Best CRM for bootstrapped businesses

Hello, thank you sincerely for your interest in this blog post! During my career, I’ve seen CRM systems utilized in various forms. For some businesses, CRM is a mission-critical application; on the opposite spectrum, it is a Rolodex that didn’t generate value for the business. Technology is an investment, so it’s best to put your investment to work. 

Let’s briefly discuss the evolution of CRM. A world-famous brand, Salesforce, is built on the idea of enabling the Salesforce. The men and women who generate revenue for the business. While the origins of the term CRM are debated, it’s clear that Salesforce made it famous (they wrote an interesting blog on CRM history that I recommend). Although due to Salesforce’s hugely renowned brand, there’s a misconception that it is “the best” for every business. 

So, how exactly should my business use CRM? This is a question that is relevant to many small and medium businesses. Even though this question is so persistent, executives can’t understand the value. Let me explain. Customers and clients are the lifeblood of ANY company. Being able to make them feel known and understood is a critical reality that most fail to understand. This means multi-channel communication channels are essential. Including but not limited, targeted email campaigns, SMS marketing, chatbots, etc. Salesforce is famous for bringing customer data to the cloud. The cloud offered small and medium businesses major cost savings. Expensive on-premise servers were no longer necessary. 

One point of contention I wanted to confront is ERP vs. CRM. All too often, these systems are confused by executives. Let’s keep it simple. CRM should be thought of as marketing, sales, and eCommerce/POS. ERP is centered around accounting & financials, supply chain, and inventory management. For most businesses, a proper CRM implementation will address the business areas that require heavy automation. Lite solutions such as Quickbooks for small businesses will be able to keep your business operational. It’s when the business grows to over 30 employees, you should be discussing an ERP implementation. 

I empathize that technology isn’t easy to understand. Although it is here to stay, so take advantage of the tools available. The current mismatch between the market and software providers creates a shark/minnow relationship between sellers and buyers. Software providers can exploit businesses with apparent vulnerabilities, but that doesn’t nearly go far enough. Businesses require advocates who listen and act with a fiduciary like interest. Software providers are effective at selling their products, but does their customer success outreach go far enough? In my opinion, it’s entirely situational and depends heavily on variables outside the scope of this discussion. Below are a few tips that will help your CRM selection journey.

Try to reverse engineer processes so that they revolve around data. Salesforce was famous for bringing customers to the cloud and helping businesses make sense of big data. Businesses began to realize that it made sense to store customer data in a single platform. Unfortunately, what happened is it became a “data dump” where data is merely stored just for the sake of having it.

  • Lead generation – Too frequently, I hear about lead data being stored in various sources. Storing data in various sources doesn’t make sense to me since competitive CRMs have robust APIs. Taking it a step further, competitive CRMs have native web forms that work seamlessly with your web platform, whether WordPress, Django, or Joomla. All of your forms need direct access to the CRM, so data is not lost in translation. It happens so often, an ETL breaks. You are scrambling, but critical data hasn’t synced in the CRM for several days. Did your newest leads miss your latest campaign?
  • Lead qualification – Once you are confident, all lead data is recorded in your CRM, then let the CRM work its magic. CRM helps the sales team estimate the likelihood they are economic buyers. This attribute helps them understand the investment required to sell. Understanding this information makes a significant difference because sales teams are often bombarded with inquiries, so time becomes the most valuable asset. Sales managers need to make decisions without much time based on the information available. The qualification process helps you understand which sales rep has the skills and knowledge required to close the deal.
  • Interaction history – A key benefit of fully leveraging your CRM system is that all marketing and communications will be in a single space. Let’s dig deeper into what this means. Each customer will have a profile within the CRM system. There you will be able to identify the most recent email or SMS exchange (2 way). The customers’ entire email chain will be stored regardless of whether the account manager is still with the company. All relevant contracts or purchases related to the customer will be available at the click of a button. Pull sales rep notes from the RFQ meeting two years ago. Did you try to reach the Director of Operations ten times without a response? Look at your CRM, and you will know your answer. 

For today’s blog, I will compare the top 4 players in the small business CRM category. I will name one CRM that bootstrapped businesses should seriously consider. Any four of these curated options will serve your business well. This blog focuses on value. My goal is to help you set your business apart, so I look at each product suite and attempt to determine which can meet the most significant number of use cases for a business. 

