The Best CRM For Your Business

Jan 25, 2011 View Comments by Steve

As ever, we have done the hard work so you don’t have to. We’ve researched all the best tools for keeping track of your contacts, communications and sales pipeline and written up a run down of the options and our favourites.

What Should I Be Looking For?

Don’t get bogged down by the reams of features you get with many of the Customer Relationship Managers (CRM’s). First of all think about your needs. Chances are as a startup or small business you basically want to manage your contacts and keep track of your recent communications and planned communications with the contacts. That in principal is what a CRM is for. If used efficiently you will be able to manage many contacts and know exactly what to say next time you contact them to get the best results. Whether it’s to sell your product, support your customer, deal with a problem or up-sell. It’s all about acquiring customers, enhancing your customers experience & retaining them. As a small resource constrained business the chances are you don’t have time to be getting into really sophisticated CRM features and you are likely to be more efficient with a lightweight, low cost, low maintenance solution. I would say ignore any solutions that aren’t completely web-based. Web-based means that someone else is maintaining and updating the software and that you and your colleagues can get to it from anywhere. So I’m only going to talk to you about the best web-based CRM solutions out there.

The Key Players

There are a lot of companies offering web-based (cloud) CRM solutions. We have reviewed the very best of the crop here and then chosen our top 3. If you don’t want to read the in-depth reviews just skip to the end of the article and take a look at the experts choice.

SalesForce

Salesforce is the giant in the room here. It’s an incredibly successful CRM solution with a long list of blue chip companies as clients. To me it’s more of the enterprise solution. It’s the most expensive of the options and has the largest feature set but it’s probably not the best fit for a startup or small business. I think the priorities for a small company should be simple, reliable and inexpensive when it comes to technology solution and although Salesforce is a great tool it doesn’t really hit this criteria as well as other solutions. If however, you are a well funded startup or small business expecting to grow a sales team to 100 staff pretty quickly then it may be worth starting out with Salesforce. It’s unlikely that many small businesses are in that situation so it’s unlikely the Salesforce is the best solution for you.
14 day free trial – £17/user/month – Web based – iPhone, Android & Blackberry Apps – Gmail Integration

Zoho CRM

Zoho CRM is a well featured and very popular web based CRM. In fact, saying it’s well featured is an understatement. It’s second only to Salesforce in terms of the feature set, but remember there’s no point in having a tonne of features if it just makes the whole experience more complicated and slower. If you are mainly dealing with email as a contact tool then Zoho is likely to be a good option. It has email built in with the ability to easily send, receive and track email at its core. It also has Outlook & Office plugins. It allows extensive drag and drop customisation of the interface. So if you become a power user or have very specific ideas about what you want, then you as a sales person and not a techy person, should be able to create your own forms and workflows. There is a free version for up to 3 users (then its $12/user/month) so if you are a small company and expecting to grow quite rapidly then this could be a great option as the software is powerful enough to not grow out of even with a medium size, tech savvy sales force. If you are a startup and just want a basic CRM this is probably not for you. It’s rich feature set and rather average user interface mean its not the easiest of the tools to get to grips with initially and you are never likely to need the more powerful features.
Free Version – Web based – Mobile web version

Highrise

Highrise, from the fantastic team at 37Signals, is a beautifully simple web-based CRM solution. They are great at boiling down a product to its essential features and making those features incredibly user friendly. It’s dead easy to get started. You get contact management, email tracking, task management and lead tracking all done simply. I also love the fact that it has twitter integration because I think twitter is fast becoming a really useful marketing, leads generation and sales tool. Seeing your twitter conversations within your CRM is therefore going to become essential. Although it may not have all the bells and whistles of Zoho CRM and Salesforce you may be surprised at how many features you can get if you really need them. Third parties have integrated with Highrise to offer integration with help-desk software, email campaign software, invoicing, Gmail and much more. This way you can pay for exactly what you need and pay the specialist for their service and plug it in to Highrise. I think that’s a good approach.
Free Version (250 contacts) – Web based – iPhone, Android & Blackberry Apps – Gmail Integration

BrightPearl

Brightpearl is an up and coming UK based business software company. They are aiming to be the one stop shop for your CRM, invoicing, accounting, project management, inventory, help desk and even public facing website. In principle this sounds like a good idea. Pay one company, get to know their product and you have all these features at your fingertips. I was concerned about them trying to be a Jack of all trades, but actually a huge benefit is that you have immediate integration between the different parts of your back office. They are still in their infancy, but given time they will make ground on the big boys in the market and it is very impressive what a feature rich powerful piece of software this young company has built. However, right now the lack of mobile access and the problem of too many features, leading to a more complicated piece of software, means it’s less enjoyable to use for me personally than some other options. Also when you try and do so many things it’s hard to compete with the best accounting and the best CRM software out there. Definitely one to watch and consider especially when integrating accounting, CRM and other needs.
30 day free trial – £20/user/month – Web based – Includes accounting solution

SugarCRM

SugarCRM is a widely used open source software solution. They have a basic free piece of software that you can install on a web host of your choice and get a limited CRM feature set. You can pay $360/user/yr (min 5 users) for the full feature set in order to get half decent under interface, mobile access and reporting. Thats a minimum of $1,800/year for your little company if you want mobile access and you still have to install and manage the software yourself. We don’t think this is the way to go, your time and money can be better spent elsewhere and along with many other technologists I talk to, I have had bad experiences with Sugar.
Basic free open source version – Pro version 1,800/year for 5 users – Web based, self install

Tactile CRM

TactileCRM is another one of those well designed simple to use CRM systems that I love, and are based here in the UK. They follow 37Signals approach with Highrise and offer a simple user friendly contact management and pipeline system and allow 3rd parties to create all the bells and whistles like email campaigns and help-desk integration. We liked Tactile and found it easy to use and their pricing model makes a lot of sense with a free solo account limited to 250 contacts and a premium account with all the features your likely to need just £6/user/month. If you are a small company and money is tight then this works out as a good deal for a quality app. One thing we don’t like is the iPhone app which is $7.99. Seems very strange to charge for an app to go with a subscription service.
Free solo account (250 contacts) – Web based – $7.99 iPhone app

Capsule CRM

CapsuleCRM is a fantastically designed CRM application. Kept simple and intuitive with all the essential contact, task and pipeline features you would expect. Again it allows third parties to integrate to provide the extra features which you may choose to use. This is where it really gets exciting for me. It integrates with my favourite accounting software FreeAgent, my favourite email campaign service MailChimp and my favourite content management system WordPress. Capsule clearly have lots of happy customers and we can see why. They are let down by a lack of mobile support but it looks like that is coming anytime now in the form of a sophisticated web application, with offline support rather than a native app. I look forward to seeing it as it seems like an innovative approach. The pricing is super simple with a free limited account or £8/user/month.
Free account (250 contacts, 2 users, no 3rd party apps) – Premium: £8/user/month – Web based

Experts Choice

 

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  • Dave Ratner

    Hi Steve,

    Thanks for this great article. The timing was perfect as I was just evaluating CRM systems. Funny enough – I ended up sticking to one system you didn’t mention – pipejump (www.pipejump.com). The decision factor for me was the simplicity of the product. Have no idea how you they managed to keep it so simple and yet so powerful.

  • Steve Butterworth

    Excellent glad you enjoyed it and thanks for pointing out pipejump which I hadn’t come across. It looks very sales pipeline focussed which is great for sales people. Love the interface for pipejump very clean and simple. Planning a full review of this now.

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