Modern sales and customer service teams are responsible for developing and maintaining relationships with prospects and clients — which is not a simple task by any means.
Consumers are well informed about the products and services they want to buy and are used to a highly personalized customer experience. Many customers expect an immediate reply and don’t hesitate to buy a product from a competitor if the initial customer service doesn’t meet their needs.
No wonder salespeople consider investing in digital tools that help them put data in order and automate repetitive tasks. CRM software is an example of such a tool, and it’s so popular that many salespeople and sales organizations consider it a must-have.
Although we agree that it can facilitate many processes for some teams, significantly smaller, there’s another side to this. Salespeople don’t always need a CRM to reach their sales goals. What they need is to turn leads into clients and to turn clients into loyal customers that want to stay.
A CRM may be helpful in this sense, but it’s not a must. 90% of companies use their CRM as a contact database, so it’s safe to say that their needs can be addressed using more straightforward and cheaper solutions.
But before we move on and present the most popular CRM alternatives, let us first explain exactly what a CRM is and why it’s worth considering different options.
What is a CRM, and who needs it?
A Customer Relationship Management system or a CRM is software used by salespeople around the world to facilitate their sales processes. It’s important because contact management is one of the crucial workflows sales (and other teams) have in companies. If you think of it, business is all about managing different contacts.
Its primary purpose is to organize customer information, as well as information about leads, clients, or stakeholders and to automate communication with them, whether the goal is to close a deal, increase brand awareness, nurture long-term relationships or offer customer support.
The main goal of a CRM solution is to improve business relationships and profitability, as well as streamline processes and customer interactions. It also helps handle customers’ issues raised in different channels like emails, social media channels, a website, and so on.
Your CRM can perform a wide array of tasks, and its features often include order management, ticket support management, mass mailing management, and more.
Each record tells a story about a relationship between a customer and a company, since the initial interest. And each brand can learn a lot about their customers from such stories.
Apart from basic contact details, CRMs can contain transactional information, customer’s place in the sales funnel, interests, and more, even public social media information.
A CRM platform can also be integrated with accounting, your call center, and other software, enhancing its functionality. What’s more, it’s increasingly common to use a cloud-based CRM which is a flexible and usually more affordable solution.
All this information can be visible to the entire sales and marketing team, even working from distant locations or on the go. Sounds useful, especially in providing personalized offers and marketing campaigns on a big scale, right?
In short, among the most significant advantages of CRM you can easily find:
✔️ A centralized database of leads and customers — accessible for your team members no matter where they work
✔️ Identifying and categorizing leads and customers
✔️ Offering more efficient and personalized customer support
✔️ Standardizing the salespeople’s workflow
CRM tools are mainly used by companies with an extensive customer base that perform lead generation and nurturing campaigns and offer customer support.
When there is a relationship to maintain, there may be a need for a system that automates it. However, you don’t always need a CRM to get all the advantages listed above.
Investing in a CRM may be an excellent way to do that, but not the only one.
Many CRMs are complex platforms that require some time to learn and set up, which can be costly.
It’s not always the case as there are solutions available in all shapes and sizes, but many small teams need a fraction of the possibilities that popular CRMs offer.
In a small company with not so many clients, one contact manager that uses email as a communication tool can be sufficient.
Another example is a company that cooperates with a few big and returning clients. In such a case, tailor-made communication is more important than automation and can be achieved without any CRM.
CRM alternatives your sales team should consider
A common contact repository
As we’ve already mentioned, 90% of companies use their CRM as a contact database.
The truth is, having a shared database of contacts may be the most straightforward way of keeping all the relevant information about customers and maintaining relationships with them.
What is essential is that you don’t need to invest money, time, and other resources to implement a new tool. Such a database can be successfully developed in a tool like Google Contacts.
Apart from keeping contact information there, it’s possible to create custom fields and notes on top of the regular contact details, making Google Contacts an efficient sales tool.