CRM for Small Business

  1. HubSpot
  2. Monday.com
  3. Salesforce Essentials
  4. Zoho

Criteria

  1. API – Data flows in and out of APIs to exchange data records. 
  2. Features – Capabilities of the CRM that add value to your business. 
  3. Value – Features vs. Price. 

HubSpot‘s entrance into the CRM space has been monumental. What does HubSpot do well? They created a massive user community with over three hundred thousand HubSpot certified professionals. The CRM application also has over five hundred and fifty marketplace apps. I would recommend reading this blog by HubSpot.

HubSpot Review 

      1. 5/5 – The API convention differs by the module. The CRM API features bulk CRUD operations and event-based architecture. The API suite, which includes Marketing, Events, and Automation, provides flexibility for development teams. 
      2. 4/5 – Lots and lots of features. I think HubSpot could focus more on low-code solutions to meet more use cases for bootstrapped businesses. 
      3. 5/5 – Free/$45 per month per user once over 1,000 marketing contacts. Pricing increases per each additional 1,000 marketing contacts.

Monday.com, founded in 2008, was designed based on the CRM system at wix.com. The app focuses heavily on accessibility and low code solutions to enable teams. Project management centric approach ensures the proper planning and communication occurs. They emphasize the kanban board to maximize productivity. Asana is an excellent alternative to monday.com with the help of Zapier. 

Monday.com Review

      1. 4/5 – The API suite utilizes GraphQL and standard JSON. The architecture does not feature a robust event-based architecture.  
      2. 3/5 – Much less CRM centric features than the other vendors on the list. A limited number of Kanban boards for the basic edition. Customers love Monday because it so strongly focuses on project management as a critical inflection point.  
      3. 4/5 – The Standard CRM edition is $29 a month. The Standard edition only features 250 automation actions per month, which seems ok for businesses just starting. If you require more scale, you will need to jump to the Pro edition starting at $48 per month.

Salesforce is one of the most famous brand names in the world. You can’t mention CRM without Salesforce; it’s their NYSE ticker (CRM)… In this blog, we will be discussing the essential edition, designed for small businesses. The essentials editions focus on core competencies, such as lead qualifying and customer support. Salesforce has a massive 3rd party marketplace community that is eligible with the essentials edition. For more information about Salesforce pricing, see here

Salesforce Essentials Review

      1. 1/5 – API access is not available for the essentials edition; you’ll need the Enterprise edition starting at $150 a month to access the Salesforce API.
      2. 3/5 – Lots of core features to enable sales teams. Limited automation capabilities and web forms make it difficult to act on lead generation. 
      3. 4/5 – Price is affordable. Essential is an excellent option for businesses seeking to adopt an affordable CRM option to build out the operating use cases.   

Zoho CRM is one of the original CRMs releasing in 2005, not too long after Zoho released the Zoho Creator to expand low-code solutions for Sales & Marketing. Zoho currently represents just 1% of the total U.S. CRM market share. However, they have a strong foundation in the APAC and EMEA regions. Zoho focuses on productivity tools and low-code automation. They have built a thriving marketplace, much like Salesforce and HubSpot. They also release apps that integrate with Google Suite, Office 365, and WordPress, to name a few.   

      1. 5/5 – Zoho offers an incredible suite of API products. As Zoho produces several products, they’ve added Verticle Solutions to help create cross-functional interactions between various apps. They also include Zoho Creator as part of Zoho One, which will set your business apart with robust next level workflows. 
      2. 5/5 – Zoho provides unbeatable value. With Zoho One, you’re able to access the following modules CRM, Forms, Zoho Meetings, Zoho Projects, and Surveys, to name a few. 
      3. 5/5 – At $35 (All Employee) option or $75 (Flexible) option. The Flexible option allows organizations only to purchase licenses for select employees, whereas the ‘All Employee’ option requires ALL employees to have a Zoho license. By purchasing a Zoho One license for each employee, you will ensure all employees adopt the tools that increase productivity and output. 

Recommendation – The CRM providers selected for review are potent tools. This blog aimed to inform bootstrapped businesses on the options that will yield significant benefits for the workforce and generate value. Zoho One was the clear winner, followed closely by HubSpot. Please use this blog as guidance but spend the time to build the core use cases for operations. These use cases should be developed with feedback from your employees, who can best articulate how they lose efficiency and time. Automate work that your employees hate. They will be happier than ever before.  

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Disclosure: Independence Bridge Consulting LLC is a customer of Zoho Corporation. This blog is not paid-advertising.