By Diane Ramirez | Dun & Bradstreet Editor
Customer relationship management (CRM) software is pretty much an essential tool for growing a small business these days. It’s what companies use to efficiently track sales leads and existing customers, ensuring that operations are well-organized and personnel have the capability to make informed decisions. While Salesforce is generally thought of as the go-to product for CRM software, there are other providers out there that can serve small to midsized businesses.
There are many lists available online that rank the best CRMs for emerging businesses, including Business News Daily’s “Best CRM Software for Small Businesses, 2015 Edition,” Software Advice’s “Compare Small Business CRM Software,” and CIO’s “4 Affordable Small Business CRM Options.” Here’s a rundown of some of the programs that stood out for me and why:
- The basic CRM offering of Act! Cloud targets individual business owners, charging $10 per month while providing contact management, opportunity management, and e-mail marketing functionality. The system integrates with such platforms as email system Outlook and storage system Dropbox, and is available online for mobile access. The software can also pull from stored contact lists in Facebook, Google, and LinkedIn.
- Social CRM Batchbook provides a variety of ways to organize contacts, including the ability to connect to their Facebook profiles within the program. In addition to the standard offerings, it can take in Twitter streams, RSS feeds, and more. It also offers “To Do” lists to prevent dropping the ball on a possible client.
- Bullhorn targets recruitment and staffing businesses with its Pulse customer intelligence platform. Pulse analyzes customer and contact relationships by tracking email communications. It provides pipeline, sales team, and individual salesperson reports, and is available online through mobile devices and tablets. It pulls key contacts and communications into the system and even offers an open API from which organizations can build and integrate new tools.
- Online customer service software Freshdesk organizes all customer interactions, whether they occur by phone, email, Web chat, or via social media channels. It provides an advanced ticket management system, helping companies provide personalized customer service. Reviewers report finding it easy to use and highly intuitive.
- Highrise is another basic CRM that provides limited contact management and task management functionality without a lot of added bells and whistles. It allows users to import contact lists from third-party applications including Outlook, Gmail, and Excel; emails can be sent to customers and important documents can be attached to contact profiles.
- Insightly is an offering for very small businesses, which don’t have the complex needs their more developed brethren have. It’s affordable (there’s a free version, and paid plans start at $12 per month) and simple to use, but doesn’t skimp on offerings: It provides contact management, project management, and sales reports, and the least expensive plan allows for the storage of 100,000 records.
- Microsoft Dynamics CRM is a relative latecomer to the game but is growing rapidly; it is available via a cloud, partner-hosted, or on-premise delivery model and starts at $15 per user per month. It is easy to use, especially for those who operate in the world of Microsoft Office. Customer support is available through an online resource center (training videos, FAQs, forums, blogs, and a Facebook page).
- Salesforce Small Business is a smaller-scale version of the company’s large business and enterprise offerings. It provides such functionality as lead generation, contact management, sales forecasting, and workflow automation, and it is scalable to grow with the business.
- The price is right for Zoho CRM, which is free CRM software that doesn’t sacrifice on quality. Its features include lead gathering, contact management, and task automation, and up to 10 users can use the system. Like most CRMs, it’s accessible online, so employees can use the system anywhere from their tablet or smartphone. Once the business is ready to step up its CRM usage, a very affordable $12-per-user monthly fee adds sales forecasting and marketing campaigns.