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What’s the Best CRM for Your Business? – Steph Nissen
The Agents of Change

What’s the Best CRM for Your Business? – Steph NissenEvery aspect of your operational process contributes to the success of your business. This means there is a lot to keep track of as you make changes along the way to grow and improve. And as Steph Nissen from Atomic Revenue reminds us, the whole point of a CRM is to make your life easier.

A good CRM software will ensure that your entire team is consistently utilizing the same information, versus just keeping a spreadsheet of their own contacts. A quality CRM will also improve efficiency, increase sales productivity, better assist with forecasting and reporting. We have enough to try and remember and keep track of, it just makes sense to incorporate a CRM into the flow of your business.

Rich: My guest today is Chief Digital Operations Advisor at Atomic Revenue, a revenue operations firm in St. Louis, aligning your organization’s sales, marketing, and customer efforts. She works on creating and managing digital strategies and programs, including KPI development and analytics, CRM systems, marketing automation, web design and development, social media, email marketing, paid search, and more. Phew.

She is a national speaker on digital operations focusing on data, analytics, and ROI, and has worked with everyone from big brands like Toyota and TJ Maxx to tech startups and small local businesses. She’s been named one of the top 30 women in social media, a wonder woman of marketing by Synthesio, and listed as a top Twitter influencer in artificial intelligence, social media marketing, data and analytics, and more. I’m looking forward to talking CRMs with Steph Nissen. Steff, welcome to the podcast.

Steph: Thank you so much. Wow. That I have heard that bio said a couple of times, but never that annunciation, and I just feel so pumped right now. I’m ready to go.

Rich: I feel like that’s my super power, is reading people’s bios in a new way with different annunciations. I don’t know.

Steph: You have it down to a science. I’m digging it.

Rich: All right. Well, you know, after 300 plus shows, you start to learn things. So Steph, I’m really excited about this. We have a mutual friend in Brook Sellas who turned me on to you because I had some questions about CRMs.

So let’s just start with the basics because I’ve even seen some disagreement about what CRM stands for. So what’s your working definition of a CRM, and what does it stand for?

Steph: Absolutely. So a CRM, it is an acronym and it stands for customer relationship management. So, and that can mean a lot of different things. We all manage our customer relationships in different ways. So I really like, actually Salesforce has a really great definition that a CRM is a technology for managing all your company’s relationships and interactions with your customers and potential customers. And the goal of the CRM is simple, improve business relationships.

Rich: Awesome. So what drew you, and I guess Atomic Revenue, to focus on CRM, to make it part of what you offer people?

Steph: Because Atomic Revenue is a revenue operations firm, which a lot of people are not really sure what that means. So think about it in a way of management consulting. I’m looking at the whole spectrum of how revenue flows through a company, end to end revenue production. And one of the things that businesses now, either they’ve never done it or they have always been technology is a foundational piece of everything that they do, from internal communications to how they talk to their customers, to how they process sales. Everything is connected by tech.

So a CRM system has become a foundational piece of companies and how they generate revenue. Especially in a world where we want to be more remote and we want to empower our team members to make decisions, we want more self-starters. CRMs allow for that and allow for the management side of the team to be able to see what’s going on without the need for a micromanager. So we love CRM systems.

Rich: So for people who have not used a CRM, or maybe don’t know that they’ve used a CRM, can you just kind of explain how does somebody use it in their day to day life? Like what does it look like?

Steph: Absolutely. So in your day to day life with a CRM, everybody in your team could touch the CRM. It could be a sales person, you could be a marketer, you could be a manager, you could be a customer service rep, you have most likely touched a CRM.

So examples of the big ones that people recognize, like a Salesforce like I mentioned earlier, or HubSpot or active campaign, even MailChimp has become more of a CRM service than just an email marketing platform. So in our day to day, we are looking at our contact records, it’s the warehouse of all of our names of people that we know, either prospects or customers. It’s their contact info, it is our deal pipeline to know who we are talking to right now. And this guy is talking to company A, oh well then I’m not going to pursue that, somebody else’s on it. I can see the last time people talk to this one. What’s their engagement rates? It is a whole plethora of what a CRM can do. And that can be scary because there is really no limit to what a CRM can encompass. It’s really limited by your imagination and your integration power.

