Best CRMs For Startups

Viktor Hatfaludi
April 4, 2023
7 minutes


In this post we’ll cover how you can convert more prospects into customers by tracking the right data. And the only tool we’re going to use is our CRM.

This post is aimed at Startup Founders in their early stages and Sales reps considering working for a startup as one of the first Sales hires. If that’s not you, feel free to tag along - just managing expectations.

Most early-stage Startups struggle with understanding what’s working and what isn’t when managing opportunities. Conversion rates are low in general and nailing down the price point is a struggle. Some prospects are saying shut up and take my money while others find your prices outrageous. Is it bad targeting? Weak messaging? Is the feature set not compelling enough? You’ll never know unless you know what to track.

While there’s no shortage of tools out there promising you can win more deals faster in exchange for spending a shiny penny let’s focus on getting the most out of the one tool every company needs to be successful. Your CRM.

Whether you’re still figuring out product-market fit or scaling a direct sales team you have to maintain control over your sales opportunities and know what’s working and what isn’t. By the end of this post you’ll know how to choose the right CRM for your Startup, what impact you want it to have on your business, and how to set it up so you get that impact. Oh and if you already have a CRM in place feel free to skip ahead to the setup section. Let’s do this!

What is a CRM?

CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management and this system contains all of your customer interactions with the goal of enabling you to run and grow your business. Without it you just won’t know what’s working and what isn’t.

Because of this closing deals becomes a stressful process and you have no way of predicting how much revenue to expect in any given period.

When you have one in place and set up correctly it will enable you to reach product-market fit faster, close deals with confidence, and easily pull the data you can use to secure funding rounds with better terms, and enable your future VP of Sales to hit the ground running.

How to choose the right CRM for you?

There are tons of CRMs out there with Salesforce leading the industry at 23% market share. But Salesforce licences aren’t cheap and we haven’t considered the fact that without a Salesforce Admin on your payroll (also not cheap) it’ll hold you back more than it helps. For this reason it’s not the right choice for MOST startups.

There is ONE exception where Salesforce should be your go-to CRM

but let’s see how you should evaluate the right one for you first.

In a previous post I called out 6 requirements by which you should evaluate your company’s tech stack and here I’ve adapted it to the CRM specifically.

1. It has to be easy to use,

2. robust,

3. portable,

4. flexible,

4. decentralised, and

5. it has to align with your offering.

What do I mean by these?

Easy of use

self explanatory. Sales Reps already dread updating the CRM. If you want them to capture the data that you desperately need to validate your direct sales strategy this is table stakes.

It has to be robust

for it to scale with your business. When I say robust I mean both in terms of available features so it can do most of the things you need it to as a standalone tool AND integrate nicely with third party tools that will elevate your sales game down the line. The last thing you want is to have to migrate CRMs just because it doesn’t play nice with your future tech stack OR suffer having data siloes and not having a single source of truth.

Speaking of migration

there MAY come a day where you need the CRM to bend to your will rather than you having to use workarounds and Salesforce CAN do it all so you want the data to be portable.As long as you can export the data in a structured way, usually in excel or csv with some way to keep linked attributes like contacts to accounts, opps to accounts, and contacts to opps, you should be good.

Then it needs to be flexible

in terms of features like we just mentioned BUT you also need the flexibility of seat types so you have a budget-friendly way to scale. Your managers might need Enterprise licences, sales reps pro licences, and Product teams who just need visibility into deals may be fine with basic licences.

Now despite having a robust tool that can do it all

You want to keep your systems decentralised

to avoid a single point of failure. I recommend using purpose-built tools where it makes sense and integrating them into the CRM. This way if one system goes down you’re still able to get work done.

Lastly you need to align your tool of choice with your offering.

For example if you’re building a productivity tool for sales reps at Enterprise companies you might want to use Salesforce from the get go because living the workflow of your buyers will help you with product development.

This is also why I ended up choosing HubSpot over Pipedrive and others like it because my target group being early-stage startups will most of the time use HubSpot to begin with.

To find the best fit for you go check out CRMs on G2Crowd. Most SMB size companies tend to use Hubspot, Pipedrive, Close, FreshSales, Keap, Zoho, or Salesforce.

How to set up your CRM

Okay so the moment you’ve been waiting for! What are the 5 things you need to do when setting up your CRM so it’s useful to you and what are all the properties you need to add?

It all starts with how your customers buy and you’ll want to take two approaches:

1. First you take an outside-in approach and visualise how you want the customer experience to look like from that first marketing touch all the way through customer success growing the account after the first sale. Ideally make it frictionless. Then review how past customers bought to validate whether this is realistic.

2. Once you have a good idea you go back through and call out how you want this customer lifecycle to work internally from a data flow perspective. For example, do you have a website that you need info from? Do you have invoices that need CRM info? This is also where you pull in what sort of data from the sales/customer perspective you want to track. Also how are Sales reps going to track their commissions?

Your CRM needs to be able to cover every point of the customer lifecycle so your customer facing teams have AND collect the data you need.

You can make this easy by syncing the tech stack and using automations to pull in all customer-facing activity into a single place. Use lead and account enrichment where possible to cut down on manual work and optionally make resources like sales assets available in a single place.

If you made it this far you’re already 80% of the way there. Now it’s time to make all this data easy to navigate.

The last thing you want is for reps to waste time looking for where to input information let’s say when they’re updating an opportunity. Best if the info needed at any stage is highlighted or sorted on top of the screen.

Hubspot’s sales hub pro plan and Salesforce lightning let you do this easily.

Now when inputting data the thing you want to keep in mind throughout is to standardise any property that you want to make searchable. Whether that’s a dropdown, multi-select or single select it will save you a ton of headaches when trying to make sense of the data.

Lastly with the data in place it’s time to put it to good use so we can close with confidence and forecast accurately. Namely we want to find what’s working, what isn’t, which deals are going to close and what pipeline changes happened week over week. This is near impossible without tracking conversions.

A conversion is any time a customer takes an action down the sales funnel all the way from lead to signing a contract and beyond.

For that you need to put what’s called snapshot fields in place. A snapshot field is an automated time stamp of when an event occurred, and you want to have one at every key conversion point.

And now that you have a good overview let’s see what are all the properties you need to add under accounts, contacts, and opportunities. Don’t worry we’re not going to go through it one by one. Instead I encourage you to check out the video and take a screenshot of this section.

Huge shoutout to Lily and Sara for helping me revising the list!

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Viktor Hatfaludi
April 4, 2023
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Meet Your Trainer

Viktor has 10+ years of full-cycle experience in tech sales.

His latest contribution was helping Bitrise (YC W17) scale from 3M to 20M+ USD in recurring revenue.

Today he’s a Sales Consultant and Trainer at Revenue Ramp helping B2B Startups go from $0 to $10M ARR.

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