What Is a CRM?

Monday, October 28, 2019
Christopher Sirk
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What is a CRM?

It's a simple question that usually comes with a not-so-simple answer—what does CRM stand for anyway? Quick answer: a CRM is a customer relationship management platform which organizes your business, automates tasks so you can do the thinking, centralizes all your data and analyzes it. All this to serve customers better.

In the space of just a few years, CRMs have evolved enormously. Approachable and far easier to learn, implement, and pay for, they’ve morphed from three-letter monsters into ready-set-go software for businesses of all shapes and sizes.

Yes, they’re still mainly designed for sales, marketing, and service. But now they do a dizzying number of other things too, like help users manage relationships between team members, vendors, partners, and collaborators.

 

 

A short history of CRM software

The ‘Uberization’ trend has hit the CRM market like a tidal wave. Developers have come into the user, offering software with friendly user interfaces and appealing niche design language. Simplicity and low friction usage now come standard.

That wasn’t always the case.

The history of the CRM reaches back to the dot.com bubble era. The first version of legacy software SAP CRM, for example, was released way back in millennial year zero, aka 2000.

Back then, all CRMs had a big learning curve and required a complete retooling of workflow.

First, you needed to train up. Then you’d have to import all your contacts onto a proprietary cloud and plug away doing data entry.  

Things look a lot different today. A small business can now implement CRM processes with minimal hassle, without hiring developers.

Cloud-based CRM software has become standard. Cloud storage, automated data entry, and web/mobile cross-platform functionality have improved user experience (not to mention customer experience) dramatically. Prices have dropped too, with free, open source, and affordable professional and enterprise plans available across the market.

Legacy providers like Oracle, Microsoft Dynamics, and Salesforce have kept pace with trends, and continue to command serious market shares. But an increasingly diverse cast of new wave platforms have emerged to challenge them, too.

How CRM Works?

CRMs pull in information from social media, your website, email, voice calls, and other channels to help you get more customers and keep the ones you have. They give you a single place to organize your workflows and business processes, so you can collaborate, close more deals, and get more done.

Marketing and sales force automation, contact and project management—these are the bread and butter features of CRM.

In practice, CRM should work with the way your business works. There are many types of good CRM out there, and none one-size-fits-all/right CRM option. However, there is most definitely a CRM technology tailored for every company’s unique business strategy.

The basics of CRM

CRMs are generally designed to streamline and improve customer interaction, the sales process, and the running of marketing campaigns. They do this by improving efficiencies across workflow and the sales pipeline—automating tasks, and analyzing data.

A solid CRM strategy provides an all-in-one solution for managing your team’s voice, chat, and email touchpoints. They track leads, customer needs, offers, and conversions in one place, and help with optimizing your website and running ad campaigns.

That improves the mechanism behind your business and dramatically increases visibility on your team, customer base, and to the broader public.

Keeping track of all that data makes task automation one of the most significant advantages provided by today’s CRMs. By letting machine learning and analytics do some of the heavy lifting, you save time and keep yourself from getting burned out on cognitively distressing or low brain-activity tasks.

Making phone calls within your CRM platform automatically generates data in real time, the date, who made the call, and so much more. You’ll be able to automatically track old and new customers and schedule follow-ups, with a centralized base for contact information.

Click to call, cross-platform functionality makes it a breeze to call from anywhere, makes your business more agile, and saves an incredible amount of money on phone bills.

Email integration streamlines the sales process from your inbox, letting let you organize leads, appointments, and contacts, sync information from Gmail to your CRM, and generate follow-up reminders to close more deals.

Meanwhile, new developments in natural language processing and machine learning are making CRM better and better at transcribing (and logging) phone conversations into actionable items so that no customer detail is forgotten.

Benefits of CRM 

Improves Customer Service

CRM manages all your contacts and aggregates lead and customer information to build profiles of everyone you interact with. This gives you easy access to important infomration on customer behavior like purchase records and previous communications with contacts across different channels (social media, chat, email, etc.). Customers won’t have to repeat their story over and over to you, and you’ll be able to address issues with best practice and less effort for imporved customer loyalty.

Increase in Sales

Streamlining and improving the sales process, building a sales pipeline, automating tasks, and analyzing your sales data will inevitably lead to one outcome—increased sales and sales productivity. CRM allows you to have all your customer-facing voice, chat, social media, and email touchpoints accessible in one place. You’ll clinch more deals by building a repeatable, proven sales process, and delivering the right message on the right channel at just the right time.

Retain More Customers

Retention and churn rates are extremely important determiners for a company’s success; customer churn is a major obstacle to business growth. CRM tools like sentiment analysis, automated ticketing, and customer support and customer service automation can dramatically improve your retention by letting human agents defuse problems. Analytics tools that look at customer life cycle can show you when churn happens and why, so you can identify and address pain points.

Better Analytics

Analytical CRM tools make your data available, intelligible, and relevant to your business needs. All your heaps of sales data, finance data, and marketing data flow into CRM to become visible metrics, with data warehousing and data mining there to make sense of everything. The net benefit is customer acquisition, customer retention, and better data management.

Higher Efficiency

Having all your major day-to-day business functions in one place makes for better workflow, easier collaboration between team members, and better project management. Task automation eliminates menial, repetitive work and gives more time for the cognitive tasks humans are best at. Dashboards and analytics will help you gain insights into your work and optimize all kinds of business processes.

Better knowledge sharing

Miscommunication and lack of information transfer are two major time-wasters. When people take time self-learning to do things other team members already know how to do, or work on redundant tasks, you’re losing a lot of hours per week. Collaborative CRM tools can streamline your teamwork by letting you build a knowledge base, establish best practice workflows, and allowing for frictionless communication between team members. 

More transparency

CRM allows you to foster greater transparency in your organization by assigning tasks, showing work, and delineating exactly who is who and who is doing what. If your main concern is sales, you can make use of performance tracking for individual sales agents. CRM allows everyone in your organization to gain visibility on your business processes, fostering more mutual understanding and collaboration. 

Who Needs CRM?

The short answer? Anyone who works can benefit from CRM.

The longer answer: anyone doing sales, marketing teams, service, support, or running a startup, managing a community group, non-profit, or volunteer organization, and editorial teams, ad agencies, and art projects or productions can benefit.

Businesses of all kinds use CRM, from solo freelance operations and home-run e-commerce to small businesses, mid-size businesses, and massive enterprise-level corporations. Everyone can benefit from better organization, centralized task management, and contemporary AI and automation tools that make work faster and better with less time and effort.

In general, companies are becoming more remotely distributed, and teams are becoming more flexible from project to project. It makes sense to invest in a tool that neatly places all your work processes in one place, and lets you access all your tasks and workflow processes on-the-fly via cloud services. 

Meanwhile, there’s no question that online business competition is only going to keep intensifying. Thoughtful CRM use can give your organization an edge. Automation allows your company to punch above its weight, eliminating repetitive tasks so the human part of your business can play to its strengths. 

The CRM market grew 15.6% in 2018 as SMBs continue to adopt these tools, and vendors continue to frantically keep streamlining and delivering products that fit contemporary work. Meanwhile, CRM continues to be the fastest-growing software category out there. It certainly seems like the future is going to be very CRM-y.

 

TYPES OF CRMs

Marketing CRM

Marketing has unique challenges and fulfills a singular “frontline” role in your business. A marketing CRM setup can help out with that, big time.

Any good customer relationship management CRM is built on the principle of better business through overlapping communication, as well as the centralization of tasks and data. In that spirit, a marketing-focused CRM offers a lot of help with marketing by symbiotically merging it with sales, letting you run campaigns more effectively, obtain more leads, and close more deals.

Build marketing campaigns and automate them across channels, get statistics on opened/unopened mail status, click-through rate, and use A/B testing to find the best strategy for your landing pages.

