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.
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.
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.