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Choosing the right CRM for your manufacturing business

16 min read2023-12-07
Dana Hare & Jessie Larabie

While traditional management methods, such as using customer spreadsheets, may have sufficed in the past, the manufacturing industry has been transformed by the advent of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools. These innovative tools have revolutionized the way businesses interact with their customers by consolidating crucial data and simplifying communication. By leveraging CRM systems, manufacturing companies can cultivate stronger connections with their clientele and gain a comprehensive view of their sales pipeline. Truly a game-changer for the industry and beyond.

Discover how implementing the right CRM system can revolutionize your manufacturing business by overcoming the drawbacks of traditional spreadsheets. Unearth the secrets to selecting the perfect CRM and harness its power to foster stronger connections, retain loyal customers, and skyrocket your sales.

The Spreadsheet Dilemma

For years, spreadsheets have been the go-to tool for sales data management. While being somewhat flexible, using spreadsheets for handling extensive sales data falls short as the level of intricacy and your clients’ buying voyage expands. As information becomes more complex, these conventional tools reveal their shortcomings in effectively managing large quantities of data, such as:

  • Poor Scalability
  • Lack of Data Security
  • Limited Automation
  • Difficulty in Complex Analysis
  • Prone to Errors and Inaccuracies

Spreadsheets keep information siloed without providing the resiliency or visibility that a modern manufacturing sales team needs. The effectiveness of a spreadsheet-based system may depend on the skills and knowledge of individuals managing the data, limiting synergy and efficiency in a team environment.

Although seemingly effortless and ordinary, spreadsheets fall short of the robust capabilities that a CRM can provide. Using a spreadsheet for managing your manufacturing sales and marketing is like attempting to mow your lawn with a pair of scissors – possible, but certainly not efficient. Limiting yourself to spreadsheets is a hindrance rather than a resolution.

The Ongoing Rise of CRM in 2024

Today’s CRM systems provide a 360-degree view of customers, presenting information in easy-to-understand formats. They come bundled with powerful visualization and analysis tools for report-making. Advanced automation features can trigger redundant admin tasks along the sales pipeline, such as follow-up calls and timely document delivery. Yes, they can even schedule calls and meetings on your behalf! These features help sales and marketing workers make informed, streamlined, customer-centric decisions while freeing up time for more lucrative business pursuits.

Some key features of modern CRMs include:

  • Contact Management
  • Lead Management
  • Sales Automation and Forecasting
  • Workflow Automation
  • Marketing and Email Automation
  • Pipeline Management
  • Integration Capabilities
  • Reporting and Analytics
  • Customer Service and Support

Now, if you’re on Team Spreadsheet, you may be saying “Hey! I have an Excel spreadsheet that does all that already!” 

While it’s possible to set up many of the features of a CRM within a spreadsheet, it requires a combination of tools, techniques, and—you guessed it— time!  It may seem like spreadsheets save money at first, but as you implement more complex solutions, your software costs (and development time) increase. Not ideal for your manufacturing business’ bottom line and ROI.

As intricate spreadsheets accumulate technical debt, they become a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. When the resident Excel master departs, the aftermath is chaotic for organizations as they struggle to decipher and access vital data hidden within the labyrinth of cells and formulas. The very foundations of automation could crumble, leaving companies scrambling to salvage their operations’ complex formulas, and, without institutional familiarity, your valuable sales and marketing data can easily get lost.

Ultimately, the best marketing spreadsheet will only replicate the features of a CRM that already exists. CRMs offer better security, better team access, and more robust features: no need to reinvent the wheel!

Looking at the CRMs for Manufacturing Businesses

Comparison table of CMRs for manufacturing


Pipedrive is a CRM platform that focuses on sales pipeline management and is often considered more suitable for small to medium-sized businesses. Larger manufacturing enterprises with complex CRM requirements might find the platform lacking certain enterprise-level features.


  • Pipedrive is known for its user-friendly and intuitive interface. This can be beneficial for manufacturing teams that may not have extensive experience with complex CRM systems.
  • The CRM is great at sales pipeline management, allowing manufacturing businesses to visualize and optimize their sales processes. This can be particularly useful for tracking deals, managing leads, and forecasting sales.


  • Pipedrive’s primary focus is on sales pipeline management, and it may lack the advanced marketing automation features that some other CRM platforms offer.
  • While it provides basic reporting features, it may not offer as advanced reporting and analytics capabilities as some other CRM systems. This could be a limitation for manufacturing businesses requiring in-depth data analysis.


HubSpot CRM is known for its user-friendly interface, making it easy for manufacturing teams to quickly adopt and use the platform.


  • Hubspot offers a free version with decent basic features, making it an attractive option for smaller manufacturing businesses with budget constraints.
  • By integrating with HubSpot’s marketing tools, their CRM offers better alignment between marketing and sales efforts for manufacturing companies.


