CRM Best Practices: How to Choose the Best Free CRM System

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David Ly Khim
David Ly Khim


Your business is growing, and spreadsheets are getting frustrating to manage. You know you need a CRM, but there are hundreds of CRMs and hundreds more features available. How do you decide which is the best option for your business?

woman uses crm best practices to track customer behavior

This CRM best practices guide will walk you through how to evaluate a CRM, from how it will help your business and how to map your needs to core features. By the end of the guide, you'll know how to choose the best CRM for your business needs.

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What is CRM?

CRM, or customer relationship management, is a strategy companies use to track customer relationships from pre- to post-sale. A CRM system is software that stores information on client and prospect interactions with employees.

Marketing and Sales touchpoints (including email, phone, website, live chat, and social media) are tracked, providing customer-facing employees with detailed context on a client’s activity and feedback.

What are the benefits of CRM?

The benefit of having a CRM system is having a central database for all customer information.

A business’s most valuable and important asset is its customer base. At many companies, knowledge about customers is stored in many places — the CEO’s brain, a sales rep’s inbox, an accountant’s records, or even a spreadsheet.

The trouble with the approach outlined above is that as your company grows, it’ll become harder for your sales team to find information about customers and prospects. Sales processes become time-consuming and frustrating.

As a result, your customers suffer and so does your team. CRM systems are designed to solve these problems. By organizing all lead and customer information in one place and automating data entry, CRM software makes it easy to run the sales process smoothly.

Below is a view of how a CRM dashboard displays deal forecasts, sales pipeline, and deals closed against quota for a given month.

a CRM dashboard displays deal forecasts, sales pipeline, and deals closed against quota for a given month; CRM best practices

5 Benefits of CRMs

  1. Customer data management. By organizing all lead and customer information in one place and automating data entry, CRM software makes it easy to run the sales process smoothly.
  2. Sales reporting. A CRM tracks quota attainment and activity metrics such as emails sent, calls made, meetings booked, opportunities created, and deals closed.
  3. Accurate sales forecasting. Stop relying on complicated formulas or back-of-the-napkin math. A CRM system generates an accurate sales funnel for you, which makes it easier to forecast future sales and effectively manage your team’s pipeline.
  4. Customer segmentation. By segmenting prospects by parameters, such as location, deal size, or close date. You can also identify specific regions or industries to sell into and benchmark your average sales cycle.
  5. Scaling a sales process. A repeatable sales process is key to testing new sales motions and strategies. Without the information stored in a CRM, you’re shooting in the dark. You need this data to spot behavioral patterns and trends in effective and ineffective sales behaviors. Otherwise, you won’t be able to grow your team or business efficiently.

Does my company need a CRM?

Any company that wants to maintain a relationship with its customers will benefit from using a CRM system. Two types of companies that see the most benefit are:

  • B2B companies that track leads across longer, consultative sales cycles and through upgrade paths (for example, software companies, agencies, or recruiting firms)
  • Considered-purchase B2C companies (for example, realtors, financial services, or landscaping services)

The questions you should ask yourself when evaluating your need for a CRM system are:

  • Do I need records of information about prospects and customers?
  • Does that information live in many different places?
  • Is it becoming difficult to manage my data?
  • Do my customers regularly interact with multiple people on my team?
  • Do I need a better way to measure my sales team’s productivity?
  • Is my team getting slowed down because they have to jump between different places to find lead or customer data?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the questions above, your business could benefit from a CRM system. Adopting one sooner rather than later will help you avoid frustration and save you future headaches.

Best Practices for Using CRMs

CRM Best Practices. Think about the essential reports and features. Set up the essential reports. Integrate calendars and landing pages. If you’re going to use it, use it religiously. Get buy-in and develop SOPS. Set up lead scoring. Negotiate a mutually beneficial price. Enhance your data. Make work more efficient with automation. Improve the view of your customer and power it to optimize LTV and retention. Use segmentation for personalization.

1. Think about the essential reports and features.

CRM systems can do a lot. As a result, it’s very easy to get lost or overwhelmed by the features available to you. The key to success is to identify exactly what you need to report on and why before you jump in with a new CRM.

Chris Pallet, managing director at Bespoke Computing supports his clients with advice and guidance on their tech, including software selection. He warns, “It’s very easy to get lost in the rabbit hole of what a CRM will or won’t do.”

His best practice for CRM implementation is to keep it simple,” Pallet explains, “To quote Simon Sinek: ‘Start with why.’ Why is the business looking at this, to begin with? What questions/answers is it looking to understand?”

Pallet notes that there are many dimensions to the data. However, only one to two points might be important — like lead sources, conversion rates, sales days, or staff performance.