However, there is one major issue with that — Google Contacts doesn’t have an option to share such a database with other people.
A plugin from Shared Contacts for Gmail solves this issue, making Google Contacts a fully functional sales tool and a valuable alternative to any CRM.
And, what’s more: It also integrates with most CRMs on the market, so if you do need your CRM moving forward, you can save money on CRM seats. Purchase only the seats you actually need, and handle contact management and sharing with Shared Contacts for Gmail.
Common Drive and Word Processor
MS Word, Google Docs, or either paid or free alternatives are accessible and easy-to-use software that sales teams may use to gather contact information, make notes and comments.
Each client can have a separate folder on a shared drive (Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, or another) with all the crucial files, including the document with contact details, preferences, purchase history, and other relevant information.
Cloud-based versions make it easy to share the documents and collaborate in the team, no matter where each person is located. If needed, it’s easy to generate a PDF or even print the information by those who prefer offline, pen and paper ways to deal with information.
It’s probably not the most efficient and recommended way of performing sales, but it’s extremely simple and accessible to everyone – office packages are widely taught at schools.
MS Excel, Google Spreadsheets, or alternatives are much more common in sales than you may think. Many salespeople have started their careers using spreadsheets, and they’re pretty used to working with them.
Spreadsheets can be a simple and efficient way to organize information and calculate numbers. They can also serve as efficient lead trackers. Just enter an input date, lead name, lead email and phone number, funnel state, the name of a person who is nurturing this lead, and notes.
You can see the number of leads and sales per salesperson per day and stage using filters or pivot tables. Similarly, you can track cold calls and emails or closed deals. It’s even easier when you download a ready-to-use template from any sales repository.
Like text editors, cloud-based spreadsheets are easy to share and collaborate with, and many people are familiar with them before entering the job market. What is also essential, thanks to the cloud-based tools, there is also no risk of deleting customer data accidentally — every change is saved, and it’s easy to restore everything.
Trello and other Kanban boards
Project management tools can also be used as CRM alternatives. It’s possible to set up free and popular Kanban boards like Trello to meet your sales team’s needs. The most straightforward sales kanban board may consist of such five columns:
✔️ Prospect detected
✔️ Prospect contacted
✔️ Prospect followed up
✔️ Client won
✔️ Client lost
Another board example, more detailed and proposed directly by Trello is:
✔️ Contacted us
✔️ Meeting arrange
✔️ Pitch / Demo done
✔️ Won (deploying)
✔️ Contact again later
Of course, boards can be adjusted to the needs of a specific team, and Trello shares various ready-to-use templates.
Each lead can be easily moved between the boards, which shows the overall sales flow and a stage the lead is currently on. Such boards are also available for everyone who has access, no matter the location or the device they use.
Email seems to be the most prominent and straightforward way to contact leads and customers.
It is the most common way to communicate with anyone online in the written form. No wonder it’s massively used by salespeople around the world.
Advanced mailboxes, such as Gmail, have become much more than messaging tools. Apart from sending and receiving email and gathering contact information, Gmail offers calendar integration, notifications, tasks, tags, filters, and other valuable features that salespeople can use. Gmail integrates well with other tools that belong to the Google Workspace ecosystem and is easy to use on mobile.
However, even Gmail has some limitations. First of all, it doesn’t allow sharing contacts with other people, which is a significant bottleneck in sales.
Shared Contacts for Gmail solves this issue by letting salespeople share and update different contact information with each other. Thanks to this small but powerful feature, email can become a fully functional sales tool that is easy to use and accessible.
Ready to try something new?
As you can see, in some cases investing in CRM is inevitable, but we only recommend it when the scope of work and data is massive and various.
For smaller teams who communicate with a smaller number of clients, simplicity is the key.
With Shared Contacts for Gmail, Gmail enhanced by sharing contact information between different people can be a robust, fully functional, and accessible sales tool.
And guess what: You can try Shared Contact for Gmail for free!