Customer relations has become an essential part of business operations, especially in a social media world where reputations can make or break according to your customer experiences.
That means needing to be able to clearly communicate with customers through different channels, whether by phone, email, text, or social posts directly. Additionally, there's also a need to record all interactions to be clear on a customer's history.
It's not just about keeping customers happy, though, but also about ensuring that workflows remain efficient and KPI's are met, all of which can be monitored through in-built analytics and data reporting.
Yet for all this, CRM software doesn't have to be complex or expensive, and there are software providers out there who can provide some limited form of CRM for free, especially to help you try out their system and make sure it works for you.
Here then are the best in CRM software products currently on the market.
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An affordable and easy-to-use CRM
Freshsales CRM is a user-friendly platform that focuses on maximizing the productivity of your sales team. It includes a number of tools and features, such as a softphone with email integration, lead scoring, and workflow automation. There are also a number of integrations for marketing and communications you can add with it.
Even the most basic plan, available for $12/£12 per month per user, includes lead, contact, deal, and account management, as well as a visual sales pipeline, automated lead scoring, SMS integration, and API access.
More advanced plans offer multiple sales pipelines, bulk emails, multiple sequences, automated workflow processes, teams, lead assignments, smart matches, custom roles, and advanced reports.
Enterprise-level features include advanced CRM customization, auto-profiles, smartforms and event tracking, sales goals, IP whitelisting, and audit logs, among other things.
Overall, despite having a wide range of features, Freshsales CRM manages to keep everything simple and easy to use, reducing the need for training that can impact over platforms. Additionally, the sales-focus is a real strength here, if that's what you need it for.
An impressive CRM with a focus on project management
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.
A capable set of apps enables integrating most of the tools you use already, including G Suite, Outlook, MailChimp, QuickBooks, Slack, Dropbox, Evernote and more.
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. If you need more, Insightly offers a range of powerful commercial plans ranging from $29 (£23) to $99 (£78) per user per month.
The social butterfly of small business CRMs
As the social butterfly of small business CRMs, 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 hard to manage, either. Nimble can automatically go online to collect useful data about your contacts, including their Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+ profiles. Smart search tools enable locating the data you need on an individual, or sorting and filtering your contact list however you like.
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, iOS, Outlook/Office 365, Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari and more.
Pricing starts from just $19 per month, when paid annually.
One of the best free CRM offerings you’ll find
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 (up to a limit of 1 million contacts and companies.)
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.
A comprehensive CRM system
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, although it only supports a maximum of three users.
The $8 (£6) Premium account offers much more storage (3GB per user, up from 500MB for the free account), and plenty of valuable extras: bulk email, e-commerce integration, standalone business apps and Google Drive, Calendar, Tasks, PayPal and Dropbox integration. Crank it up to the Ultimate plan for $20 (£16) for even more data and campaign emails, as well as priority support.
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.
A commendably flexible CRM solution
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 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 integration and support for up to 3 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 (£10) or maybe $20 (£16) per user per month for the Professional plan.
More CRM platforms to consider
Check out some of the other CRM platforms we've reviewed here: