You may already have a CRM. Or you know you need one. Or you are overloaded with acronyms and worry this stands for “Crazy Rod’s Marketing” – it doesn’t. Today, CRMs (Customer Relationship Management software solutions) are essential tools critical to business success. It’s not exaggerating to say CRMs are the sharpest game in town to understand who your customers are, personalize your service, stop wasting time on easy to automate tasks, and thus make your bottom line glow. To focus on the money part of that last sentence, a Nucleus Research report found that for small businesses using a CRM, 65% are achieving their sales quotas. Impressive numbers.

With work from home momentum rolling forward, collaborative data-driven tools are hitting a high water mark. Salesforce, a pioneering CRM software solution, just had one of their best years ever…during a pandemic. As quoted by their Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Marc Benioff, “There’s never been a software company over $20 billion in revenue that is growing as fast as we are.” And if they stay on track with revenues up 20% year-over-year, they will be the second-largest software company in the world within a short period of time. They got that big by being essential (and using their own product!) but there is more to the CRM good life than simply pushing a button for Salesforce or any other software solution.

The question to ask is what’s driving the integration of CRM into businesses? The truth is quite a lot. One of the leading drivers is that mundane tasks are easier than ever to automate leaving employees more time for higher quality work. And freeing up salespeople and others leads to better revenue opportunities and higher efficiency overall. Canadian start up Dooley just received more than 20M in funding to improve just one specific aspect of the Salesforce CRM – team work flows. Crunchbase lays out the problem even leading CRMs can have, they need to be fine-tuned for specific requirements. “For salespeople, putting information in Salesforce can be like asking them to clean the toilets,…everything takes away from revenue, which can sacrifice the paycheck. We are focusing on connecting experiences for end-users so they can be the best version of themselves at work.” Mundane tasks are gone! Salespeople working on more sales and less admin is the sweet spot for increasing revenues.

But what are we really talking about? The easiest way to think about CRMs is this. Fundamentally, everyone’s business has two valuable resources in common. Number one is the data available from every interaction point of your business. And number two are the employees who manage the day-to-day running of the shop. The winning solution is to optimize both. CRM tools consolidate and automate data and processes to align businesses with their customers, act as a centralized resource for employee collaboration, cut down on missed opportunities and delays in communication, and act as a reliable decision making tool to guide strategies successfully. It sounds too good to be true doesn’t it?

Most of us have a lot of data but it’s drowning us, not driving our bottom line. Email interactions, social media activity, website metrics and customer information all scream for attention but who has the time? CRMs harness the bulkiness of all that info and make it actually make sense. Business.com reports that if an email marketing campaign is successful, you’ll see an open rate of 15% to 25%, and once your customers have opened your emails, you should see a click-through rate of 2.5%-3. Once you know, you know. The data key to successful email marketing is at your fingertips just waiting for someone to open the lock.

Here’s the kicker. Choosing which CRM is right-sized for your business and figuring out how to make it sing for your organization takes strategy and integration. This is the secret sauce, the critical component that makes all the difference to your bottom line. And without it, CRMs simply don’t work well. Worst case scenario is shudder-worthy with lost leads, lost revenues and mass confusion for staff and customers. To avoid the pitfalls, it takes some work to integrate when it comes to your business requirements. So many questions. Which tasks are important to automate and how? Does cloud-based make the most sense, a hybrid solution, or locally stored data? How to tame a legacy CRM system that’s gotten too big and unwieldy for its cage? The list goes on.

Fortunately there are many solutions that are relatively low cost, with no large upfront investments, particularly in the cloud-based arena. This makes migrating legacy systems affordable for smaller operators. For example, CRM deployments from Amazon Web Services (AWS) offers 80 percent more services than it did four years ago, with prices 60% lower. CRMs are more accessible to a larger market and this is good news for all of us, because business is simply much better when you have one that works for you.

Let’s bring this all the way around to the beginning. CRMs. You may have one. You may want one. Or the lightbulb just went off. It doesn’t matter, whatever stage you are at, it’s never too late to know your customers better, waste less time, and strengthen the collaboration within your organization. Follow the path of CRM links below to get up to speed on the latest and greatest, and most importantly don’t let integration challenges hold your business back from success. Be brave! Troon can surf you to the top of that learning curve in no time.

Top 5 CRMS for SMBs (phew acronyms!)

Hubspot – Reliability and flexibility with free versions for start-ups to use immediately. Benefits include their cloud-based interface, that they are a certified google partner, and have an impressively long track record.

Aptivo – So many versatile tools under one roof! There are additional modules for other business tasks, there is a high degree of customization available and it still manages to be user-friendly and affordable. Great all in one soup to nuts solution.

Nimble – Known for working well with Office 365 and Google Workspace users. Also integrates with apps like MailChimp, Xero and Getresponse. Not for larger scale solutions for email and marketing, but very capable at dealing with customer interactions on smaller scales.

Drip – Retailers perk up! Drip is designed specifically for online retailers to grow their business. Good integrations with standard eCommerce platforms like Shopify, personalized content for marketing activities, automated workflows, powerful analytics and reporting all meant to power up the bottom line.

Keap – (formerly Infusionsoft) Put all your sales and marketing efforts under one roof. Top tier tools have custom eCommerce pages, check out forms and subscription pages, and good sales tools like lead scoring and quote generation. Easy to use with a customer community to mine for added support.

Streak – For those with millennial leanings and modern tastes, this CRM may be for you. These systems are hip and fun and take the dullness out of numbers and data with tasteful interfaces with excellent personalization. Famous for direct integration with Gmail.

Less Annoying CRM – This made Troon’s list for its name alone! Straight-forward, simple, and purpose-built for busy small business owners. Known as LACRM, you’ll have it up and running in no time, but the relatively bare bones approach doesn’t necessarily scale if you plan to grow big. The upside is the smaller price tag.