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Customer Relationship Management (CRM) on a Budget

If your business has limited resources, you'll need to be much more reasonable in determining what you truly need from your CRM.

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Tracking and managing your interactions with the people you serve is crucial for the development and growth of your business, but how can you do it effectively if you have limited funds in your operating budget?

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is deeply entrenched in the modern business mindset, so much so that it's generally viewed only through the lens of complex software systems. Many options exist in that realm, but the associated price tag is often high enough to cause cash-strapped enterprises to think twice before investing in such a solution. However, the deeper reality is that CRM can be implemented even with the most humble tools. The emphasis needs to be placed more on the basic concept and less on the infrastructure used to put it in place.

Although the origins of CRM are a bit contested, most agree that it came to the fore in the 1980's. According to, Robert, Kate Kestnbaum, and Robert Shaw were the first to develop a targeted concept centered around a customer database used as a reference point when developing marketing campaigns. Various iterations of the CRM approach allowed the existing groundwork to develop and become more nuanced, considering factors that would contribute to fostering customer loyalty over time.

Many CRM options are available today, running the pricing gamut from entry-level to highly advanced and customized. For businesses pursuing one of these solutions, the prudent first step is determining what's reasonable from an investment perspective. Suppose there are critical components of CRM infrastructure that you've determined are must-haves for your company's growth. In that case, you're pretty much resigned to allotting the necessary operating capital to obtain them and consider it the cost of doing business. But if you find yourself with limited resources, you'll need to be much more reasonable in determining what you truly need from your CRM.

Another factor to consider involves the level of customization that you want to pursue. Depending on the nature of your business, you may find a highly usable "off-the-shelf" solution that you can easily adapt to your purposes. In this scenario, you may need to make some basic modifications to some of your operating processes to take full advantage of what the CRM can provide. This carries the potential of becoming a source of frustration for your team, as they'll not only need to learn the facets of the new solution but will also have to make adaptations to existing processes with which they might have great familiarity.

At the other end of the spectrum is the scenario in which you pursue a high level of customization in your CRM. Only you can determine what's necessary to properly serve the mission of your business. However, there's no turning back once you've concluded that the only viable approach is a highly customized CRM. If you require that degree of specialization, it can be detrimental to attempt to make do with the basic "as-is" version and try to shoehorn it into your operations. The customization route is not for the fainthearted, as it can require a sizable financial commitment, a prolonged process of working directly with coders and developers, and extensive testing and tweaking to ensure that the finished product will truly meet your needs.

Most CRMs are structured on the subscription model, with a yearly fee schedule to accommodate your required level of access to the solution. Sometimes, there are multiple tiers to select from, starting with a basic level providing minimal features and extending all the way to a business or enterprise option that will provide the highest degree of security and process automation. Another factor to consider is the overall licensing structure, which can fall into the "Concurrent" or "Per Seat" categories. Concurrent licenses are based on the average number of people needing to access the CRM simultaneously. They can be less expensive than per-seat licenses, which require you to have a dedicated license for each team member who will need to use the CRM. If you have the option, Concurrent can provide cost savings while still allowing you to have a high level of productivity when accessing the solution.

But what if a CRM is completely outside what your company can realistically afford? The good news is that several free or low-cost solutions will enable you to still manage your customer relationships in a way that's efficient and beneficial to your business. These CRMs exist in the realm of open-source platforms, which are usually supported by robust user communities and easily accessible knowledge bases. As with standard paid options, you can coordinate with a developer to tailor the basic solution to meet your business needs. Among the open-source options that offer free versions are Odoo, VtigerCRM, SuiteCRM, EspoCRM, and Dolibarr.

Perhaps even these free options may appear daunting due to the effort and time required for setup and training. Fortunately, it's possible to replicate many aspects of a CRM solution through other means, albeit with the necessity of more manual entry and data monitoring. Microsoft Excel is an excellent tool for creating and maintaining a database of clients or customers. It can help to track all pertinent interactions from initial contact to the close of the sale or completion of the project. Excel spreadsheets can act as an aggregator for all critical information specific to the people you serve. Through the use of filtering and sorting, this data can be manipulated to create detailed reporting augmented with items such as histograms and pie charts. LibreOffice Calc functions similarly to the Microsoft product as a free alternative to Excel and even saves spreadsheets with a .xls or .xlsx file extension.

Spreadsheet data analysis can serve several crucial needs normally addressed via a CRM. Through filtering and sorting, it's possible to divide your customer/client base into logical segments to support targeted marketing or determine the efficacy of the goods or services you're providing. This can enable you to craft particular offerings that can help to build loyalty from those you've already provided services to. Spreadsheets also readily facilitate trend analysis, which can help identify which of your offerings resonate the most in the marketplace.

Another important tool to integrate with a spreadsheet is an email client. These can help you better keep tabs on the influx of email communication you receive daily and streamline your overall communication protocols. Various providers offer a free solution, including Mailbird, Thunderbird, eM Client, and Mailspring. These offer varying options for managing your email, and some boast tools for fast search functionality, spell check, and even language translation. Most of these solutions also provide Pro versions or add-ons that can be integrated to accommodate your business operations' growing needs.

Although a CRM can provide key data regarding client interactions, another cost-effective alternative involves crafting surveys or feedback forms to better understand how relevant you are to your base. Microsoft Forms is an online option that provides an access link to those you'd like to survey. A free alternative is Google Forms, which is normally used in educational settings but can also be adapted for business purposes. Conducting surveys via online solutions can be much more convenient than having someone complete a printed form. Still, the most important aspect is simply obtaining the necessary feedback to evaluate how you're doing as a business properly.

Customer relationship management is ultimately more of a methodology than a software solution. Even if you lack the resources or experience to pursue implementing a CRM, taking a few rudimentary steps toward creating a database that tells the story of how you do business can completely transform your operations and open up exciting new possibilities.


Ready to take control of your customer relationships without breaking the bank? Whether you opt for a free CRM solution, leverage spreadsheet analysis, or design feedback forms, plenty of budget-friendly options exist. Need guidance on choosing the right approach for your business? Visit our website at, to book your power hour session where you’ll meet with ValorExcel staff to get started. Or, call 240-329-9387 or email us at, ✨ Start implementing these strategies today and watch your business thrive with effective customer relationship management. Also, don't forget to check our recent videos on YouTube by clicking HERE. #BudgetCRM #CustomerRelationships #SmallBusinessSolutions #CRMOnABudget

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