We get it: Choosing CRM software for your startup can feel like a chore, especially when it's taking you away from launching your MVP, winning investors, and the rest of the high-octane thrills that come with the startup territory. Your CRM isn't user-facing like your website or app. It's not carving out your brand identity or doing any of your heavy-lift engineering. It's just plain old business software, which can sound pretty unappealing when you set out to disrupt business as usual.

And yet…

Your startup needs a CRM system to flourish. The right one will help you scale, connect your business with customers, and offer a host of tools for marketing automation, sales forecasting, and lead generation.

What startups get out of CRM

Streamlined lead management

Every startup needs to find its customer base, so every startup stands to benefit from software that makes robust lead generation possible — and tidy. A CRM platform can provide a single repository for collecting, managing, and accessing leads from all sources for everyone in your company.

Improved customer experience

It can be hard to connect with customers, especially without complete visibility into their history with your startup. CRM software enables a more personalized customer experience by gathering user data, such as customizable communications and service calls, in one location.

Automated efficiency

When there aren't enough hours in the day, you need to take advantage of marketing and sales automation wherever you can. The right CRM will free up your team's time and energy by automating data entry and other repetitive tasks. Still, it should go further than that by generating personalized campaigns, offering data-driven insights, and making your team more savvy and productive.

Accurate reporting

By collecting and updating customer data in a central location, stakeholders can see real-time reports on the KPIs that matter, including the stages of prospects in your sales pipeline and ROI from online advertising.

Stronger sales and marketing collaboration

The right CRM should offer seamless integration between your sales and marketing workflows. That way, your marketing team can ensure that the most qualified leads are passed on to your sales team.

What to look for in CRM for startups

Here's a word of advice: Especially if you're an early-stage startup, avoid the temptation to choose a CRM solution based solely on its pricing. It's definitely possible that a low-cost (or even free) CRM might be all you need. But it's also true that today's quick-fix can become tomorrow's headache the moment you outgrow your starter system and need to adopt an entirely new platform.

When choosing your CRM, think beyond immediate needs and pricing and consider these factors:

Ease of use

A CRM should add value to your sales activities as soon as possible, so consider how easy it is to implement the solution — and how easy it is for your team to leverage. Ease of use will ensure better buy-in from users and help you hit the ground running.

Your marketing and sales plans

Every CRM system empowers sales and marketing a little differently. If content marketing (think blog posts, reports, and ebooks) isn't going to be a significant part of your marketing, it doesn't make sense to choose software that tightly integrates content with marketing automation. Why pay top dollar for intelligent analytics if you're not going to capitalize on them? Make sure your chosen CRM meshes well with your strategy and goals in both departments.

Your headcount — now and in the future

Most CRM platforms are priced per user. That might not matter while your startup is run by a small crew, but with a scaling team your costs can add up fast if you go with a monthly plan (Salesforce, for example, starts at $25/mo per user). Moreover, the right CRM should pay for itself by spurring sales activities, so evaluate the ROI of potential CRM systems carefully against their costs.

Privacy standards

By design, CRM software collects personal data from customers. From the European Union's GDPR to California's CCPA, data privacy laws are such that you need to identify a platform that’s compliant wherever you and your customers are located.

Integration with other tools

If you love the tools you already have in place for operations like team communication, customer support, and reporting on your sales process, don't give them up for the shiny new object. Ideally, your CRM will do more than provide your business with new tools; it should empower the tools you're already using with seamless integrations.

Configuration and customization potential

When out-of-the-box isn't enough, configurations and customizations are your best friends. But beware: It's easy to take the maximal approach here and assume that the best solution is the one with all of the optional bells and whistles. In reality, configurations take time, and customizations take time and money. Assess your startup's custom functionality needs before committing to an overly-tailored solution.

Support needs

Every system needs support eventually. While free CRM options save money, they generally don't offer customer support beyond their online communities. Take stock of how much technical support each CRM you look at requires. If you're going with a free CRM, be sure that your in-house team has the specialized skills needed to make fixes when problems arise; if you're paying, be very clear on what support the solution does and doesn't offer with your plan.

Choosing a CRM

crm-for-startup

These days, startups have hundreds of options when it comes to choosing a CRM solution that supports lead management and the sales process. Here are six that are well-known and offer flexibility in terms of price points.

Salesforce

Salesforce is often touted as the number one CRM in the world, and by the numbers, it's not hard to see why. With multiple editions available, Salesforce is flexible enough to work for just about any type of business. If out-of-the-box Salesforce doesn't go far enough, you can leverage the platform's robust potential for customizations and configurations. (And if you're sold on Salesforce and looking for an implementation partner, we've got your startup covered.)

Unfortunately, all those benefits come at a cost. Salesforce is on the pricier side, so despite its upsides — and its scalability — it’s not necessarily a great choice if you’re working with a shoestring budget.

Hubspot

Hubspot scales seamlessly and integrates well with your sales activities and other software solutions. For bootstrapped startups that don't yet have the budget for advanced features, though, Hubspot's free CRM system is a great option. It's also a logical choice for startups heavily invested in online content marketing as a driver for customer acquisition and sales automation.

Agile CRM

Who thought you could gamify a CRM platform? Agile CRM introduces a little healthy competition into your sales process with gamification features that boost efficiency and encourage collaboration, including leaderboards and side-by-side comparisons of individual rep performance — coupled with affordable pricing.

Built for the needs of small to mid-sized businesses, Agile CRM integrates marketing, sales, customer service, and social media within an easy-to-use platform. Its free version is a great option for the youngest of early-stage startups (we’re talking teams of ten or less).

Insightly

Another solution designed for small businesses, Insightly provides a full range of features with an excellent support system to back them up. Suppose your startup has struggled with lead management. In that case, you might find answers with Insightly’s 360-degree customer visualization tools that make it easy to see a client’s current status and communication history from a single dashboard.

Pipedrive

Although it was launched in 2010, Pipedrive is the new kid on the block when it comes to CRM for startups. It's been gaining traction with the startup community thanks to tools for easy onboarding and fast scaling. Pipeline helps visualize your entire sales pipeline, offering both quick views of stats and trends and customization options to align your sales and marketing strategies. It also boasts that on average, users close 28% more deals. (Compare that to the 37% increase in win rate for Salesforce — a higher percentage, sure, but one that comes with a higher price tag.)

Zoho

Between an intuitive interface, a robust free edition (though only for three users or less), and a mobile app that allows you to access your platform anywhere, Zoho is a smart option for CRM newcomers. Paying plans provide automation potential, third-party integrations, and social media management. If your business is already making use of Zoho's other products or if you're looking for a quick-start CRM, this system could be the right choice.

The right CRM for startups can make all the difference for an early-stage team by saving time, improving collaboration, and gathering data to spur growth. CRM software might seem like a tool that only makes sense for established companies, but in reality, CRM is how companies become established.