A marketing CRM can segment leads into different categories, according to how long they spent on your website, what links they clicked on, and what kind of personal information they shared on a form. Marketing segmentation allows you to build separate campaigns for separate demographics, keeping your brand “top-of-mind” until the lead is ready to become active.

Integrations with tools like Customer.io and Mailchimp can help out with automating the delivery of emails and texts, as well as building social media ads. Drip marketing features let you schedule a sequence of emails to arrive over a set time period.

Read in-depth article "Marketing CRM: The Tools of Attraction"

 

HubSpot

HubSpot is a ginormous name in the CRM world and offers a very accessible, comprehensive CRM solution that forms the core of its ‘full stack’ business management platform.

Their dedicated inbound marketing hub boosts conversions with strong automation, social media management, and lead tracking tools, linking marketing to your sales and support teams.

Meanwhile, the Personas feature can help you dig deep to understand the mindsets of different customer strata, then segment them for better marketing strategy.

Drip eCRM

Drip eCRM is built to support online businesses and does a great job of tracking ecommerce KPIs. It’s designed specifically to help smaller operations get out from the shadow of big companies and their personalized algorithms, helping them build more intimate, intelligent customer relationships.

As may be given away by the name, it specializes in drip marketing campaigns. It handles the time-released distribution of marketing materials through email, text message, Facebook ads, and personalized landing pages and websites.

The platform uses marketing automation to ascertain if someone is a prospect, customer, or an advanced user, then directs strategy in the right direction. Lead scoring and tracking features help you keep tabs on purchase intent and unique events.

Keap - (formerly Infusionsoft)

Keap organizes client information in one locale to personalize marketing and boost workflow. It’s targeted at small businesses, with features built to run campaigns with advanced marketing automation.

You can use triggers to automate tasks when specific criteria are met. Data from campaigns, workflows, and tracking are made extra intelligible through real-time monitoring, visualized statistics, and in-depth analytics.

The tracking features collect leads into different segments, each of which gets delivered personalized “nudges” to close more deals, while workflows automate tasks based on triggers. Data from campaigns, tracking and workflows become intelligible through statistical reporting.  

Visual editing lets you build email campaigns and landing pages and ready-made templates are available on their marketplace if you’re strapped for time.

Creatio (previously BPM’Online Marketing)

Creatio does more than marketing, but their main objective is definitely acquiring, preparing, and qualifying leads. It’s been designed to look and respond to user input like a social app, so it’s intuitive to learn and easy to share your insights.

The platform helps to plan and execute marketing campaigns using a simple visual designer tool. You can also set up triggers to assign certain actions to contacts, like answering a CTA. Real-time monitoring lets you analyze campaigns and see how they’re doing.

Creatio’s email marketing uses a bulk mail creator, fully loaded with ready-to-use templates to get the word out quickly and attractively. There’s also A/B split testing and click-stat tools for gauging which emails are most successful. All that data feeds into the platform’s analytics.

Zendesk Sunshine

Zendesk has long been known for its sales, service, and support, but their new Zendesk Sunshine CRM platform takes customer engagement into a more front-line holistic approach.

Launched at the end of 2018, the open and flexible platform operates on the principle that customer data can power all aspects of a business operation, including marketing.

Another new tool, Zendesk Explore, allows you to creatively analyze metrics across email, chat, social media, and voice.

Marketing CRM integrations - third-party tools

Marketing CRM applications have a lot of marketing automation features, working in unison to free you from tedium and be a human, savvy marketer.

Nonetheless, you may want to explore other digital tools that integrate with CRM. These can help you further in your work of building, automating, and managing email, text, and social media ad campaigns.

Customer.io

Customer.io is all about automating messaging, including emails, SMS and push notifications.

Segment contacts by criteria like age, actions taken on your site, and other events, then deliver tailor-made notifications to them. Make use of transactional emails to guide customers through the pipeline with automated reminders to send payment, then deliver their receipts afterwards.

Customer.io also features email A/B testing and drip emailing. Customer.io’s conversion tracking and performance reports let you check out the success rates of your campaigns.

The tool integrates with Salesforce, IFTTT, and a heck of a lot more CRMs with the help of Zapier.

Mailchimp

Mailchimp is a stalwart in the field of email databasing and automated blast emailing. Their straightforward design tools let you create email marketing campaigns and tailor messages to reach people across social media channels.

Mailchimp provides a long list of automation features, letting you set up auto-emails triggered by events like new sign-ups, purchases, or abandoned cart reminders.

In terms of integrations, Mailchimp offers a vast collection of ready-to-merge services and is easily teamed with CRMs like Salesforce, Insightly, and many, many more.

They also do postcards—yes, the real-life kind (come to think of it, Customer.io does this too!).

Autopilot

Autopilot is an all-around marketing automation tool, with features like email A/B testing, ad retargeting for Facebook and Google, and SMS marketing.

To help you truly know your customers and generate an experience that fits their needs and exceeds expectations, the app lets you map out the customer journey visually.

The user-friendly interface offers a drag-and-drop interface, with end-to-marketing automation features, ROI reporting, and campaign management.

The app integrates with CRMs like HubSpot, Pipedrive, Salesforce, as well as innumerable digital tools such as Gmail, Intercom, and Mailchimp.

ActiveCampaign

ActiveCampaign is designed to boost marketing features, free up time, and makes each email more highly targeted and effective (as opposed to annoying).

ActiveCampaign does the standard broadcast “blast” emails, but their strength is in tools for ‘triggered’ emails sent after a customer takes a specific action. Robust email autoresponders, funnels, and email scheduling tools are there for you too.

Site tracking offers great insights into which parts of your website are being engaged with, and which ones are being ignored. The automation feature, meanwhile, works on contact scoring. You can set criteria (like the number of site visits) that trigger an automated email offering them a promotion.

Marketo

Marketo is a marketing engagement platform that’s now part of the Adobe family, meaning it has access to the Adobe Experience Cloud’s analytics and other performance-extending tools.

Marketo starts the automation process with lead generation, including SEO tools for driving more leads towards your website, Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn targeted ads, as well as the ability to generate personalized content based on demographics or a customer’s place in the sales pipeline.

Marketo uses AI to help turn leads into customers, determining when people are ready to engage further with your brand. That increases your cross-selling and up-selling opportunities and helps you build stronger customer ties.

tracking module measures the success of your marketing campaigns and ties them to ROI, letting you make quick changes based on observable successes and shortcomings.

Marketo has apps designed to function in tandem with many popular CRM platforms, for example, Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics 365. Their most ‘basic’ pricing plan includes CRM integration too.  

 

 

Sales CRM for...selling

CRMs are, by and large, designed for selling stuff. But some of them have a special emphasis on the sales cycle and feature some very sophisticated tools geared explicitly towards increasing conversions.

A sales CRM handles the process of selling from point A to B, encompassing sales leads, sale processes, and sales teams. It allows you to build a sales pipeline, track leads, and achieve significantly better visibility on sales opportunities. You’ll be able to simplify workflow and manage your customer-facing voice, chat, social media, and email touchpoints on a single platform.

Having an all-in-one sales CRM is great for effectively managing all-things-sales. That includes leads, contacts, and opportunities, as well as accounts, quotations, and proposals.

Lead management and contact management tools collect information from email, social media, voice calls, and elsewhere, aggregating them to build up singular, rich profiles of the people in your business orbit.

With a Sales CRM, you’ll be able to see where a customer is in the sales cycle, and nurture leads by targeting them with relevant, individualized information. Opportunity management features help you spot sales as they develop, so you can respond at just the right time.

Account management keeps track of clients: their activity, pending deals, payment status, and associated contacts.

Quotation management lets you create quotes fast and track those in play, which is invaluable for sales forecasting and managing production processes. Sales CRM integrations with proposal management tools like PandaDoc make it easy to create, track, and store proposals.

