How to track prospects so you don't lose sales

Stacks of unintelligible scribbles on paper.

Spreadsheets where you have to constantly create new columns and rows in an admirable attempt (operative word “attempt”) to document and remember where you are in the sales process.

Suddenly remembering that lead you got last week that you never called back.

Is this lack of organization, that directly leads to lost sales, a common problem in your sales force?

The solution is using a CRM (customer relationship management) system.

CRM systems organize relationships and communications with prospects, existing customers, partners, potential new opportunities, and more. Think of it as your one-stop portal for everything business development in your company.

CRM is a bit of a misnomer, as it encompasses more than just your relationships with customers.

The most well-known CRM system is Salesforce. But we don’t recommend Salesforce for most startups. It’s just too complicated, pricey, and frankly, the user interface is pretty clunky and old-school.

Our recommendation: Zoho CRM. We use this as our own CRM tool here at InstanTek!

Zoho is a well-known software company that’s been around for over 20 years. They’ve focused on the small business segment and they offer a full suite of software for different purposes. They make good products and their CRM product is no exception.

Zoho CRM has a totally free plan that lets you get started with zero investment. You can use it for your actual daily business operations without even putting in a credit card. Pretty sweet, eh?

It’s perfect for the simpler sales workflows of most startups.

You can sign up for free here. (We don't get paid for this referral.)

Once you’ve signed up, you’ll be instantly given access to your new CRM instance.

Let's start with creating a new lead.

When you get a prospect or lead, simply go to the Leads tab, create a new Lead, enter their information, and you can start tracking activity, create new tasks (usually for follow-ups and similar activities), emailing the lead from within Zoho CRM, and more.

Creating a lead in Zoho CRM.

Creating a lead in Zoho CRM.

One slightly annoying quirk is that when you create a new lead, you must enter a last name—even if you do not know the lead’s last name, which is actually pretty common. We found a workaround is just entering a “.”, but it can be kind of annoying to see a bunch of leads with “.” listed for their last names.

Here’s what the activity and tasks view looks like at the bottom of the lead detail page:

Lead detail page showing open and closed activities.

Lead detail page showing open and closed activities.

You can also track deals, contacts, current customer accounts, and even projects. Deal tracking is particularly helpful, although the software makes some likely inaccurate assumptions about your deal flow,  e.g. probabilities of deals closing at various stages, etc. You'll want to customize those.

Deal page in Zoho CRM.

Deal page in Zoho CRM.

As you can see, the user interface is very clean, iconography and typography are nice, and the use of spacing doesn't overwhelm you in an already stressful sales process. Aesthetically, this is one of the cleanest and nicest CRM tools we’ve ever used, which when paired with the functionality of the tool makes it, to us, far and away the best CRM tool for small businesses.

You can compare plans here. For what it’s worth, we’ve played around with the Free edition and rarely run into limitations for straightforward sales activities that most startups will do.

Pros: Easy to get started; very clean, minimalistic design; easy to use; highly functional for the needs of small businesses; totally free plan!

Cons: The only one we encountered was the issue with Zoho CRM requiring a last name for new leads, as described above. Some customizations and features required a paid license, but these are not cost-prohibitive, starting at $12 per user per month.

Summing it up

CRM is a vital tool to track, and stay on top of, your pipeline. For us here at InstanTek, it’s totally transformed our sales efforts from a mish-mash of valiant, yet disorganized, efforts to having a consistent system that ensures leads don’t fall through the cracks.