Rich: So rather than, I don’t even know if my listeners remember what a Rolodex actually is, but rather than a Rolodex sitting on your desk with all those business cards and you make some notes about when you last talked to him, this is something that happens probably in the cloud or through software where you can see all the information about a client, all your experiences with that client, your company’s experience with that client or prospect and maybe some of the activity that they’ve engaged with, with you. And even automate some of the steps that might come next. Does that sound like an all-encompassing list or an encompassing list of what a CRM can do for a company?

Rich: Absolutely. That’s a great way to look at that. Rolodexes were a little bit before me, but I have parents who are in the workforce, so I remember seeing them on the desk. But absolutely the same idea of being able to keep a log of all your information.

A lot of companies in that step between Rolodex to CRM did do everything and a lot of them still do now, which is not wrong, on Excel spreadsheets. So if you love spreadsheets and everything and you’re looking for the next step, now it’s time to find a CRM system.

Rich: Okay. So I kind of teased this in my last question, but what is the difference between a CRM and a marketing automation tool? Or are they basically the same thing?

Steph: Yeah, I have found through our experiences at the time of revenue, they’re really the same thing. A CRM more traditionally might just be the automated spreadsheet of all your contact records, and being able to know when you last contacted them, take notes on your interactions, and create logs.

But most CRMs anymore have marketing automation built in, where you can develop workflows and sequences where, if they open this email that I’m going to send to them, then send this follow up in case they don’t click the link that I want them to. Or,’ if this, then that’, kind of sequencing through marketing automation.

And then the same idea with running drip campaigns, those are all tied to your CRM system. So you can do the segmentation based on industries and smart fields. Oh, you can get super geeky with it, it just makes my heart so happy. But I have found that marketing automation and CRM systems, I mean it’s so blended together anymore with how we operate and how we use them now, that they’re almost one in the same.

Rich: So what’s the best CRM for small business? I’m sure people want to know that.

Steph: Oh man. What a loaded question. I have my list of my ‘go to’s’ for small businesses. You know, Active Campaign is a great option for small business, it’s reasonably priced and gives you lots of bells and whistles. And it’s a nice user interface, which is easy for some people to digest.

Atomic Revenue. We’re a HubSpot company, we really love that tool, it’s worked well for us in what we’re trying to accomplish. I mean, there are so many options. If you’re going from zero to CRM, I don’t recommend going zero to Salesforce, even if Salesforce is the one that most people recognize the bigger brand recognition, you got to find some baby steps in there.

Rich: I was going to say, to be honest it was almost a joke question. I thought the answer was going to be, “it depends”. So the fact that you actually rolled off a few of them. And I just want to be clear, you guys did not develop your own CRM, you are CRM agnostic, correct?

Steph: A hundred percent we are CRM agnostic. Like I said, we use HubSpot. But of all of the clients we’ve had over the last five years, only one has been a HubSpot company that we placed HubSpot for them. So we have placed everything from SharpSpring, to Agile, to Salesforce, to Apto, Goldmine, Sugar, NetSuite. We are all about going through the audit and requirements assessment process to figure out what you need. And there’s so many parameters to think about when you’re picking, which was where the “it depends” comes in.

Rich: I feel like you guys are like the travel agents of CRMs. Like somebody tells you what they want and you help them get where they need to go.

Steph: Absolutely. I love that analogy.

Rich: Feel free to steal it.

Steph: I’m totally stealing it, because we literally just started working with a travel agency.

Rich: There you go. But that actually, what you said is really interesting to me. So you know

you work with a customer, they come to you – a business – and they’re like, “We know we need marketing automation, we know we need to CRM but we don’t know which one to choose”. So what are some of the questions or steps that you take a company through so that they can find the best fit for them when it comes to a CRM?