Sales force automation rationalizes your workflow by sorting information across channels, generating new data and tasks, notifying you on follow-ups, order processing, and tracking, and all things telephone related. This helps to cut down your manual entry tasks considerably.

Agent performance tracking tools, meanwhile, are very useful for evaluating and incentivizing your team, scheduling team members, and planning schedules for slow and busy periods.

Read the in-depth article on Sales CRM

 

Pipedrive

Pipedrive has a name that leaves little to the imagination, but that’s okay.

The platform is indeed all about the sales pipeline. It allows you to create multiple pipelines customizable to your business needs, with a highly visual design that provides a clear overview of all activity and prioritize the most important sales activities.

Graphical cues and a drag-and-drop interface let you move leads through the sales pipeline and determine which are most likely to close.

You can migrate data from a previous CRM into Pipedrive, or import it directly.

Mailchimp, Zapier, and Google Apps integrations further expand the platform’s scope of operations. iOS and Android apps help you manage sales on the fly.

Close

Close is a web-based app targeted at startups and small and medium-sized enterprises, offering easy-to-learn yet powerful tools for boosting sales team performance.

The platform has particularly useful tools for voice calls. Call automation and predictive dialing features help you engage with the most qualified leads in the most efficient, effective way.

Call recording lets you monitor and review your sales team’s interactions, address pain points, and boost conversions.

Customer profiles are automatically generated based on data segmentation. Lead tracking tools allow you to do in-depth, customizable lead scoring via an easily mastered user interface, particularly when paired with a powerful Autopilot integration.

SugarCRM

SugarCRM is a highly customizable CRM for managing customers and leads, bringing your sales team in sync with your marketing and support teams.

The platform’s prime value is in refining and personalizing your sales cycle and sales pipeline. Tweakable dashboards and productivity and collaborative tools make it easier to bring your team’s personas together into a cohesive, appropriate system.

SugarCRM’s Sales Stage keeps track of opportunities from “Prospect” to “Proposal” to “Deal Won”, and assigns a probability of success for each stage. That’s very useful for sales forecasting.

The platform’s development tools let you build custom apps for your discrete selling needs. A clean, drag-and-drop modular interface lets you do a lot of ‘developer’ stuff like setting up features and fields, without knowing a line of code.

Android and iOS apps keep your sales squad humming along on the go, with access to in-depth sales information any time of day.

Dialpad

Dialpad is a cross-channel ‘softphone’ sales platform with voice, video, call center, and messaging features. It’s not a CRM in and of itself, but rather a lightweight-yet-powerful tool that integrates with more broad featured CRM platforms like Zendesk and Salesforce.  

The platform also offers native integration with G Suite for a seamless crossover with the web apps you already use.  

One of Dialpad’s most exciting (and eminently useful) features is VoiceAI, a form of advanced AI analytics that uses speech recognition and natural language processing (NLP) technology. This handy tool automatically generates an accurate transcription of all your sales calls in real-time.

The Moments features, meanwhile, creates a timeline of each sales voice call, highlighting key moments and classifying them by customer ‘intent signals.’ What that means is that when someone utters a line like “this price is a bit expensive,” a ‘price inquiry’ flag and time note will automatically be generated, letting you know there’s still space to follow up and make a deal.

Real-time sentiment analysis, meanwhile, generates a customer satisfaction score while in conversation. Real-time coaching floats in the background with automated feedback for the sales agent, including pricing, features, and competitor offering information.

 

Service CRM

Customer service is more important than ever. A service CRM integrates tools from dedicated customer service and support (CSS) software, and fits them in with marketing and sales to handle the breadth of customer experience.

Maybe you're asking yourself "why would I choose a CRM over customer service software?" Well, one reason would be to have a unified knowledge base, aka customer information that is collected by and accessible to multiple different departments—ex. sales, marketing, and customer service. Streamlined access to contact data and collaborative team tools help you respond and resolve customer inquiries faster and smarter.

And, if you're going for a customer service-centric CRM, considering all the customer touch points—social, chat, email, phone, and website—is essential.

A service CRM system offers service and support staff immediate access to customer information across all relevant channels.

Every feature of your CRM captures customer data, including case history, so all your service reps will have full visibility on the people they’re interacting with. This delivers faster resolutions and cuts down customer frustration, thus decreasing churn and boosting conversions.

Phone, email, online forms, live chat, and social media contact points are all available in-app.

When a customer reaches out across one channel, a ‘ticket’ is created. The ticket contains the customer name, details, and the nature of their issue, also flagging the relevant department according to what the issue is to ensure they speak to the right person.

Read the in-depth article "Service CRM: Taking Care of Businesses and Customers"

 

Agile

Agile CRM features a Helpdesk that segments customers according to individual history, matching them to the rep most qualified to tackle their specific issue. Reps can be grouped into silos, so you can pass an issue to a specialist in the event the first choice isn’t available.

Telephony features let you make calls in-app, record them for analysis and quality monitoring, and automatically generate call logs. The platform’s feedback database, meanwhile, allows you to build up a backlog of information to further guide operations towards best practice.

NextOS

NextOS is the communications platform of Nextiva’s product line, which also includes a service CRM.

Their platform is customer-centric, tracking individual interactions across channels to give you clarity on customers and determine who’s a priority. Workflow automation lets you devote more time to people.

Voice analytics tools provide some very ear-perking, future-facing features like sentiment analysis that sorts out which customers are happy, unhappy, and truly peeved so you can delegate resources effectively. View incoming calls by region, consult auto-created call summary reports, and listen to voice call recordings.

Zendesk

Zendesk Suite puts incoming questions from customers via email, tweets, chat, and social channels get put into one place, speeding your ability to respond and making your business smarter.

The software flags conversations that need attention and lines up tickets intelligently so agents can knock them down in the right order. Records are tracked until the issue is resolved, and issues can be organized by type.

SugarCRM

SugarCRM offers full-fledged service CRM functionality, with case distribution workflows, tools for improving customer visibility, and collaborative tools for workflow rationalization and clear-cut task assignment.

Everything is designed with quantifiable metrics in mind: speed response and resolution times, reign in customer service-related expenses, and optimize user experience with tailored customer satisfaction metrics.

 

Best CRM for Small Business

While there is no de facto best CRM for small business, some software tools are more suitable than others when it comes to the needs of tiny teams.

You’ll want a CRM system with workflow, reporting, and automation tools that work well, but aren’t crazy difficult to master. Simplicity, intuitive design, and a low learning curve are three other major things to look for.

Likely you won’t have the need for many app integrations just yet. Integrations with your email platform, document editing suite, and social media channels should be sufficient at the outset.

If you run a small business, you’re probably doing things your own way, rather than following a playbook from established figures in your field.

With that in mind, it may be in your best interest to seek a CRM with customization features, one with a drag-and-drop interface that lets you easily modify lead, contact, and opportunity fields, as well as add sections relevant to your business.

Read the full article on Best CRM for Small Business

 

Nimble

Nimble is a straightforward, no-nonsense web app CRM with a special focus on social media. It lets you aggregate posts from major social media channels, namely Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, keeping tabs on who’s talking about or engaging with your brand.

Smart social search and market segmentation tools help you laser down to the most important opportunities and smartly handle them. Data organization and reporting features show what’s working, what’s not, and where you can take strategy in the future.

Integrations with Office 365 and G Suite ensure you can import and organize contacts from the platform you’re already using.

NoCRM.io

NoCRM.io has an interesting shtick, insofar as their whole thing is ‘you don’t need a CRM.’

While that may or may not be true, their suspiciously CRM-y platform focuses on simple-yet-effective tools for lead management, sales, and intra-team collaboration. It tightens up selling by capturing leads from disparate places, from websites and email to third-party apps and business cards.

You can organize leads, prioritize and reference them, and assign them to specific teams or team members (as well as set up automated reminders to keep everyone on task and timeline).

