[Guide] How to Choose the Best CRM for a Small Business?

How to Choose the Best CRM for a Small Business

If you are running a business, you probably have a CRM system. Even if you’ve never heard this abbreviation before.

CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management. A CRM system is a place where you keep all interactions with your existing and potential clients and their contact information.

Sometimes a simple spreadsheet can do this job. But there comes a time when a spreadsheet is no longer enough and small businesses start looking for a standalone CRM solution with more advanced functionality than Excel or Google Sheets.

In this blog post, we’ll dive into three different types of CRM tools and list four tips on how to find the best CRM for a small business.

But, first, let’s start with one of the most popular questions…

» Why do small businesses need a CRM?

If your company is quite young, chances are you keep your database in a spreadsheet or a free CRM tool. It can be very simple: probably only contact details, a few notes, and a couple of custom fields. This works fine—until at some point it doesn’t.

As your business grows, customer interactions become more complex and frequent. This leads to new filters and tags, plugins and add-ons, and so on. After a while, a simple database turns into a bulky tool that requires constant clean-ups and has lots of data that is hardly actionable. 

This can slow down growth. Instead of dealing with a bulky database, a growing business needs to be in constant touch with customers and leads, provide personalized support, and make sure that every contact in their database is put into action. 

The right CRM tool does exactly that: it supports business growth and helps companies actively manage existing and potential clients.

» What types of CRM software exist?

If you’ve ever tried looking for a CRM solution, you might have noticed that the CRM market is highly saturated. 

Even Google doesn’t know how many CRM systems exist.

So it’s no wonder that it takes so much time and effort to find the right CRM solution.

› The most common CRM classifications

There exist different CRM classifications that were created to make the search a bit easier:

  • By industry: a CRM for real estate, a CRM for manufacturing, a CRM for IT companies, and so on. Industry-specific CRMs usually have niche integrations and features.
  • By department: a marketing CRM, a sales CRM, a customer support CRM, etc. Sales CRMs have all the functionality needed for converting leads into clients: customizable sales pipelines, deal items, lead generation tools, and so on.
  • By roles: a relationship management system for partners, suppliers, vendors, etc.
  • By company type: a CRM for small businesses, enterprises, startups, etc.

According to another classification, there are three main types of a CRM system:

  • Operational
  • Analytical
  • Collaborative 

› New CRM classification

There’s one problem with these classifications: neither can help you navigate the overwhelming number of available CRM systems. 

Ideally, you want your CRM to have operational, analytical, and collaborative features, plus you don’t always need niche integrations. Besides, the majority of modern CRM systems are cloud-based so it doesn’t make much sense to differentiate between on-premise and online solutions. 

In other words, most classifications don’t help you narrow down your search criteria.

That’s why in recent years, a simpler classification emerged. 

According to this classification, all CRM systems can be divided into two broad categories: 

  • Admin-focused CRMs
  • Action-focused CRMs

Admin-focused CRMs are built for large organizations. For example, HubSpot and Salesforce have lots of features and add-ons that are useful for companies that have many departments with different needs and complex processes. These systems make it easy to keep an unlimited record of information.

Action-focused CRMs are a new type of CRM built specifically for small businesses. They turn a database into a dynamic to-do list (a.k.a. Action Stream) with tasks and reminders next to every contact. Their main focus is on actively managing information, rather than storing it. 

Admin-focused CRMs vs Action-focused CRMs

» What type of CRM software does your business need?

It depends on what stage your company is in.

Have a look at the diagram below.

What type of CRM software does your business need

You’ve probably seen it multiple times. These are business lifecycle stages. 

Every company starts from creation, a few companies make it to the growth stage, and then only some of them have a successful transition to maturity and, consequently, aging.

At the creation stage, your company doesn’t have many processes and has just a handful of customers. That’s why spreadsheets are usually enough

At the growth stage, companies get more clients and start looking for tools that can help them make the move from Growth to Maturity. This is where action-focused CRMs make a big difference

At the maturity stage, companies usually have many complex processes, and multiple departments and need lots of features—all the complexity that admin-focused CRMs, like HubSpot and Salesforce, can provide. 


Free CRMs



Admin-focused CRMs


Simple contact management

Contact management, Action Stream, lead generation, sales management, workflow automation, email management

All-in-one platform (CRM + CMS) 

Ease of use

Very simple

No training required

Quick video onboarding

No training required

A steep learning curve 

Training required (often paid)



Contact information and notes


All customer interactions on one scrollable page


Variety of customization options



Starting from around $9-10 per month

Starting from around $20-50 per month

» 4 tips for choosing the best CRM for your business

You can find many blog posts with tips on how to find the best CRM for your business. Most of these tips can be summarized in four bullet points: 

  • Decide on what you need and why
  • See how easy it is to set up a particular CRM
  • Make sure that it lets you build and nurture relationships
  • Pay attention to pricing

4 tips for choosing the best CRM for your business

We cover all four tips in greater detail in this section.

