How to choose a CRM: A guide for small businesses

Kim Jakubowski

Updated: Jan 25, 2024 · 6 min read

Toolkit for download in this article

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If you’re reading this, you may be exploring the benefits of investing in your first CRM, or there may be things about your existing CRM platform that have you wondering if it’s time for an upgrade. But with so many options competing for your attention, how do you know when it’s really the right time to invest in new software, and what to look for in a new system?

A few clear signs it may be time for a change:

  • You anticipate business growth in the near future, but you aren’t sure how your current systems or CRM platform would support it
  • Your current system struggles to handle your existing data
  • Your team is struggling to adopt and use your existing CRM effectively

First, reflect on your needs and processes

Many small businesses adopt a CRM with big plans to use it, but resource and time constraints, a lack of clear objectives, and/or insufficient marketing expertise can prevent teams from applying it to drive growth.

So before you select a new CRM provider, make sure to get clear on the following:

  • Your primary growth and customer communication goals
  • Your business’s key processes
  • How you’d educate your team to use a new system
  • Repetitive tasks you’d like to automate to save time (e.g. sending follow-up emails, sending invoices, scheduling appointments, onboarding new customers or employees)

While you don’t want to delay necessary change, it’s crucial to take the time to do the research, so you can feel confident you’ve chosen the best CRM for your business’s needs. To help you shop, we’ve got a few tips on features to look for below (and for even more things to consider, check out our CRM buyers’ guide).

Key features to look for in a small business CRM

Centralized customer and lead management

Your CRM should allow your entire organization to share customer and lead information seamlessly and make follow-up automatic. Failing to foster customer relationships leads to lost sales and damaged reputations. Plus, a disorganized approach to data management can cause your ideal leads to slip through the cracks.

Having access to the information you need, the moment you need it can help your business close more sales, nurture more leads and build meaningful connections that lead to loyal customers.

Sales pipeline management

Your CRM should make it easy to track leads and move more of them through your funnel, saving your sales team time by automating repetitive processes and giving them more visibility into performance metrics. With the right CRM, you should be able to score your leads, monitor their status, and set up corresponding notifications and tasks for your team.

For example, in Keap, you can set up automatic reminders notifying sales reps to follow up on a cold lead; or when a sales rep sends a lead a proposal, you can trigger an automated email sequence that reminds the prospect to review it and offers to answer any questions or schedule a call.

Integration capabilities

There’s no one ideal tech stack, as the tools you choose should address your business’s unique priorities. But does your CRM help you avoid creating silos when your team eventually collects a variety of tools for sales, marketing and more? If your current CRM lacks integration with critical applications or hinders data flow and communication, you might consider upgrading.

The best small business CRMs connect the apps your team needs to run your business and move data between them automatically. In Keap, for example, you can connect to over 4,000 apps with our Zapier integration. (Need an intro to Zapier use cases? Check out our course.) Once integrated, your third-party apps can trigger more effective (and creative) sales and marketing automations.

Workflow and marketing automation

With a CRM powered by sales and marketing automation, you can eliminate hours of repetitive tasks for your team and convert leads more effectively. The best CRMs allow you to build workflows with just a few clicks.

With Keap, you can use pre-built automations or create custom processes to automatically send text and email follow-ups to potential clients, take leads from contact form to appointment booked, assign tasks to team members based on specific customer actions, schedule appointment and invoice reminders, set up lead nurture sequences and more.

Ongoing education

A CRM takes time to master, and it’s important that the platform you choose provides resources and education to help you make the most of all the tools available. Keap is there for you every step of the way.

Through Keap Academy and our events, you’ll have ongoing access to free courses and live training covering everything from automation features to growth strategies. Also discover a Keap community filled with other entrepreneurs and small business teams like yours — it’s a great place to get questions answered by our most successful Keap users and find tips, best practices and product update information.

Support to get through implementation and troubleshooting

What does your team need to start strong with your new CRM, and what does the platform you’re considering provide? A vendor’s onboarding process can determine whether your team will ultimately be set up for success or frustration.

Keap subscriptions include up to 15 hours of free migration services, plus access to a dedicated Customer Success Manager who will help you achieve your unique business goals. You’ll also get live, U.S.-based phone support, and 24/7 chat support right in your app. And if you need additional support as you get started, help is available through one-on-one onboarding with our small business growth experts, as well as our done-for-you services.

You’ll also have access to a strong network of Keap Certified Partners should you need to hire an expert for marketing or automation services.

Content creation features

Organizing customer data and communications is the foundation of a CRM platform, but the best CRMs for small businesses should go beyond the essentials.

Did you know some CRM platforms include features that can even make the process of creating content faster and more convenient? CRMs like Keap provide pre-built templates, drag-and-drop editors and automation features to streamline the content and campaign creation process.

Keap also has a built-in AI content generator that writes copy for landing pages, customer follow-up emails and texts, email marketing campaigns and more. Choose from one of the templates Keap has developed over 20+ years of working with small businesses, add a little information about your business, and Content Assistant will create a campaign you can launch in minutes.

What else should I ask while shopping for a small business CRM?

Check out our full CRM Buyers’ Guide, which includes checklists of features to evaluate with your team, and questions to ask the next time you hop on a sales call.

And if you’re ready to test out the best CRM for small businesses (at least that’s what our customers tell us), you can try Keap for free for 14 days.

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