Note: Our best CRM software round-up has been fully updated. This feature was first published in May 2014.
Keeping up-to-date with your leads, prospects and contacts is a vital task for any business. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems help by tracking everything related to your customers: contacts, previous emails and calls, visits, the progress of individual sales or deals, and more.
Having all this data to hand helps everyone in your business understand what customers need, keeping them happy, while marketing tools like mass emails and web form support could win you new orders.
CRMs don't have to be expensive or complicated. There are free systems which integrate neatly with Google apps to use the data you've collected already, and spending something like £8-£20 (or $8-$20) per user per month will get you some serious business management power. But whatever you're after, we've put together a list of top CRM systems to help you get started.
- Also check out: Taming the big data beast – the importance of CRM
Price: A free Starter plan is free for 3 users. Premium plans start at $8.33 (£6.50, AU$11) per user per month. A 30-day free trial is available.
Apptivo is a comprehensive CRM which provides an easy way to manage your contacts, schedules, notes, communications, tasks and more. That's not all: even the free account gets project management tools, invoicing, estimates, basic purchase order tracking, field service management and a helpdesk.
The $8.33 (£6.50, AU$11) Premium account offers much more storage (3GB per user, up from 500MB for the business), and plenty of valuable extras: bulk email, a mobile CRM app, e-commerce integration and Google Drive, Calendar, Tasks, PayPal and Dropbox integration. Crank it up to the Ultimate plan for $20.83 (£16, AU$27) for even more data and campaign emails, as well as cash management and budgeting apps
This kind of power comes with a little complexity, especially if you're new to this type of package. It doesn't take long to master the basics, though, and the system is so configurable that you'll soon have it set up to suit your requirements. Plus, you get two months free when you sign up.
Price: Starts at $19.95 (£15, AU$26) per user per month for unlimited users. A free 14-day trial is available.
Every CRM needs great communications management, and that's an area where Batchbook has a lot to offer. Build up a customised contacts database, extend it with the details you need, track calls, emails, your customer's tweets – it's all here.
Colleagues can add comments when relevant, you're able to set individual to-do's, or build lists to group related information together. A mobile view gives access to your data anywhere, and email and SMS notifications ensure nothing gets forgotten.
The system can seem expensive – automated workflows, Gmail integration and even email templates require the top $39.95 (£31, AU$52) per user per month account – but if you're more interested in tracking communications then it's still a smart choice.
Price: Limited plan available for free. Plus plan available from $39 (£30, AU$50) per user per month.
Like Apptiva, Bitrix24 provides a vast suite of powerful business tools: collaboration, instant messaging, telephony, project management, document handling, scheduling, employee management, and more.
If you prefer to keep things simple then you can concentrate on the excellent CRM, which is a capable system all on its own. Contacts and communications are logged, leads assigned to sales managers, emails sent, calls recorded, quotes and invoices issued. Detailed reports keep you up-to-date and there's convenient access via the mobile app.
Bitrix24's unusually generous free account supports unlimited users and includes 5GB storage, but if you need more, the Plus account starts at $39 (£30, AU$50) per user per month.
Price: Basic plan is free. Professional plan is £8 ($10, AU$12) per user per month. A free 30-day trial is available.
While some of the competition tries to win you over with the length of their feature list, Capsule CRM is different because it concentrates on the basics: contact management, collaboration, sales pipeline, scheduling and tasks.
These are all well implemented with some useful features. You can track your customer's social media, attach documents and emails to their records, tag contacts or organise them in lists, create tasks and view your schedule in the calendar.
The basic Capsule CRM solution doesn't offer much more functionality itself, but the Professional plan does support lots of valuable integrations – Google Apps, email tracking, telephone and VoIP services, job and time tracking, contracts, proposals, accounting, helpdesks and more.
Capsule's free account is too basic to be useful (maximum 2 users, 250 contacts, 10MB storage), but if you only need the business fundamentals, the Professional plan deserves a closer look - especially at this price!
HubSpot CRM stands out immediately for its pricing model. There are no unusably limited 'free' plans, no vast matrix of other accounts to browse – instead the core CRM is entirely free, and you only pay if you need to add extra sales or marketing modules.
