Sales teams: Do you really need a CRM?

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Modern sales and customer service teams are responsible for developing and maintaining relationships with prospects and clients, which is not an easy task. Nowadays, consumers are not only well informed about the products and services they want to buy but also demand excellent and personalized customer experience. They require an immediate reply and don’t hesitate to buy a product from a competitor if the initial customer service doesn’t meet their needs. No wonder that salespeople do their best to meet the growing demands of the clients and at least consider investing in digital tools that help them to put data in order and automate repetitive tasks. CRM is an example of such a tool and it’s so popular that many salespeople consider it a must-have.

“In fact, salespeople don’t always need a CRM.”

Although we agree that it can facilitate lots of processes for some teams, especially smaller, it can be overkill. In fact, salespeople don’t always need a CRM. What they need is to turn leads into clients and to turn clients into loyal ones.

CRM may be helpful but it’s not a must and we strongly believe its alternatives are at least worth considering. In fact, 90% of companies use CRM only as a contact database, so it’s safe to say that their needs can be addressed using simpler and cheaper solutions. But before we move on and present the most popular CRM alternatives, let us first explain what exactly CRM is and why it’s worth to consider different options.

What is CRM and who needs it?

CRM (Customer Relationship Management) is a popular software, used by salespeople around the world. Its main purpose is to organize information about leads, clients or stakeholders and to automate communication with them, whether the goal is to close a deal, increase brand awareness, nurture long-term relationships or offer customer support. The main goal of CRM is to improve business relationships and profitability and streamline processes. It also helps to handle customers’ issues raised in different channels (email, instant messenger, fan page, just to name a few). CRM can perform a wide array of tasks and its features often include order management, ticket support management, mass mailing management and more. Each record tells a story about a relationship between a customer and a company, since the initial interest. And each brand can learn a lot about their customers from such stories.

Apart from basic contact details, CRM can contain transactional information, customer’s place in the sales funnel, interests and more, even public social media information. CRM can also be integrated with accounting, call center and other software which enhances its functionality. What is more, it’s increasingly common to use a cloud-based CRM which is a flexible and usually more affordable solution. All this information can be visible to the entire sales and/or marketing team, even working from distant locations or on the go. Sounds useful, especially in providing personalized offers on a big scale.

In short, among the biggest advantages of CRM you can easily find:
  • a centralized database of leads and customers - accessible for the team members no matter where they work,
  • identifying and categorizing leads and customers,
  • offering more efficient and personalized customer support,
  • standardizing the salespeople’s workflow. 
CRM is mostly used by companies with big customer base, that perform lead generation and nurturing campaigns and offer customer support. When there is a relationship to maintain there may be a need for a system that automates it. However, you don’t always need CRM to get all the abovementioned advantages. At the end of the day, you want to close the deal and maintain relationships with customers, that’it. Investing in CRM may be a good way to do that, but not the only one.

When you don’t need a CRM?

Many CRMs are complex platforms that require some time to learn and to set up and that can be costly. It’s not always the case as there are solutions available in all shapes and sizes, but many small teams need a fraction of the possibilities that popular CRM offer. In the case of a small company with not so many clients, one contact manager that uses email as a communication tool can be sufficient. Another example is a company that cooperates with a few big and returning clients. In such a case, tailor-made communication is more important than automation and can be achieved without any CRM.

CRM Alternatives

Common Contacts Repository

As we’ve already mentioned, 90% of companies use CRM as a contact database. The truth is, having a shared database of contacts may be the most straightforward way of keeping all the relevant information about customers and maintaining relationships with them. What is important, you don’t need to invest money, time, and other resources on implementing a new tool. Such a database can be successfully developed in well-known Google Contacts. Apart from keeping contact information there, it’s possible to create custom fields and notes on top of the regular contact details, which could make Google Contact an efficient sales tool.

However, there is one major issue with that - Google Contacts doesn’t have an option to share such a database with other people. A plugin from Shared Contacts for Gmail solves this issue making Google Contacts a fully functional sales tool and a valuable alternative to any CRM.

Common Drive and Word Processor

MS Word, Google Docs or either paid or free alternative is accessible and easy to use software that may be used by sales teams to gather contact information, make notes and comments. Each client can have a separate folder on a shared drive (Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive or another) with all the important files, including the document with contact details, preferences, purchase history and any other relevant information.

Cloud-based versions make it easy to share the documents and collaborate in the team, no matter where each person is located. If needed, it’s easy to generate a PDF or even print the information by those who prefer offline, pen and paper ways to deal with information. It’s probably not the most efficient and recommended way of performing sales, but it’s extremely simple and accessible to everyone - office packages are widely taught at schools.


MS Excel, Google Spreadsheets or alternatives are much more common in sales that you may think. In fact, lots of salespeople have started their careers using spreadsheets and they’re quite used to work with them. Spreadsheets can be a simple and efficient way to organize information and calculate numbers. They can also serve as efficient lead trackers. Just enter an input date, lead name, lead email and phone number, funnel state, the name of a person who is nurturing this lead and notes. Now you can see the number of leads and sales per salesperson, per day and per stage by using filters or pivot tables. Simple as that. Similarly, you can track cold calls and emails or closed deals. It’s even easier when you download a ready-to-use template from any sales repository.

Similarly to the text editors, cloud-based spreadsheets are easy to share and collaborate and lots of people are familiar with them before they enter the job market. What is also important, thanks to the cloud-based tools there is also no risk of deleting data accidentally - every change is saved and it’s easy to restore every piece of data.

Trello and other kanban boards

Project management tools can also be used as CRM alternatives. It’s possible to set up free and popular kanban boards like Trello to meet the needs of the sales team. The most straightforward sales kanban board may consist of such five columns:
  • prospect detected,
  • prospect contacted,
  • prospect followed up,
  • client won,
  • client lost.
Another board example, more detailed and proposed directly by Trello is:
  • Contacted us,
  • Ideas,
  • Contacted,
  • Leads,
  • Meeting arranged,
  • Pitch / Demo done,
  • Won (deploying),
  • Contact again later,
  • Lost.
Of course, boards can be adjusted to the needs of a specific team and Trello shares various ready-to-use templates. Each lead can be easily moved between the boards which shows the overall sales flow and a stage the lead is currently on. Such boards are also available for everyone who has access, no matter the location or the device they use.


Email seems to be the most obvious and straightforward way to contact leads and customers. In fact, it is the most common way to communicate with anyone online in the written form. No wonder it’s massively used by salespeople around the world. Advanced mailboxes, such as Gmail, have become much more than messaging tools. Apart from sending and receiving email and gathering contact information, Gmail offers calendar integration, notifications, tasks, tags, filters and other useful features that can be used by salespeople. Gmail integrates well with other tools that belong to the G Suite ecosystem and is easy to use on mobile.

However, even Gmail has some limitations. First of all, it doesn’t allow to share contacts with other people, which is a major bottleneck in sales.

Shared Contacts for Gmail solves this issue by letting salespeople share and update different contact information with each other. Thanks to this small but powerful feature email can become a fully functional sales tool, easy to use and accessible to anyone.

As you can see, in some cases investing in CRM is inevitable but we only recommend it when the scope of work and data is massive and various. For smaller teams who communicate with a smaller number of clients, simplicity is the key. At Shared Contacts for Gmail, we believe that Gmail enhanced by sharing contact information between different people can be a powerful, fully functional and accessible sales tool.


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