Customer relationship management software is important for businesses that are both small and large. Freelancers and small businesses need such a system as much as large businesses and enterprises do. Well, maybe you need it a bit more if you have millions of customers, but that said: managing your customer relationships is not only tricky and often complicated, it’s essential to running a successful business.

Software makes such a complicated and time-consuming aspect of your business easier to handle and more efficient. There are many web-based CRM applications available, so let’s take a look at a few of the options available to you.

Highrise

Highrise is the popular CRM from 37signals, developers of many other popular productivity web apps. There’s no free option, and the prices are a bit marked up – you’re probably paying for the storage space more than anything. Perhaps they’re only targeting enterprise users, but for my uses I’d only want to plonk down for a plan if it had more power than the cheapest option while costing less than the $50/month option.

Highrise’s main features are a shared company address book, built-in task management, contact histories and cases, which allows you to keep case notes on a contact, along with other files.

PipelineDeals

PipelineDeals delivers a sigh of relief with a monthly cost of $15 per user, and unlimited data storage is included in that price. PipelineDeals is very sales-oriented, as the name implies, focusing on tracking your sales, keeping a sales calendar, tracking your leads and organizing sales documents, so if you’re in a sales environment this may be one for you to look at. They talk about your sales pipeline a lot too. Who would’ve guessed?

Salesforce

Salesforce is perhaps the most popular CRM in the field, and prices start at $9 a month and go up higher than you can count. There’s also a pretty restricted free account called Personal Edition, which infers that it’s useless for anything business-related. Salesforce tries to integrate the process of managing customer relations with the process of funneling new leads into the system, using Google AdWords integration.

While it’s popular and quite powerful (and the fact you can manage AdWords campaigns from the app is enticing), it’s another CRM that is highly focused on making sales and not so much on customer relations management.

Oracle CRM On Demand

Oracle’s CRM On Demand starts at $70 a month per user. What you get for that $70 is not incredibly clear, with a convoluted website design that makes finding decent information difficult, and copy that’s just badly written. Oracle has some built-in analytics tools and call center integration features that will make it more useful to quite large businesses.

I couldn’t find any sign of whether data storage was limited or unlimited, and the website claims that the app requires “Microsoft Windows compatibility.” What kind of a hosted CRM requires you to be on Windows?

Unfortunately, when a web application’s sales pages are poorly designed, it’s a good indicator that the web app itself is just as bad.

SugarCRM

SugarCRM has an on-premise product, but we’re looking at hosted CRMs, so I’m going to look solely at their hosted option, Sugar On-Demand. The cheapest option is $40 a month and will allow you 300 users, though it requires an annual commitment. It also demands that you have five users or more, which is a fairly odd and restrictive move (as if the requirement for an annual commitment was not enough).

That said, SugarCRM seems to have a better balance between sales and marketing than some of the other options that focused far too much on one or the other to be an effective CRM. Furthermore, part of customer relationship management is good customer support, and SugarCRM is one of the few hosted options that offers decent customer support features.

Zoho CRM

From a perspective of price, Zoho CRM offers one of the best deals. The first three users are free, and after that, the prices are $12 and $25 per user per month for the Professional and Enterprise Editions respectively. The free edition isn’t lacking all that much from the paid versions; it doesn’t let you send email marketing material and there’s no SSL. There are a few other disabled features, but aside from that it’s fairly intact.

Zoho does a good job of balancing the marketing, sales and support triad, and includes an inventory management system that integrates with the sales process — this obviously prevents any embarassing sales of a product that is out of stock.

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