I was asked by a small business owner recently when he should invest in a CRM software for his company. I thought about it for awhile and came up with three different phases in a company's life cycle from a CRM perspective.
Phase 1 -- You less than 20 customers and are not doubling your customers in the next quarter or two. You have 2 or 3 employees that "touch" customers and need to track forecasts. In this scenario, I recommend you just use a good old fashioned Excel spreadsheet and email it around with one primary owner/changer who has the "master."
Scenario 2 -- You have 20 to 100 customers and are not doubling your customers in the next quarter or two. You have 3 to 6 employees that "touch" customers and need to track customer progress. In this scenario, I recommend you use a Google spreadsheet. It has less features than an Excel spreadsheet, but the shared/collaborative aspect of Google's tool is more important as you grow the number of people touching it.
Scenario 3 -- You have at 100 customers or are (already) growing very quickly headed toward 100 customers. You have at least 6 employees that "touch" customers and others that are tracking customer traction. In this scenario, I recommend you use Salesforce.com.
Salesforce.com has gotten a bit more complicated as they go after larger businesses, but it is a good shared database driven system for helping track largish volumes of customer information and reporting on it. When you buy Salesforce.com, you should be prepared to buy some of their consulting with it and be prepared to upgrade to a more functional version of the product as you will quickly be missing a feature or two from the baseline product.
My personal bias is that small companies spend too much energy on CRM systems which do a great job of "counting" customers/prospects already in their funnel and not enough energy "finding" new prospects to fill the funnel. For more reading on this see "Why CRM Initiatives Fail At Small Businesses."
Originally published Aug 7, 2007 11:21:00 AM, updated February 01 2017