Steph: Absolutely. So when we’re looking at placing a CRM, we’ve got to know, do they have an existing one and we’re going to have to deal with a migration from one system to another, or are we putting in something brand new. So that’s the first step.

And then we’re looking at, I’ve got 9 or 10 different major headings of things I’m going to dig into with them. One, what’s the budget? If you’ve never spent money on it, it’s really hard to turn around and tell someone, “Well this is going to be about $2,000-$3,000 a month. That’s a painful piece to bite off for someone and others who are like, “What can you find me under $50 or what are the free options?” And then I can step through it. So budget is usually the first place we start because it’s going to help eliminate lots of things and open up opportunity for lots of options.

Then I look at, what do we need it to be able to do. So how many departments are going to be touching it, how many different kinds of users, is this going to be for the sales team, for the marketing team, for accounting, customer service, operations? Who needs to touch this? And then what other systems – it’s not just people – but what other systems are you using that you want to be able to integrate? 

One of the terrible things that happens in many companies when they are trying to get on board with digital and get technology in, is that now they’ve got 18 tabs open and I need to have all of these 18 tabs open to be able to run my company. Which is in a worse position than if you had no technology at all. So what can we integrate? What things, if I’m already using QuickBooks and Vidyard, or any of these other tools, I want them to be able to seamlessly integrate to make my life easier. That’s the point of a CRM is to make your world easier. So let’s not make it more complex.

Now how many users are you going to have total, how many records? So how many email addresses do you have now? How many emails do you want to be able to send on a regular basis? Because a lot of CRM systems have limitations on that. You know, it’s $99 a month for the first 500 contacts, or it’s unlimited number of contacts but you can only send 500 emails a month. So we need to know how you’re going to use it to be able to pair it down.

Then we’re looking at the training and the expertise side. Is this something where it’s going to require somebody in your team to be the expert? Is this something that’s pretty user friendly? Like HubSpot has a great Academy service where you can get certifications and get all this training. They do these when you’re onboarding with them, they do regular check-ins like every other week. And then there are things like Salesforce. You need a whole Salesforce administrator – and that’s a full time position – for someone on your team, depending on how complex you’re getting.

So what can you afford outside of just the software, if it’s the training and expertise that’s needed to implement it and have adoption throughout your company? What kinds of things do you need to be able to pull out of the CRM, analytics, business intelligence? Do I need to be able to manage my team by seeing great reports to know how many calls did you make today, or what’s the open rates of these emails? Do I want to be able to manage it within the system? Do I need to be able to pull the data out into my own reporting tools? So if I’m building dashboards on Tableau or something like that, I want to be able to have an API that allows me to connect to the data.

And then finally the user experience. We’ve had a client who only worked on Excel spreadsheets for everything that they did. And turning them on to a CRM system was going to be a very painful process because they were used to spreadsheets. So we found a CRM that looks a lot like spreadsheets and operates very similarly. So it was a stepping stone to get them used to logging into a tool and just kind of a stepping stone. We knew that they’d only be on it for a little while, while they got used to this, and then we were going to step into the next stage.

Rich: Wow. That is a great list. I mean I was just taking notes as you were talking and it was like budget, functionality, how many departments, what kind of systems integrations, the number of users, people on your own team, the number of records, people who you want to do business with, the training and expertise required, what kind of data or reports do you need to pull out and what’s the user experience. That is an amazing list of questions that businesses need to go through, so I appreciate that. That was fantastic.

One of the first things you said was budget. So let’s just kind of break that one wide open. What is a reasonable budget for your CRM, and how does the pricing work? Is there an upfront cost, a monthly cost, a training cost? How does it scale up? Do we pay per seat or how many customer names/records do we have, or is it all of these things and it really just depends on the platform?

