Active Campaign: An unobjective guide to the best CRM for SMB

At Datomni, we help companies grow faster. Specialising in growth means that our job is to help our clients build an entire growth engine that can work without us. Martech operations are an extremely important valve of this engine, and proper CRM has the utmost importance in achieving smooth marketing operations.

No wonder then why our SMB clients ask us so often about the best CRM system for them. SMB’s seem particularly lost at this. The majority of online blogs avoid taking sides with particular CRM vendors because they want to be seen as objective. At Datomni, we don’t try to be objective, we just care about being right. We’ve tested a lot of CRM’s, and we know all major players inside out. In this article, we cut through the chase and give you a clear recommendation as to the best CRM system for an SMB company.

So, what’s the best system for the small businesses?

The answer is the Active Campaign. We’ve implemented this system in 7 companies, and we believe this is indeed the best CRM for small or medium business.

Note: if you find our summary thorough and want to sign up for Active Campaign, then yes, we’d be very thankful if you sign up using our affiliate link. Here’s the link:

Datomni – Active Campaign Affiliate Link

Form follows function

The first thing Active Campaign gets right is that it doesn’t chase every shiny object in terms of UI and UX that pops up and focus on the simplicity of the user experience.

The tech world is a very dynamic one, and UX/UI fashions tend to come and go pretty quickly. Users are expected to get used to ever-changing interfaces very quickly. CRM vendors fear that if they don’t follow the latest UI trends, they’ll fall behind and lose points to their competitors. As a result, sometimes they end up chasing the competitors instead of actual user expectations and needs.

In all this chaos and constant change, Active Campaign has a reserved approach to user interface and design. It focuses on getting the fundamentals right. The key user flow just works. The interface isn’t exhausting and allows for long periods of work. The employed design patterns are very standard. The learning curve is smooth. Onboarding is easy and you don’t have to spend a lot of time to enjoy the tool.

We’ve been on a number of implementation calls with SMB’s and actually helped onboard over 60 people to the platform. Whenever we run one of these onboarding calls, we often see people saying that this system is easy to use, often they mention that it’s far easier to use than they expected.

Here’s the main dashboard and the Active Campaign interface.

Unified sales and marketing

Active Campaign makes your sales and marketing cooperate with each other. It breaks the silo of separate and isolated sales and marketing teams. Instead of tracking nonsense metrics that don’t really show any actual progress in terms of the revenue or growth, they merge these to departments and tell them: “guys, do cooperate to make the business grow faster”. The entire system is built in a way to prioritises revenues instead of vanity metrics.

The separation of sales and marketing is really something a lot of SMB owners and managers wrongly try to replicate from the corporate world. In the corporate world, there’s often a sales team solely responsible for closing accounts and signing deals, and then there’s a marketing team that has to deliver leads. The separation of these two is critical to the smooth functioning of a big company. That’s just how corporations work, everyone has to have a deep specialisation and only a fractional responsibility. This works as damage control in case things do wrong. 

In a small or medium-sized business though, one with up to 8-10 salespeople, separating sales and marketing is a nonchalance. In this case, the division of responsibilities reduces efficiency and effectiveness. Separation and silos introduce unnecessary coordination and communication costs. There’s a lack of a single source of truth about the leads and accounts. This causes a blame game.

Active Campaign understands this notion that these two worlds – marketing and sales – are really intertwined in a small or medium-sized business. This thinking is embodied in the product.

Instead of trying to separate sales and marketing activities, in Active Campaign you see all lead activities in the activity timeline (example below).

Whenever someone clicks or opens an e-mail, or is moved further in the sales pipeline, this is all noted in the same activity timeline. This helps the sales – specialised people build up rapport and context with leads they happen to have on sales calls, while the marketing team can stay focused on optimising and improving marketing journeys, funnels and engagements, both within Active Campaign and outside of Active Campaign – on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or other channels. Here’s how the lead history looks like in Active Campaign. 

Using the automation module in Active Campaign, you can compose workflows across marketing and sales activities. This can unlock some serious efficiencies across both teams. For example, marketing activities such as website visits or multiple e-mail clicks can be scored and used to automatically alter sales statuses or priority scores of leads. They can also be used to automatically notify specific salespeople over SMS or e-mail to get in touch with the priority leads faster. The combination of sales and marketing statuses mean that both sales and marketing cooperate to grow your business faster.

Reasonable price

Every dollar counts for small and medium businesses, right? To even exist in the online world, companies have to take care of quite a few tools. E-mail marketing automation. SMS notifications. Pop-ups that support conversions. Chat to connect with customers instantly. Newsletter tool. Sales tool. Reporting tool. Customer service tool. That’s already 10+ tools that you need to invest in. 

In a small business though, it’s not really viable to buy a separate tool for each thing. The big picture matters much more than individual elements. Implementing multiple tools can throw your martech budget into hundreds of dollars and consume a huge chunk of your marketing budget.