“Also, what’s the cost of not having the information vs. the cost of implementation? Those data points might drive your reporting, and make sure the software can drive those reports,” he says. “How does the data get caught and put into the system? More questions…before you consider splashing any cash on the software itself.”

What we like: Chris Pallet encourages you to think about what you actually want your CRM to do before you implement it into your processes.

Additionally, Pallet suggests a cost analysis to see if having the information is worth it. Having the CRM is one thing, but there will be an impact on work; someone needs to populate the CRM so you can get the most out of it.

2. Set up the essential reports.

Wasif Kasim, a sales and marketing consultant, takes the essential reports and features from above and takes it a step further, providing his most recommended reports that businesses should set up.

Kasim recommends that users don’t set up their own CRM and instead use a partner. The benefit of someone who’s been there and done it helps. He warns that those who set up their own CRM regretted it later.

On reports, Kasim recommends:


  • Leads not contacted
  • Marketing leads contact once, but not followed up for over 3 days
  • Deals that have not been followed up for > 7 days


  • Number of marketing leads per month, per channel
  • $ value of deals created from marketing leads, per month, per channel
  • $ value of deals closed won from marketing leads, per month, per channel
  • $ value of deals won from marketing lead sources VS non-marketing lead sources

Customer Success

  • Number of current clients not contacted > 7 days
  • Customer satisfaction score per customer, by month
  • Customer satisfaction score per customer, by month, by account manager.

What we like: Kasim’s advice is highly actionable and a great starting point.

3. Integrate calendars and landing pages.

Kendra Noel, CEO at Boomtag Media, uses HubSpot’s CRM. Her best practice tip is to integrate calendars and landing pages for leads.

With integrations, you can use your CRM to do some of the admin for you, streamlining internal processes and preventing human error; it’s easy to miss a step and forget to update the CRM.

With your CRM automatically populated, you won’t miss a lead. Nor will you miss an opportunity to keep your prospects in the know through email marketing.

Noel says, “Leads automatically go to my CRM, and it gives the ability to send marketing emails and track those leads.”

What we like: Outside of the CRM and the features, Noel is finding ways to streamline processes with integrations. It leads nicely from Pallet’s recommendation above about populating the CRM. Noel has figured out how to automate some of the CRM population so she doesn’t miss a lead.

4. If you’re going to use it, use it religiously.

Stephanie Henson, sales and marketing director at Six Ticks Limited, has managed remote teams for more than ten years. Naturally, with a remote team, organization is key. To get the most out of your CRM and to operate with streamlined processes, Henson says you need to pick a CRM and use it properly.

She says, “You need to be disciplined with using your CRM, no toe in the water stuff. If you’re using it, use it religiously.”

According to Henson, using your CRM religiously means importing only the best data. The CRM can only be as good as the data you put into it.

Henson continues, “Spending the time on cleansing your data before you import it will save you so much time in the long run.”

Don’t expect the system to work magic. You have to use it properly for the magic to start. People change CRM systems, continue to half-use them, and then complain they don’t work.

“Good implementation is key. Skip or rush this step, and you’re heading for pain.”

What we like: Henson recognizes that CRM implementation won’t do all the heavy lifting without careful human administration, especially to begin with.

5. Get buy-in and develop SOPS.

Emma Schermer Tamir, ecommerce branding strategist at Marketing by Emma, recommends that you get clear buy-in from your team and then develop clear SOPs to use the CRM to its full potential. Note that SOPs can only work if everyone agrees to use them and follows the same process.

She says, “[If] a salesperson is speaking with a prospect about their Amazon business. That person shares some of their struggles, future plans, and that they recently went viral on TikTok. At this stage, the salesperson needs to add these details into the CRM.”

When it comes to CRM management, Tamir notes that establishing easy-to-follow processes keeps people on the same page and delivers a seamless customer experience. When done effectively, teams feel less stressed about things getting forgotten or missed.

“Information is only valuable if it’s visible. CRMs hold a lot of information, so you need to make sure you have a way for team members to see important details… Without a clear SOP of how to use and store this information, it will likely get lost in the shuffle,” she says.

What we like: Emma Schermer Tamir echoes Stephanie Henson’s best practice. Use your CRM to its fullest, but set up SOPs so teams know what the process is.

6. Use segmentation for personalization.

Katie White, content marketing manager at Centime, uses HubSpot CMS. She recommends segmenting your audiences into smaller groups so you can apply personalized marketing and messaging.

“One best practice I highly recommend when using a CRM system, like HubSpot, is to utilize its segmentation capabilities. Segmentation allows you to divide your customer base into smaller groups based on specific criteria, such as industry, job title, or behavioral patterns,” she says.

