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How do you choose the right CRM for your product?

You're building relationships with all of your customers, whether you know it or not. Setting up the right CRM for your product can help make those relationships stronger.

You’re building relationships with all of your customers…

…whether you know it or not. Winning your prospects’ hard-earned money is hard. Founders spend hundreds and thousands of hours building products to solve a problem, pouring blood, sweat, tears, and money into product development. Building a product is only part of the equation: you have to earn the trust of your customers by creating a brand and voice that they trust. Landing sales, and keeping happy customers takes time and compassion. Thankfully, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software exists to help you and your team do a great job of maintaining great relationships with your customers.

CRM stands for “Customer Relationship Management”, and CRM software helps you do just that: it provides tooling to track of your interactions and commitments to prospects, customers, and visitors to your app, service, or site. Often this comes in the form of integrations that automate part of the process - keeping track of contact information, logging important events and milestones in the customer journey, and reminding you to follow-up on leads before they go cold.

What Types of CRMs are there?

Like most things, no CRM is a perfect solution for everyone. They vary in complexity, price, and usability - and perhaps most importantly, each CRM you encounter will have its own ethos, or underlying strategy. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which type of CRM fits your product best. As I see it, most CRMs fall into a few basic categories.

Sales-based CRMs

Examples:, Salesforce, Hubspot

These are generally best for products whose success is based on a traditional sales process. If you have salespeople who contact prospective customers and manage relationships with them throughout the sales process, these CRMs may be a good fit. They tend to center around closing a sale, guiding you to craft messaging and contact strategies (via email, SMS, or phone call) that rely on high-touch salespeople doing their thing.

Conversational Marketing CRMs

Examples: Intercom, Drift, Front

You’ve probably bumped into some flavor of conversational Marketing CRM, as they have been wildly popular for the last several years. These usually look like a chat widget living in the bottom corner of a web page or mobile app. They’re highly configurable, and allow you to automate conversational messages to users as they browse your site or app. They can be used to highlight functionality, press visitors to sign up for trials, and complete sales. They rely on your team building conversational messaging that fits your brand, and guiding customers to make decisions. Many also offer real-time chat functionality, where members of your team can message and reply to website visitors through the embedded chat widget.

Inbox based CRMs

Examples: Streak, Copper

If your customer support or sales process relies heavily on communication through email, these may be the CRM for you. They use the contents of your inbox to catalog customer relationships, allow your team to keep track of these relationships across inboxes. This typically means that email threads with customers get back-channeled notes and chat functionality. An important caveat with these tools is that they tend to be strongly-tied to the email service your team uses - your options for inbox CRMs will be limited based on whether you use G Suite or Microsoft 365

Self-maintained CRMs

Examples: Monday, Airtable CRM templates, Notion CRM templates (personal, sales), Roam Research

These tools rely on you doing some of the work. They usually look like miniature table-based databases, and are used to leave notes on customer conversations, track potential and realized revenue, and other relevant metadata about your customer conversations. Some options offer simple automation out of the box, allowing you to plug in to tools like n8n and Zapier to add or update records.

…something else?

No doubt there are other types of CRMs I’ve missed. What’s your tool of choice for managing customer relationships? Do you have any tips or tricks to share with other founders and product teams? Did I miss something important, or get something wrong? Share your thoughts with me on twitter @irreverentmike.

Note: cover photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash



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