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Compare CRM Software for digital businesses

It pays to do your research and choose the right CRM and email marketing automation platform for your business.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems come in a lot of different shapes and sizes. Some are designed for large corporations, while others were built for small businesses and solopreneurs.

Today we’ll compare CRM tools that can help you go from solopreneur and small business levels to truly scalable business heights.

What matters most to CRM users in 2024?

Switching CRM systems in 2024? Here’s what you need to think about.

The privacy landscape is continuing to shift, and things like CCPA, GDPR, and CalOPPA need to be on your email marketing provider’s radar. If you have questions about these privacy policies, your CRM company needs to be able to help you answer them.

You’ll also want an email marketing platform that has sophisticated tagging, automation, and campaigns that are flexible and that make it easier to keep your email list clean.

Compare Marketing Automation Tools

Let's talk about the investment

The cost of your CRM software is based on the number of contacts you have, no matter which company you go with.

There’s also the time investment required to learn and train your team on how a new CRM works, and any switching time involved (although some CRM companies offer a free migration service).

In the past 10 years, I've spent over $60k on CRM software...

It’s true.

I’ve been using a popular all-in-one CRM for my business since 2011. The total amount I’ve spent during that time is over $60,000.

I’m ok with this investment, because it’s the power of a CRM that’s helped automate my business’ growth and success.

You can bet that I’ve had motivation to use the tool to the fullest to help me grow my business, but it’s also made me aware of what other options are out there.

I’m Nathalie Lussier, the founder of AccessAlly.

AccessAlly is a course and membership plugin for WordPress that deeply integrates with some of the top CRM platforms for small businesses (check out all the LMS features here).

I’ve visited their offices, sponsored their events, and met with key employees in person.

I’ve seen the good and the bad. I’ve witnessed employees leave, bugs get released, and the seedy underbelly of the software world. (I’m no stranger to that world, having worked in Silicon Valley at a startup that was being sued by IBM!)

I’m also an affiliate, which means that if you sign up for any of these marketing automation tools, at no additional cost, I will earn a commission. This in no way sways my opinions on these platforms, I just want to pass on my experience.

Rule 1: don't overbuy

If you’re just starting out, you may be more budget-conscious. It’s natural and a smart way to ensure your business can make it past the startup stage.

Investing in the biggest and most powerful CRM money can buy might definitely be overkill.

But each of these marketing automation platforms have different pricing models as your business grows.

For example, one CRM might be affordable for your setup today … but if you were to grow your email list and customer base, another platform might have the price advantage.

Although most email marketing systems are built to scale with you (at a cost, of course!), some have lower priced packages for smaller email lists. This can be a game-changer when your revenue hasn’t hit full throttle yet but you’re still ready to use the power of automation.

Once your email list numbers start growing, there are certain advantages to platforms that don’t increase as steeply.

That’s when it’s important to remember that every business goes through roughly an 18-month business cycle.

Rule 2: plan for growth in 18 months

Think of it as the 18-month rule: your business will either have doubled, changed directions, or you’ll have released a new offering.

Things change quickly in the business world, and in 18-months you’ll likely be in a different “price bracket”. So plan for your business growth, and sign up for the platform you can grow into.

I never want to recommend that you “overbuy” and waste your precious startup capital (that would be a bad idea!) but also consider the costs of moving.

If the only reason you choose a solution is because it’s affordable now, but in 18-months you realize you really needed that expanded feature set… the time and very real monetary investments required to move may wipe out any savings you got initially.

Additional CRM Costs

Beyond the basic “per contact price” you might expect to pay, you may end up needing to budget more based on your needs and how the email marketing platform charges for add-ons. Here are a few other things you should think about as you select and budget for your CRM.

Add-on CRM users

If you have a team of virtual assistants helping you, you’ll want to see how many “User licenses” you get.

Are you the only person who will access the CRM and email marketing platform, or do you need multiple user accounts for the whole team?

While some companies might be able to work with a single login that everyone uses, others might be a little more attentive to making sure each person has a separate login… which can affect the price.

Each package or plan is different, and you don’t want to start paying extra every month because you didn’t realize this wasn’t included.

High Volume Email Sending

Did you know … Most CRM plans include a limit on the number of emails you can send each month.

The reason marketing automation systems put a limit on the number of emails you send is to ensure that their clients’ emails get delivered properly.

But if you email often (which will likely help you sell more, keep existing customers longer, and recoup your CRM investments!) then you need to know what limits there are here.

Are you going to use your platform only for the once-a-week newsletter… or will you use it for sales emails, login notifications, opt-in confirmations, and customer follow-up?

The amount of emails you send will affect which package you sign up for, and is a separate consideration from the number of contacts you need.

The price of integrations

Finally, the other hidden costs of a marketing automation system to compare are the integrations.

Certain CRMs come with certain integrated features built-in (at a cost), while others will recommend selecting a third party plugin or add-on.

Adding different plugins and systems separately can add up in cost, so write down a list of your “must haves” and make sure you have a good solution for each. Some things you might want to consider integrating with your CRM include:

  • Ecommerce and affiliate systems
  • Membership and Learning management systems
  • Landing page builders
  • SMS, texting, and on-site messenger options
  • Calendar booking applications
  • Event management systems

Calculating Your CRM's ROI (Return on Investment)

Some stats say you should be earning $10 for every contact on your CRM list, per year.

So if you have a list of 1000 contacts, that would mean $10,000 per year in income. With a list of 30,000 contacts you’d earn $300,000.

Of course, formulas like that don’t take into account your business model, pricing, or capacity to serve clients. You might run a digital course business, take on high end clients, or sell physical products.

A better formula for calculating your CRM budget:

Contacts * Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) * the average conversion rate from new email subscriber to paying customer

For example: If your CLV is $300, and you convert 10% of all new subscribers to customers… then with a list of 1000 contacts, your formula would look like this:

1000 (contacts) * 10% (conversion rate) * 300 (dollars)

= $30,000 from the investment in your CRM.

Anticipate CRM Price Increases

In recent years, top CRM companies have become known for springing unexpected price increases on their customers.

Sometimes these price increases are handled well: the company might offer existing clients a few different options to lock in their pricing by choosing a yearly payment plan, or reducing some of their add-ons.

However, there’s also been quite a few companies that have increased prices for their long term customers with very little time to adapt to the increased prices. In fact, some companies have increased prices by as much as 200%-400% percent in short periods of time.

So how can you anticipate or plan for these price increases?

One way is to ensure that you’re consistently cleaning your contact lists with email re-engagement strategies so you don’t end up paying more for un-engaged or non-marketable contacts.

It’s also a good idea to expect the price of your CRM to increase over time and to budget for it ahead of time, which brings us to the topic of CRM budgets!

Still not sure which option is right for you?

Take our CRM quiz to see which automation marketing platform we recommend.

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