For example, in HubSpot, you can create “Active Lists” that automatically update based on set criteria. This enables more personalized and targeted communication strategies. Instead of sending generic messages to your entire database, you can tailor your outreach to address the unique needs and interests of each segment.

This level of personalization can significantly improve engagement rates, lead nurturing, and, ultimately, conversion rates. By leveraging segmentation in your CRM, you're not only managing customer relationships but also optimizing them for better business outcomes.

What we like: We know that data personalization is highly impactful in marketing. By segmenting your audience, you can easily manage messaging and personalization.

7. Set up lead scoring.

Amber Vellacott, marketing manager at MyArtBroker, shares the importance of setting up lead scoring.

With lead scoring, your CRM can do some of the ‘thinking’ for you. It leads to a deeper understanding of your customer, their interests, and their needs. With this information, you can communicate with your lead in the most effective way.

Vellacott explains that MyArtBroker uses HubSpot CRM for sales and marketing.

On lead scoring, she says, “It takes some getting your head around for sure. But work out what qualifies your leads as important to you or actions that show intent to your desired conversion.”

For example, Vellacott’s team focuses on specific page views of conversion-based content, frequency, and recency of page views.

“Your scoring can lead to you making active segmentation that updates as per your scoring criteria,” she continues. “You can then use this segmentation to prioritize the sales team communications and use smart modules in marketing emails. All enhancing brand touchpoints!”

What we like: Amber Vellacott is using HubSpot CRM to help qualify leads. A CRM with AI can analyze large data sets. It can help discern who the strongest leads are so sales teams can use this data to their advantage and focus on the most likely to convert leads. Or put their human touch where it’s needed the most.

8. Enhance your data.

Maret Reutelingsperger is a digital communications consultant at Mobe Digital, focusing on marketing and sales implementations.

Her best practice CRM recommendation is to enhance data with workflows. She says, “Using a CRM with workflow functionality can ensure that teams work with the best and most consistent set of information.”

Reutelingsperger notes that workflow ensures that data is consistent across different areas of the CRM. They also ensure that important information gets shared with others where relevant and useful.

“For example, you can use workflows to ensure Deals are enhanced with information from associated Companies and Contacts and even Tickets (for cross-sells or upsells). This can give the sales team a quick and easy overview of anything that may affect the sale going ahead,” she says.

Reutelingsperger notes that a current user could really benefit from extra reassurance about existing issues before even wanting to consider moving ahead with the new deal.

What we like: More than just a customer relationship manager, your CRM can manage your internal team, too. Maret Reutelingsperger encourages CRM users to set up workflows so internal processes are streamlined.

9. Make work more efficient with automation.

Reutelingsperger with more best practices for CRM implementation. She recognizes that sales teams are really busy. The best way to keep them on track is through automation.

Reutelingsperger says, “Make sure that sales keep on top of their deals, so that they don’t fall through the cracks. Use automation! Whether it’s creating a task for the deal owner when a deal reaches a certain stage or sending internal emails to deal owners of inactive deals, having these little nudges can be just the thing to remind the team of deals that can be worked further.”

If you use automation via your CRM, you’ll stop your team from missing leads and prevent human error.

Reutelingsperger continues, “For those with recurring contracts, this can even go a step further and use contract signed date to ensure the conversation gets picked up ahead of the next contract signing. This gives the sales team plenty of time to ensure all services are going well and planning ahead for their new proposal.”

What we like: CRM automation can keep the most important items at the forefront of your teams’ minds. Reutelingsperger spots an opportunity in recurring contracts that could be easily missed. If there's a notification before the next signing is due, your sales team can chat with your customer to provide that layer of care and the all-important human touch.

10. Make sure marketing and sales teams are aligned.

If you're using your CRM efficiently, then you most likely have multiple teams — especially sales and marketing — using the system. The idea is for everyone to be working together in pursuit of a common goal, but as we know, this isn’t always what happens.

Reutelingsperger has a solution for this, too. She says, “Marketing teams love asking questions, setting up forms, and learning more about the contacts as they go through the buyer journey. But what are the pieces of information that are really valuable to the sales team? Often, this gets overlooked.”

To solve this problem, Reutelingsperger suggests having regular meetings between marketing and sales to talk about information that will help both teams improve.

“For the sales team — make clear what information the marketing team should be asking for,” she says. “And the other way around, what questions are asked a lot during the sales process? This is content that can be invaluable for the marketing team. Help each other, to help each other!”

What we like: Marketing and sales are better when the two teams work together. Meetings to discuss each department's needs aid understanding and improve the feedback loop between teams. You want your teams to work for each other, not against each other.

