There’s a real and competitive variety of CRM software in the market today. Different platforms have been arriving at different stages of development in the sector, giving customers a constantly evolving and improving choice of products and a better chance to find one that perfectly meets their requirements.
We’ve broken down the CRM software market into three broad groups, each corresponding to a distinct time period in the industry's history:
We’ll begin with the most competitive modern systems, and take you through the wide range of platforms that are available today.
The latest generation of tech-forward platforms with full-spectrum, user-focussed relationship intelligence capabilities and API integrations.
Founded in London in 2020, ListAlpha is one of the few CRM platforms that benefits from a modern tech stack based on OpenAI GPT, semantic search and robust API-integrations. The platform is focused on deal team workflows (i.e., deal origination, research, screening) and differentiates through a modern and light-weight user interface, minimal data entry requirements and powerful search capabilities.
ListAlpha also has native company research engine that allows to perform due diligence and deal screening directly in the platform without relying on 3rd party API integrations with Pitchbook or Crunchbase. This allows for a seamless workflow without the need to data warehouses or cumbersome integrations between different software vendors.
Founded in San Francisco in 2014, and backed by YC, Affinity has been one of the most successful deal origination platforms of the recent generation. The platform was built around native integration with email providers (Gmail or Outlook) and differentiates through strong Relationship Intelligence functionality. Affinity has strong traction among Venture Capital funds, however has had a more limited relevance in the Private Equity market due to the specifics of that customer segment.
Attio is another London-based platform that had its roots in the private markets. The company has developed a very modern and flexible platform for managing contacts, sales pipeline and various fund related administrative tasks. At first Attio targeted VC funds as its core market, however has since pivoted to the broader generic CRM market offering industry workflows for start-ups and scale-ups as well.
An earlier generation of CRM platforms, these can be expensive and difficult to use - but can also be a good choice if you’re looking for an established all-rounder.
These players came as a second wave of industry-specific software providers that customized their workflows to the Private Equity market, thus avoiding the pitfalls of the generalists. The most established of this cohort are Dynamo, eFront and Backstop which were all founded in 1998-2003 and have since reached significant scale. The newer entrants include DealCloud (which is arguable the best of this group) and Altvia (which is based on the SalesForce platform, hence suffers from the earlier mentioned issues).
One of the best known names in the industry and a slightly more front office-focus than the rest of the group. DealCloud was started in 2010 in North Carolina by two founders with previous private equity experience. The company has 250+ employees globally and has been recently (2018) acquired by Intapp, a legal software business.
Founded in Colorado in 2006 by Kevin Kelly, who previously was a CTO at another private equity fund. Over 15 years, the company has scaled to over 40k users and completed a sale to Bow River Capital in 2019 and subsequently Marlin Equity in 2022. Altvia offers a full-suite CRM however differentiates through a focus on Investor Relations functionality (e.g., LP communications, fundraising, virtual data room, etc.). Their platform is built entirely on SalesForce, which gives rise to a number of disadvantages when it comes to the user interface and flexibility of the software.
If you have any choice in the matter these are generally a bad idea, given all the better options now available.
Despite their respectable age, the likes of Salesforce and MS Dynamics continue to feature on various software vendor lists for private equity, slightly to our bemusement. These are very large and generic sales platforms designed for industry customers (think manufacturing or life insurance companies), which have been "shoehorned" into serving PE clients by various industry integrators.
The problem with generic CRM platforms is that they are fundamentally designed for supporting the sales and customer service functions of medium to large corporates (think thousands of employees). On the size front, this stands at odds with the fact that even the largest mega funds have at most hundreds of employers (if not less than a 100). These platforms also don't deal very well with the fact that PE funds do not have customers, or sales people. Shoehorning these CRM platforms inevitably involves introducing slightly alien concepts like M&A advisers and deal pipelines, and turning off the multitude of "Work In Progress" and "Quarterly Sales Quota" reports, which as the bread and butter of the Saleforce customer base.
These platforms are generally cheap (HubSpot is free, Dynamics is c.$10-20k depending on team size), however installing them in 2023 is akin to sending your organisation back into technological dark ages.
A long-standing CRM solution from the tech giant Microsoft, has been serving various industries since the early 2000s. While it offers a broad range of features and benefits from its tight integration with other Microsoft products, the platform struggles to cater to the specific needs of private equity firms.
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