Thoughts on what businesses actually need from the Cloud, not what vendors wish they needed.

Chris Bliss

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Top Five Tips for Choosing a Small Business CRM

Usability matters. A lot. As you try new systems, pay due attention to the experience

When small business owners think of software, they think of email, file management, and…. CRM. Shorthand for “Contact Relationship Management,” CRMs help businesses organize their customers, leads and sales. Important stuff.

Unfortunately, choosing a CRM isn’t easy. The Google Apps marketplace lists 90 of ‘em: GetApp has over 280. There are thousands more (and they all sound the same). How’s a business owner to choose?

We review (and break) new CRMs every week, so we’re pretty confident when we spot a good one. Here are 5 tips for choosing your own CRM – hope it helps!

#1 Choose a usable CRM

Usability matters. A lot. As you try new systems, pay due attention to the experience. How intuitive is navigation? Can you find what you’re looking for? Will employees enjoy this? Does it make their job easier?

It’s tempting to pick CRMs solely for their feature set, but remember that features don’t matter when employees don’t use them (Zoho, anyone?). Stay away from poorly designed, unwieldy, or archaic interfaces.

#2 Choose a well supported CRM

No CRM is perfect – you’ll always have problems. The quality of help you’ll get in solving those problems is a key differentiator among small business CRMs. Check out support resources before you commit to a CRM: you’re looking for quick response times, active user forums, and well stocked knowledge bases. You’ll need them (eventually).

Consultants that we are, we also like to see affordable third-party services available, especially non-resellers. That’s a good sign the vendor cares.

#3 Choose a CRM that fits your process

We can’t stress this enough. Sort your internal workflows out before choosing a CRM, then find a CRM to match (not the other way around). There’s no surer waste of time and money than buying software that doesn’t work how you do.

Service based? Look for CRMs that stress project management or sales pipelines. Product based? Find something with inventory capabilities. Just don’t smash the square peg in the round hole.

#4 Choose a CRM with good integrations

Integrations are a big deal. Invoicing, accounting, helpdesk, marketing, whatever: you want it in one place. CRM should be that place. It’s where sales happen.

Take a good look at a solution’s integrations before you buy. Are the integrations with services you currently use? If so, are the integrations helpful (or just eye candy)? If not, are alternative services offered? Is this an ecosystem you want to be a part of?

#5 Choose a CRM that’s aligned with small business

Just because something claims to be “for” small business doesn’t mean it is. Many so-called small business CRMs are actually geared toward helping larger companies, meaning they’re focused on the Nikes and Wal-Marts of the world, not you.

You can tell if a CRM is misaligned by distorted pricing mechanisms, a focus on middle management, and unexpected client testimonials (if NBC uses it, you probably don’t want to). Research the company too – they may be playing for acquisition. Stick with companies that are 100% committed to small business.


Choosing a CRM ain’t easy, but it shouldn’t be impossible. Armed with the right questions and a willingness to get dirty, you’ll find some real gems out there – it’s worth it!

VM Associates is a New York City based cloud computing consulting firm. We help companies transition into newer, better, smarter software. Contact us to talk about your business, the cloud, and how we might help.

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Chris Bliss works at VM Associates, an end-user consultancy for businesses looking to move to the cloud from pre-existing legacy systems.