September 19, 2014

9 Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Apps for Small Business

Customer relationship management has always felt like the wrong term to me. You don’t “manage” customers. You don’t “manage” your relationship with a customer. You might nurture it. You might encourage it. You would strive to strengthen it. But manage? No.

However, I understand what a company is aiming for when they say it, and the term has stuck for a long time, so I will get off my soapbox and share nine powerful CRM tools you’ll want to consider for managing your small business.  Each of these tools has a customer database at its core; that’s a given.  How they approach that customer data is what each section explores.

CRM Apps With an E-Mail Focus

Infusionsoft is one of the market leaders when it comes to CRM, e-mail marketing and marketing Automation.  One of their strengths and what makes them different is that, instead of a one-time automatic response, they encourage you to create a robust “follow-up sequence” based on customer behavior—this is the automation engine at work.  For example, if a customer responds to a specific campaign, then phones in a question, you can trigger your Infusionsoft system to automatically respond appropriately — which goes beyond e-mail and includes faxing, voicemails, even letters.  If you’re a small business owner struggling who needs more than a simple e-mail campaign, take a closer look at the Infusionsoft approach.

infusionsoft crm

InTouch CRM promises to make your life with customers easy.   To prove their philosophy, if you only want to store your customer contact information, you can do it for free with InTouch.  If you want to be able to use the powerful customer database and communicate via e-mail or SMS with your customers, then you’ll have to subscribe to a paid plan. I signed up for the free trial and was impressed with the simple dashboards and how quick it was to set up sample templates (you have to pay to start e-mailing) and campaigns for both e-mail and SMS.  Naturally, you can see all your customer data at a glance.

CRM Apps With a Social and Collaborative Focus

According to Gartner, social CRM application spending will grow at a faster rate than traditional CRM spending in the coming years.  Gartner employs the following definition for social CRM: “Social CRM applications encourage many-to-many participation among internal users, as well as customers, partners, affiliates, fans, constituents, donors, members and other external parties, to support sales, customer service and marketing processes. Social CRM works within each of these domains, for example, to provide a social enterprise feedback mechanism in the service domain, or social monitoring or product development in the marketing domain.”

That’s a long definition, but in a nutshell, I liked what Batchblue had to say about social CRM: “Find and join the conversations so you know what’s important to your customers.”  That is the essence of adding “social” to the CRM database.  Tag your customer data so you know what a conversation was about, when it happened and where in the social universe it took place.

Batchbook is a combination of Facebook, Google and contact database rolled up nicely in one.  You can view blog posts, photos, tweets and more alongside contact history, so if part of your customer experience involves knowing what’s going on in your customer’s life, this is a tool worth trying out. Lots of great reporting and integration with many other small business apps like Mailchimp, Shoeboxed and more.

Kickapps has an impressive platform approach to customer relationships and social media.  They explain that they are a “Social Graph Engine” which is generally defined as a look at a person’s online identity, activity, relationship to other people and content.  Kickapps allows you to use that data to inform your marketing and sales functions.  They have a great customer example page here. You can use this tool to build a website and a community.

Rapportive is for the Google Gmail user. If you use Gmail, you’ll love Rapportive.  Right within your inbox, on the right side (replaces where the ads usually run, yay), you’ll see contact information for the person whose message you are reading.  Rapportive scours the social landscape and provides links and details from LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and numerous other sites to give you a fast glance at just who it is you’re corresponding with.  It will also tell you location information, if they are nearby and using such services, of course.

rapportive

Gist reminds you that your contacts are everywhere.  In e-mail, on social networks, on your mobile phone and many other sources. Gist combines them all into one place to give you a full view of your network,making it easy to find anyone, anytime.  It works with Gmail, with Outlook, with the iPhone and Android phones, with Salesforce.com and even Lotus Notes, to create a powerful listening post.

CRM Apps With a Sales Focus

Smartsheet Sales Pipeline is for the many users who want a powerful database, but with a user-friendly interface like a spreadsheet.  If that’s you, then take a close look at Smartsheet.  Think of this as a spreadsheet on steroids – interactive and collaborative. Stop e-mailing spreadsheets around. Great reporting functions as well as Gantt charts and ways to enhance your sales results presentation.

SalesForce.com is one of the best-known online CRM tools; it was built with sales in mind. SalesForce is one of the companies that defined the software-as-a-service (SaaS) space.  Sales teams can see and access prospect and customer contact information via the Web and mobile devices. Hundreds of applications bolt onto the Salesforce system, and thousands of small business owners use it. The company just purchased Jigsaw to help you find more sales prospects.

Sugar CRM offers several different CRM tools, all of which are open source. While Sugar CRM is not free, it’s extremely adaptable, allowing you to easily create custom modules as well as add external data.  Update & Correction:  SugarCRM does offer a free Community Edition.

There are many CRM applications in the market today. Tell us which ones you’re using and how in the comments.

63 Comments ▼

TJ McCue - Product Editor


TJ McCue TJ McCue is the Product Editor for Small Business Trends and an entrepreneur who publishes Tech Biz Talk. TJ is a former Wall Street Journal columnist. He also writes for Forbes and American Express OPEN Forum. He loves learning about technology apps and software services - share yours with TJ.

63 Reactions

  1. Hi TJ,

    Can you please review http://www.contactme.com. It’s a simple CRM tools for microbusinesses. ContactMe lets you consolidate all of your contacts

  2. TJ – how do they compare on cost?

  3. Hi Robert,
    From free, to $10/mo, up to $200 from what I remember. Some just do their one thing, others are complete systems that help you run your business (ops, ecommerce, etc).

    Irina, I’ll take a look at ContactMe. Thanks for pointing it out.

  4. These are great reviews TJ. I use Infusionsoft with some of my large internet marketing clients as well as my law firm marketing clients, but I have found that infusionsoft isn’t the best for every situation or every business area. What makes infusionsoft so amazing is that it can basically do anything that you want it to do, but to customize it properly it takes a lot of time and team initiative.

    One platform that I can across a few ago was KarmaCRM http://www.karmacrm.com/. Obviously the first thing that caught my attention was the name. Karma is in my business name, and it has true meaning to why I use it, so I decided to sign up for their free beta testing to see if their name held true to the test. Let me say I was pretty wowed, and inspired, and that isn’t easy for me in the tech world.

    It is a platform for more of a small business environment, but the power behind it is truly amazing, not to mention the owner stays true to his name, and was able to answer questions for me without a round about answer or having to wait days for an email response.

    I have added all of my small business clients to the platform and added my clients as users so that I could get feedback from both ends, and the best part is that it is as easy for them to use as it was for me. My team and I do more things in it then my clients do, but they still are able to navigate around and find their info and tasks in limited amount of time.

    So I think for personal CRM choices it really depends on your company, client base, tech level, how you choose to set the CRM up (an if it functions properly when you do) and the goals that both parties are trying to achieve.

  5. Hi TJ

    could you take a look at Amphis Customer CRM too, please. http://www.amphis-software.com

    It’s a simple to use CRM, but as well as contacts, it also handles quotes, invoices, customer notes, customer letters, reminders, mail merge, payment reminders, statements and it integrates with Outlook to handle email, tasks and appointments.

    features being added soon are expenses and email merge.

    thanks

    Tom

  6. Zoho CRM offers a good free service for a small business.

  7. The more you can collaborate on the better. That’s why these types of applications are gaining steam in the CRM market.

    They let teams spread across large distances (and businesses set in one location) to collaborate on leads, contacts, discussions and other items and make this extremely simple to do. The success of really simplistic apps like 37Signals’ Highrise exemplifies what I mean. That being said, the simplicity comes at a cost, and those applications are considered by some to be lacking industry standard CRM features.

    Being able to collaborate on more aspects of your daily operations is much more beneficial to overall sales and customer experiences. Some applications bring collaboration to a few narrow aspects of CRM, some bring collaboration to the center of the app, and regardless if you’re managing other aspects of your business through software you will need to find ways to collaborate on that as well. Many companies accomplish this by using a variety of applications, but this usually means integration issues and high monthly bills.

    Some of the most helpful solutions are those that center collaboration with a feature-consolidating environment across a variety of aspects of business management software. WORKetc is a business management app that combines CRM, PM, Finances (expenses, invoicing, etc) and help desk software into one – and brings collaboration to all of these aspects. Users are not only managing all operations under one system, but they’re managing the entire customer lifecycle, from the lead stage, to working on that client’s projects, to invoicing, to support inquiries. This helps simplify managing relationships and puts customers at the center of the system. They can also login to the WORKetc system and collaborate on certain items, view invoices, support tickets and hold discussions. This social aspect keeps customers in touch with the business at a much better level than other applications, not too mention users can collaborate on every aspect of their business.

    The more they can collaborate on, the better I say!

    David

  8. IFModules eMail Manager is another good one to add to the list. eMail Manager is a web-based email client that helps businesses manage high-volume, incoming email, especially role-based accounts. Features include detailed automated rules, standard replies, conversation threads, reporting, time tracking and more. eMail Manager also provides unlimited users, accounts and folders with every subscription level. Prices based on space, not users.