  • HubSpot CRM may not be the best fit for manufacturing businesses with highly complex processes that require intricate customization and integration with specialized systems.
  • While the free version is attractive, some attractive features are only available in paid versions, which may increase costs for manufacturing businesses seeking more comprehensive functionality.


One of the most popular and comprehensive cloud-based CRMs in the world, Salesforce is best suited for larger manufacturing enterprises.


  • Salesforce is highly customizable, allowing manufacturing businesses to tailor the CRM system to their specific needs, processes, and industry requirements.
  • The platform offers robust reporting and analytics tools, providing manufacturers with insights into sales performance, customer behaviour, and other relevant metrics.


  • Because Salesforce offers such a wide array of overwhelming features, the platform has a steep learning curve, and extensive (and expensive!) training may be required for users to fully utilize its features.
  • This can impact the speed of implementation and adoption.


Zoho CRM is a popular tool that offers extensive integration with other Zoho applications and a variety of third-party tools. 


  • Zoho CRM allows for a high degree of customization, enabling manufacturing businesses to tailor the system to their specific requirements.
  • The platform offers workflow automation, helping manufacturers automate repetitive tasks, streamline processes, and improve overall efficiency.


  • While the platform is user-friendly, there may still be a learning curve for more advanced features, and users may need time to become proficient.
  • Some advanced features are available only in higher-tier plans, so manufacturing businesses may need to consider their budget constraints when choosing the most suitable plan.
  • While Zoho provides support, users have reported varying levels of satisfaction with the support services, and some businesses may find it lacks the depth and responsiveness they require.


Nutshell features a user-friendly interface, making it easy for manufacturing teams to quickly adopt and use the CRM without extensive training.


  • The platform is designed to help users manage their sales processes effectively. This can be valuable for manufacturing businesses that need a streamlined approach to track and close deals.
  • Nutshell integrates with email platforms, allowing manufacturing sales teams to manage communications seamlessly within the CRM. Email tracking and communication history features can be beneficial for relationship management.


  • Nutshell may lack some of the advanced features and functionalities that larger or more complex manufacturing businesses may require. The range of integrations may also be more limited compared to some other CRM platforms.
  • Some users have reported concerns about the scalability of Nutshell for larger businesses. It may be more suitable for small to medium-sized manufacturing enterprises rather than large-scale operations.

How to Choose a CRM 

Choosing the right CRM system for a manufacturing business involves careful consideration of various factors to ensure it aligns with your specific needs and objectives. Here are five key considerations when selecting a CRM for a manufacturing business:

  • Industry-Specific Functionality: Look for a CRM solution that offers features tailored to the manufacturing industry. This might include capabilities for order processing, inventory management, production planning, and supply chain integration.
  • Scalability and Flexibility: Choose a CRM that can scale with your business as it grows. The system should handle an increasing number of users, a growing volume of data, and evolving business needs. Additionally, the CRM should be flexible enough to adapt to changes in your manufacturing processes without significant disruptions.
  • Integration with Existing Systems: Ensure that the CRM can seamlessly integrate with your existing enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, accounting software, and any other critical business applications. This integration ensures a cohesive flow of information across departments.
  • Security and Compliance: Security is paramount, especially in manufacturing where sensitive data, including product designs and customer information, is involved. Ensure that the CRM complies with industry regulations and provides robust security features. This includes data encryption, user access controls, and regular security updates to protect against potential threats.
  • Cost and ROI: Evaluate the total cost of ownership, including licensing fees, implementation costs, and ongoing maintenance. Consider the return on investment (ROI) the CRM is likely to deliver for your manufacturing business.

CRM Implementation Case Studies

To put theory into practice, let’s examine the success stories of businesses that we have transitioned from old-school tools to CRMs.

Cleaning Up Sales Processes With PipeDrive.

The team at BlackBean has been working on an implementation of PipeDrive CRM with one of our clients. Before PipeDrive, they relied on a hodgepodge of basic spreadsheets and a mishmash of digital and traditional tools to keep track of their prospects. From business cards piled high to scraps of paper scattered about, and even a few scattered Google Sheets (sound familiar?), each team member had their unique approach. But without a CRM to streamline and organize the chaos, they were left in the dark about where their customers were coming from. It was a daunting task to manage until we stepped in. With PipeDrive, we seamlessly compiled all their scattered data and imported it into one powerful platform. After some necessary cleaning and weeding out of duplicates and irrelevant information, they were able to import hundreds of contacts in just one afternoon. And now, with the implementation of automation, they can harness the full potential of this game-changing tool.

Change Management for ActiveCampaign Adoption

The initial adoption of a CRM may appear uncomplicated for businesses, but the true test arises when individual users interact with the system. The excitement for a new tool can trigger a frenzy of activity, with users eagerly inputting data, designing campaigns, and implementing automation. While this initial zeal is commendable, it can lead to chaos if individual actions deviate from the established norms within the organization. Allowing users to “go wild” without adhering to a unified approach can result in a disorganized system, as one of our clients unfortunately experienced with their CRM, ActiveCampaign.

