What’s the best CRM for an independent consultant?

best CRM for solo consultants-- don't choose poorly

People constantly ask me, “what’s the best CRM for independent consultants?” Actually, they usually don’t even qualify the question that much. They just ask, “what’s the best CRM?” 

(“CRM” stands for Customer Relationship Management, but most folks use it more to track people who aren’t customers yet, in an effort to turn them into customers.)

A good CRM helps you stay organized, get things done, and win business, while lowering stress.

A bad CRM (or a bad-fit CRM) adds stress and irritation, giving you a technological overload that you end up working for, instead of the other way around.

So choosing the right CRM for you is critical.

It’s like asking, “what’s the best car?” Or, “what house should I buy?”

It depends on your needs.

So what do you need?

  • Contact tracking?
  • Follow-up reminders?
  • Calling?
  • Referral tracking?
  • Task tracking?
  • Multiple pipelines?
  • Lead assignment?
  • Territory management?
  • Lead magnets?
  • Email automation?
  • Proposal automation?
  • Order tracking?
  • E-Signature?
  • Etc, etc, etc.
  • Are you tech savvy? Tech-phobic?

And even within these “needs”, there are lots of nuances.

So rather than getting directly into the weeds, let’s talk about broad categories of CRM systems. This will help you understand whether you’re looking in the right category…

Categories of CRM Sytems

CRM systems broadly fall into 3 categories that work well for 3 big groups of customers. (Mimiran does not fall into these categories and works well for certain other folks who don’t fall into those categories, either. But before we get into that, let’s see if one of the traditional categories will work well for you.)

  1. Traditional CRMs that help the VP of Sales keep track of a sales team.
  2.  Marketing Automation Systems that can send email sequences to nurture and convert prospects.
  3. Project management systems that also have CRM capabilities
  4. Mimiran– for independent consultants

1. Traditional CRMs for the VP of Sales to track the Sales Team

The CRM product category came from VPs of Sales wanting to know what the heck their reps were up to, and if they had a shot of hitting their numbers.

This is a very reasonable notion, and multibillion dollar companies like Salesforce arose to meet the challenge.

These systems tend to have:

  • Flexible sales methodologies, so the VP of Sales can implement his or her take on the sales process.
  • Complex user and permission management, to make sure the right people see the right data.
  • Integration with other enterprise apps. (Salesforce takes this to an extreme, and might be considered a platform, more than an application.)

This is all great, in theory (and works better than not having any system at all).

But the complexity of the systems creates friction, even for professional sales reps. (At many of my enterprise consulting engagements, we’d eagerly pull data from the CRM, only to find that it was unusably sparse. Reps had entered the bare minimum.)

If you have a sales team, you’ll want a CRM to help you manage it. There are lots of options, but here are a few common ones:

  • If you have a big sales team (250+ reps, and probably anything over 100), you’ll want Salesforce. It’s got more flexibility, customizability, and integrations than anything else. (See the comparison of Mimiran as an alternative to Salesforce.)
  • If you have a midsize sales team (100+ reps, and probably anything over 50), HubSpot is a good bet, especially if you have heavy marketing automation requirements (see the next section on Marketing Automation systems). (See the comparison of Mimiran as an alternative to Hubspot.)
  • If you have a small sales team (5-50ish), consider Pipedrive. It’s got a lot of power, but with less expense and complexity than the more heavy weight options.
  • If you have a small sales team of 1-10 people, consider Less Annoying CRM. (Philosophically, this is the closest system to Mimiran. The founders aren’t trying to please VCs, they are trying to scratch their own itch. And the name shows a great understanding of typical CRMs.)

2. Marketing Automation Systems

Marketing Automation systems let you send automated emails to your audience.

Typically this includes “broadcast” messages like newsletters, and email sequences sent to specific contacts at specific times (a reminder to go back and purchase an item left in an ecommerce shopping cart, for example).

These systems vary widely in complexity, capability, and cost. 

The biggest firms will implement enterprise marketing automation tools alongside Salesforce.

I recommend everyone have some form of marketing automation system.

The danger for independent consultants is thinking that the marketing automation system will do all the work for them, so they don’t have to talk to anyone. (Or so I’m told.)