1. Decide on what features you need

If you are a small business focused on fast but efficient growth, you probably want an action-focused CRM. 

But you also need to decide whether you need an industry-specific one or if you better choose something general at first. 

There are lots of features that top-rated CRM solutions usually have. For example, business intelligence, integration with accounting tools, social media tracking, etc. While these are all powerful features, you probably won’t need all of them.

To identify what CRM features you need, you can create a list of issues that you currently have.

For example, have a look at the table below.


Relevant CRM features

“We don’t have a good overview of our sales pipeline. We don’t know how much time our sales team spends on each stage of the sales process.”

Deal velocity and pipeline management

“It’s not easy to segment our database when we want to send a targeted campaign.”

Custom fields, tags, statuses, and filters

“We spend lots of time copying contact information from external websites and creating new contacts in our CRM.”

Lead Clipper

“We keep contact information in one place and we keep the dates and reminders for follow-ups in a to-do app. This makes it difficult to see or plan our workload.”

Action Stream

When looking for a CRM, check what integrations they offer. Look not at the total number of integrations in their marketplace but at whether they are relevant to you. For example, if you’ve mostly worked with Google apps, you probably don’t need an integration with Jira but will appreciate a CRM integration with Google Drive and Google Contacts.

Some CRMs also offer unique apps that they built specifically for their users. Make sure to check them out. This can show you how much a particular CRM provider thinks about their customers and if they are open to innovation. 

2. See how easy it is to set up a CRM

Moving to a CRM from a spreadsheet is a big step. 

Moving to a new CRM is also kind of a big deal.

You don’t want your team to stress and spend hours trying to figure out how a new tool works. After all, you are in the Growth stage, and every minute is valuable.

There are a few things that can help you evaluate how easy a CRM set-up process is:

  • Attend/request a free demo. Most CRM providers organize regular demos for free. Is everything clear? Can you quickly get in touch with their Customer Support? Do they reply within a reasonable amount of time? You’ll be in constant touch with the CRM Customer Support team. Find a vendor that has great personalized customer support and cares about your business.
  • Find out if it has a steep learning curve. If a CRM provider offers paid training or long courses on how to use their CRM, then it’s probably an admin-focused tool and it might be unnecessarily complex for you at the moment. 
  • Register for a free trial. Look around the app and try to do some very basic things to get a feeling of how this CRM works:
    • Add a new contact.
    • Add a reminder/task next to this contact.
    • Assign a note to a team member.
    • Import dummy data.
    • etc.

3. Make sure that this CRM lets you actively manage contacts

One of the main things that you need to take into account when choosing a CRM for a small business is whether it lets you actively work on every lead and customer.

The problem with most CRMs is that they were built for storing information, recording details, and collecting data, rather than actively managing it. 

Here are a few questions to consider:

  • Does this CRM allow you to set tasks/reminders next to every contact in your database?
  • Do these tasks/reminders have a due date?
  • Can you easily manage them similar to a to-do list or do you need to keep all your tasks in a different tool?
  • Does this CRM have an Action Stream or a similar feature?

In the Action Stream, all contacts are automatically prioritized by the task urgency. Upcoming and overdue tasks are displayed first in the Action Stream making it easier for you to know what you need to focus on today.

Make sure that this CRM lets you actively manage contacts

4. Pay attention to pricing plans

A growing company needs simplicity, and not all CRMs have simple pricing plans. 

Here are a few things to consider:

Question to ask

Why it is important

Does a CRM have multiple add-ons that are not included in its monthly/annual plans?

You don’t want to end up paying for a CRM to later find out that you need to pay for a few more add-ons. This will increase the total cost.

Do you have enough time to test the software?

CRM is not a straightforward solution. For sure, you have other tasks on your list besides testing a CRM. Ideally, you’d want to have a 21-day (or even longer) free trial.

What is the difference between the cheapest plan and a more expensive one?

If a more expensive plan costs much more than the cheapest plan, you need to decide if this price is reasonable. For example, if in the nearest future, you need to add more users or a bit more functionality, will you be ok with paying much more than you pay right now? Or will you need to start looking for a new CRM solution?

» If you want to grow fast, you need an action-focused CRM

Although choosing a CRM might seem overwhelming, you need to focus on finding a tool that will make it easy for you to manage relationships with existing customers and build relationships with potential clients.

Here’s a recap of the most important things that you need to keep in mind:

  • Find an action-focused CRM that lets you actively manage every contact in your database.
  • See how easy it is to set it up and use it. If you are overwhelmed by the number of features, then it’s probably not the system you need right now. More doesn’t always equal better. Sometimes too many choices lead to complexity which, in turn, can slow down your growth.
  • Choose a CRM with great customer support. There exist plenty of CRM systems. Make sure that you choose the vendor that cares about you. 

Author Bio: Anastasia Chechkova

Anastasia Chechkova is a Growth Analyst at OnePageCRM, a simple sales CRM for small businesses. She has corporate finance and linguistics degrees and a passion for data management.

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