Guide to implementing a new-generation CRM in a small business in 2024

Date de publication



Effective customer relationship management is essential for any company, especially for small and medium-sized businesses seeking to stand out in a competitive market. Implementing a CRM system is a strategic approach to optimizing the management of customer interactions and significantly improving sales performance. This article is designed to guide small businesses through the various stages of a CRM implementation project, from the initial preparations through to day-to-day operation.

What is a CRM?

CRM (Customer Relationship Management) is a tool used by companies to manage, analyze and improve customer interactions. It aims to centralize all customer communications and information to optimize commercial relations, increase sales and improve customer loyalty.

Basic CRM functionalities

CRMs offer a variety of features tailored to the needs of businesses, including contact management, synchronization with email and calendar (Google, Outlook or other), customer interaction tracking, sales opportunity management, marketing task automation, and analysis tools to measure the performance of sales and marketing activities. CRMs also offer numerous integrations such as videoconferencing tools, or cloud storage services like OneDrive or Google Drive.

Older CRMs

New-generation CRMs are clearly different from older systems, which were often designed by IT engineers with a technical rather than a user experience focus. These old CRMs were notorious for their lack of ergonomics, with complex, unintuitive interfaces that made them difficult to use, especially for non-technical sales teams. Often imposed by marketing or IT departments without in-depth consultation with end-users, these systems were perceived as a burden rather than a tool to facilitate work. In contrast, next-generation CRMs are developed with a strong emphasis on the user experience, offering streamlined, customizable and intuitive interfaces. They are designed with the real needs of sales teams in mind, encouraging more natural adoption and better collaboration between departments. So, whereas old CRMs could hamper business processes with their complexity, new CRMs seek to integrate seamlessly with them, increasing efficiency and user-friendliness.

Next-generation CRM

Next-generation CRM represents a significant evolution of traditional customer relationship management systems. By integrating advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, process automation and predictive analytics, these CRMs are transforming the way companies interact with their customers. They offer greater personalization, a better understanding of customer behavior thanks to real-time data analysis, and the ability to anticipate needs and trends. Next-generation CRMs also facilitate integration with other digital tools and platforms, enabling a 360-degree view of the customer and greater operational efficiency. They are designed to be more intuitive and user-friendly, with modern user interfaces and personalized experiences. As a result, next-generation CRMs are not just tools for storing customer information, but veritable intelligent assistants that energize customer relations strategies and propel companies towards customer-centric growth.

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The benefits of CRM for SMEs: why stop using Excel?

Opting for a true CRM rather than Excel-based customer relationship management gives companies a major strategic advantage. A CRM ensures that sales teams take the right action at the right time, thanks to reminder and alert functionalities, thus avoiding the oversights and delays often associated with using Excel. What’s more, CRM offers a complete and detailed history of customer actions and interactions, enabling a long-term view and in-depth analysis of customer relationships, which is difficult to achieve with Excel spreadsheets. These advanced tracking and analysis tools ensure timely, personalized communication, boosting customer satisfaction, loyalty and, ultimately, the added value of every interaction.

Sales optimization

By providing an overview of prospects and customers, a CRM helps optimize the sales process, shorten the sales cycle, and increase the conversion rate. Teams can prioritize the most promising leads and prepare more targeted offers.

Centralized information

The CRM centralizes all customer information, making it accessible in real time to our teams. This enables better collaboration between departments and ensures that all customer interactions are based on the most up-to-date information.

Effective collaboration

Switching from Excel to a CRM system enables teams to work much more closely together. Thanks to a centralized system, customer information can be accessed and shared in real time between different departments, whether sales, marketing or customer service. This transparency and ease of access fosters better internal communication, faster, more informed decision-making and consistency in the actions taken. No more time wasted searching for information in scattered files, or waiting for a colleague to pass on an important document. CRM facilitates teamwork and enables everyone to make a more significant contribution to customer relations.

