startup crm

Choosing Your First CRM: 8 Factors to Consider

Selecting and implementing your first CRM system is critical for early stage, high growth companies. While the CRM won’t close deals for you, it does play a major role in your sales team’s ability to engage the right prospects at the right time and ensure that no potential deals fall through the cracks.

While Salesforce is the clear market leader in CRM solutions, that doesn’t necessarily make it the best option for your business, particularly in the early days. Startups face very different tradeoffs than more established businesses when evaluating potential CRMs.

8 Factors to Consider when Choosing Your First CRM

1. Complexity and Cost of Implementation

Most early stage companies don’t have extra resources to devote towards CRM implementation. Consider a CRM that will enable you to implement quickly and doesn’t require extensive customizations out of the box.  Understand how much effort will be required to get up and going, and be sure to factor in the potential cost of an implementation provider.

2. Ease of Adoption and Use

Startup employees are consistently stretched thin.  There often isn’t a lot of extra time to learn a new, complex software program. Look for a CRM that has been noted for a user-friendly interface and quality training materials or start with one your team has used in past organizations. Have your employees test out the software prior to signing a contract. Virtually all CRM vendors offer free trial periods and some may provide training for new users as well.

3. Ease and Cost of Ongoing Administration

Your business is dynamic.  You’re going to be constantly testing, iterating, and improving as you go.  As a result, you’ll necessarily need to adjust your sales motion and the way you manage information within the CRM system.  Consider how easy it will be to update and maintain the system as your business adapts.

4. Integration with Other Marketing, Sales, and Account Management Tools

One of the strengths of Salesforce is the huge ecosystem of third party tools and applications that seamlessly integrate into the system.  If you already know of other tools you want to integrate, understand if the connection exists or if you’ll need to customize your own solution.  Customization can often require significant engineering effort and costs.

5. Native Reporting and Analytics Capabilities

How easy is it to capture and report on your KPIs within the system?  Are there robust forecasting capabilities that will help you understand if you’re going to hit your targets? Are the reporting components flexible and easy to adjust as you determine the right metrics to track over time, or will you simply have to export your data into excel and do most of the heavy lifting there?

6. Price

If cash burn is a consideration, make your selection with an eye towards getting good value. In the very early days, a freemium solution may be the best answer, with the option to upgrade to paid functionality once you need it.  But also appreciate that you’re likely deferring up-front costs today in exchange for migration costs in the future.

7. Mobile Functionality

If your team spends a meaningful proportion of time in the field, you’ll likely want a CRM that provides a decent interface for mobile access and data management.

8. Flexibility and Scalability

You want to select a CRM that can grow with you. Evaluate your growth plans, and choose a solution that will be flexible enough to fit your needs for at least the next 12-24 months.  The last thing you want is to put effort into building a system today that needs replacing in 6 months. Migration is a costly endeavor that’s typically more expensive than the initial buildout. Plan ahead and build for the future.

Once you’ve got the framework in place and understand which factors are most important to you, here are a few CRMs you might want to evaluate:

10 Startup CRMs to Consider

Base CRM

Base bills itself as a next-generation CRM application that SDRs will actually want to use. The program includes features for email, phone dialer, lead scoring, and sales reporting within a single software application. Base offers low rates for international calls. Calls will be automatically recorded and attached to deal records.


Close is a newer CRM application oriented towards startups and SMBs. The application provides users with an integrated calling system so that sales representatives can make and receive calls directly from the program. Phone calls and emails will be automatically uploaded into the database. The program makes extensive use of alerts and reminders about deals.


Hubspot originated as software for content marketing, but it now provides CRM functionality at both a Free and Pro level. They market their product as easy to learn in comparison to other CRM applications. The application has earned acclaim for its calling capability, email tracking and templates, and prospect intelligence features. It integrates well with Hubspot’s flagship Marketing Platform.


Insightly is a popular CRM program for small businesses, with a freemium version for a maximum of two users. The application includes a system for ticketing and features that keep track of overall business revenue. Insightly integrates with MailChimp, Gmail, and other applications commonly used by startups and small businesses.


Nimble has been noted for its social media features. For example, users can import contacts from LinkedIn and all messages exchanged on LinkedIn will be automatically attached to contact records. Nimble imports social media feeds. It has a reputation for strong email integration. There is an in-application message inbox collecting all email messaging and Nimble integrates with many commonly used email marketing platforms. Nimble is a good choice for companies that emphasize social selling.


Pipedrive is a web application designed for smaller sales teams. The application allows users to visualize the sales pipeline easily, including estimated dates for closed deals. Sales managers can view a master timeline with all deals in the pipe. The software allows users to enter detailed information during each stage of the deal. Reporting features are robust.


SalesforceIQ’s (formerly RelateIQ) strength is the seamless capture and logging of email activity.  It allows for the easy creation of lists to visualize and manage processes and workflows.  Though it’s part of the Salesforce family, the migration from IQ to Sales Cloud is surprisingly no easier than it would be with any other CRM.

Sugar CRM

Sugar CRM is a widely used application noted for ease of use and security features. There are options for using Sugar CRM on web browsers. Home pages are very customizable and there are “wizard” tools for new users. It is built on an open source platform. Users have praised its mobile functionality.

Zoho CRM

Zoho is a comprehensive CRM application offering tools to track communications with customers, track deals, and generate reports. It includes a strong mobile application that is easy to use. Zoho enjoys a reputation as a user-friendly software application that includes basic inventory management features, data analytics, social media integration, and a document library. Zoho offers a freemium version for up to ten users.

Alore CRM

Alore CRM is a robust and integrated sales automation platform for small businesses. It provides salespeople with an end-to-end sales solution – from prospecting to month-end reporting all in a single tool.  Alore champions data powered sales and have data right how it should be – Simple to digest and right in front. They are also the first to introduce Homefeed design in a SaaS product, bringing data and activity to the forefront. Besides providing advanced CRM capability, the Alore chrome extension helps you prospect smarter.

Final Words

When selecting a CRM for your early stage startup, it’s important to appreciate that there are a wide variety of options beyond Salesforce. You should evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each given the factors that are most important to you and your future growth plans.  But also appreciate that a good tool is useless without a thoughtful and well-designed sales process that is tailored to your buyers, market, and product.  Start from there and work back to find the right tool that supports this process and fits with the current and future needs of your business.

Michael Ingram

Michael is the Founder of, a consulting firm that enables high-growth, B2B technology companies to make better sales decisions. Before founding he built sales teams at Axial and ZocDoc.