and answers to read through for both products. Who knows, maybe I’ll end up with one of these products myself. We’ll see!
The Bottom Line?
CRM’s can help you “get right” many of the things you may be currently getting wrong. They can help you get on track with customer relationships, streamline your communications, automate marketing tasks, forecast sales, keep important tasks from falling through the cracks, and a lot more.
The challenge is – there are hundreds of tools and options out there to choose from.
Below are a few links to help you get started –