How CRMs Can Spark (or Continue) Fast Growth Not long ago, customers controlled how and when they interacted with brands. CRM tools have finally put companies in charge of customer relationships.

By Rashan Dixon

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Luis Alvarez | Getty Images

Got your eye on growth this year? Get a CRM. Growth got you tearing apart at the seams? Get a CRM.

What makes CRMs great for fast- and slow-growing companies is hidden in the last word of the "CRM" acronym: management. Unlike in the past, when customers controlled how and when they interacted with brands, today's CRM tools make companies the managers of their customer relationships.

When a salesperson wants to increase the chances of a lead closing, she has two options: She can increase her number of touchpoints with that customer, or she can improve her existing touchpoints.

Related: Do You Have a "Touchpoint Plan'?

Today's CRMs help salespeople pursue either path in a scalable, trackable manner. Most of them include visualizers and drag-and-drop functionality so salespeople can, say, add a whitepaper offer to their sales approach. For the second option, they also include features or integrations like email customization to make touchpoints more relevant. By making both routes easier for salespeople, CRM systems can increase lead conversion rates by 300 percent while boosting purchase value by 40 percent, according to a Forrester study.

Once a lead becomes a customer, CRMs also make it easier for companies to track past behavior like purchases and downloads. Because customer service staff can look back through CRMs and view historic customer activity, they can take actions like suggesting similar lines of service or rewarding customer loyalty. Companies that increase their customer retention by just 5 percent, according to a Bain & Company report, can boost their profits by 75 percent.

Related: 7 Data Sources You Should Absolutely Be Plugging Into Your CRM

CRMs for governing growth

Because CRMs put companies in control, they're also great tools for managing runaway growth. By removing touchpoints, salespeople can effectively narrow their sales pipelines. In the spirit of the second option, they can also swap out high-effort touchpoints -- such as experiential marketing engagements -- for more scalable ones, such as email drip campaigns.

Although those actions might not be enough to curb the market's thirst for a hot product, they can certainly take the burden off a smaller team. The Forrester report found that CRM systems can provide a 50 percent bump to productivity while cutting labor costs to the tune of 20 percent. For startups stretched thin, those savings are nothing short of world-changing.

Growth-minded CRMs

Because CRMs can help companies with either growth strategy -- and because essentially every firm is trying to achieve one of them -- they've achieved a whopping compound annual growth rate of 16 percent. For context, that figure is fivefold the 3.2 percent CAGR of worldwide IT spending.

For growth-stage companies, the following CRMs are top picks:

1. Benchpoint

Take a look at Benchpoint's minimalist interface, and you'll see why it's so popular with busy teams. Through smart use of white space and drop-down menus, Benchpoint has managed to build a CRM that's both clutter-free and comprehensive in its view of the sales pipeline. Benchpoint works particularly well for retail and physical product companies, which can use its inventory-tracking tools to monitor supply levels and make data-backed purchasing and sales decisions.

Related: Why Your Retail Business Needs CRM Software

2. Ontraport

Ontraport may be a minor player in the CRM space, but it has some major advantages over its peers. With what the California-based company claims is the industry's first visual campaign builder, marketers can add actions like email follow-ups, SMS messages and tasks for teammates at any point on a campaign map. Ontraport's second first, if you will, is Projection Mode, which uses predictive intelligence to explore "what if" scenarios. With the feature, users can save money by seeing how the costs of adding an in-person touchpoint, for instance, compare to the potential of improving conversion rates.

3. Less Annoying CRM

Let's face it: There's nothing fun about business software. What's even less fun about it for small firms is the fact that most business applications are designed for enterprise companies. Small business users simply don't have time to explore "what if" scenarios or wait for help from IT. With that said, Less Annoying CRM does have a nice selection of small business-focused features, such as a team calendar and hands-off backups and updates. Plus, it's far less expensive than the other options on this list, at a $10 per user per month price point, with no long-term contracts required.

4. Nextiva

Nextiva recognizes that sales efficiency takes cooperation. In addition to its customer chat feature, Nextiva offers internal chat in a SMS-like interface. Nextiva also includes a team calendar tool, which is useful for managing internal and customer appointments in a single interface. Two other Nextiva features that are unusual in the CRM space are its automated survey tools and internal wiki. Both tools help teams build their bank of customer knowledge, the former by gathering new information and the second by passing it seamlessly to account representatives.

5. Affinity

Although most CRMs include automation and security features, none rise to the level of Affinity. With patent-pending technology, Affinity autopopulates users' sales pipeline and identifies decision makers at each company to skyrocket sales efficiency. It then incorporates the user's social media data to facilitate introductions. And because growth-stage companies don't have time to worry about data security, Affinity uses 256-bit encryption when storing and sharing user information. Affinity users also receive a 1Password account for the sake of secure password creation and storage.

The CRM market is growing so quickly because "just right" growth is so rare. Companies that can't seem to grow need new and deeper customer relationships, which is what CRM systems were made to deliver. High-growth companies may have all the users they can handle, but they still need the right CRM tool to serve them well.

Rashan Dixon

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Co-founder of Techincon and Senior Business Consultant for Microsoft

Rashan Dixon is a senior business systems analyst at Microsoft, entrepreneur and a writer for various business and technology publications.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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