NoCRM.io also bundles a full-featured mobile app for iOS and Android, helping you close more deals on the go.

Copper

Copper requires pretty much no training and can be installed in about five minutes. It also integrates with G Suite, so that’s very helpful if you use Gmail all day, every day.

The platform has small business-ready features like automated data entry, smart identification, lead and customer tracking, and optimization of opportunities and sales contacts. There’s a visual, aesthetically pleasing sales pipeline for funneling managing leads across the qualification process.

You can boost the management of your teams and workflows with weekly pipeline progression reports. Drag-and-drop functionality, custom filters, and alerts keep you on the ball and let your team (or you) to put energy into the vital work of building customer relationships. A useful @mention function lets you send alerts to other team members.

Copper has competitive pricing that will work for most small businesses. Give it a whirl with the 14-day free trial, then consider the paid plans set at $19 (Basic), $49 (Professional), and $119 (Business).

Capsule

Capsule is simple and straightforward, with a handsome user interface and zero learning curve.

Eschewing extended features in favor of the basic business of managing daily work, Capsule lets you instantly find out what’s going on with your sales pipeline (bids, lead generation, proposals, customer data, etc.) and tasks. Key information is made easily accessible. Contact lists can be imported easily from Gmail, Outlook, and CSV spreadsheet and database files.

If you run a business by yourself or with a single partner, you’ll be pleased to know you can get Capsule’s free version (the cap is two users). The freebie includes Zapier integrations for G Suite, Zendesk, Twitter, Mailchimp and more.

There’s a thirty-day free trial for the Professional Version. After that, paid plans start from $18 per user per month.

Insightly

Insightly is available on the web and mobile versions for both Android and iOS. It also integrates with G Suite and Microsoft Office 365.

Seamless pipeline integration with your CRM feeds into features like managing contacts and customer data, tracking opportunities (aka sales leads), and assigning tasks to team members with handy to-do lists.

The Insightly Sidebar sits in your browser as a Chrome extension, allowing you to save Gmail messages directly to your CRM and cross-reference contact information.

The platform also features Business intelligence (BI) (powered by Microsoft Power BI), which aggregates historical and real-time data within your CRM platform, letting you decipher trends and metrics to make more informed decisions.

Like Capsule, it’s free for up to two users. That said, it should be noted Insightly’s free version doesn’t include a data backup system and contains daily caps for mass emailing. It also limits the number of custom fields that can be added to each record.

Paid plans start from $29 per user per month, billed annually.

Zoho

Zoho CRM tailors its product to small businesses with a simple user interface, full-fledged automation, and social media features and customizable modules.

Define workflows, manage your leads, and rationalize everyday tasks. Integration with Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ lets you reach out and engage with leads at just the right moment.

Zoho is available in free and paid versions. The free version is available for up to three users, but it’s a bit limited in functionality, with no mass emailing feature and limited customizability.

More full-featured paid versions start at $12 per user per month (billed annually).

Pipedrive

Pipedrive has a visual and straightforward user interface, designed to help move the customer down the sales pipeline and clinch deals.

The platform emphasizes the sales process and tracking contacts. It’s got tools for picking up leads, managing contacts, and keeping you on top of deals. Build multiple sales pipelines with customizable, unique stages that are context-appropriate.

Full email sync ensures you can view messages from whatever email service you use in-app.

Pipedrive has a useful mobile app for both Android and iOS to keep you on top of things.

Pipedrive is available from the not-too-shabby starting price of $12.50 per user per month (billed annually).

Freshsales

Freshsales, the CRM component of the Freshworks 360 customer engagement suite, is simple and effective.

The platform is built to help you scale your business, monitor deals, eliminate mundane tasks, run sales email campaigns, and create efficiencies through data centralization. Lead capture automatically grabs leads from emails. You can develop your own lead scoring criteria to find your best leads, too.

On the voice side of things, there’s a built-in phone module with auto-dialing, call recording, and call routing features.

Freshsales offers a 30 day free trial for all its plans. The basic paid plan is $12 per user per month, billed annually.

Zendesk Sunshine

Zendesk Sunshine is the CRM arm of the Zendesk customer service and support empire.

As a “multidimensional” customer relationship management tool, it’s built to work holistically across your business and break down barriers between teams and traditional roles.

The whole platform is built on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) public cloud. The AWS infrastructure is used so that data migrates in and out of the CRM easily. The fact it’s based on AWS also makes it easy to do custom app creation for your specific small business needs.

HubSpot CRM

Then there’s HubSpot, a big name app with a free option with basic features, highly suitable to small businesses looking for limited CRM functionality.

The free version of HubSpot has some pretty robust inbound marketing tools. Features for managing workflows beef up your project management. It’s also easy to assign and track leads, monitor the sales process, and record customer interactions across all channels.

HubSpot is designed to work with both G Suite and Microsoft Office, so it’ll work for you regardless of your developer allegiance.

The paid versions of HubSpot are not exactly cheap, but they do add key features like reporting, AI assistance, and advanced automation. Depending on what you want your CRM suite to focus on, there are separate packages for Marketing, Sales, and Service at $50 a month each.

The all-inclusive Growth Suite starts at $113 a month.

 

Social CRM for social media management

Today’s customer journey is complex. People have an incredible number of choices to make, and increasingly pull the trigger based on word of mouth from their social circles. The public is likely to come upon your product from personal recommendations, as opposed to direct advertising.

Social channels have become a key platform for advertising, customer engagement, and communication with the public at large. Hence the rise of the social CRM, which aggregate and analyze posts from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more.

As the role of social media in business has evolved, competition has intensified. Staying on top of changes in online behavior is another major challenge.

That means social media management is now a crucial business investment.

Traditional CRM focuses on communication channels like phone, email, and text. Social CRM broadens this scope to include Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn—social media platforms equipped with messaging modules where customers and businesses can chat directly with each other.

For customer service and support, a social CRM translates to a quicker and more efficient method for addressing any customer feedback, whether positive or negative. Posts from multiple social channels are aggregated in one place, meaning you’ll be better equipped to keep on top of what’s going on with customers, leads, and the public at large in real-time.

Read the in-depth article on Social CRM

 

Sprout Social

Sprout is a social media management suite that helps foster empathetic, real interactions with customers and leads.

Its cross-channel aggregated social media feed powers a holistic platform designed to tackle all the social media needs under the sun, from social marketing to customer care, reputation management, and analytics. Social listening tools help you manage your brand in real-time and analyze social data for relevant marketing insights.

The software’s auto-scheduling feature lets you queue up posts across all social channels, and to do so from many different accounts with ease. The discovery tab helps you find influencers, discover the best people to follow or unfollow, and see who’s reacted to—or interacted with—your company or mentioned your brand.

Nimble

Nimble is designed for use with Google Apps and the Microsoft family of programs. It also integrates with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, AngelList, Foursquare, and Google+.

The social CRM is highly useful for generating leads and segmenting contacts, as well as tracking your cross-channel communications history.

The platform automatically finds and links social accounts of leads and customers, using this data to generate detailed, singular contact profiles on the platform. Its smart search feature lets you sort contacts by connectivity status or following/followers stats.

Zoho Social

Zoho Social focuses on new lead acquisition, mainly across Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. It lets the user trawl social media to find potential customers, manually select those deemed likely to convert and brings their contact information into the main Zoho CRM platform to begin the sales process.

The software provides for the managing of multiple brands in one place, a big plus if you’re working in an agency environment. It also has an automated function to add new leads based on custom-defined triggers.

By setting specific criteria, such as age demographic, ‘Likes’, or shopping habits, you can quickly generate an impressive number of high-quality leads.

Salesforce

Salesforce is a pioneer in CRM and related SaaS tools. In recent years, they’ve embraced AI as part of their customer solutions toolkit.

