I’d known for some time that I needed a CRM (Customer Relationship Management software). I wasn’t doing followups with clients as well as I would have wanted to. Boomerang was a good stopgap, but it wasn’t flexible enough for my needs.
Additionally, there were people, business acquaintances, you might say, with whom I would like to stay in touch, but I could just never manage to do it in an organized manner. It’s embarrassing to only email people when you have a question or need a favor.
And, my marketing was pretty poor. I don’t like to make a big thing of the fact that I’m an introvert (it seems like most people are, online,) but honestly, I don’t need to talk to people very often. I rarely feel a compulsion to go talk to people, or to ask how they’re doing. In the absence of that desire, it’s very easy to let things slide until you realize that holy shit, it’s been a year since I talked to so-and-so. And then at that point, you don’t know how to start a conversation that isn’t massive like a holiday letter, and you remain out of the loop in your own industry. Ugh.
Maybe these are just my hangups, but I’m sure you have a few of your own. Almost nobody feels like they do a good enough job of staying in touch with people.
Having identified the problem was with me, I looked at the possible solutions. I don’t know if you noticed, but there are a million CRMs on the market. Unfortunately, most are made for corporate-y type people, and I honestly couldn’t figure out how to make them work.
Additionally, CRMs have a lot of integrations, so if you’re not careful, they will suck up enough information to drown you, and you won’t use it.
The Best Attributes in CRMs
Like finding a man, you’re probably not going to find one that cooks, cleans, gives massages, has the body of Chris Hemsworth and the soulful voice of Morgan Freeman. The point is just to tick as many boxes as possible while simultaneously making sure that your non-negotiables are met.
For me, the non-negotiables were that it had to be streamlined, user-friendly, and cheap. I particularly wanted data visualization, because I wanted a sort of visual heatmap of where my time was going, and how people were moving through my pipeline.
Or at least that’s what I thought going in. Turns out that you get what you pay for, so my strategy had to shift after I started trying them.
I did a quick overview of the market, relying on Google searches and the website Alternative.to, which is a great place to see a bunch of programs that all do the same things. Here’s my short list.
- Free for 30 days, after that, $20/mo.
- Very handy; you tell them how often you want to email people in a certain category, they’ll email you with a name. No decision-making on your part.
- Lacks the visualizations I’d hoped for.
- Has a free plan that looks decent
- Integrates with Mailchimp and a lot of others (but the free plan I think only lets you link to one)
- $15 bucks a month for the pro plan
- Data Visualization
- Has an onboarding process (a real person walks you through set up!)
- Integrates with everything
- Has something Called “Champions” where it figures out which people engage most with your brand (so that you can reward them!)
My First Try: Nimble
I tried Nimble first. It was a mess. It integrated with all my Google + accounts, my Mailchimp list, my Gmail contacts, and my Twitter followers. I wound up with over a thousand contacts to sort through, the vast majority of which I deleted, because I had no idea who they were or how I got their information.
Lesson learned: Be selective about what services you hook up, or it will be like trying to drink from a firehose.
That being said, if you do almost all of your marketing via Social Media, Nimble is a pretty good choice, because it monitors social media for mentions of you and allows you to interact from your Dashboard. This could be a real time-saver for you. I really liked how they integrated with G+. I know that won’t be a huge seller for everyone, but G+ is my favorite of the major social media networks. Google+ has next to no third-party integrations.
Once the two-week business trial ended, it stopped suggesting people for me to email, (three people every day) and I discovered that I really really liked that impetus. However, since I would have to pay for that feature, I knew from my research that Batchbook had a similar feature-set, along with one extra feature I particularly liked, so I signed up for Batchbook instead.
What initially attracted me to Batchbook was their “Champions” program. The best arrow in your quiver are people who market for you, so I was excited to use this tool to discover who my champions actually were.
The other great thing about Batchbook is how thorough their training is. Not only do they have a help website, which is de riguer these days, they also have screencasts, pdf downloads, and a personal on-boarding call. All you have to do is make an appointment, and they’ll walk you through how to use everything.
The pdfs were great; they were focused on how to benefit from your CRM immediately so they made advised you to just upload a small group of people with whom you wanted to maintain contact, then upload the rest a little at a time. With that in mind (and the horror of my Nimble experience fresh in my mind) I uploaded a Google contact list of about 40 people.
And then I ran into problems.
Batchbook is too fully featured. It can do anything, track any information, and be used in complex ways that no doubt make sense to people in large corporations.
It wasn’t that I couldn’t use it for what I needed it for– it was just that all those empty spaces in the form fields were kind of depressing and cluttered the dashboard. And when I realized there was no other option but to manually set scheduled followups with people, I threw in the towel. It turned out I liked having three random contacts pop up every morning to admonish me to drop them a line.
So I went back to Nimble, this time resigned to purchasing the business account. And it worked fine, at first. After all, I already had my contacts fairly well winnowed. But then I discovered that the formula they used to suggest people for you to email was based on keywords like “CEO”, “Owner”, and “Manager”.
Most of the people I wanted to interact with don’t go by titles. I tried other keywords like “blogger,” and “freelancer” but it didn’t provide me with the variety I wanted.
I complained about my lack of progress to my Mastermind group, and they recommended Contactually. Since Contactually was already on my list, I decided to give it a shot.
My experience with Contactually benefited immensely from my experience with the other two services. For one thing I could full appreciate how AMAZING their “Bucket Game” is.
Sorting contacts is the single most tedious thing about using a CRM. Unless you have already sorted and tagged your contacts in Gmail (or wherever), you’re going to have to categorize them for your CRM. And when you add your Twitter followers and what not to that list, you’re looking at a lot of sorting.
Contactually’s Bucket Game is pretty much exactly like the email game. A timer starts, and a contact pops up. You hit a keystroke (ASDF JKL;) to sort it into a bucket. You can do fifty contacts in 2-3 minutes, so it goes pretty fast. I have no idea why no other CRM has done this. It’s brilliant.
The other thing I like about it is that each of the buckets can be assigned a frequency of contact. Lets say you want to talk to former clients at least three times a year: You can set your bucket to remind you when four months have elapsed without contact.
You can also set it so that you get “Followup Assignments.” Every day it will email you with a pre-specified number of people to contact, based on who in your buckets is getting “cool” (ie, hasn’t been contacted in a while). If you don’t have anyone who’s getting cool, you don’t get an email. It’s that easy.
Although Contactually doesn’t integrate with social media and therefore can’t see that I tweeted with Joe Smith today, if it does suggest I “follow up” with Joe, there’s a dropdown box where I can inform it that we were in contact, just not through email, and it will mark Joe as “warm”.
But Is It Worth $20 a Month?
For me, yes it is. And I say this as person with a passion for cutting overhead expenses wherever possible.
Here’s how I look at it: This is a marketing tool.
I hate social media. Therefore, the cheapest and easiest means of marketing is off the table for me.
I do, however, really enjoy emails. I like to hear, in detail, what people are doing, what projects they are working on and so forth, and I like getting to know people like that– it’s more intimate and personal. And in my opinion, it does far more for deepening the relationship than a thousand personable tweets.
If you got even one client, one sale, as a result of your follow-ups and relationship building, then you’ve paid for your CRM for the whole year. This is not a place to cheap out, especially when marketing is, in my experience, the hardest thing for business owner to do on a regular basis.
Will It Work For Me?
Not necessarily. But I can think of a lot more people it will work for than people it won’t.
- If you do a purely product-based business, and people have no expectation of ever communicating with you personally, you might not have to (but you might want to for professional networking purposes.)
- If you are a social media pro, you might not have to (but on the other hand, something like Nimbly might help you organize you contacts across platforms.)
- But if you’re a service provider, I think it’s very important that you follow up. You don’t necessarily need a CRM to do it– Google contacts works just fine– but if a CRM reduces the friction for you, you should consider it money well spent.
N.B.: I have written a detailed review about Contactually over at Cloud Coach. Check it out if you’re interested in Contactually.