Small businesses used to be the underdog when it came to competing with big corporations and large enterprises. But technology has enabled SMEs to not only hold their own, but become market disruptors, challenging bigger businesses that find it difficult to adapt and change to ever changing market environments. 

Agility and flexibility are now major business assets – and to be able to maximise your opportunities you need a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system that allows you to be agile and flexible, freeing up your resources so you can spot gaps in the market and respond to change faster. Ideally, it will automate more tasks and won’t require too much time and effort for installation, updating and maintenance. Choosing the best CRM for your small business can help you find, win and keep customers, and ultimately grow your business. 

So how do you work out which kind of CRM solution is right for your growing business? What are the key questions you need to consider?

1. On-premise or cloud?

The first decision to take is to decide on the approach you want to use for your CRM software. There are essentially two main options to choose between:

On-premise is a CRM system that is housed on a server at your place of business. You'll need to buy and maintain the server it is installed and run on and have the technical expertise to keep it updated and secure.

A cloud-based solution gives you access to CRM software in an online environment hosted by a provider, like Salesforce. It is sometimes known as software as a service (SaaS). The provider runs and maintains the system: you just log in and start using it. 

Advantages (and disadvantages) of a cloud CRM for small businesses

Cloud-based CRM gives you complete control and flexibility. Staff can access the system anywhere and everywhere using any internet-connected device. You can change and upgrade packages, and add more users as your business grows, without costly set-up and maintenance overheads. Because everything is kept secure and up-to-date by your provider, you don’t have to dedicate staff resources to changing or maintaining the system – and you’ll never be using obsolete software. 

Cloud-based CRM for small business:


  • Accessible to anyone approved to use it by your business 24/7
  • Accessible via mobile devices when you are out of the office
  • Minimal capital outlay and upfront costs
  • Upgrades are often automatic and security is built in
  • Redundancy and backup is taken care of by the provider
  • No need to schedule and pay for maintenance work


  • Reliant on your internet connection – so if this service goes down you may not be able to use the system 

2) What do you need the system to do for you?

Before you make the choice about what sort of system you want, make sure you have a clear set of requirements about what you need the system to do for you.

For many small businesses, contact management is a core requirement. Your CRM system must hold all your customer contact information and keep it up-to-date so the latest information is accessible to everyone. You may also want the system to track your sales pipeline and integrate your marketing activities, helping you see which campaigns generated leads, and which leads went on to convert. Then there’s customer service and support, where a CRM can help you smoothly manage cases across different touchpoints, and make the right knowledge easily accessible to agents. Ideally you want one single view of a customer across all departments.

3) Who will use the system?

How many people will be using the CRM software? Which teams will have access to it? For a small business you might want to include everyone – because in many SMEs people are likely to cover many different roles, especially during staff holidays. The classic example is if your salesperson is in a meeting or out on the road. Whoever answers the phone will deal with the customer and will need to update the client record. 

However you might also choose different features and different access levels for different teams, for example, more data and reports might need to be available to senior management, or you might want administrative staff to have different permission levels to the sales team.  

4) Which provider should I choose?

Once you have decided on your approach you'll need to evaluate the offerings of different providers. Make sure your potential provider has a strong track record in helping small businesses grow, and that they can give you the ease of implementation and scalability you need. 

As a growing business you'll need to find the right functionality for now but also think about how well your chosen solution will support your future plans. You’ll also be faced with a price decision. Will the least expensive solution give you the tools, information and data that you really need to get where you want to be in the future?

5) What's the best way to compare CRM systems?

A few simple steps can help you sort out whether a supplier will tick all the boxes you need. 

  • Draw up a shortlist of your requirements and check whether different suppliers can meet them. Then make a shortlist of potential providers. 
  • Check word of mouth – check CRM reviews and customer feedback about the systems you are considering. Understanding how businesses that are a similar size or in the same sector can be illuminating when comparing how easy to implement and use CRM solutions are.
  • Talk to the vendors and discuss whether they can meet your requirements and so that you understand how their solution could be implemented in your business. 
  • Take a free trial from your favourites – so you can see how easy they are to use in practice and whether they meet the list of core requirements you set out. 
  • Evaluate the trial getting feedback from the participants and sense checking against the requirements you set out at the start. Then get in touch with your new vendor to start getting your CRM up and running.

Now you know what questions to ask yourself and your potential CRM vendor, you can make confident decisions about what’s the best crm for your small business. 

Learn more about Salesforce CRM for Small Business or download your complete CRM handbook