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Small Business CRMs vs Enterprise CRMs: How They are Different and Which One is Right for Your Company?

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Before you get too far into your CRM search, let’s tease out the basics of CRM software: what is an enterprise CRM; what is a small business CRM; and which one should your company use?

In this post, we’ll explain the difference between these two major CRM categories and how each attempts to address the needs of their target market. Then, we’ll outline what factors you should keep in mind when scanning software review sites like Capterra so that you pick the best CRM for your business.

What is an enterprise CRM?

An enterprise CRM is intended for a really big company to use and track their sales, marketing, operations, and more. That might sound like a simple definition, but think of the difference between the workflow and processes at a small business vs. a large enterprise; big companies are just a lot more complicated. These CRMs often have a million different features or add ons you can purchase, in particular salesforce automation and advanced customizations; you can turn your workflow into an assembly line and tailor it to your company’s needs with the help of a programmer or consultant. Given how robust and complicated an enterprise system can be, they are often difficult to set up, but they’re extremely powerful once you get them going.

Enterprise CRMs often need advanced reporting, forecasting, and analytics not just so the end user can do their job, but for managerial oversight as well. Because the person signing off on the purchase of a CRM at a big company is often as high on the totem pole as the CEO or CFO, many enterprise CRMs are catered towards the needs of management. The CEO will probably never be a user on the CRM, but they want to be able to pull high-level reports about their company’s performance. Sometimes, add-ons that make managerial oversight easier can complicate the end user’s experience, making the software confusing to use.

What is a small business CRM?

Small business CRMs cover a lot of the same ground that enterprise CRMs do— they can definitely help you track sales and customer relationships, and they might have some marketing integrations— they’re just a lot simpler and lighter on the features and add-ons. At a small business, it’s likely that the owner will want to use the CRM, so the decision maker is closer to the other end users in their org chart than, say, a CEO and one of their hundreds of sales reps. Since the decision maker is usually also an end user, small business CRMs focus more on usability and simplicity than enterprise CRMs because that’s what the decision maker wants, too. Small business owners are busy; they can’t afford to spend a ton of money or time learning how to use a software that’s actually supposed to save them time and earn them money. Since having a ton of features can complicate and bloat software, small business CRMs are usually less robust than enterprise CRMs, but they can also be a lot easier to use.

For a small business without an IT team or tons of money to spend on consultants, their CRM also needs to have little to no setup process. Small business owners can’t afford to spend weeks and weeks training their team on using the CRM, so it also needs to be relatively intuitive for new users to pick up.

4 factors to keep in mind while CRM shopping

1. Simplicity

How much time and money are you willing to spend on setting up your CRM and training your team? Consider how tech savvy your team is, too; will having a complex setup deter your end users from inputting data into the CRM? 

The bottom line: your CRM will only help you as much as you use it, so get one that you’ll actually work with every day. Make sure you can use your CRM— or hire someone to show you how.

If you need quick training, go with a simple, easy to use CRM, preferably one with some customer support included. Small business CRMs are usually pretty intuitive and come with a simple, short setup process aided by ebooks, video guides, and potentially customer service.

If you plan on hiring a consultant or paying extra for customer support, then let them help you onboard people to the CRM. This is often how training works with enterprise CRMs.

2. Features

What kind of features do you need with your CRM? Are the basics enough, or will your business suffer without automated emails or customer acquisition forecasting?

The bottom line: there’s a difference between “want” and “need,” and it’s important to figure that out before you buy a CRM.

If you have a long list of features like salesforce and marketing automations, as well as forecasting and analytic reporting tools, then you need an enterprise CRM. It’s likely that you’ll also need a consultant to help you set up all of your customizations and train your end users on how to run reports as well as tweak automations.

If you’re a small business, it’s unlikely that you need the same level of automations or reporting that an enterprise does. In fact, treating sales like an art (rather than an assembly line) and making customer service personal (rather than sending canned email responses) is likely what makes your customers choose your business over that of an enterprise.

So, don’t copy the big guys when you don’t have to. A simple small business CRM will provide the fundamental CRM features, with some opportunities for add-ons or customizations (just at a much smaller scale). Plus, you’ll actually be able to use and understand your simpler software, rather than struggling with features that you don’t really need.

3. Price

Taking both simplicity and features into account, consider what you really need, and at which tier you can meet those needs in each CRM’s pricing structure. In order to implement certain features or desired functions, do you have to pay more? If you need help to set up your CRM account, will you have to pay for customer support or consulting services? Essentially, take into account the Total Cost of your CRM.

The bottom line: although many CRMs are marketed towards different businesses— small vs. enterprise— at different pricing tiers, exclusively small business CRMs are usually more affordable than CRMs that were originally created for enterprises, and then stripped of their fancier features at lower pricing tiers.

For enterprises, paying a few hundred dollars more for an exclusive customization is not an obstacle. For small businesses, getting trapped in a higher pricing tier because you need one feature but not the others could put you over budget.

4. What your business needs now

Of course you want a system that will scale with your company as you grow— but what tools do you and your team need right now? What can you handle, what can you afford, and what will actually help your business, rather than complicate your workflow?

The bottom line: stick with software meant for your company’s size right now. If you’re an enterprise, that’s a no-brainer; you need an enterprise CRM. But if you’re a small business owner, it’s easy to think ahead and wonder if you should splurge on an enterprise CRM now for the future of your company. You want something that scales with your business and prepares you for the growth you’re hoping for, right?

The pitfall here is the one we keep bringing up in this post: buying a software that is so complex and difficult to use that you actually don’t end up using it. Without training and support, many small businesses simply can’t use an enterprise system properly, in addition to paying for a lot of fancy features and add-ons they don’t need.

So, instead of focusing on the tools you’ll need when you’re big, think of what you need to get there: a CRM that your team can use, and one that plays to your strengths (not the strengths of your competitors).

Looking for Customer Relationship Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Customer Relationship Management software solutions.

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About the Author

Julia Zasso

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Julia is a CRM Coach at Less Annoying CRM, a simple, easy, and affordable CRM built specifically for small businesses. She studied at Washington University in St. Louis and the Villanova School of Business, and now she's using her degrees to write awesome content for small businesses looking to succeed! When she's not chatting with customers or creating killer content, she's probably trying way too hard to be funny on Twitter. If you want to talk shop, share your ideas, or read a bad joke, follow her on Twitter.

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