Years of using the CRM led to a tangled web of data, with various properties exclusive to small user groups. Addressing this challenge demanded extensive cleanup efforts and the creation of a strategic document to steer future usage. Through these improvements, our client was able to unlock the full potential of the CRM’s data segmentation tools.

Yet, the obstacle of data attribution loomed over our client, as they lacked knowledge of the sources of their contacts. We diligently worked to ensure the addition of this critical information for all new contacts, laying a solid foundation for informed decision-making. Moreover, we collaborated with the client to establish a hierarchical system, allowing for efficient management and utilization of the CRM’s capabilities. Defining clear account levels streamlined the transition from marketing to sales, turning a potentially complex process into a seamless operation.

Through these efforts, our client not only overcame the challenges of misaligned CRM usage but also optimized their data management and account handling processes for ongoing success. You can see the full case study right here!

Overcoming Internal Resistance to Change

“Resistance is futile.”  For those of us born before the year 2000, this famous line uttered by the Borg in Star Trek: First Contact, is more than just a movie quote; it’s a cold, hard truth. As the manufacturing industry advances, certain changes are inevitable, and resisting them may hinder progress and growth.

Resistance to change is one of the biggest obstacles for most manufacturing businesses considering CRM adoption. We get it, we’ve suffered from it ourselves.

Recently, two members of our team attended the NASTT No-Dig Trade Show in Edmonton, Alberta. Like any good marketers, we networked and collected contact information from a variety of fellow attendees and prospective clients. The easiest way to share info at a trade show is via business card, so–as you can imagine– when we returned to the office, we had a stack of business cards from new prospects. Did we get to work inputting the contact details into our CRM? No! Instead, we pulled out… a rolodex.

For our Young Millennials and Gen Z readers, a Rolodex is like a flip book of business cards and contact information; essentially it’s the exact opposite of a CRM! After a few minutes and more than a few laughs, we enforced our own best practices and got to work adding the data to our CRM.

While the benefits of a CRM are clear, it’s essential to address common concerns and hesitations from your team when transitioning to a new system. Resistance to change is natural, but a strategic and well-communicated plan can help mitigate concerns and help with the onboarding process.

Here are some simple strategies that you can use to incentivize your staff for streamlined internal adoption:

  • Acknowledge and reward users who swiftly and adeptly embrace the CRM, possibly with incentives or public recognition.
  • Foster a spirit of friendly competition by establishing achievable goals for user adoption, and offering rewards for reaching key milestones.
  • Focus on the personal advantages of utilizing the CRM for each team member, showcasing gains like heightened efficiency and enhanced customer relationships.
  • Focus on the positive impact on daily manufacturing workflows and the long-term benefits for both employees and the organization. While making changes to your workflow may seem challenging at first, in the grand scheme it will make you better and more efficient at your job.

Training & Support

The value of CRM training for your team members is immeasurable. Adequate training and guidance during the transition period are vital for seamless integration. This will equip your staff with the essential abilities to masterfully navigate your CRM system and unleash its maximum potential.

The backbone of any organization lies in its senior and managing staff, making them the primary and indispensable members to embrace the new CRM system. They must utilize and harness the power of this novel database, just like any other member of the team. After all, expecting your team to excel (no pun intended) without their participation is like expecting a ship to sail without its captain.

After completing the initial training phase, consistent support and timely updates become the pillars of maintaining a thriving CRM usage. These updates ensure that the system stays in tune with ever-changing industry standards and evolving business requirements, while unwavering support acts as a safety blanket for employees.

How can I use manufacturing CRM to improve sales and marketing?

In the rapidly evolving world of industrial marketing in 2024, a paradigm shift towards cutting-edge tools is essential. Leaving behind the constraints of outdated spreadsheets, CRMs present a holistic solution. These powerhouse platforms not only streamline manufacturing processes and foster seamless teamwork, but they also unlock valuable insights to fuel critical decision-making.

By infusing user analytics into CRM systems, an ocean of customer insights is revealed throughout the sales journey, granting a panoramic view of their interactions and empowering individualized, customer-focused interactions. Delving into the wants and habits of your clientele, you have the power to enhance satisfaction and cultivate enduring loyalty.

By implementing lead scoring and streamlining workflows, marketers and manufacturers can effectively identify and nurture top-quality leads, leaving no room for wasted resources. This strategic approach guarantees that efforts are focused on the most promising opportunities, propelling them toward successful conversions.

As your business grows, a dynamic CRM system effortlessly expands to embrace the surging influx of data and blossoms alongside you. The flexibility of CRMs guarantees that organizations can thrive in environments that are constantly evolving.

The ever-changing terrain of contemporary manufacturing demands the swift adoption of a CRM for revenue increase. To overlook the potential of CRM systems is no longer a mere option, but a critical requisite for achieving success. Darth Vader said it best: “It is useless to resist.”

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