When it comes to social media, Salesforce’s AI helps social feeds to identify leads and put them in touch with reps. It covers the usual social CRM features, like ‘listening’ for your product and service being mentioned across channels, letting you respond quickly to engagement, and organizing social media posts and analytics.

Marketing and sales features are bundled separately from customer service. Social Studio comprises social media sales and marketing, and Social Customer Service covers the customer specifics. Fortunately, it’s pretty straightforward to navigate between both platforms and share information.

Salesforce’s integrated Einstein AI includes, among many other features, an image classification tool which can identify logos, food, objects, and scenery shared in social images to develop metrics on the contexts in which a product is being used. Suffice to say this opens up a myriad of new possibilities for deep social listening and plotting marketing strategy.

The platform has quite a few pricing plans depending on package and business type and nonprofits enjoy special discounts.

Hootsuite

Hootsuite is a souped-up social network management platform. It should be noted up front that it’s ‘not really’ a CRM per se, as evidenced by its lack of sales pipeline features.

It does have great scheduling tools and the all-in-one social dashboard going for it, not to mention very useful social media analytics for measuring the success of your content.

The platform offers a slew of integrations with platforms including Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Wordpress, Instagram, Youtube, and Pinterest.

Your Hootsuite dashboard can be customized and made more CRM-ready with app extensions that link it to Nimble, Microsoft Dynamics, Salesforce, and more. You can find these extensions and more on the Hootsuite app directory.

Pricing starts from $29 per month.

 

Gmail CRM makes your inbox smarter

If you’re like most people, your personal and professional life is near dependent on Google’s ubiquitous email service. Gmail claims over 1 billion active users, and over 4 million paying business customers worldwide.

All this to say that Gmail is probably not going anywhere anytime soon. People appreciate the platform’s design, efficiency, and emphasis on user experience.

As a result, many CRM developers have opted to craft software integrated with the platform. Since we already use Gmail and associated G Suite apps all the time, it makes sense that developers would want to piggyback off of the troves of information that flow through our inboxes.

It also makes sense that users like us would want to use a CRM tied to a platform we already know how to use. A Gmail CRM dramatically cuts down the learning curve in comparison to traditional CRMs, and makes implementation a breeze.

Read the in-depth article "Gmail CRM: CRM for Everyone "

 

Streak

Streak is a fully integrated Gmail CRM. It’s built inside the Gmail box for desktop and mobile, resulting in an organic improvement on your pre-existing workflow. It integrates with a range of G Suite apps (most notably Google Sheets, Drive, Chat) and provides familiar CRM tools like sales pipeline and lead generation, using automatic data capture from contacts and emails.

While widely used for sales, customer support, recruitment, and customer service, Streak also counts many customers working in media and creative agencies. That’s because it does a great job of managing partner relationships, making it particularly attractive in industries where collaborators change from project to project.

Capsule

Capsule offers a Gmail add-on integration in the form of a sidebar Chrome browser extension. As a result, you access it in the same way as any other Google app—pretty simple indeed.

Once it’s up and running, you’ll be able to use it to generate and track leads, add follow-up tasks and new cases, as well as store entire email conversation threads with a two-click process. Having better visibility across the board will help you nurture relationships and convert more often.

The platform caters primarily to startup and small business clients, given its simplicity and clean, comprehensible design. Customizable features and mobile CRM functionality seals the deal.

Pipedrive

Pipedrive offers a Gmail extension, which (like Capsule), runs as a sidebar application, letting you easily do stuff like schedule sales activities and add Gmail contacts to your CRM platform.

Pipedrive is geared primarily towards sales and subsequently places emphasis on tracking leads and keeping your sales pipeline humming along. Once you install the Gmail add-on for Pipedrive, a sales history for each of your contacts will automatically be generated every time you open one of their emails. This dramatically improves your access to contextual cues for each lead, which is key to closing deals.

Copper

Copper connects Gmail and CRM beyond the sidebar. The platform is built on Google Material Design, so you can do all things CRM—such as email tracking, call logs, and contact management—in what looks and feels like G Suite.

Copper’s Chrome Extension lives inside Gmail, with full-fledged G Suite integrations to make sure your Google spreadsheets, docs, and slides link seamlessly to all your customer profiles.

Copper’s native G Suite integration comes with AI-driven capabilities for automating menial and irritating tasks. The platform automatically makes a record of calls, emails, events, and other productivity documents.

That said, it’s worth noting that Copper is not 100% integrated into your inbox. There’s still going to be a bit of tab-switching in your daily grind, but nonetheless, Copper’s workflow feels seamless and breezy.

Google itself uses and recommends Copper CRM for its millions of users. Not a bad recommendation.

Insightly

Insightly bills itself as the “#1 Gmail and G Suite CRM”, but what they really mean to say is that they’re (arguably) the #1 CRM with a pretty convenient Gmail integration.

Lack of full integration notwithstanding, their Insightly Sidebar Chrome browser extension is indeed quite useful. It lets reps migrate contacts and emails from their Gmail inbox or sent folder directly into the app with a single click, and gives users easy access to Insightly with hover note features and task creation options. It also automatically saves contacts and emails into the CRM sidebar.

Insightly has an equally useful desktop and mobile app, Kanban sales pipelines, custom reports, and a bevy of dashboard options. t’s built for enterprise-size sales and relationship management, but that said they do offer a free-for-two-users option caters to startups as well.

NetHunt

NetHunt is a fully integrated Gmail CRM, not a Chrome Extension or sidebar. It takes your familiar Gmail dashboard to the left of your inbox and adds a second tab, letting you access all the CRM capabilities you might need.

Deals, Companies, Support, Tasks, Contacts, and Pipelines are all readily accessible from this dashboard, directly inside your inbox. A sidebar dashboard on the right side of the inbox gives more information, including company and customer profile details.

The whole CRM is built around “Records”, which are a collection of your emails, tasks, and other files you can organize into customized groups and views.

Sales team members can check out key customer details in every email and create leads from emails in a single click, access social profiles, and view chat messages. Marketers can make use of personalized email campaigns backed by analytics and get automatic data updates based on email campaign results. The app helps support teams outline, organize, prioritize customer requests, and automate support inquiries.

Zapier integration connects NetHunt with 1,000 other favorite app combos.

Price-wise, NetHunt has a free plan for up to two users. The Professional plan is $24 per user/per month (includes space for 25,000 records and 2,000 email campaigns per day). The Enterprise plan, which includes 250,000 records and 2,000 email campaigns per day, is at a slightly steeper price—$48 per user, per month.

Propeller CRM  

Propeller CRM is a Gmail integrated CRM tailored for small businesses and customizability.

The app integrates with Gmail as a Chrome Extension. It should be noted: to view all of your information, you’ll have to access Propeller’s web app.

You can create and manage custom tasks throughout your sales cycle and create custom email templates—for example, an “email followup” or a “response to info request” template. With Propeller, you even have the ability to add customizable columns, attributes, and sales stages plus an opportunity to create multiple sales pipelines for different products, markets, or processes.

Propeller is available at the “one size fits all” price of $35 per month/per user, with all features included.

Arcade CRM

Arcade CRM’s thing is empowering your team to “work smarter, not harder,” aided and abetted by a handy-dandy Gmail Chrome extension.

The platform may not have the full Gmail integration of Streak or NetHunt, but it does have all the features you’d likely need in a CRM for a small or medium-sized business: a Dashboard module, Contact, Sales Pipeline, Calendar, Task Management, Document Management, Sales Reports, and a VOIP Calling Module.  It’s also got a mobile app for iOS and Android.

Beyond Gmail, Arcade CRM also integrates with everyday productivity apps like Mailchimp, Xero, Quickbooks, and Zapier.

Arcade’s pricing is reasonable and simple. It’s $15 per user/per month or $12 per user/per month billed annually.