Greater mobility

One of the great advantages of modern CRM is its ability to offer total mobility. Unlike Excel spreadsheets or traditional CRM solutions, many of today’s CRMs can be accessed on a variety of mobile devices, enabling sales teams to access important data, update customer information and respond quickly to queries wherever they are. Whether in the field, on the move or telecommuting, employees can continue to work efficiently, improving the company’s responsiveness and flexibility. This mobility is particularly valuable in today’s context, where the ability to work from anywhere has become a crucial asset for companies of all sizes.

Stages of CRM implementation

1. Needs assessment

Before choosing a CRM, it’s crucial to assess the company’s specific needs, including business processes, sales objectives and customer data requirements. This will help you choose the CRM best suited to your company’s specific needs and objectives.

2. CRM selection

There’s a wide range of CRM solutions on the market, each offering different levels of functionality, customization and support. It’s important to compare options, taking into account factors such as ease of use, integration with other systems, cost, and testimonials from other users.

3. Process mapping

Even before integrating CRM, a fundamental step is to accurately map existing business processes. This approach provides a detailed view of how information flows within the company, identifies friction points or duplication in current activities, and helps to understand the interaction between different departments. With a clear view of processes, companies can better determine how CRM can be configured to optimize, automate and improve these processes. Process mapping helps to ensure that CRM will be optimally adapted to the company’s unique working methods, promoting smoother integration and faster adoption by all teams.

4. Integration and customization

Once the CRM has been chosen, the next step is to integrate it into the company’s existing systems and customize it according to specific processes and needs. This may involve training employees, migrating existing data, and configuring customized workflows and reports.

5. Team training

For successful adoption, it is essential that all teams involved in CRM use receive appropriate training. This includes not only how to use the software, but also understanding how it fits into the company’s overall business processes.

6. Points for adoption and improvement

In addition to the initial implementation, it is beneficial to set up regular adoption and improvement points after the CRM has been set up. These dedicated moments enable us to evaluate how the system is being used by teams, and to gather feedback on the user experience, process efficiency and the achievement of business objectives. They are crucial for identifying any adoption difficulties, under-utilized functionalities or additional training needs. These sessions also highlight opportunities for continuous improvement, whether in terms of CRM customization, adding new features or refining existing processes. By carrying out these adoption and improvement points on a regular basis, companies can ensure that their investment in CRM continues to generate value and effectively supports business growth and evolution.

The challenges of CRM implementation

Resistance to change

One of the main obstacles to CRM implementation is employee resistance to change. Clearly communicating the benefits of CRM and involving teams from the outset are crucial to minimizing reluctance and encouraging adoption. When teams are actively involved in the co-construction of the CRM solution, they feel more committed and responsible for the project’s success. This involvement can transform the perception of change, from an imposition to a desired and expected evolution. By participating in the design, customization and optimization of CRM, employees become actors of change rather than spectators. This fosters a positive dynamic around the new solution, where adoption is motivated by the desire to use a tool that truly meets their needs and improves their day-to-day professional life. Thus, driving CRM implementation through the desire and commitment of teams can significantly accelerate adoption and maximize the system’s benefits for the company.

Data management

Data quality and management are essential to the success of a CRM system. Companies need to ensure that the data imported into the system is reliable, up-to-date and well-organized. At this crucial stage, it is possible and advisable to clean up the database by eliminating duplicates and correcting input errors. This clean-up operation ensures that CRM gets off to a solid start. Advanced solutions are also available for continuous data enrichment, deduplication and updating. These tools work in the background to ensure that information remains accurate and relevant, helping to maintain the integrity and value of the CRM system over the long term. By adopting these rigorous data management practices from the outset, companies can maximize the effectiveness of their CRM and ensure that it continues to deliver valuable insights and effectively support business strategies.

Cost and ROI

Investing in the services of an external consultant (as with the EXOCORP collective) for the implementation of a CRM represents a strategic choice with a high potential return on investment from the very first year. Compared to using a traditional agency, which can represent a significant cost, the choice of an independent consultant is often more economical while offering specialized expertise and personalized support. The expertise and support provided by the independent consultant facilitate faster, more efficient CRM implementation, avoiding costly errors and delays. By precisely targeting the company’s needs and optimizing employee training, the independent consultant ensures effective adoption of the system, resulting in immediate improvements in productivity and efficiency. What’s more, with ongoing support, companies benefit from optimized use of CRM, generating significant gains in terms of customer relations, sales processes and marketing. Thus, investment in an independent consultant, generally less expensive than a traditional agency, offers excellent value for money, with benefits in terms of operational efficiency, customer satisfaction and increased revenues that fully justify the financial commitment.