    You can see a quick video overview at: http://www.ifmodules.com/

  9. Thanks everyone for the additions and suggestions. Much appreciated. I’ve used Zoho and like it. Actually, I’ve used several of these on both trial and paid accounts for my own company, clients, and via projects where the client had one of these installed.

    Infusionsoft, Batchbook, Smartsheet, Rapportive, Sugar, Salesforce all offer something unique, useful, powerful. To the points made above, some solutions work better than others for particular needs — I’m not trying to generically cover everything, but you have to dig in and see what will work for you.

    Infusion is a powerful marketing automation system. Batchbook is an incredibly social CRM solution. Smartsheet gives you a super-friendly interface that everyone understands — a spreadsheet. There are detailed reviews on many of these right here in SmallBizTrends (hit search).

    This list is admittedly tiny. CRM is one of those categories that has hundreds of vendors. I have only “looked” at the iceberg and not even touched it…

  10. We recently moved our btc crm to bigcontacts.com Highly recommend -very affordable for small business ..we have three users.. all love it.. good for solo or teams. Have three levels of plans great customer service and support. Online demo is at http://www.bigcontacts.com/demo/

    you can play with the “live” demo ..encourage everyone to check it out

  11. Hi TJ – As a CRM consultant I’m always looking for new products and the latest features for our clients. Thanks for all of the information. I especially like the focus on Social CRM – Rapportive looks like something I’ll need to check out!

  12. TJ – I’d be very happy if you took a look at what we do at http://www.wecando.biz A business network driven by lead creation and endorsements backed by Social CRM tools and incorporating a full CRM suite. Any questions, I’d be happy to help answer.

    Chris Butler

  13. I really like Free CRM http://FreeCRM.com

    It has more features than most, when I reviewed it, we had the short list down to SalesForce.com and FreeCRM.com.

    Needless to say, SF was going to cost us about $7500 per year. With FreeCRM.com we are only paying about $1100 per year for the Professional edition.

  14. Hi

    Recently launched was Black ICE CRM http://www.blackicecrm.com which is based on vTiger. We are building additional modules for customers at present, and take a proactive approach with feedback to improve on the core system.

    We have been working with vTiger for many year installing locally, but have now launched a hosted version (in a data centre in US and UK) for small to medium sized businesses.

    Cost wise its a lot cheaper than SalesForce, if you could review it it would be appreciated.

    Thanks

  15. The functionality of Batchbook sounds really interesting, I’ve been looking for a good web based contact manager for my small business.

  16. TJ it is great that you look into all of the individual CRM programs for us. You save us a lot of time with these reviews giving honest feedback on what is out there. It helps us make a better decision before we take the time to implement all of our work and contacts to a system that might not be for us.

    I would love for you to review KarmaCRM I honestly think it has saved a few relationships with my clients because now they can see the tasks taking place in a easy manner that doesn’t confuse or frustrate them so that I can continue to build their brands online. Also, the creator of KarmaCRM truly cares for his beta testers; building and updating his platform based off their reviews, and I don’t know to many programmers out there that take that kind of time. He also gets back to me, not a sales person, or account manager, which makes the experience even more 1st class. I think based off of these two qualities alone a review would be a great thing for him, so that people learn about his product through your eyes. As I said before there are many CRM’s out there for businesses, and this may not be the one for every company out there, but it definitely works for small to medium businesses in a efficient manner so that we can be there for our clients.

  17. I have been dying to use Infusionsoft, but I feel it’s a bit pricey for small businesses looking to keep costs down. As a Virtual Assistant, I’ve input data into a lot of my customer’s CRMs.

    My favourite is icomplete. http://www.icomplete.com/officehounds

  18. This is really helpful collection of reviews, thanks!

    I work on behalf of Aditi Technologies. An interesting application that you have left off is their CIO Pulse. This is a balanced score card dashboard and collaboration tool for the CIO’s office. CIOPulse is an easy to use tool that is backed up by Aditi’s formidable experience in deploying and working with Microsoft technologies, which, in the leading analyst house Ovum’s opinion, is what makes the tool compelling for Microsoft camps. Aditi combines the tool with a few other internally developed frameworks (such as ETLEasy) and has the capability to provide in-depth consulting and development expertise right from the data warehouse level.

    If any of you have any experience in using the CIO Pulse product, or would like further details, we’d love to hear from you.