 

Mobile CRM for deal-making on-the-move  

The days of the 9-5 desk jockey are quickly being numbered. Meanwhile, over half of all internet traffic is routed through mobile devices. For an agile workforce on a flexible schedule and often on-the-move, investing in a mobile CRM is a wise choice indeed.

Mobile CRMs perform more-or-less the same functions as traditional CRMs, but they’re accessible from (surprise, surprise) tablets and smartphones, and thus re-formulated for smaller screens running iOS or Android. The best of the bunch take advantage of the format, offering intuitive user interfaces and powerful analytics and communications tools.

Ideally, a mobile CRM platform will allow you to access most, if not all, the information that the web app provides. It will also allow you to input new data on-the-fly.

For sales reps, having the ability to quickly take calls from customers and leads out-of-office— aided by in-app contact history and product information—is huge. For everyone else in your business, having access to all your information any time, anywhere is super useful for every department—from marketing and customer support to intra-team collaboration.

It should be noted that there is a unique security risk inherent in using a mobile CRM. If you’ve ever had your phone slip out of your pocket on a busy subway car, you know that it’s a lot easier to lose a smartphone than a laptop. With that in mind, you’ll want to ensure that you choose a mobile CRM backed with security features like two-factor authentication and/or VPN requirements.

Read the in-depth article "Mobile CRM: Anytime, Anywhere"

 

Copper

Copper’s mobile app is designed to seamlessly integrate with all your G Suite apps. It’s focused on simplicity but manages to mirror the look and feel of their web app.

Some key features include a visually oriented sales pipeline to manage leads through the qualification process, one-tap access to contacts via email, voice, and text, and the ability to log notes in-app with the aid of accurate voice transcription.

It also has a very handy @mention function for communicating and sending alerts to other team members on-the-fly.

Haystack

Haystack offers a clean, straightforward mobile CRM with a well designed heads-up dashboard. Wherever you are, you’ll be able to view sales metrics, generate quotes, track emails and prospects in your sales pipeline, and manage contacts.

Calendar sync ensures that CRM data on events, task assignments, and deadlines are automatically shared to your phone so you receive alerts.

Haystack’s CRM product is geared at small businesses and those with a side hustle. With that in mind, they offer the solo entrepreneur a free version of their services, albeit with some limitations versus their paid products.

Salesbox

Salesbox offers a mobile CRM focused on sales acceleration. Rather than wasting time on admin, sales agents are empowered to use their gut instincts and react to opportunities as they present themselves, with automation backing their play and putting everything in its right place (as well as generating higher quality data). GPS features allow you to accurately track sales metrics geographically and find useful pinpointed patterns for sales and marketing forecasting.

As an added bonus, iOS users can use the software with help from Siri.

Pipeliner

Pipeliner offers a mobile version (iOS and Android-ready) with a professional look and feel, and boasts some extra features that aren’t included in their desktop version, namely integration with phone, email and camera apps.

That means you can not only run multiple sales pipelines and workflows on-the-go but also engage customers one-on-one. Information syncs smoothly with the desktop app, helping you deliver more productivity.

Keep your salespeople away from data entry and on the hunt, where they can thrive. Plans start at $25 per month.

Zoho

Zoho has a ton of apps under its brand but is maybe best known for its CRM and specifically their mobile app.

Access all your deals and notes, @mention teammates to collaborate while you’re out and about and geotag your locations for meet-ups with customers to better manage time and schedule. Design-wise, it’s also pretty aesthetically pleasing, so there’s that.

Price wise, there’s a free version for up to three users. Paid versions range from $12 to $100 per user per month.

 

Open Source CRM: The alternative option

Most CRMs are proprietary. That is to say, they’re a boxed-up, finalized product that just works. No hiring of in-house developers required.

Open source CRMs, by contrast, are platforms for which the source code is available to the public. It’s expected that you’ll want to take the existent product and recalibrate it to meet your specific workflow needs.

Most of the time, the platform’s open source code is already very well developed, and customization solutions have been streamlined for speed and ease. Everything is set up to be further developed by users.

An open source CRM thus offers advantages in scalability and flexibility, letting you create new custom features and integrations as they become necessary to your business. You can also proceed without fear of vendor restrictions.

Depending on your skill set and what you want to achieve with a CRM, an open source platform may or may not be better than a closed source one.

If you’re running a niche business and looking for very specific features, an open source CRM could be just what the doctor ordered. Ditto if you find appeal in the open source movement, with its sense of reciprocal community and freedom to innovate.

Then again, you may feel that open source development is too much of a deep-dive down the rabbit hole. If your business operates within an already well-defined market, needs more complex tools, and demands highly responsive product support, it might be best to go with a full stack, proprietary tool after all.

Read the in-depth article "Open Source CRM: How Does It Work? "

 

OroCRM

OroCRM has a reputation as being the most flexible open source CRM. It’s based on the Symfony2 PHP framework for web development, which is widely used and well-liked. That means that lots of open source developers find it easy to understand Oro’s code and create new customizations, making it relatively effortless, not to mention cost-effective, to modify the platform to your needs.

Integrations with Zendesk, MailChimp, and many other well-liked apps round out the package.

Odoo

Odoo is all about ‘extensible architecture’—in other words, a modular design that lets you mix and match different features. Over the years, freelance open source developers in the Odoo community have built a bunch of modules for free and some for purchase.

You can shop around to see if there’s an existing no-cost solution for your business, buy the right one for the best price, or hire someone to build what you need.

SplendidCRM

If you’re running your working life with Microsoft products, there’s always SplendidCRM. The developers behind Splendid deduced that Microsoft’s own CRM, Microsoft Dynamics, can come off as somewhat complex and daunting.

SplendidCRM believes Windows and Android people deserve as clean and straightforward a CRM experience as Mac/iOS users, so they built a platform that delivered just that. SplendidCRM offers robust integrations (Microsoft Office 365, Google Apps, Facebook, etc) and well-rounded features spanning workflow, contact, and product management.

The CRM is available as a free Community Edition and in three paid versions (Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate).

vTiger

VTiger CRM Open Source does all the CRM things you know and love, helping you run marketing campaigns, keep track of leads, customers, opportunities, the sales cycle, and daily workflows. A Gmail extension lets you reference CRM data and info while emailing.

To get vTiger up and running and implement it successfully, you’ll be needing a hosting account and someone with some technical skills. As you scale up your app usage, you’ll likely want to check out the marketplace for add-ons.

SuiteCRM

With a low learning curve and easy set-up, SuiteCRM is probably one of the most approachable open source systems around. It handles sales, service, and marketing, with custom module, layout, and relationship development tools that will definitely please your IT department.

SuiteCRM offers Google Calendar sync and Elasticsearch integration for quicker, more scalable text searches across your data.

Modular customizability and add-ons mean you can use it for all manner of applications. It also works on any platform: Windows, OS/X, Ubuntu, Android, iOS—you name it.

Zurmo

Gamified and intuitive, Zurmo is easy to use and modify, manages contacts and amicably takes on sales pipeline and reporting features. Marketing and sales force automation cut down your manual input.

It’s good for on-the-go situations with iOS and Android versions, and runs on the cloud or your own proprietary cloud, as you like. Points, badges, and experience points offer a healthy level of competitive motivation for your team.

You may also be pleased to note the developer also holds on to some lofty social goals of community, diversity, and inclusivity.

 

The very cheap option: free CRM

In a perfect world, all CRMs would be free. Of course, the vagaries of business preclude that utopian reality. Still, there are free platforms out there, and one of them may just be good enough—or at least a good starting point—for your business needs.

free CRM affords you the opportunity to try out new tools without making any initial investment.

You can determine a given platform’s value for your business without the time and money commitment; learn new features for no money down; and become savvier about what kind of workflow, collaboration, and analytics tools you’ll need going forward.

This is all super helpful if you’re a startup or small business on a lean budget.

Of course, we all know nothing is ‘really’ free, so there are limitations.