Choosing the right CRM

Cloud CRM vs. local CRM

For very small businesses, choosing a cloud CRM solution often brings more advantages and added value than a local solution. Cloud-based CRM solutions offer greater flexibility and remote access, which are particularly beneficial for small organizations seeking to remain agile and responsive. What’s more, they don’t require heavy up-front investment in hardware or IT maintenance, making the technology accessible and scalable in line with business needs. While local CRMs can offer greater control over data, for a VSE, ease of management, reduced operational costs and the ability to collaborate and access data from anywhere often make cloud CRM the most attractive option, offering greater cost-effectiveness and added value to the business.

Selection criteria

The selection of a CRM should be based on several criteria, including ease of use, customization, integration with other systems, technical support and, of course, cost. It’s also a good idea to consider the scalability of the system as the company grows.

Popular CRMs

There are many CRMs on the market, adapted to different sizes and types of company. Among the most popular are Pipedrive, Salesforce, HubSpot, Odoo and Zoho CRM. Each solution has its strengths and weaknesses, and it’s important to research and, if possible, test systems thoroughly before making a decision.

Not sure which CRM solution to choose?

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Use case for CRM in a VSE/SME

Contact management

CRM enables you to store and manage all customer and prospect information in one place, making data access and analysis easy and efficient. This includes contact details, interaction histories and preferences.

Interaction tracking

With a CRM, companies can track all interactions with customers, from calls and meetings to e-mails and responses to marketing campaigns. This enables a better understanding of customer needs and behaviors, and more personalized communications.

Reporting and analysis

The reporting and analysis tools integrated into a CRM help companies to understand trends, measure the performance of sales and marketing teams, and make informed decisions. The data collected can be used to improve business strategies and increase overall efficiency.

Metrics to watch

Important KPIs

To measure the effectiveness of a CRM, it’s important to track certain key performance indicators (KPIs), such as lead conversion rate, average sales cycle, customer acquisition cost, and customer lifetime value. These measurements will help to assess return on investment and identify areas for improvement.

Impact on ROI

The return on a CRM investment can be significant, but it’s essential to measure it precisely to understand the impact. In addition to sales and productivity gains, there are also improvements in customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Testimonials and case studies

Success stories

CRM integration is often best illustrated through real-life examples of companies that have successfully transformed their business operations. Testimonials and case studies highlight specific strategies, challenges overcome, and results achieved, offering valuable and inspiring insights for companies in the decision-making phase. You can find out more about the CRM we’ve implemented and integrated into our global digital strategy, as well as the results we’ve achieved.

Lessons learned

In addition to the success stories, it is also instructive to examine the failures or difficulties encountered by some companies when implementing a CRM system. These lessons learned can help anticipate similar problems and develop more robust strategies for CRM adoption.

Change management

Team support

CRM adoption is not just about technology; it also involves a cultural change within the company. It is crucial to support teams through training, workshops and ongoing support to facilitate acceptance of the system and encourage its effective use.

Importance of corporate culture

Corporate culture plays a significant role in the successful adoption of CRM. A culture open to change, innovation and continuous learning promotes a smoother transition and more integrated use of CRM in day-to-day operations.

Change management

Change management is an essential component in the implementation of a CRM system in a small or medium-sized business. It is not limited to simple technical training of employees, but encompasses a more profound transformation of habits, processes and organizational culture. To make this transition a success, it’s vital to prepare the ground by communicating clearly on the objectives, expected benefits and impact of the new system on the various roles and responsibilities. It’s also crucial to identify and involve change agents within the teams, who will act as CRM ambassadors and facilitate adoption by their colleagues. Change management must be seen as an ongoing process, including regular evaluations and adjustments to ensure that the CRM implementation contributes positively to the achievement of the company’s objectives.

