Ditch the spreadsheet and use a CRM: a guide to the top three CRM systems

By Alex Sibille, Managing Director & Co-Founder

The Future Factory


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November 12, 2019 | 7 min read

Having worked with over 300 agencies over the past decade, the team at The Future Factory know how process and organisation can play a significant role in the success and growth rate of any creative agency.

The Future Factory award three CRM systems and advise marketers on which CRMs to avoid.

The Future Factory award three CRM systems and advise marketers on which CRMs to avoid.

Yet when it comes to tracking new business activity, fewer than 30% of agencies rely on a customer relationship management system (CRM) to keep track of leads, relationships and conversion.

Most tend to use one or multiple spreadsheets instead.

But what’s wrong with a good old spreadsheet...?

Not much initially.

A spreadsheet can absolutely log who is at each stage of your pipeline, but if you want to grow and undertake pro-active lead generation, here are four reasons you should invest in getting a CRM.

  1. A CRM is invaluable at logging the details of all your prospective client interactions, so that all future conversations can be thoughtful, timely and add value each time.
  2. A CRM can also help you to spread the weight of new business outreach amoungst your team. You won’t need to worry about your team unwittingly contacting existing or historic relationships, and you won’t lose valuable contact information if someone leaves your agency.
  3. Using a CRM can encourage you and your team to reach out to multiple people within each brand or company you’d love to work with. A spreadsheet is likely to be too limiting to track multiple contacts within each brand.
  4. A CRM will give you the data that can inform and steer your future business development strategy.

A CRM will give you the data and insights that can inform and steer your future business development strategy. A CRM will enable you to answer these questions:

  • Are there certain types of new business or marketing activity that convert better than others?
  • Are there people in your team who are better at moving leads along the pipeline?
  • Are there certain sectors you have better success rate with?

Of course, all of this could be tracked in an excel spreadsheet, but this level of detail in this type of document would get busy quickly and be complex overseeing contributions from multiple people.

Some CRM systems are free, so really you’ve got no excuse not to collate your data and take better control of your new business activity.

Which CRM should you choose?

For a long time, The Future Factory favoured Highrise as its favourite CRM, mainly because of its simplicity. A CRM is only as good as the data entered into it.

Therefore, the easier the software is to use, the more accurate and valuable the information is likely to be. However, Highrise no longer allows new customers to sign up to its service as of 2018, so The Future Factory have explored the various options currently available to marketers and shared their recommendations below.

First prize: Hubspot

Cost: Totally free.

This CRM system doesn’t win just because it’s 100% free for an unlimited number of users and an unlimited number of contacts... forever..., it’s also very very good.

Yes, it’s a trojan horse for Hubspot’s marketing automation software (and marketing automation isn’t recommended for agencies who are looking to engage with a relatively low number of high value clients), but the CRM can be used completely independently, and Hubspot haven’t scrimped on the development of this tool.

One of our favourite features is that if you add a contact with an email address, Hubspot will auto-complete the company details based on their database of two million plus companies. A brilliant time saver.

Aside from that, the intro tutorial video is the best we’ve experienced, the reports and analytics are simple, and they’ve copied Pipedrive’s popular visual drag-and-drop pipeline management dashboard.

Most importantly, it’s easy to use and can be quickly customised.

The second favourite: Pipedrive

Cost: £12-£50 per user per month.

If you want to look into more than one option before committing, Pipedrive should definitely be at the top of your list.

Pipedrive is now nearly ten years old, which means it is well known and possibly the most widely adopted CRM in the creative industry. This is a small benefit but mainly means that your team are more likely to have used it before so feel at ease with the system.

It's very similar to Hubspot's CRM, but a touch more complex. This does mean it has a few more features or can be customised a little bit more, but it does take longer to set up and get going.

Third place: Insightly

Cost: £23-£40 per use per month; approx £1,000 for customised set up.

The Future Factory’s third favourite CRM for creative agencies is Insightly. This one is marginally better than Pipedrive, mainly because it can be customised even further, but once again this increases the time (and cost) of the set up phase. And to be honest, most agencies don’t need this level of personalisation.

Insightly’s main USP is their accessiblity to an in-house support team.

Don’t even go there: Salesforce

Cost: £20-£60 per user per month; with additional set up costs.

The Future Factory has never met an agency whose needs have been met by the complexity offered at Salesforce - or one that makes the most of its myriad features.

Added complexity tends to lead to a lower uptake from your team, thus rendering your data unreliable.

Tempting but wrong:

These project management tools look sleek and simple and try to promote themselves as CRMs... but unfortunately, they’re not really designed for the job at hand and aren’t the most efficient tool to use.

What's next?

If your agency is looking for support across new business and finding fresh opportunities, The Future Factory also offers training, consultancy and lead generation services. Do get in touch!

Alex Sibille, co-founder at The Future Factory.


Content by The Drum Network member:

The Future Factory

With a mix of lead generation, board level consultancy and coaching, we help to make the future more predictable for agency Owners, Founder and Directors.


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