A Customer Relationship Management – or CRM – system will help you sell more by having all your contact information and your deals in one place. It allows you to keep your contacts organized so you can find them and manage them with ease. It allows you to record interactions, such as emails, phone calls, and social media. It also allows automating various workflow processes such as tasks, calendars, and alerts. By having all this information consolidated in one database, you can be a lot more productive.

But if you are in the market for such system, evaluating the options can be overwhelming. There are literally hundreds of systems, and new ones popping up every day. I know we’ve jumped around to a few different CRM’s to try and find the perfect fit for our business. I soon came to realize that there is no perfect CRM. But there are choices, which is a good thing. In order to help you through the selection process, here are a few pointers.

What To Look For

Every distributor works differently. Every distributor business is also at a different place in the growth stage and there are a lot of factors to consider when choosing a CRM. To get started, make a list of the things you would like to be able to do as far as managing clients and leads. The list can be as long – or short – as you want. For example, this is part of our list:

– Be intuitive and easy to implement
– Segment my contacts
– Integrate with my email system ( in our case it’s Gmail)
– Integrate with the rest of the business software we use
– Integrate with calendar
– Good phone app
– Cloud based
– Visual pipeline
– Send bulk but personalized emails to selected contacts with templates
– Sync with email newsletter system

Once you make your list, mark those items that are a must-have, and those that are nice-to-have. Make those choices based on how you work and your workflows, but keep in mind the changes you see yourself making as you grow.

Free or Paid?

Some CRM’s offer a free level, which makes it very easy to try them out. I think this is a better option that the ones that offer a free trial, especially if you are setting up your CRM for the first time. It takes time to get acquainted with the software and all the capabilities. It also takes time to create the habit of using your CRM, and in my opinion, the free trial may not provide you with enough time. Especially when you consider that you don’t exactly have much time in your hands to begin with.

If you’ve been using a CRM for some time and are looking to change, on the other hand, a free trial might work. Since you will have something to compare it to, and will know what you want, the trial will give you enough time to test it.

Some CRM’s are a part of a whole suite of tools and can be very costly. Before you commit to one on the free level, make sure that when it’s time to upgrade, the cost will be manageable.

Some of The CRM’s We Like

The first CRM I settled with – back in the day – was Zoho. The fact that I just uploaded my client list and started using it right away gave me the clue that it was the best for us at the time. There was no learning curve. I eventually upgraded to the paid level, and was running the entire cycle of a client, from lead to repeat purchase.

However, just about once a year I went out to search for a new CRM that would tie the loose ends that Zoho left open. But I would always go back to Zoho because I didn’t find any that would hit on all the points, plus what we had in place was working after all. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t find some good ones along the way.

We’ve checked just about every single one of them, and the following are part of the list of the affordable ones we liked.

As you can see, we did not include any of the CRMs provided by the industry software.  As of the time of this post, we find them very limited when compared with what’s available out there.

At this point, we use a combination of tools. We use Active Campaign, because it tracks the entire client lifecycle, from lead to repeat business, and we can manage contacts and sales pipelines from within Gmail seamlessly. We also use Strike with Gmail, because it adds very useful functionality.

The CRM Reality

Technology is always changing and presenting us with new options. It is easy to be bouncing around from software to software looking for the latest and greatest. While wanting to find the best solution is a good thing, you don’t want to end up wasting months and months looking for the perfect software that doesn’t exist.
At some point, you just need to pick a CRM and stick with it. It won’t be perfect, there will be some frustrations, but dedicate the time to building out a system for your distributor business that allows keeping track of your leads, sales, and opportunities.

In the end, the best option is the time you save from testing every CRM software out there and focusing on making the one you decide to go with work.

Are You Using One You Love?

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