That's an appealing prospect when budgets are tight, and HubSpot handles the CRM basics reasonably well. You're able to build contact and company databases, log emails, assign tasks and track deals, and the system supports as many users and as much storage space as you need.
It's not all good news. HubSpot's reporting tools are only average and you may need to integrate with the free version of HubSpot Sales to begin to get the functionality you'll find elsewhere. But there's also a lot to like about the service, and it's certainly one of the best free packages around.
Price: Free for 2 users. Basic plan from $12 (£9, AU$16) per user per month. A 14-day free trial is available.
Insightly is a powerful CRM with a strong focus on project management. As well as managing sales pipelines, you're able to set milestones, set and assign tasks, attach files and notes, define a schedule, produce reports, and more.
If you're more interested in sales management, that's not a worry – there are plenty of supporting features. Insightly offers good contacts management, with social networking integration and mass email support. You get tools to collect leads and track sales opportunities, and the system can be viewed and administered from a mobile app.
Pricing is a little complicated, with no less than five plans, each with their various limitations and topping out at $99 (£76, AU$128) per user per month. The free account is likely to be too restrictive for many ('mass' emails are limited to 10 per day), but it's better than most of the competition, and the Basic $12 (£9, AU$16) plan is an excellent product.
Price: Basic plan from $10 (£8, AU$12) per user per month. A 14-day free trial is available.
InStream is a "relation automation tool", according to the developer, and that's not just sales hype. The system offers detailed contacts management, social media integration helps you stay in touch with customer tweets, and calls and emails can be logged so you're always up-to-date.
This is often quite easy to use, in particular because of its integration with other systems. Plug in your Gmail account and InStream will automatically download contacts and manage your email history, while syncing your account with Google Calendar keeps your tasks and schedule in one place.
If you're flying solo, you can go for the so-called Freelancer package for $6 (£5, AU$8), but you don't get any data storage, reports or support. Or pay extra if you need full support or onboarding coaching.
Price: $22 (£17, AU$28) per user per month. A free 14-day trial is available.
As the social butterfly of small business CRM, Nimble aims to help users manage social, team and customer contacts on one screen. All online conversations, including email, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, are easily visible with Nimble's lightweight platform.
This isn't just some overwhelming mass of data, either. A search tool locates the data you need, searches may be saved for speedy recall, and Nimble's Signal technology filters out the noise to help you concentrate on the fundamentals.
Nimble also provides extensive task management, sales and marketing tools, and many integration options: Google, a host of popular third-party apps, and management tools for Android, iPhone, Outlook/Office 365, Google Chrome, Firefox and Safari.
Price: Limited plan is free, Corporate plan from $35 (£27, AU$45) per user per month. A 14-day free trial is available.
Streak is a lightweight CRM, a little simpler than most of the competition, and for many people that could be a good thing. There's no need to spend an age learning a whole new way of working because the system runs inside Gmail, giving easy access to the contacts, emails and files you have already.
That doesn't mean Streak is short on features. In a click or two you can group or view related emails, add and track customer status, notes and more. 'Boxes' help you define where you are in sales or other pipelines, and it's easy to keep everyone in the business up-to-date on your progress.
The free product could be a smart choice for very small businesses, so well worth a try. It has recently removed its entry-level paid Starter plan, so if you want to upgrade you have to splash out $35 (£27, AU$45) for Corporate. That gets you advanced reporting, email tracking and API access.
Price: Free edition for 10 users. Standard plan starts at $12 (£9, AU$15) per user per month. A 15-day free trial is available.
Zoho CRM is a flexible solution with a lengthy feature list: leads, contact management, social media integration, tasks, marketing and sales automation, web forms and more.
If that's still not enough, the system can be integrated with many other Zoho products, including customer support, project management and web forms.
Zoho's mobile apps give access to this data, and also help you collect it. There are tools to locate leads on maps, log calls, take voice notes, record your customer visits, and more.
Zoho's free plan is appealing, with handy Google Calendar/Tasks integration and support for up to 10 users, but be sure to read the full product comparison. There are lots of limitations, and to really compete with the other products here you'll need to spend $12 (£9, AU$15) or maybe $20 (£15, AU$26) per user per month for the Professional plan.