Do I need salesforce.com as a CRM for my second stage company?

Cartoon viking with a big hammerDo you need salesforce.com? Probably not.

For 9 out of 10 businesses I talk to, salesforce.com is “too much club”. Yet it has become so ubiquitous that many small businesses feel obligated to adopt it. The process usually goes something like this:

Someone speaks very highly of salesforce.com (or has used it in another context) + it’s a “known entity” + it’s easy to sign up = Viola! Simple, quick decision on which Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to adopt.

Generally, that’s a reasonable formula – I’m a firm believer that one of the best tests for how something works comes from the experience of similar companies. However, this is one of those cases that is the exception to the rule. I’ve watched enough companies experience enough pain to be compelled to start my own public service campaign about “right-sizing your CRM”. Here’s why.

A CRM that is “too much club” causes all sorts of issues, the most problematic of which seems like it would be cost, but really it’s the complexity that kills you slowly. Suffice it say that salesforce.com does a great job of making it sound like it can do everything under the sun – and it basically can – with enough elbow-grease, IT know-how, upgrades, and add-ons.

On the other hand, what are some good cases for using salesforce.com? The #1 reason to use salesforce.com:  If you truly have a sales force. In other words, it’s really designed for larger teams of sales people. Many startups and second stage companies don’t have a Sales Manager and a Sales Team – more often, the sales “team” is a single sales person supported by technicians and others as needed. In these cases, salesforce.com is typically too much club.

Choosing the “right-size” CRM in those situations means selecting for a couple of things:

  • Something simple, that actually gets used, and doesn’t get in the way of getting things done.
  • Something inexpensive, so you can invest the bulk of your marketing funds in reaching out to customers and growing your business.

If not salesforce.com, then what? Glad you asked. There are a dizzying array of CRMs out there, and I don’t claim to know them all. However, I have played with enough different CRM systems to have a couple of favorites.

Zoho will look familiar to anyone that has used Salesforce.com – it’s a very close cousin. Why do I like it? It meets both my criteria: simple and cheap. It had only 6 “tabs” (much like salesforce.com only had 3 when I first started using it 15 years ago) and it’s FREE for the basic team edition which includes 3 people. You can export data if needs change and you truly need a more sophisticated system later, so it’s not an irrevocable decision. It does have a few quirks, though I am willing to forgive them for something that’s free and provides a simple and clean pipeline view.

Membrain is the option I’d recommend for companies who need more full-featured functionality along the lines of salesforce.com. It’s typically more expensive than salesforce.com if you’ve only got a few users, as you pay up front for configuration.  However, it’s worth including as it does a few key things that salesforce.com does not. In particular, Membrain has built in sales automation that ensures the important stuff gets followed up on (you set the criteria) and that unqualified opportunities are automatically left out of the pipeline.

Membrain is also smart about reporting, giving the company a better picture of what opportunities are “real”, while also giving salespeople more time to spend doing sales because they’re not doing busy-work to make reports turn out right. Some of the value this software provides is a little bit sneakier – all that automation is possible because the configuration process forces decision about what criteria is/isn’t qualified, and what actions should be happening during the sales process. Often, one of the things causing issues within sales is a lack of clarity, which tools have a habit of making worse instead of better. Membrain may be the exception to that rule – in a good way.

Hope this helps with your CRM decision. Holler if you have any questions or want more specific examples!

Post By Catherine Juon (52 Posts)

An educator at heart, Catherine enjoys applying her expertise as an executive and long-time online marketer to help fellow entrepreneurs. To that end, she wrote the book on how to put all the pieces of online marketing together called "Internet Marketing Start-to-Finish", and speaks at both advertising industry and entrepreneurial events. Outside of the world of SEO and executive coaching, you'll find Catherine hanging out with her husband and two teenage boys, and triathlon training.

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