5 CRM Solutions for Really Small Businesses

Updated: June 18, 2009


CRM was once the sole province of big enterprise, but times have changed and now there are products galore for the little guy. Trouble is, small-business professionals are always on the run, wearing a stack of hats, with little time to sort good from bad in technology aids. But there are ways to slice and dice CRM choices into bite sized-pieces so you can pick a product that will increase your productivity without slowing you down in the process.

"Let your work style dictate the CRM parameters," said Sheryl Kingstone, director of customer experience at research powerhouse Yankee Group. "You need to be able to enter and use information easily. If it doesn't add value to your day-to-day life, then what would be the point?"

In other words, if you use your cell phone frequently, look for CRM solutions that work on phones. "ACT! and Maximizer are both good CRM solutions to use on mobile phones from BlackBerries to the new Storm," said Kingstone.

If you use laptops frequently, consider a hosted CRM solution that will allow you to pull data in real-time off the Internet. Added bonus: SaaS (Software as a Service), or hosted applications, cost far less than on-premise solutions.

If you work mostly in your company office and fear Internet connectivity problems, then look to CRM solutions that you can install on your own hardware.

Once you've determined how you want CRM to work for you and what information you want to use on the system, then you can quickly find good possible solutions. Remember that many CRM vendors offer a free trial period. Trial your top two or three CRM candidates before you make a final decision. That way, you know what works best for you before you invest in anything.

That said, here (in no particular order) are the top five CRM solutions for businesses of 10 or fewer employees.


1. ACT!: Although most experts classify ACT! as a contact manager rather than a true CRM system, it helps many small businesses stay in touch with customers and on top of orders. It's very customizable, useable on a large number of mobile phones and add-on developers have recently extended its native capabilities making it highly workable for really small businesses.

2. Maximizer: This CRM solution scales easily as your company grows. It works well for a one-person shop and can scale to over 500 employees, so there's no need to swap to a different CRM system later. Multiple access options means you can easily enter or retrieve data by phone, Web or in-office.

3. Salesforce.com: The leading name in CRM solutions in most categories is chock-full of features that small businesses can use in creative ways. "In addition to using it for our direct sales and tracking needs, we are opening it up to resellers of our product as a bonus way of helping them to keep track of their sales efforts with our product," said Mike Ogilvie, principal at Ignite Speed Networking. "This also gives us the great advantages of ensuring that we're not treading on the toes of the resellers (and vice versa) and of being able to retain critical information should the resellers decide to stop representing us."

4. SugarCRM: This is an open source solution, so if you are tech-savvy this option is perfect for you. "It is easy to install, it has a huge user community if I have a problem, and the price is right (free!). I can't imagine running my agency without it," said Al Canton, owner of InsuranceSolutions123.com agency. If you want more features and additional support, consider the new Express version which is only $10 per month per user.

5. Zoho CRM: Cloud-based Zoho CRM offers sales and marketing integration, sales forecasts, customer support tools, role-based security (so information is controlled based on job function), inventory management, a complete suite of reports and dashboards, and even a Microsoft Outlook plugin. The first three users are free and the fourth user account cost only $12 per month for the Professional edition. "For any small company looking to begin using CRM, this is an excellent tool to get you started," says Louis Rosas-Guyon, a business technology coach, author and serial entrepreneur with R2 Computing.

If, however, you are using Apple computers rather than PCs, you will find your choices in CRM are a bit limited. Most Focus poll respondents preferred Daylite, developed by a Canadian company called Marketcircle. The application is designed for 100 users or less.

Daylite has a plug-in that enables the capture of emails directly from Apple's Mail application. "Daylite's biggest benefit is the ability to ‘link' objects to other objects within the application so everything related to a customer can easily be linked together," said Jarrod Skeggs, ACHDS, vice president of sales and marketing at Digid Solutions, a firm that does Daylite installation, deployment, setup and training. Be careful of the pricing however, because your server counts as a "user" in the cost structure.

Marketcircle recently introduced a companion iPhone application called Daylite Touch, enabling Daylite users to access their CRM application from their iPhone or iPod touch.

Next Steps

If you want to use CRM within a bigger, more comprehensive solution, rather than as a standalone application, consider joining the Great American Small Business Challenge, a free national business assistance program available both online and through 35 participating SBDC (Small Business Development Center) offices. The product offers a sophisticated suite of online business planning and management tools, including CRM, plus counseling and other assistance for free. This partnership effort of business, nonprofit and federal resources is largely unknown. In fact, it might be accurately characterized as a "best-kept secret." You can find out more information or register for the GASBC at the program's Web site.

Also, be sure to check out Focus' in-depth research on CRM, including the new Hosted CRM Buyer's Guide and the Hosted CRM Comparison Guide. These comprehensive guides will help you get informed and prepared to make the right CRM purchase for your company.

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