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There are too many CRMs. Heck, there are too many CRM add-ons. Sales is our livelihood, and part of the job has become navigating the labyrinth of choices (and customizations) to make something that actually makes your job easier. Marc Andreessen says that software is eating the world, but for salespeople, software is eating us alive.

For the new SaaS company or sales organization, you have to hire the right people, find the right strategy, and define the right market. Now you also have to find the right Customer Relationship Management software. The thing that was meant to make your life easier — little software hacks and tweaks — has now become annoying on the same level as office management and HR issues.

Choosing and implementing the right CRM is a necessary evil, just like finding the right chairs and a reliable Internet provider. And, as you’d expect, All CRMs suck if implemented in the wrong way for the wrong type of company, just as they are all beautiful if they’re implemented correctly.

While building my startup — the proposal software Quote Roller — I’ve tried (and dumped) many CRMs for organizing sales, hiring, and fundraising. I’ve explored many CRM systems to consider integrating with our app, and I’ve whittled down a list of hundreds to only 12.

It’s been an awful rollercoaster, and I’m happy to share the ups and downs as a way of helping you find out what you do and don’t need to get.

You don’t need a CRM when …

… you don’t have a business (or a product-market fit) yet

It’s day 1. You have a chair and a desk and a computer. Don’t buy eight different pieces of software because you think you need to. When you need them, buy them. If you don’t know you need them, don’t. As a founder, you should start contacting potential clients before you even start the company. There’s no need to over-engineer at this point. Finding the product-market fit is hard enough already. Keep it simple (and free) using spreadsheets.

… when there is no sales process to organize

CRMs are made to organize repeatable sales processes and to organize processes that, at first, might not even be there. If you are just going after your first few clients, don’t mess it up with unnecessary data entry.

… you don’t know who you’re selling to

Once all the necessary tests are done, you should be able to answer the following questions:

1.   Who are your clients? Be specific.
2.   How do you find, contact, and persuade them to close?
3.   What is the approximate amount of money you can make on average from each client?
4.   How long is it going to take to close a sale?

… when there’s no use for the data

If you have a few people, and they’re still in the very early sales stages, there’s no process to break down for them. Making someone log a call isn’t useful unless you have a great deal of things to monitor and need organization.

Before you’re established, CRM can be a curse. Don’t buy it or use it unless it’s going to make your life — or your salespeople’s lives — easier.

PipeDrive vs Intercom: choosing a CRM based on your CLV

Your customer’s lifetime value (CLV) is the amount of money your company can make during a single customer’s lifetime. A higher CLV usually requires more time and effort to sell to. A six-figure sale may take months (if you’re lucky) or even years (if you’re realistic).

If your CLV is high, your CRM pipeline (the sales process’ steps) should have many stages and fewer deals in each stage. Creating a visual of your sales process makes it easy for you and your reps to see where things are with any prospective client and keep them from wanting to drown themselves mid-sale.

PipeDrive CRM is a great pipeline visualization app for companies with a high-deal size and a low-deal volume, where a company is focused on high-value customers. By sectioning out each part of the deal, PipeDrive lets you break down the thoughts, feelings, and processes of a sale in a way that’s far more human.

We managed our seed round via PipeDrive, where investors were “contacts” and investments were “deals.”

Pipedrive is a great software. However, if you’re making a lot of low-value deals, it’s overwhelming and unnecessary. The process is probably as simple as “make call, send email, close deal,” and thus entering in the data becomes useless.

In many high-volume, low-value deals, the sales are likely inbound, low-touch, and automated, which is exactly what Intercom focuses on.

Intercom is plugged into your website or app with a JavaScript snippet. It imports the client data and allows easy flagging, searching, and filtering in your client database.

Intercom also aggregates additional data about your clients from around the web — like location, social networks, and avatars — as well as from your own system – like the number of purchases, dates of first sign, and your last visit. The system maintains a history of messages sent to a client.

Another neat thing about Intercom is that you can send custom and automated messages to clients in real time, enabling you to save money on email marketing apps like MailChimp.

Your goal with any CRM is to support your salespeople and their process and have an idea where your next meal is coming from. If your CRM makes this process worse, you don’t want that CRM.

Nimble vs Base: choosing a CRM based on how you interact with customers

What makes for the best CRM for a team often depends on the way you build leads and interact with customers. Some companies are prospecting via LinkedIn, some are cold calling, and some buy email lists to reach out to potential clients.

If you sell using social networks, take a look at Nimble. Nimble’s integration with social networks is one of the best. Nimble imports your LinkedIn connections as CRM contacts and allows you to message them from the interface. Your message history attaches to your contact dashboards and deals. The same applies to your reps, so you can manage the sales process even if most of it happens in LinkedIn. Nimble also imports all contacts’ social streams, posts, and shares. That allows you to send relevant messages, much more personalized than cold, salesy emails. Similarly to LinkedIn, Nimble integrates, allows messaging via, and imports social streams from Twitter and Facebook. Plus you can take steps that show immediate customer loyalty, like following prospects on Twitter even before making a call.

Nimble also helps to set up “social signals,” or the notifications, for a contact’s birthday, new connections, career change, and more. For instance, you can automatically assign sales reps to prospect anyone who liked your Facebook page or mentioned services you provide in a tweet.

Essentially, it cuts down on research time and supports a great sale. However, if most of the conversations are taking place over the phone, it’s a bunch of information that’s nowhere near as useful. For companies who are planning to interact with clients via the phone, Base CRM is a better option. Base has built-in voice over IP (VOIP) functionality with very cheap international calling rates, saving time on both call-logging and the physical act of calling (and money, I suppose). The calls are recorded and automatically attached to contacts and deals, removing the awful call-logging data entry of classic salespeople.

Base is also great if you want your reps in the field. Imagine you have a team of five sales reps running around the city, talking to customers and closing deals. They need a tool with real-time access to contacts and deals in progress, and your sales manager needs real-time access to the deals they’re closing, places they’re visiting, and calls they’re making. The data’s already there without the reps having to struggle to log it.

Base’s mobile apps (as well as helping you make calls) provide access to the CRM’s data and display an interactive map with all the nearby contacts. You get to know where they are geographically at any point. All this makes Base a perfect solution for companies that practice “outside” or “field” sales and close deals in person.

CRMs can’t save your business, but they can make it better

Many believe that productivity tools and CRMs are the golden goose — the way to make an organization ‘great.’ The truth is, if someone is a bad sales rep, they’ll only be more obviously awful in a CRM-based solution. Furthermore, adding a useless CRM to your business will make your employees hate you and slow down those that don’t.

A CRM is a force multiplier. Success in sales is made by people who deal with your clients, the relationships they build, the needs they identify, the support they offer, and, of course, the product or service they’re selling. A great CRM will support them and catapult them to success, but a bad implementation will steer them to drinking (or to your competitors).

Mikita Mikado is a software engineer and entrepreneur from Belarus, now based in San Francisco. He is the co­founder and CEO of a company behind Quote Roller and PandaDoc. He is passionate about building meaningful SAAS applications that help to save time and be more productive.

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