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The move to online CRM solutions has been good news for small businesses, where IT resources are limited and time is valuable. New web-based platforms are making it easier than ever to do your research, sign up, and get started immediately--so you can get back to business.

Picking a solution that's right for you

There are more CRM options than ever before. The good news is, almost every one offers a free trial, so you can figure out which will actually work for you. As you're sorting through the choices, it's important to remember that you're looking at tools.

Before you get overwhelmed with options, take a moment to figure out what your goals are, so you can navigate the selection process focused on what will work for you. Some options offer integrations with other web apps, like G Suite, ZenDesk, or MailChimp. Other options are more focused on collaboration, which might suit you if you have to coordinate with a small team. The best choice for you is going to vary based on what you sell and how you sell it.

Taking advantage of automation

Email marketing automation is a major game-changer for small businesses looking to do more with less. Targeting a few key behaviors can make a big impact on your sales, and the best part is, once you've set it up, it does the work. You just need to look at the results and tweak accordingly.

Businesses that use marketing automation see markedly higher conversion rates and a substantial boost to revenue growth. The key, however, is to make sure you're taking advantage of it to interact with your customers at every stage of their journey.

At the beginning stages of your customer's buying journey, you're looking for ways to build awareness. The part of that that you can't automate is doing a great job creating content that resonates with your target audience. But where a CRM system can help is in scheduling the social media posts that get that content out into the world and managing the interactions that pop up organically as a result.

It's all in the timing

Later in the buying journey, you can get even more specific about targeting leads based on specific actions. What you want to do is create triggers around specific actions that will up your conversion rates. If someone visits your pricing page or abandons their cart, for example, you can have your CRM track that and send them a special discount code if they haven't bought anything after 24 hours.

If someone's doing a free trial or has recently made a purchase and you hear, via your CRM, that something's not working, you can proactively reach out with support resources or contact information. This kind of special attention is what it takes to really feed your referral engine and generate even better leads.

CRM has come a long way, and for the smart small business owner, this can mean better tracking, better outreach, and, ultimately, more sales.