Accompanying change

Change coaching is just as crucial as change management. It’s about supporting each employee through the transition, recognizing that everyone may progress at a different pace and may have specific needs. This includes training tailored to different skill levels, ongoing support, for example in the form of tutorials, FAQs or hotlines, and the provision of constructive feedback to listen to concerns and resolve problems quickly. Change management aims to create a positive and supportive environment, where employees feel supported and equipped to take full advantage of the new CRM system. Ultimately, good change management translates into better CRM adoption, improved performance and higher team morale.

CRM maintenance and evolution: SaaS vs. traditional solutions

Regular updates

For a SaaS CRM solution, regular updates are generally included in the subscription. This means that companies automatically benefit from the latest features and security updates without any additional intervention. However, it is essential to plan the configuration of these new functions so that they integrate seamlessly with existing company processes.

In the case of traditional non-SaaS CRM, maintenance and updates require specific planning and budgeting. Companies need to ensure that they have the necessary resources to carry out these regular updates, in order to maintain a secure and efficient system. This includes costs linked to the purchase of new software versions, the intervention of technicians for installation and configuration, and user training on new functions.

Adapting to changing needs

Whether the CRM is SaaS or a traditional solution, it’s crucial that it can adapt to changing business needs. For a SaaS CRM, this adaptability is often easier to manage thanks to the flexibility and modularity of the service. For a traditional CRM, on the other hand, the company needs to anticipate and plan the upgrades and customizations required to keep pace with its evolution, allocating the necessary budgetary and human resources for these adaptations.

In all cases, good planning and regular monitoring are essential to ensure that CRM continues to serve the company’s objectives effectively, while adapting to its evolution.

Integration with other tools

Existing systems

To maximize its effectiveness, a CRM must often be integrated with other systems used by the company, such as accounting tools, human resources management systems or e-commerce platforms. This integration ensures data continuity and enhanced operational efficiency.


Integrating CRM with automation tools helps streamline and optimize business processes. Whether it’s automatic e-mailing, updating customer files or generating reports, automation increases efficiency and enables teams to concentrate on higher value-added tasks.


Summary of key points

The adoption of a CRM system represents a significant evolution in customer relationship management for small and medium-sized businesses. The benefits, including personalized communication, better data management and increased sales team efficiency, are clear and have a direct impact on business growth. However, moving from basic tools like Excel to a sophisticated CRM involves a number of challenges, particularly in terms of training, process adaptation and change management. It’s essential to choose the right CRM, adapted to the company’s specific needs, and to carefully prepare the organization for this transition by actively involving teams throughout the process.

Long-term vision

Considering CRM implementation not as an expense, but as a long-term investment, is crucial for companies aiming for sustainable growth. A scalable CRM supports the company, adapting to changes in size, structure and technology. By investing in a CRM system, companies commit themselves to continuous improvement of their customer relationships, increased internal efficiency and a greater capacity to innovate in their sales approaches. So, by taking a long-term view, VSEs/SMEs can not only meet current needs but also prepare to seize future opportunities, strengthening their competitiveness and market position.

Frequently asked questions

What's the best CRM for small businesses?

It depends on the company’s specific needs, budget and sector of activity. It’s crucial to evaluate different options and consider CRMs specifically designed for VSEs/SMEs.

How much does it cost to implement a CRM system?

Costs vary according to the solution chosen, the level of customization, the number of users, and additional services. An initial budget must take into account not only the price of the software, but also training and integration costs. It’s important to note that implementation costs pay for themselves within the first year when the company uses an independent consultant, as is the case with EXOCORP.

How can I get my team involved in CRM adoption?

Communication is key. Explain the benefits, organize training sessions and, above all, involve teams from the very start of the project, so that they feel part of the change. Participative workshops can be organized to co-construct a solution and obtain maximum commitment.

What are the pitfalls to avoid when implementing CRM?

Failing to adequately assess needs, neglecting user training, or choosing a CRM that doesn’t integrate well with the company’s other tools are common mistakes.

How can I measure the success of my CRM?

By establishing clear KPIs prior to implementation and regularly monitoring improvements in sales, customer satisfaction and internal process efficiency.

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