Steph: Unfortunately this is where you’re going to get the “it depends” answer, because every CRM operates independently and has their own structure. Most of them, a good percentage of them, operate on a pay by the user and you pay by the contact records. So I need three users and I have 10,000 contact records and it’s going to be a monthly subscription. Pay it, you know, your month, you can get that monthly invoice and most of them have an annual price that gives you a 5%, 10% discount, something like that. I’ve seen some where there is an upfront cost of setting it up for you, or if you’re going to do a migration from an old system to a new one they’ll help you with that. But it’s part of their $1,000 to get started fee.

We have a client that we’re putting on Active Campaign right now. And Active Campaign was a really unique position for some, especially for small businesses, because there’s no setup fee for them and they will migrate your data for free. So for a small business, that was spectacular for them. It wound up saving them a ton of money and a ton of time because Active Campaign would do everything for them.

But in other cases, like when we moved to HubSpot out of another system, we had to pay a flat rate to get started. And then there was a monthly subscription by user for the sales hub of HubSpot. And then there’s the marketing hub, which was a flat rate. So it comes very custom as you kind of add on different features. And as far as price, Active Campaign is one that’s more budget friendly, so they’re paying $100/$200 a month for what they use. We have other clients who are paying upwards of $2,000-$3,000 a month for the use of their CRM system.

Rich: It’s just crazy because I’ve walked into companies that are huge companies with global reach and I’m like, “So what is your CRM?” And first of all, they didn’t know what it means, and then it turns out everybody’s just got their own copy of Outlook and everybody’s independent of another. So just having these tools available as an amazing way of really connecting a lot of the members on your team.

Steph: I absolutely agree. We are going through an audit right now. We do a lot of CRM audits for companies because they’re not sure, “Am I even on the right one? Should I stay here, should we keep going or should we just dump it and start over with something new?” So we’re doing an audit right now for a company and they’ve got about 15 people in there. There was never any trading and they’re just like, we’ve got this great scrappy team who like, they’re go getters and self-starters. And I’m like, that’s great, but they’re all doing something different in your system that your sales manager has no idea what’s going on. You don’t know if they’re hitting their targets or goals. So you’ve got some power users who are rocking it, but they’re killing the curve for the ones on the other end who log in once a week, they don’t really know how to use this, they just keep their own spreadsheet. So there’s such a mass difference, even between a smaller team like that, of how they’re using it.

Rich: Now I understand that what the right fit is really depends on the company and a number of different factors. But do you ever recommend any CRMs that are plugins for WordPress?

Steph: I have not. I mean, a couple of years ago I remember looking at one. Oh my gosh, I can’t even remember the name of it. But most of the time we don’t look at that. We look at it being a separate system altogether. Because most of them have form builders built into the CRM system, and then that’s how we get the information out of WordPress and into the CRM so that we can round robin the leads that come in, we can create automation for somebody who made a purchase they can integrate over. So we typically don’t do straight up CRM WordPress plugins.

Rich: Yeah. We built a number of WordPress websites for people who are using Salesforce and they always want to use the Salesforce forms, and that makes a lot of sense. How do people learn more about CRMs? Do you go to expos? I mean, are there new CRMs coming out all the time, or has the market kind stabilized a little bit?

Steph: I think that there’s still, I mean even in the industry there’s still the young up and coming and startups and people with a great idea. I do find that, though, when I hear about a unique idea in CRMs, the bigger companies immediately adopt it. They are able, they’ve got the in-house team to create whatever that unique feature that was going to be your differentiator, they can add it in a month. So it’s hard to be unique in that space.

Rich: I was going to ask, what are some of the features that you’ve seen either come recently or that you expect to be rolling out that people may not be aware of when it comes to CRMs?

Steph: I have seen, which I was surprised of in CRMs, is they’re building in chat bot features directly into the CRM system, and your popup forms and exit intents and everything that you can do with forms and plugins. And then when you’re adding on, all these other features to your websites, that’s all being built within the CRMs now. So it can all be centralized in one hub. Which has been fascinating to see that I can build my chat bot for Facebook Messenger inside my CRM.

