What is a CRM System and which one is right for you?
Updated: Feb 8
When scaling a business, manual processes that used to work well for your smaller team, start to become outdated and useless for running a growing business. Manual contact management, sales pipeline management, email and marketing systems simply don't cut it in today's fast moving world, digital world. It's at this point where you should heavily consider setting up a CRM and Automation system for your business...
What is CRM?
CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management. This term has been used for far longer than digital systems to manage the processes involved have existed (but we'll get on to those in a minute!). CRM processes generally consist of the many different tasks required to deal with and keep track of customers and leads. This can be as mundane as inputting customer data into a filing system or as hands on as getting in contact with the customer in regards to payment. It's likely that you've carried out many more tasks that fall under the same heading, this all means that you can speed up so many of your processes with a CRM Automation system 👀
What is a CRM Automation System?
A CRM Automation system can take a couple of different forms; from stand alone CRM systems built specifically for handling tasks relating to Customer relationship management, to CRM and Marketing Automation systems which are built to allow you to carry out all your marketing and sales processes more easily with the use of automation. The second form is our preference as it allows you to get far more value from one system and streamlines the tech you use to carry out your CRM, marketing and sales activities....in fact it can go broader across the entire customer lifecycle and help you focus on and automate some of those after-the-sale tasks around customer service, such as on-boarding, service renewals and follow up.
Picking a CRM system to suit your needs can be overwhelming with so many great systems available to you. There are free systems that provide unbeatable value and allow you to expand what you do with them once you've gotten yourself up to speed with how they work and integrate with your current tools. There are also systems that are more powerful than anything else currently on the market, but they'll also cost you a pretty penny because of that - but the savings and ROI can easily be realised when you think of the wasted manual efforts. Clearly the market is saturated with lots of great options for all types of businesses, but here our picks for 4 CRM systems you should consider.
Best Free CRM - MailChimp
While many of you will know MailChimp as an email provider (and a great free one at that!), they also provide a free CRM system that's perfect for building up your first customers.
This free version of MailChimp is great for startups with the ability to run email marketing, collect up to 2,000 contacts, build landing pages and run your first ad campaigns on. If you're already running social media marketing, then you can automate posts from here too. Despite this platform starting at the low, low price of absolutely nothing, MailChimp more than delivers on what modern businesses need to be able to run their marketing and CRM processes. If your business is as new as they come and doesn't have a website yet, MailChimp also has a free website editor and will provide you a MailChimp domain while you get ahold of your own. They even provide great free branding tools as part of your free account, making MailChimp the clear winner when it comes to free CRM systems!
Of course, with every free tool, there are limitations. 24/7 support is reserved only for people who pay a monthly fee and some branding, landing page and website templates and features, are again, reserved for customers paying a monthly fee, as is our favourite feature 'customer journey automations'. There are definitely more advanced CRM systems out there that offer better tools for businesses wanting to run more advanced Marketing, Sales and CRM Automation processes. However, for the price of absolutely nothing, MailChimp is still a great option for startups and small, one-person businesses. The further up you go on the various paid-plans, the more features and the more open it is to larger SMEs and it will scale with your business. The downside it's not really a good CRM in terms of contact management database and doesn't have sales pipeline management, more so, when you consider comparing to Hubspot FREE CRM, which we will talk about next.
Most Powerful CRM system - Hubspot
While MailChimp may be a great starting point, Hubspot is the complete other end of the spectrum. While free and more affordable options are available, its Hubspot's higher end offerings that really pack a punch!
The higher-end packages that Hubspot offer, provide more than just the everyday processes that you can run on most other CRM systems. This system is really built for SMEs who need the capability it brings as it offers custom reports on website traffic data, campaign reporting and salesforce integration. You can also optimise your marketing campaigns through the use of A/B testing to drive conversions and spilt your workforce into teams for when they need to access the CRM.
In Hubspot's most powerful package, you'll never need to worry about how many contacts you can have in your CRM as the minimum starts at 10,000 and is expandable to 1 million! Managing your team is also far easier with set permissions, hierarchical teams and field-level permissions. This is immensely useful if you run a huge team and can't interact with everyone on a daily basis. Reporting gets even more advanced, allowing you to report on multi-touch revenue attribution, behavioural event triggers and predictive lead scoring.
Oh, and you can run social media, email marketing, paid ads, automations and pretty much everything else you can think of when it comes to a CRM automation platform. But with what we've discussed so far, I think you'd expect that, no?
All this comes at price, however, as Hubspot's professional package starts at £655 a month (paid annually) for 2,000 contacts. This is a hefty price to pay, especially for a smaller business that won't be able to get all the value out of the system that they're paying for. This is why we really only recommend this system for companies with bigger teams that are able to spend the time and money on this powerful marketing, sales and CRM automation tool. While the investment is steep, the power of this platform cannot be overstated. In saying all of that, you can start with a free version of Hubspot and we guarantee you will be impressed, try it out for yourself here.
But if you need more than MailChimp offers and need similar capabilities to Hubspot but can't afford the price, where does that leave you?
A good all-rounder - Active Campaign
In comparison to MailChimp, Active Campaign offers so much more with its capabilities. In comparison to Hubspot, Active Campaign is far more affordable and is a much better fit for smaller businesses that are serious about streamlining their marketing, sales and CRM processes.
For 2,500 contacts, Active Campaign starts at $48 a month (paid annually) and its most advanced package starts at $258 a month (paid annually). This presents amazing value, especially compared to Hubspot which can be far out of reach for smaller businesses. These packages are of course customisable to how many contacts you need so you'll get a price that reflects exactly what you need and the features that you will be able to take advantage of.
If MailChimp doesn't give you enough features and Hubspot is a bit too much for you right now, Active Campaign is a great route to go down that will last you years to come!
Our personal choice - Sharpspring
And so we come to our personal choice for running our Marketing, Sales and CRM systems, Sharpspring. We believe this platform to present the best value for money in the market right now, all without totally breaking the bank or being too simple for larger businesses to take advantage of.
Sharpspring of course runs your usual processes; Social media scheduling, email marketing, contact management, landing pages, autoresponders, the full shebang as we like to say! It also offers tools like chatbot builders, dynamic emails, lead scoring and tracking, and the ability to run retargeting ads. You can even automate and optimise your sales pipeline and opportunities. While Sharpspring isn't the only platform in the world that can do these things, what makes it special is that it charges, not for the features, but for amount of contacts you need/want. You can have the ability to run ads and build effective drip campaigns without having to pay any extra costs for the ability to do so.
Sharpspring isn't as advanced as Hubspot in some areas, but we are talking about Hubspot Enterprise edition that costs £2,624 per month (Yes, a whopping £31,488 per year if paying annual!!!), but most CRM platforms aren't as advanced as Hubspot Enterprise edition! But for less than 20% of the price, we tip our hat to SharpSpring. You might find that some features are lacking or need improvement (as you would with any piece of technology) and in that case, Sharpspring have done very well in that they take on suggestions from customers all the time and are always working to include more features for no extra costs. We love what Sharpspring has done for us and our customers, so we highly recommend that you check it out!
Autus are experts and certified partners with all these platforms so if you're looking to get started with a new CRM, Marketing Automation, Sales Optimisation and are having trouble figuring out which one is right for you, consider getting our free CRM and Marketing Automation platform comparison guide below 👇