Free platforms often have a cap on the number of users you can add, the number of contacts you can import and/or keep records of, and a ceiling for cloud storage space.

They also generally don’t have the same full-fledged, high-powered features of professional and enterprise paid products (say in terms of analytics, AI, advanced automation, round-the-clock customer support, and so on).

Read the in-depth article "Free CRM: Save and Grow"

 

HubSpot CRM

HubSpot offers a free version of its CRM software, and it’s a pretty full plate when it comes to features. It allows core CRM functionality and lets you import up to 1 million contacts. You can also add unlimited team members.

Given that HubSpot is such a huge operation, they provide a wealth of training videos to get you up to speed on various features. Their personalized customer service, meanwhile, can help you with setup, troubleshooting, and whatever else really.

One downside is that the free version only lets you share one contact at a time, rather than your entire contact list, which can be a bit of a drag. This is a minor gripe, however, given the immensity of features you gain for $0.

Insightly

Insightly offers a free version for one or two people. If you’re a freelancer, starting a business solo, or in cahoots with a partner, that might be enough.

The software is mainly targeted at small and midsize businesses and makes it easy to manage contacts, organizations, and opportunities (aka sales leads), as well as delegate tasks with handy to-do lists. It’s pretty straightforward to learn how to use, especially thanks to a comprehensive range of well-made, official video tutorials.

Insightly integrates efficiently with G Suite and Microsoft 365 apps. Apart from the main web version, it’s also available as a mobile app for both Android and iOS.

The free version doesn’t offer a data backup system and caps your number of daily mass emails, as well as custom fields in each record. It also lacks the more advanced lead assignment tools found in paid versions.

Freshsales

Freshsales is the CRM tool from Freshworks 360, a full-fledged customer engagement suite. The first 30 days of the free version lets you maintain unlimited leads, deals, and contacts.

The platform’s lead scoring assigns a value from 0 to 100 for each and every lead you have. You can customize the criteria for evaluation (ex. industry, job title…) so that you work only the most promising cases. Likewise, you can set up custom ‘sort’ categories for organizing all other kinds of data.

Freshsales also features a robust built-in phone module with auto-dialing, call recording, and call routing features.

After 30 days the full-stack freebie version shrinks down into the more Spartan featured Sprout plan, which is capped at 10 users 10,000 records.

Streak

Streak’s platform is one of the only fully integrated Gmail CRMs. It lives inside your Gmail inbox and includes all the G Suite apps too.

The app simplifies the CRM adoption process for brand new or super lean startups during the early days and lets anyone that already uses Gmail get up and running immediately.

Emails are automatically grouped together according to common tasks and added to a pipeline. Data sharing among team members is automatic, letting you easily reference email and phone call logs. When someone opens an email you sent, you’ll get a notification.

The free version of Streak is primarily for personal use and includes the basic CRM tools as well as the full email power tools. One can also create an unlimited amount of pipelines.

Real Simple Systems

Really Simple Systems (aka. RSS) doesn‘t shy away from touting their marketing automation, sales and service platform as simple.

They offer paid-for versions, but their free option is so much more than just a temporary trial offer. It covers tiny teams of up to two users, so incubating startups and solo entrepreneurial ventures can have a CRM without eating costs early on.

The free version allows for unlimited contacts and up to 100 MBs of document storage. It includes core features like sales automation and customer service, as well as contact and lead management tools and which aims to keep on the ball with sales, suppliers, and everyone else.

For small businesses in the B2B game, RSS is a great choice for entering the CRM scene.

Bitrix24

Bitrix24 puts communication and collaboration front and center.

The cloud version of Bitrix24 can be had for free, and it supports a whopping 12 users and 5 GB of storage. The paid plans don’t differ so much in features from the freebie, but they offer larger scale uses of the same features and improved storage.

The platform’s communications toolkit includes complete phone, chat, email, and video features. Task management is divided into group task features, which helps plan and assign tasks, as well as timing them for future planning. Then there’s project management, which utilizes devices like calendars and Kanbans in highly pleasing visuals.

The Bitrix24 CRM covers the gamut of pipeline management from engagement to sales to reporting. Setting quotes for clients and arranging invoices is facilitated with various currency and tax metrics which come as a fixture to their product catalog feature.  

Bitrix24 is a winner for the generous scale of their free version. Also, points to their clean aesthetics, which makes using it that much more pleasurable.

Apptivo

Apptivo offers their starter version for free, and it’s a solid bet for a tiny team of three users, with 500 MBs of storage offered.

The free version doesn’t support third-party integrations. Otherwise, you do get the core standard tools from their full kit.

With Apptivo, there are plenty of features available with their free version and what’s great is how well they all work together. These take the form of various Apptivo-branded apps.

The contact app, for example, helps populate contact and lead info by importing data from the emails and website, and cuts manual data entry.

There’s also a suite of project management apps that help you organize the workload for both individual employees as well as for teams. When it comes to customer service, there’s a cases app that will automate customer issues.

Airtable

Airtable is lightweight software (full disclaimer: it’s not a CRM per se) with a mobile-friendly option and pleasing, breezing aesthetics. That said, there isn’t anything superficial about Airtable—users can fiddle with the design to sort data to great effect, with the added benefit of massive customization.

The app is also more than just dragging, dropping and color sorting. It also incorporates photos and other attachments, with the free version offering users 2 GB of storage. The workflow management database also allows users to link and interpret data from different sets fast.  

 

Analytical CRM

CRMs can improve your marketing campaigns with powerful analytics and collaborative tools for visibility across your team. Analytical tools can find meaningful patterns for actionable insights, letting you run effective, targeted ads through marketing automation.

Analytical tools can help turn a lead into a customer, predicting shopping habits and determining how likely a person is to buy something again. That can prove invaluable for future marketing decisions and financial forecasting.

You’ll also gain visibility on opportunities you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. That can influence and improve your marketing, strategy, and improve your sales forecasting.

Marketing automation cuts down work for your sales team, helps you retain customers, and grows sales. Supported by data, your business operations are coaxed towards best practice.

CRM website integration allows you to develop a more accurate portrait of customer and lead behavior.

Your CRM will automatically update data and metrics, ensuring you have a complete, reliable portrait of your business. Analytic tools can offer insights on user interface and help you improve customer experience, increasing your bottom line.

Read the in-depth article on Analytical CRM

 

HubSpot

Hubspot’s CRM (free for up to 2 people) integrates analytics and reporting metrics across its dashboards. Meanwhile, HubSpot’s all-in-one Marketing Hub beefs these features up considerably with advanced marketing analytics.

HubSpot Marketing Hub is designed to help improve all aspects of the marketing funnel, from lead acquisition to deal won. The marketing analytics dashboard works by trawling data from third-party databases and your CRM to find and interpret key metrics and generate reports.

Track trends over time, whether that be company-wide aggregate data or individual contact histories. Website analytics tools allow you to interpret which metrics are driving traffic and direct marketing campaigns accordingly.

HubSpot’s free version of Marketing Hub will provide you traffic and conversions analytics, but if you’re looking for advanced analytics, there’s a big price rise at the Professional level (we’re talking from $0 to the triple digits).

Nextiva

Nextiva’s full-stack NextOS platform provides an analytics tool for marketing, sales, and customer support.

Nextiva Analytics includes voice analytics, survey analytics, and CRM analytics that boost the capabilities of Nextiva’s own Service CRM.

The dedicated tool features trend and predictive analysis and other business intelligence tools to give you data interpretation superpowers. Full spectrum analytics tools help with intra-team collaboration too, providing all-knowing visibility on all the key metrics of performance (deals won, calls taken, time spent on the phone, etc.) to foster greater transparency.

Voice analytics allows you to do way more with your call data. View incoming calls by region, check out call summary reports, and listen to recordings of voice calls. Sentiment analysis allows you to sort out which customer interactions went well or badly, so you can prioritize call-backs and save deals.