  19. Recently, our team leader has decided to switch to WorkForceTrack. Because it is cheaper than other systems and has almost the same functions. As far as I know, they also offer some kind of discounts, individual customization and localization from English into other languages. So, I am recommending you to try this

  20. Maple CRM is also a very easy and user friendly CRM application built for small businesses with multiple features.

    Regards,
    Sonia

  21. Hi TJ, thanks for starting the conversation.

    CRM software can be especially helpful to SMBs, and thankfully there are a growing number of solutions out there. But it’s still hard to find one that does what you need and is easy to use, for a low price.

    One solution that’s worth mentioning is karmaCRM. At karma, our focus is on helping small businesses keep sales leads and customer contacts neat and tidy. The user interface is clean and simple to learn, but the backend system has powerful functionality that can really help SMB owners. Check us out at http://www.karmacrm.com

    Cheers, and best of luck to everyone in the CRM search.

    John-Paul, Founder – karmaCRM

  22. Hello TJ,

    Could you please also take a look at MYCO Suite http://www.mycosuite.com ? MYCO Suite offers a complete business suite for entrepreneurs including CRM, Project management, Billing. (Also available on iPhone)

    Ewout van Loon – Founder MYCO Suite

  23. Charles Anderson

    Hello!

    How about Microsoft Dynamics CRM? Not only does it allow for easy translation between other Microsoft applications you use on a daily basis, such as Office, and Outlook, but it also has some great third party modifications created specifically for any business need.

    For example, when using “small-business” and “CRM” as keywords to refine the search for this thread, YourVirtualButler, a cloud-based management software, appears to be specifically designed for this exact purpose. Creating the ability to easily manage the important money-generating pursuit, while allowing for invoicing, and employee management to be significantly refined, YourVirtualButler is a great example of how Dynamics CRM can literally change your business forever. Be part of a global network of other co-working centers, allowing many virtual and international customers to find your small business space with ease.

    Upon further scrutiny, there appears to be quite a few software companies created to customize Dynamics CRM to mesh perfectly with any business where management is crucial. Keep an open mind!

  24. I’m Acquainted with these systems. These systems have good reviews on the Internet and will be very useful for many users. We are a non-profit organization, and everyday there are a lot of work tasks. We are now using teamwox.com CRM system for free. Question: is there a CRM system that can be used to export all of the tasks, and then import it into another CRM system? How to do it?

    Thank you.

  25. We are using Salesforce right now, One of the best B2B enterprise CRM Application.

  26. Check out Bizness CRM as well.

    http://biznesscrm.com

    Selling to small businesses made easy!

  27. From experience of working at Collier Pickard, who are professional CRM consultants, the best software in the CRM industry is Sage SalesLogix CRM. [edited by Editor]

  28. I am desperate for a low-cost CRM that will import customer contact info from emails. I have all of my orders from the past 6 years in PayPal (impossible to extract them with any sort of ease) and I have incoming emails to notify me of each order that contain customer name, email, address, phone, everything. But how do I get them from Gmail into a CRM? Can anyone advise me of a CRM solution that will do this? I am at my wit’s end…have searched and searched but can’t find any way to do it.

    • Give Insightly a try. When an email comes in, it can add a contact and relate that contact to other contacts too based on email interaction

  29. More than 50% of BizMerlin’s customers migrated over from SalesForce. Rest of them come from Zoho or Sugar.

    In general, CRM is a crowded market. And the user training can sometimes be a slight issue as well.

  30. Thanks for the review TJ, we appreciate it.

    As a quick update, there is no need to upgrade to send any communications from intouch. Just sign up for a trial and send emails, surveys, tweets or SMS messages to key customers!

    It is out belief that most small businesses want to integrate all of their data along with their marketing and so we are focused on giving all of the sales and marketing tools that SMB’s need in 1 easy to use and affordable application.

    Have a trial of intouch and let us know what you think!

  31. There is only one name that I go to for CRM and thats Evolticom. Brand new and cutting edge with more features and low price then the other 9 worthy competitors.

  32. Thanks for comparative information about CRM Apps for small business.I think small business should adopt both email centric and also sales focused CRM applications because both are important because we use CRM apps to improve customer relations to increase sales.

  33. I have been using saleslifecycle. Quick and easy to use and get started. They have a free account version for single users. Lets you run automatic email campaigns which are really great. Worth a look in my opinion

  34. Can you please review Clevertim CRM at http://www.clevertim.com
    It’s a web 2.0 one page application which makes it really snappy, responsive – no more long server refreshes that slow you down. It’s surprising how small things like that can increase your productivity and make your less frustrated.

  35. Just came across this article a bit late since its 2013 – but did not see the other 7 companies listed but those looking for a robust easy to use CRM solution at an affordable cost – visit and try Commence CRM, from Commence Corporation. A solid company in the sector for more than 20 years and excellent customer service. Very good alternative to sf.com.

    Robert

  36. I am looking for a free to reasonably inexpensive CRM software that will allow me to maintain a database and email my clients and prospects monthly. Any recommendations? I am a one man shop and simply can’t afford some of these programs although they look terrific. Thanks.

  37. Great list, but maybe you could add CiviCRM in this list. As I work at a French Web and Open source agency (TALCOD), I do know well CiviCRM. Customers are quite satisfied with the management tools we build and base on it, so it could be a great tool to suggest.

  38. Thank you to Kind Business Associates for sharing your opinion and experience of Customer Relations Management (CRM) I am a Founder/CEO of new http://www.freehelpeducation.org approved 501(c)(3 code non profit organization, looking for a system that we could use effectively with minimal cost as well as simple to use. Also, Any suggestions you have in getting the public to see our websites objectives of “to reduce poverty and illiteracy through computer learning” is heartfelt appreciated.
    Elena Farinas

  39. As it is mentioned number one in this article, I also like Infusionsoft. It has great features and it can really help increase revenue for small businesses.

  40. Another option is Quickbase by Intuit, which is easy to use and very customizable. I built a company-wide CRM app using it over the past three years for a 3.5 million/year company, which now uses it daily. Plans start at just $299/month and it’s a great option for small businesses. Check out their fully functional free trial (no credit card needed).

    [Edited by Editor]

  41. We have a great new productivity tool for small business and freelancers called SalesInView. It helps you keep track of all the new business opportunities you are working on. The webpage is

    We have designed SalesInView to mimic sales pipeline processes but without all the bureaucracy. In other words it is a self-management tool rather than a reporting tool (there is a simple report output mechanism for those that need to show their boss). You could call it your personal CRM system.

    Because you can configure it to suit the way you do business, it is every bit as useful to a carpet fitter as it is to a freelance designer or a management consultant. It will work well for any self employed person or businesses with a small sales team that does not need an expensive CRM system.

  42. We have a Web Based CRM application called TrackerGO CRM. It handles lead management and campaign management well. It is complex but that complexity sits on the backend and never touches the user. We offer free online training and support. It is much much easier to use than a lot of other corporate level CRM’s but still offers the bells and whistles. Site is located at tracker-go.com

    [Edited by Editor]

  43. For completeness, we deliver a CRM solution Invantive Vision focusing on project-oriented companies such as landscaping, engineering, infrastructure and IT. It includes an extensive integration with Microsoft Outlook and various social media platforms to make business flow from quote to project to payment.

  44. When talking about CRM services remember to check Tabuloid.

  45. Hey TJ, great article. Can I make a suggestion? Try PayPanther – http://www.paypanther.com/ It’s an all-in-one business solution that includes CRM. It’s really good. I use it myself

  46. have you tried unifiedinbox.com for CRM? Thoughts.

  47. I am using EQMS CRM it works great for me i can store my data on local server. They also have option to store data on private and public cloud.
    Lighter version of EQMS is also available which is free i.e. EQMS Lite.They also have various editions of EQMS CRM which can be used by individual to large groups.Pricing is quiet competitive.Software is quiet simple you can easily start using it once you watch the product video.

  48. Great article!! … I strongly recommend Snapforce CRM software, which is user friendly. At any given time you can use their services with top stand-by technicians. Also they offer live demostrations using the software so that you are not lost in the loop.
    Check them out http://www.snapforce.com

  49. Although it’s been quite a while since this article was posted, but the content still applies to today’s business world, Thanks for compiling this list. I mentioned your post on my blog where I wrote about things most profitable small business do that contributes to their success.

  50. I’ve been having some issues finding a decent caller ID solution to work with my CRM system until recently, and I figured I’d share some of my experience with anyone who might have run into a similar issue. Klink (www.klink.com) is pretty handy, especially for mobile professionals.

    It’s super functional and includes social media data for anyone who calls you. Plus it’s got the ability to identify millions of callers who aren’t in your address book or in your CRM database. It also has a feature that lets you update your CRM from within the app directly, which is pretty helpful especially if you’re away from your desk a lot of the time. It’s worked really well for me so far – I hope this is helpful for anyone else with a similar need!

  51. Thanks for the post. Really interesting.

    But Rapportive is acquired by Linkedin and they are limiting the service to linkedin profiles only. I searched and found an excellent and better alternative named Vibe ( http://vibeapp.co) . Highly recommended to use.

    Have Fun.

  52. Hello there. I like the article and I think you mentioned some interesting resources for CRM systems. If your readers are looking for more of an affordable business management solution for their entire busienss packaged with a CRM system, I would recommend Knowify.

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