CRM stands for customer relationship management. On Thursday I was talking to several business owners and we got off of the topic of marketing and it turned into a 5 hour business building session. They really seemed to appreciate my knowledge of best free CRM systems. One of the people had a corporate sales background but she was not excited about the cost of paid CRM systems while in start up mode.
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First, I want to say that if you have a sales team and a high volume of sales, paying for a CRM is worth the money. The paid versions will have support and they will probably have more automation features. This post is actually for small businesses that in the past have not been tracking sales in an official system and need a low cost or free CRM to get started.
Before You Begin
Before you start looking at all the cool features of the CRM’s I am going to discuss, map out your sales process. The first time I used a CRM I found it overwhelming because of all the options. You want to turn off everything you do not need and focus on a clear system that handles exceptions.
Open Source CRM
There is not one best CRM. The best CRM is the system that best matches your needs, and different industries, products and businesses have very different sales tracking needs.
There are a lot of Open Source CRM solutions. I have personal experience with two. While open source is free, there is a very real prospect that you will need to hire someone to set it up for you, although I just noticed Bluehost added Sugar CRM to the simple scripts as a quick install. That means you could have it up and running very quickly and pay only for your hosting and domain – that is what I am currently using and it works really well.
So, option #1 is Sugar CRM – I used this years ago and now use it again. It has nearly everything I need in the open source product. I would love the email automation for drip marketing after entry, but other than that this does the job. It also has some free plugins and a big community.
Open source CRM vTiger is #2 – If I had to pick my favorite on feel and ease of use, it would be vTiger. I used it about a year ago and really liked the interface. The problem I found with it was some features I wanted were missing and I could not figure out how to capture leads from the web. There was a 3rd party plugin that I never did get to work. It looks like it has been updated, so it may be better now. If you are using a current version of any of these CRM tools feel free to leave a comment.
Hosted Free CRM
The third product I used in the last 2 years as a CRM is Zoho CRM. If you only have one or two sales people and do not think you will grow beyond that, the free Zoho CRM is an excellent choice. They host the software and you only pay if you have more than three users. I really like this software and I do not mind paying a monthly fee. However, I started adding up all the things I wanted and it became rather expensive if I upgraded and my team grew. I did not want locked into the system.
Which brings me to a good point. I think there are some thing you need to carefully select because changing them is difficult later. If I could go back in time, I would have selected my bank more carefully – although I am fine with my various banks, I would hate to move now. I would also choose my credit card payment gateway more carefully. No way I can change now because we have a code base built on it. It works well, but a slightly more expensive but universal one would have given me more options. Payroll companies are another one of those things where not sticking to one can really cause headaches.
Likewise, you can play with these various CRM systems to see which one you like best, but once you commit and start getting serious with it, changing later will not be fun. Your CRM will take time to set up and customize and train people to use. Make sure you select wisely and try not to keep changing or you will be spending more time on your CRM and less time on selling. Good luck.