Rich: Now I’m sure there are a lot of people listening here who are saying “Listen, CRMs are great for big companies, but it just seems too expensive, too complicated. Even with Steph’s help, I think it may be overkill.” What do you say to those people?

Steph: I say that there is a CRM for everyone. When I was a solopreneur, just me and one contractor, I still used a CRM. Because I am one person and I am responsible for every department of my company and I can’t remember it all. That’s impossible for me to remember those pieces. So there were things that cost me $5 a month to be able to have a CRM system and just keep myself organized. Everyone from the solopreneur to an enterprise level benefits from having a CRM. So even if there’s not a hierarchy and structure of a big massive team, CRMs still keep you organized.

Rich: One of my biggest concerns, or maybe another way of approaching it is, I have years of experience doing email marketing – Constant Contact, Mail Champ, AWeber, a bunch of other platforms as well – deliverability is always a concern. And now we’re talking about moving over to a CRM and perhaps relying on the CRM, not just to track individual one-on-one emails, but also perhaps email newsletters, email blasts.

Are typical CRMs set up to manage subscribes and unsubscribes, or is there a better approach to this? Because obviously I want to track whether people are opening up my email newsletters that are going out to thousands of people. But I also want to be able to communicate with them if they’ve unsubscribed from my email newsletter, but we can still have a one on one conversation. How does that piece of it all work?

Steph: I have found that, especially with some of the more well-known CRMs, that they have all those features built in. When we moved from our old CRM we were already doing all of our email marketing inside there. And all of our drips and all of our sales pipeline information, all the reporting was done inside there and we never had an issue. We just kind of outgrew that system and what other features it had.

And then we moved to HubSpot, it was seamless. It still keeps track of all my unsubscribes and my clicks and open rates, and tells me whether they skimmed it or read it and gives me kind of the heat map of my email to let me know where did they click. Which is fantastic. So there’s a lot of features being built into those CRM systems now.

We have others who, we have a client right now on Goldmine, which is a more like a…

Rich: Oh my God, that was like made in the 1950s, wasn’t it?

Steph: I know! So they’re still on Goldmine, but Goldmine integrates with Constant Contact. So they pull the data out of Goldmine, it sends the emails through Constant Contact, and then feeds the data back to Goldmine. So there are ways around it.

Rich: Now you mentioned that a lot of times you want to use the forms from the CRMs that then feed the CRMs from the websites. What kind of integration, if any, are there from things like social media sites or maybe even search data, can all that information be pulled in as well depending on our needs?

Steph: Absolutely. There are definitely CRM systems that allow you to do that. So again, just because I had HubSpot open this morning, I was checking out my web analytics dashboard that built within HubSpot. It connects to Google Search Console, it connects to Google Analytics. I can pull my social media data, I know all my referral sources and then I can track how many new contacts entered the system as a result of they filled out the website lead but this came from LinkedIn. I can still see all of that information to see the full digital customer journey into inquiry for my CRM. It’s amazing what I can pull in.

Rich: Sounds very powerful. Very cool. This has been great. If people want to talk to you a little bit more about their own CRM needs or anything to do with you or Atomic Revenue, where can we send them?

Steph: Absolutely. And I would love to talk about that. I love getting nerdy with CRMs, so you can connect with me on LinkedIn, that’s my primary social media platform. You can send me a message, send me a connection request, it’s just Stephanie Nissen there. So it is my full name, and or you can go to atomicrevenue.com. So you can check out the different things that we’re doing, you can grab a free revenue assessment, and we can see what are the opportunities and do like a little SWOT analysis on your business.

Rich: Fantastic. Steph, thanks so much for coming by today. I really appreciate your time.

Steph: Thank you so much for having me. This was so much fun. And a big thanks to Brooke.

Rich: Appreciate your time.

Show Notes:

Steph Nissen is a “data diva” who’s had her hands in everything from web design to social media, to digital operations, and so much more in between.  Check out her informative blog, or connect with her on LinkedIn and let her know you heard her on the AOC podcast.

Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing