Selecting a CRM

rolodex11Pretty much right out of the gate, you and your team should use a CRM to track leads, opportunities and activities.  A CRM is simply a relational database with all the attributes and challenges of that kind of data container, so it is important to have a realistic expectation about what a CRM will and will not do for you and your team.

What a CRM Will Do

A CRM has a few critical functions in an early stage company.  First, it acts as the organization’s memory, acting as the place where the sales team logs all its activities; If an activity hasn’t been logged into the CRM, it hasn’t happened.

Second, it is a communications tool: web based and accessible while mobile, it enables the sales team to understand in real time the status of a particular deal and the activities surrounding prospects.

Finally, it enables your team to leverage their time, avoiding duplication, lost details and increasing their span of control.

A CRM will only do these things if you and your team use it.  Folks need to be disciplined about entering data (Leads, contacts, activities, opportunities) into the system and keeping that data current.

What It Won’t Do

CRMs like to make a lot of promises (What?  A software company overpromising?) but there are a lot of things that these tools will not do.  A CRM will not organize your data: you have to do that.  You will not be able to manage email marketing out of your CRM, you will need an email management or MAS (Marketing Automation System) to do this.  In fact, your larger lead marketing database should be kept separate from your CRM; there is too much “chaff” in this data and it will only confuse your sales team if you try and keep it the same place with your sales leads.

Most CRMs integrate badly with Outlook email (some will with Gmail), so don’t expect a seamless flow of data between the two systems. Without customization, reporting can be hit and miss and I find that CRM forecasting tools are too rigid for early stage purposes – best to do this manually in Excel.

CRM Systems to Look At

If a CRM is web based, gives you mobile access and incorporates some social media links, you cannot go too far wrong.  What follows are comments on a sample of available products.


I blogged about Salesforce last year, having first used the software 10 years ago, when SaaS products were in their infancy and Salesforce was the newcomer, seeking to duke it out with Siebel, and have used it at 1/2 dozen companies since.  How times have changed: it is now the 800 lb gorilla in the space and now touts itself as a platform to manage the complete customer engagement cycle with developer and social media tools and a partner ecosystem (the AppExchange).  Its pricing reflects this with the enterprise version now at $125 per user per month.

Salesforce has become the industry standard CRM and works reasonably well.  It has a few weaknesses: 1. its search functionality is really weak (Try searching for a guy named Bob that you spoke with in Dallas last week but whose last name and company you cannot recall); 2. it’s differentiation between leads and contacts is baked into the data structure and is somewhat arbitrary; and 3. its reporting, while better than a few years ago, is still clunky.


SugarCRM is the “We try harder” cousin to Salesforce, with pricing about 1/2 of what Salesforce charges and working hard to differentiate itself from its brawnier relative.  I has a more “enterprise-like feel” than ZohoCRM.


ZohoCRM, part of the Zoho productivity suite, is a solid, economical CRM and a great place to start.  It integrates with Google Apps, has mobile access and offers a free version to get you started.  You can add custom fields and the reporting is manageable.


Insightly is a newcomer and I am including it here as I use it with one of my early stage clients. It has a very strong social media feel about it, integrates nicely with Google Apps and is easy to navigate.  It is simple to set up and use, has a tagging function and enables users to manage projects.  Its reporting is limited – I assume that this will improve over time – and it is a little clunky to navigate.

Microsoft Dynamics

One used to hear horror stories about Dynamics: essentially, Microsoft had focused its enormous talent for making the user experience a excruciating to good effect – the product was a nightmare.  I have not used the latest verson (2012 AX R3) but have reviewed demos of the it and have to say, I was pleasantly surprised.  Its workflow and layout map nicely to the way I and my teams have sold over the years and it integrates nicely with Outlook.  Still, it is Microsoft, so be forewarned.

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