There are some consultants who can just use a marketing automation system. If you sell “add to cart” offerings, say online courses, you can do that with a marketing automation system. (Although you may still want a more relationship-oriented CRM to help you nurture referral partnerships.)

Popular marketing automation systems include:

  • HubSpot (often used in conjunction with Salesforce at big firms).
  • ConvertKit (focused on bloggers, artists, and other creatives)
  • ActiveCampaign (email software with some simple CRM capabilities)
  • Keap (formerly InfusionSoft)
  • ClickFunnels (geared towards relatively simple marketing funnels leading to the purchase of a digital product like a course or download)
  • MailChimp (one of the most popular small business email tools, with some very basic CRM capabilities)
  • MailerLite (a slightly cheaper, simpler mail program, compared to MailChimp

Note: I use MailChimp, more out of habit than love, and Mimiran connects to MailChimp, which is handy. If you’re considering Mimiran, I’d recommend any of the lightweight email solutions as a compliment, not a replacement for your CRM. Think of an outer circle of your mailing list, with circles inside that for people you actually talk to.

3. Project Management Systems

These tools focus on handling delivery of the actual work. They are a great fit when you have large, complex projects for a small number of clients (often only 1 at a time).

The best fit in this category will of course depend on your needs (and I’m not an expert), but here are some popular project management tools with CRM capabilities:

  • Basecamp (a great small business project management system that I’ve used in the past when my focus was on consulting projects, from the company formerly known as 37Signals, now simply named “Basecamp”, who have always done a great job developing cool technology for small businesses)
  • Monday.com (task/project management, CRM, and development management)
  • Asana (enterprise grade task/project management)

4. Mimiran as an “anti-CRM” for independent consultants

I’d love to say that I saw the matrix of sales team size vs deal complexity (see below), saw an empty quadrant, and decided to build Mimiran, but that would not be right. It was a total accident.

After years as a consultant, trying various enterprise CRM systems, and getting frustrated, it would be clever if I had seen that we needed a CRM for independent consultants who need to keep track of their sales and marketing pipelines. (It just happened by mistake. See the a bit more about the story here.)

Mimiran helps you create and nurture relationships without being “sales-y”.

It’s got some features that other CRMs lack:

And it strips out the complexity from having a tool for the VP of sales to track the sales team– because for the Mimiran tribe, one person is the VP of Sales, the sales rep, the VP of Marketing, the marketing analyst, the VP of Alliances, and all in their spare time when not serving clients or handling the other tasks of a business, let alone having a life outside of work.

Here’s an attempt to categorize some popular CRM systems on a matrix based on the size of the sales team and the complexity of the sales process. 

Which CRM is right for me? CRM matrix by size of sales team and complexity of sale.

If/When Mimiran is a good fit for your consulting business

Mimiran is a good CRM solution if:

  • You do not have a sales team, but rely on your own conversations and referrals to generate business.
  • Your solutions require conversations and customization, typically resulting in a proposal or contract.
  • You’re a consultant, coach, advisor, etc, making a living from your expertise.
  • You’d like a more systematic way to create and nurture relationships with the right clients, partners, and prospects.

Mimiran is NOT a good fit for you if:

  • You have a sales team.
  • You sell “add to cart” solutions that don’t require conversations.
  • You’re a financial advisor, lawyer, real estate agent, or other professional services provider who is required by regulations and/or industry convention to use certain industry-specific applications.
  • You’re looking for a way to avoid talking to people. (This probably sounds snarky, but I bought a lot of systems with this goal until I realized I was missing the point of a relationship business.)

The biggest mistake people make choosing Mimiran, when they should choose something else:

  • If you’ve got a sales team, you’ll want a traditional CRM. Yes, Mimiran has some nice features that will be appealing, but you’ll end up needing the more “enterprise” features for tracking your sales team.

The biggest mistake people make choosing another CRM, when they should have picked Mimiran:

  • If you’re in a relationship business, you’re in a conversation business, and you can’t automate your way out of talking to people (I know, because I tried for years).

If Mimiran sounds like the right fit for you, start a free trial (no credit card required). If not, scroll back and up and click on the link(s) to the tools that would be the right fit.

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