Startups, Here's Everything You Need to Get Started with CRM

Welcome to the wonderful world of sales and marketing. If you’re a startup and need a foundational understanding of sales and marketing technology, you’ve come to the right place. Here's everything you need to get started with CRM.

What in the world is CRM?

CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management. Simply put, it’s a database for all sales activities. We like to consider this a single source of truth for daily sales activities. It helps sales teams maintain customer information including names, email addresses, home addresses, etc. Your new motto: If it’s not in CRM, it doesn’t exist!

CRM should be your friend, but many people become overwhelmed with definitions, processes, and options in the market. Not to fret — we’ll give you the basics. The below video is one of our favorites. It's the personification of the relationship issues that your sales team, and maybe even you, have with CRM and we have to say, in our experience, it's spot on.

What should I know about choosing a CRM?

There are a plethora of chooses on the market but there are a few things you should know before you get started with CRM.

CRM’s are basically all the same. We know, we know the sales rep at XYZ company told you their product was so much different than all the others. Truth is, most, if not all, CRMs will contain records for leads, contacts, and accounts. More on these a little later.

There are a ton of free options on the market. You can get your feet wet without making any major financial commitments. Take a look at the list of options below.

It’s not about technology, it’s about your people. The data in your CRM will only be as good as the information your team logs into it. Your biggest issue with adoption will be making sure you and your team log all your interactions with leads.

Your definitions will define your processes. You’ll need to determine internally with your team how you define leads and contacts. This will save you major headaches down the road, especially as your team starts to grow.

Connect all or most, customer data-points to CRM. While the single source of truth for sales is a CRM, that same concept for marketing is a MAP — marketing automation platform. Tying marketing and sales initiatives together will give you a fuller picture of records in your system.

How do I define my process?

To get started with CRM begin by working with your team to define Leads, Contacts, and the conversion process between the two. Take a look at the examples below. Keep in mind these are examples. Some organizations choose to swap the language of a Lead and Contact.

Lead: Any person that enters the database by any means.

Contact: Any lead that has been converted or entered into the system that has shown genuine interest in purchasing your product or service.

Account: Organizations that would be ideal customers for your product or service or are tied to the Contact record as the organization they work for.

When should conversion happen? This depends on your personal preferences. In our opinion, a Lead shouldn’t be turned into Contact or enter the system as a Contact  until genuine interest is shown in a purchase. Genuine interest — not a polite shrug off but clear next steps in working together.

Which tool is best for me?

While there are many CRMs on the market, there are a few our team has used that we like. Keep in mind, no tool is perfect or a magic wand that will somehow generate leads. It’s a measurement and accountability tool. These are just a few tools we think are easy to adopt to get started with CRM. We don't have any particular preferences.


It’s been around for a while and is easy to use. While it’s free to get started, if you go over 1,000 contacts you’ll need to sign up for a paid account. Did you know if you’re a Shadow Startup Lab member you have access to a Hubspot discount through us? Learn More.

Pros: Easy to use, free version, integrates well with other tools, has a built-in social and marketing platform for extra costs.

Cons: As you grow, you may need or want a tool that can do more. Because the tool has so many additions, if you’re fully invested in them all, it can be difficult to leave.


Many know MailChimp from their marketing automation abilities but they’ve recently launched a new CRM. For those of you who may be familiar with ease of setup and use of MailChimp you may like it for CRM. Learn More.

Pros: Ease to use, free version, integrates well with other tools, great for e-commerce.

Cons: Cost is based on the number of contacts, so the more people who enter your system, the higher the cost.


Zoho has a free version and many add ons based on your needs. Learn More.

Pros: There's a lot of functionality you can get from Zoho. They've built a tool that allows users small and large grow into.

Cons: As you grow you may find yourself wanting and needing more functionality and similar to Hubspot, you'll need to purchase add-ons.

There are so many more options on the market. We can't list them all here, but check out this post if you want to see more options for small businesses.

Other useful sales and marketing tools

Marketing Automation

We mentioned MAP, marketing automation platforms previously. A marketing tool will automate messaging to customers and track digital engagement. This is why you ideally want your CRM and MAP to integrate. Cold leads can be pushed to the marketing funnel for nurturing later. The MAP will pull the customer data from CRM into the system automatically. Both Hubspot and MailChimp offer free and paid versions to start.

Social Management Tools

Yes — you can automate your social posts. Our advice is to focus on your CRM and sales process before you start worrying about a social presence. Both offer free and low cost for paid versions. Some CRMs also have this as an add on product.

Your Website

Finally, there’s your website and there’s no getting around this being free without making major concessions. There's hosting costs and costs associated with your platform of choice. WIX, Squarespace, and WordPress are great options for small businesses. For marketing and sales purposes you will want your website forms to parse information automatically into your CRM.

In conclusion

We hope this post makes the world of CRM a little more digestible. Stay tuned; we’ll have a discovery guide for what you need to know and do before you dive in. Already committed to a CRM? The guide will still help you with processes and avoiding some bad practices we’ve come across. Hope this is at least a little of what you need to get started with CRM. Want to know more? Learn more about our startup labs.

< Back