I've taught for a long time that customer relationships are the key to any marketing strategy, but I'm still surprised at companies that don't use customer relationship management tools. Recently while working with a client I spent time evaluating the different CRM options that are available. I want to share with you what I found, in hopes that you to will adopt a CRM and begin to use it with your initial and ongoing marketing campaigns. Using a CRM will show you that by staying in touch with customers you can in fact increase your bottom line.
My objective in finding a CRM was to find a solution that was web based. The reason I like a web based solution is because they tend to be easy to setup, cost effective and great if you have employees in different locations.
I'm going to share with you my top five. This doesn't mean that there are only five available, you will actually find that there are many more than the ones that I have listed. I picked these five specific solutions, because I feel they have the features that are necessary to be used as an effective sales and marketing management tool.
Zoho is reasonable priced and an open source solution, it's free for 3 users and under. It can customized to fit the needs of any company. I love the fact that Zoho is a complete CRM solution. It offers tracking solutions for marketing activities as well as lead tracking and post sales customer support. If you need a CRM that is easy to use and easy to learn Zoho is a great choice. You can use Zoho to manage leads, accounts, forecasting and other business activities. I also love the ability to customize reports and create dashboards. It can be setup in minutes with just an email and a password.
Sugar is also an open source CRM solution. You will find that most people who use it love it. It's easy to setup and has a short learning curve. Like Zoho it has plug-ins that integrate with Microsoft Word and Outlook. You can create customized reports as well as dashboards to serve the needs of your business. I do love the workflow features and contract management - I definitely give these two features a thumbs up. I think Sugar best serves those companies focused specifically on leads and sales. I'm not happy with the marketing activity support within the system and I think it could be improved on. Sugar does offer a free trial, so you can give it a try to see if it meets the needs of your company. I will tell you that unless you use the community edition it does carry a hefty price tag per user for a small business. It works, but it's just my favorite.
I have to be honest I'm not a big fan of Salesforce.com, but a lot of that has to do with the fact that I think it has a learning curve that is often difficult to adapt to immediately. It takes awhile to learn the ins and outs. Salesforce is known for streamlining the sales process and it can also help with marketing, customer support and force automation. I do have to give Salesforce kudos for coming up with a small business solution that makes it affordable for the start-up and medium size businesses, but it still carries a hefty price tag when compared to the others I have listed. They do have a contact management system that runs around $5 per user and is a good basic system if you just need the basics.
Of all the CRMs I have listed I must admit Highrise is a pretty basic system - but some believe simple is better. The best way to explain highrise is to call it what it is - a shared contact manager. It's great for keeping track of contacts and tasks, but if you are looking for more bells and whistles you'll be better of to select one of the other CRM solutions that I have listed. Highrise does work well with email integration. You can keep notes on conversations that you have with contacts and track tasks such as follow-up calls or emails. You just have to decide if it provides you with the tools you need to stay in touch with your customers. I think it's a great solution for a one-man show or a soloprenuer, not so sold on it for a group solution.
I like Commence. It's a nice system that provides account and contact management, calendar solution, marketing, sales automation and lead management. I do love that Commence offers email and mobile device integration as well as integration with accounting systems. They offer both a desktop CRM as well as a web based solution that they call Commence CRM On-Demand. Commence is not new to the industry, it has actually been around for over 20 years and has been private labeled for many well known companies. For companies that desire the advanced features of a CRM Commence is a great solution and affordable.