Another thing in such companies is that marketing teams are typically pretty small. From our experience, it’s usually 2-3 people who have to manage the entire marketing workflow. It’s all in their hands. Every additional login to a separate tool weighs and eats a portion of the time. And these companies can’t let your teams waste time. Multiple external tools mean a lot of time to learn, manage, maintain, and optimise the tools.

Using multiple tools isn’t just ineffective. You have the data all over the place and don’t really know which lead appeared wherein the entire lifecycle, and when. Leaving small data traces in various places also means that the data can’t really be activated or maintained, i.e. used for re-activation campaigns, unless you… invest in another tool that unifies all this data. And these tools can be extremely expensive. 

Active Campaign makes it really cheap to get started with all key elements that support growth in a typical SMB company (also, much cheaper than competitors with similar offerings). From the get-go, it gives you all the key tools mentioned above. This can really help you get started generating more sales from the online channels. On top of that, you still get access to the insights about various activity touchpoints of individual leads across their customer journey, which you can use to additionally activate your salespeople.

You learn one interface, which gives you access to a number of features within that interface. No need to jump between multiple tools. What’s even more important, Active Campaign easily connects with ad platforms, so if you really need to activate your leads with additional remarketing campaigns, you can always do it using one of these connectors. In a few corner cases where you really need Active Campaign to connect to external software, you can always fire up a Zapier connection prepared by AC.

Connected to the outside world

One of the most important questions in building growth teams at SMB companies is at which moment should actually sales team enter the entire sales process.

This is very important. What we often see at SMB companies is that they hire salespeople too fast and that a lot of the qualification work done by the sales teams can be actually performed on the website, by the leads themselves. We’ve written more about this in one of our first Twitter threads.

By installing a small snippet of code, Active Campaign can link CRM to your website and start showing the individual activities of leads on your website, including the elements they’ve clicked and pages they visited. SMB’s typically don’t have some giant budgets to splash on experiments and whatnot. A typical business owner wants to know what works here and now and what generates the key accounts. They typically want to be able to answer questions such as whether it makes sense to invest in Google Ads, Facebook Ads or a blog. Knowing how far individual leads can go without the involvement of the sales is an extremely important piece of information, because it can improve your hiring efficiency. Rather than expanding the sales team just because you have a number of new leads, you hire salespeople to do just a few tasks where they can’t really be replaced.

The fact that Active Campaign connects and syncs website activity data of various leads is also important to help you understand whether your website does a good job of turning prospects into valuable clients. Since online activities of each lead are added to their overall activity timelines (as shows above), it helps create a deal of additional context that can be used to build rapport by the sales team.

Good enough to detect sales ninjas

When you look at the CRM and the sales process of a typical small and medium-sized business, you’ll see that the entire sales process is conducted typically by one person. In other words, we see that for the majority of our SMB clients, sales is really person-driven rather than process-driven.

It’s not a bad thing either. It just happens when you have a small team, you typically don’t have enough experimentation, data and scale to create an ultra-optimised sales processes. As a natural consequence, you give more power and responsibility to the hands of individual people. Each SMB salesperson will have a slightly unique sales funnel they feel the most comfortable in. 

Also, the management of SMB’s doesn’t really have time to consume a lot of advanced reports. Super deep dashboards and reporting are again something that bigger companies often do. At SMB, you typically need a high-level insight into the general performance of the sales team and comparison of who performs best, so that you can make the team learn from the superstars.

Active Campaign was built on the understanding of these three pillars of how sales work at SMB. Getting and browsing leads, deals, and statuses is easy and fast – deal pipelines have significant searching capabilities: you can filter leads by the size and other steps. Also, as a business owner, it is a super efficient way to review how effective your sales is just by clicking through the deal pipelines and assessing the performance quickly in a visual way – it doesn’t really take much more than that to know instantly if the sales stage is working or not. In addition, since Active Campaign can easily connect to the e-mail accounts of your sales team, it’s not hard to see what the superstars are doing in terms of e-mail communication. Take a look below to see the Deals CRM module of Active Campaign.

Another important aspect of Active Campaign for small business owners is that there are very clear reports. Since Active Campaign merges both the marketing and sales capabilities, reports can show the entire customer journey, starting from the very first interaction, through the e-mail and chat activity, all the way to the advanced, sales-driven stages of the customer journey. You also run reports across multiple salespeople and see how they compare to each other.

Not many cons

Active Campaign doesn’t have many bugs or glitches. Sometimes the software and the customer support team are just slow.

If this article helped you a bit choosing the proper CRM system, please sign up using our affiliate link 💚.

Work and learn with us

If you like our thinking and would like to turn your manual marketing engine into a data-driven, semi-autonomous growth machine – get in touch with us and book your spot on the scoping call in the widget below or jump on the comprehensive, 90-minute, private workshop on building data-driven growth engines hosted by Datomni experts!