11. Improve the view of your customer and power it to optimize LTV and retention.

With an effective post-purchase process, you can turn customers into brand advocates. An ideal sales tactic.

Richard Marriott, senior partner at Scaled, advises that teams use their CRM to support this objective. He says, “A lot of focus is placed on top of funnel demand for net-new leads and then the handoff from marketing to sales, sometimes without much emphasis on post-purchase experience and customer nurture.”

Instead, Marriott says to “think of your CRM as perpetual to continuously develop the view of your high-value customers, improve retention and renewals through nurture, and turn customers into brand evangelists.”

These learnings can then be applied to your personas and top-of-funnel marketing activity. You can focus on high-value customers and reduce reporting on arbitrary isolated metrics, such as the number of downloads on a single piece of content.

What we like: After a sale has been made, you have an opportunity to turn your customers into brand advocates and pique their interest to continue using your product or service. Marriott is making more use of his CRM.

Choosing the Right CRM

We’re going to dive into the best practices for deciding which CRM will give you the most value. Before evaluating CRM vendors, ask yourself these questions:

  • Why are we investing in CRM?
  • What operational business challenges do we need to solve?
  • What processes do we lack that we should implement?
  • How many people do I expect to use the CRM?
  • How much customer information do we have?
  • What other software do we use that the CRM should integrate with?
  • How much budget do I have?

By answering these questions, you focus on areas with real business value to your company. For example, a mobile CRM is associated with sales teams achieving their quotas, but if you only run an on-site sales team, it may not be the best fit.

Image Source

Alt Text: Infographic from Super Office shows that companies with a mobile CRM are more likely to achieve sales quotas.

Using an overly robust system means you’ll have to invest more in setup and customization, which is a waste of resources if your challenges can be addressed by the most basic CRM systems. It’s much easier to start with a simpler CRM and move to a more comprehensive solution later on.

If many solutions look really similar, we recommend you:

  • Contact the vendor and review your list of requirements with a sales rep.
  • Read product reviews and ask peers which system they use.
  • Compare prices and focus on getting the features you need.

Choose the CRM software that you consider best for your needs and stick to your decision. Indecisiveness will cost a lot of time and money.

Core CRM Features

The core features of a CRM system include:

  • Contact management. CRM systems provide a searchable database to store customer and prospect information and relevant documents.
  • Pipeline management and sales forecasting. Your CRM should make it easy to visualize your entire sales pipeline as well as move deals from one sales process stage to another. No more mental math to figure out what’s closing this month.
  • Reporting and analytics. Sales leaders can use their CRM to track their team’s activity and revenue growth to guide team coaching and sales forecasting.
  • Process standardization. CRMs help standardize business processes through unified task lists, calendars, alerts, and templates.

Other features a CRM system may have include:

  • Email integration. A CRM that integrates with your current email client can automatically log prospect interactions and pull other useful context right into your inbox. This integration eliminates a good portion of manual data entry and is a large factor in whether your sales team will actually use the CRM.
  • Email tracking. With email tracking, your reps will know when their email is opened, if a link in their email is clicked, or if a document was opened. This arms them with insights to follow up effectively.
  • Call recording. Call prospects directly from your CRM to save time and log the interaction. Recording is an added bonus that makes it easier for managers to coach salespeople.
  • Interaction tracking. A CRM can streamline a sales rep’s day by automatically logging information about any touchpoint with a prospect (like an email, phone call, or social message) and/or visits to your website. Take a look at the tracked interactions below.

CRM best practices

  • Software integrations. What software do you already use? A CRM that can integrate with your existing systems will minimize the time your reps spend switching between various apps.
  • Data enrichment and collection. Does the CRM create more administrative tasks for your team, or does it automate data entry and give them more time to sell?
  • Leaderboards. Some CRMs create friendly competition by tracking and displaying your salespeople’s activity levels and forecasted pipeline.
  • Mobile CRM. Will a mobile CRM be useful for you and your team? Are you expecting them to be frequently on the go, or will they be a purely inside sales team?

The most recommended CRM for small businesses include HubSpot CRM, Finances Online, Zoho CRM, Pipedrive CRM, Agile CRM, and Insightly CRM.

Getting Started with HubSpot

Click below to get started with HubSpot CRM. Once you create an account, we’ll walk you through the necessary steps to get set up and start seeing the benefits of a CRM immediately.

CRM best practices

The first steps & best practices to successfully implementing a CRM are:

  • Migrate your existing data (whether from a spreadsheet or another database)
  • Import contacts from your current database or spreadsheet
  • Invite your sales team to the CRM system
  • Understand how to filter your contacts for high-quality leads

Good luck! Visit our community if you have any trouble setting up your CRM.

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