By itself, the Nextiva Service CRM (priced from $10 a month) has pretty basic analytical features equivalent to HubSpot’s CRM.

Zoho Analytics

Zoho also offers a dedicated tool for analytics. It’s called Zoho Analytics (surprise, surprise), and it’s designed to seamlessly integrate with Zoho CRM.

This tool lets you aggregate information from a wide range of sources like apps, cloud storage, web feeds, and databases, which you can then turn into dynamic reports on sales funnel to win/loss, and so much more.

Zoho offers a free version of Analytics for up to 2 people with a lot of limitations, like a low cap on how many rows of data you can save (just 10,000) and few app integrations.

Your best option is the Zoho Analytics’ Basic package ($22.50 per month, billed annually), required for analytics to integrate seamlessly with Zoho CRM. Standard, Premium, and Enterprise versions offer ascending levels of data storage capacity, number of users, customizability options, and more app integrations.

Analytics tools to integrate with your CRM

Grow

Grow provides business intelligence solutions for small and scaling businesses. deep data-diving accessible to virtually anyone. Their M.O. is all about clearly defining and then unifying data, metrics, and analytics to produce clear visualizations and smart predictions.

The platform applies “transforms” to datasets, meaning it takes raw data and applies transformational actions like sorting, filtering, and grouping, as well as summing and making ratioed comparisons. Then there’s the Smart Builder dashboard, which takes and separates data and charts and then, using business intelligence, arranges and charts information.

Social media, Google Analytics, and sales platform (ex. Salesforce) integrations expand the scope of data collection. CRM integrations with Zoho, Pipedrive, and many others ensure business information from all over can be transmogrified into data-driven intelligence.

Grow is available starting at $29 a month (billed annually). You can also request a 14-day free trial.

Mixpanel

Mixpanel’s user analytics tools are based around a simple principle: if you can figure out the behavior of visitors, leads, and customers, you’ll make smarter, better business decisions.

Mixpanel changes the web page analysis game by emphasizing customer engagement above all else, as opposed to the usual fixation on page views. It’s less about volume metrics and more about refining user experience, and in doing so develop better, more sustainable conversions founded on detailed, data-driven insights.

By showing you what actions people take and what features they like best, Mixpanel helps you focus on your strengths and refine your offering. Integrations with Zendesk, Salesforce, Zoho, and a host of other CRMs ensure MixPanel can slot into your existing workflow.

Mixpanel offers a free ‘core analytics’ version with the usual storage limitations. The full-featured version costs $999 a year.

 

Operational CRM

Operational customer relationship management software is the most common variety. Truth be told, “operational” really is a catch-all term, and there’s a lot of differences across CRMs in this category.

Generally speaking, it just means software that focuses on streamlining customer interactions with sales, marketing, and service automation.

The idea is to generate leads, then convert them into customers and contacts.

Read the in-depth article "Operational CRM Software"

 

Salesforce

Salesforce has a CRM with a lot of powerful features, comprising the full operational suite of sales forecasting, reporting, automating tasks, and collecting and documenting sales leads. Calibrated to fine-tune daily operations and reduce effort and expenses, the platform offers iterative improvements to all your business needs.

AI and Einstein analytics predict and interpret data according to your specific business operations.

The new Lightning platform is real fast, and it's component-based, drag-and-drop user interface takes customization to the outer limits.

Salesforce is probably going to take a bit of time to learn, but there’s a free online training center called Trailhead that is very helpful and approachable.

Salesforce prices their CRM from $25 per user per month.

Propeller

Propeller CRM allows you to put an operational CRM into your inbox with Gmail integration (in the form of a Chrome Extension).

It’s built to manage daily operations, automate marketing, manage your sales funnel—just like a good ol’ operational CRM should do. On the collaborative front, the platform’s team-based features are broad and bountiful, and include an overview of your sales activity, tracking tasks and processes, and assigning follow-ups.

Zapier integration connects Propeller to 1,000+ other useful apps. A full-fledged REST API lets you instantly send data wherever it need go.

Propeller comes in a one-size-fits-all offering of $35 per month/per user (all features included).

Nextiva

Nextiva’s Service CRM offers all the usual CRM features and more, comprising all customer touchpoints. Survey tools and workflow automation round out the package.

Real-time analytical CRM features sift multi-channel data into a composite visual dashboard, and lets you do in-depth keyword analysis and generate custom reports. It also has a unique internal chat feature, allowing reps to chat with each other while dealing with customers.

It’s priced from $10 a month, so it’s not a bank-breaker by any means.

But if you want to get truly, fully ‘operational’, it’s very possible to use Nextiva’s Service CRM as a component of the full-stack NextOS platform, which bundles the developer’s CRM, chat, telephony, analytical, and survey features together.

The bigger, badder NextOS is available from $35 a month.

Less Annoying CRM

Less Annoying CRM targets small enterprises who have had trouble implementing operational CRM. Consequently, they provide basic features at a low price point with only the slightest of learning curves.

The software’s user interface is minimal and functional, with no room for nonsense. All the lead tracking, collaboration tools, and follow-up reminder features you’d need are there, as well as basic reporting.

Pricing is likewise quite straightforward. Less Annoying CRM offers a 30-day free trial, after which time you’re looking at a cost of $10 per user per month.

 

The rise of the nontraditional CRM system

It’s worth noting that the changing nature of work has altered the landscape of CRM software.

There’s an increasing number of platforms with non-linear, non-sales funnel oriented applications. They handle everything from personal organization to brainstorming ideas and contact management.   

Nontraditional CRMs are gaining ground by catering to needs niche and holistic alike. That includes everything from nurturing collaboration across your team to managing freelance contracts, streamlining workflow, and sparking inspiration.

 

Airtable

Airtable is an all-in-one collaboration platform that fulfills basic CRM features but is based on flexible spreadsheet functionality. It synchronizes workflow and has a range of analytic, organizational, and communications features.

The software puts a premium on creativity and personalization. Layout and workflow can be endlessly tweaked and customized. Instead of just text and numbers, tables can be filled with lists, photos, and more.

At Tesla, Airtable is the primary engine for identifying and tracking vehicles leaving its factories. News magazine Time uses it to organize all of its production schedules.

Radar

Radar, a ‘contact relationship management’ platform, was developed by a team with a creative agency background. It’s designed for businesses where talent morphs from project-to-project, providing a single space for organizing specialist freelance workers.

Radar emphasizes network-sharing across your business. It has a lot of potential applications, from managing freelancers to running a music label to handling photo shoots, film productions, and building up model agency rosters.

Dazed, for example, is currently using Radar for production—handling hiring and coordination of stylists, makeup artists, and art directors. Vice has two different Radar accounts, one for production and another for influencers they work with for brand partnerships.

Milanote

Then there’s Milanote, which comes off as something like a cross between a mood board and a project management tool. Visually oriented and adaptable, it’s designed to appeal specifically to creatives.

In Milanote you put notes, images, tasks, files, and messages onto one platform to connect ideas. Collaborate and share ideas in-app, bridging individual initiative with team critique and insights.

While Milanote isn’t a CRM, it does offer super-minimalist CRM-like capabilities in the form of workflow templates. The simple sales pipeline template, for example, is a basic but effective way of tracking prospects from the lead to deal stage. Milanote does this in a Kanban-style card-based view, not unlike Trello.

Followup

Followup, meanwhile, offers a personal CRM for managing contacts. Running as a sidebar in Gmail, it offers intelligent insights and reminders to keep your work relationships healthy and informed.

 

Welcome to CRMLand

CRMs are about upping sales, saving time and money, and giving customers a service that they remember for all the right reasons.

Whatever your business is, whatever its size, you can rest assured an appropriate CRM solution exists. There’s never been a better time to get into CRMLand.

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