Salesforce Alternatives: 5 CRM Services for Small Businesses

SugarCRM

(Starting at $360 per user per year; $540 Corporate, $720 Enterprise,
and $1200 Ultimate options also available)

CRM programs: SugarCRM

A full-service CRM program that offers easy setup and generous technical assistance, the open-source SugarCRM also has extensive third-party applications and plug-in support.

The main quality that distinguishes SugarCRM from Landslide is its community of developers. Since it's open source, users can change SugarCRM without limitation and can build on existing extension projects in any way they want. If this kind of flexibility appeals to you, SugarCRM is a solid alternative to Zoho CRM and Landslide.

One potential usability issue is that SugarCRM encourages you to assign dollar figures and percentages to everything--accounts, opportunities, leads, and contacts. If you operate in an industry where accounting for new leads with a monetary amount makes sense--say, for making bids for construction contracting--this is a good program for you. But in my business, when I'm exploring a new contract with a major retailer, it doesn't make sense to attribute a dollar amount to that relationship until I have a decent amount of sales history to evaluate.

Pros: Very flexible; iPhone-, iPad-, and Android-compatible; dedicated mobile website; syncs with Lotus Notes, Microsoft Outlook, and QuickBooks; good technical support; access to open-source extension applications

Cons: Not suited for every kind of business; relatively expensive

Use if: You want a super-customizable CRM program with great growth potential as your company expands.

Insight.ly

(Free for up to three users and 200MB storage)

CRM programs: Insight.ly

The final two CRM programs in this roundup are niche applications that can help you manage components of your customer relationship system, but lack the major touchstones of a traditional CRM tool.

Insight.ly, a Google Apps add-on, offers complete integration with the Google family of products, including Contacts, Docs, Calendar, and Gmail. If you run your business in Google Apps (as I do mine), you won't find better Google Apps integration with any other CRM program.

With full email integration, Insight.ly can provide a complete history of a customer's interaction with your company. The program frees you from performing the tedious task of importing all of the relevant messages, tagging each one, and filing it under the correct contact information for each customer. As Gmail conversations indigenously display in conversation mode, with replies from and forwards to third-party recipients included in the same conversation stream, other CRM programs can have trouble to identify which email message to file with which contact. And because email tracking is a CRM feature that you have to go all in on or not use at all, bad email-tracking support can create many extra, unnecessary hours of work.

Another great feature of Insight.ly is the option to establish relationships between contacts and organizations, and other contacts. Though you can do this in all full-service CRM software by adding a special note in the contact field, Insight.ly provides a customizable list of common relationships (such as employee/employer, parent/child, spouse/spouse, provides services to/client of) that you can associate with your various contacts. You can also link related items, such as employees with employers, email messages with projects, and tasks with opportunities, which makes recalling that information later a breeze.

CRM programs: Insight.ly Pipelines
Insight.ly Pipelines let you associate a set of steps that you regularly repeat with new projects or leads.
The most useful feature I found was the capability in Insight.ly to create Pipelines, a linear set of steps that you frequently repeat with new projects or opportunities. For example, every time I approach a new retail store to carry my product line, I scout out the location, identify and contact their confections buyer, drop off samples, and schedule two follow-ups. With Pipelines, I can detail each stage, save it as a pipeline, and associate that pipeline with every new entry in the Opportunities section. Each stage in a pipeline can also have its own set of actions associated with it, which Insight.ly calls an Activity Set. In small business, employees often work independently with little oversight. This feature will allow you to streamline common tasks and stages of progression among all of your employees without creating additional work for you each time.

Pros: Excellent project management and business productivity tool; seamless Google Apps integration; very usable interface; price

Cons: Does not include marketing campaigns or reports; lacks many key CRM features; no iPhone, iPad, or Android app; no dedicated mobile website

Use if: You like the Google Apps interface, your business needs don't warrant a full-service CRM, and you want something that requires minimal setup time and maintenance.

Stitch Labs

CRM programs: Stitch Labs
(Starting at $12 per month for one user, with $24 Group and $79
Business plans also available)

Startup Stitch Labs has created a seamless program designed for small businesses that make and sell products. That means you, independent clothing designer/confectioner/master widget maker. If your company builds something, Stitch Labs can help you keep track of your orders, customers, and inventory.

The program is incredibly intuitive and easy to use, and it was created with manufacturers in mind. For each order you enter, Stitch Labs prompts you to complete an invoice (which you can email or save as a PDF) and then collect the payment, generate the packing slip, and ship the package. Stitch Labs also reminds you when you have outstanding invoices or packing slips that you've forgotten to include.

Stitch Labs offers an easy way to manage orders.
Stitch Labs offers an easy way to manage orders.
Under its Inventory tab, Stitch Labs provides a painless way to input all of the permutations of each product you offer. You make the same T-shirt in five sizes, ten colors, and three collar options? No problem. You can enter all of that information on the same page. You can also calculate your profit margin for each product by entering in your cost of goods sold, and then run a series of other easy-to-understand reports.

Two functions I wouldn't use in Stitch Labs are its expense-tracking system and QuickBooks portability. Stitch Labs isn't going to replace QuickBooks for me because it just doesn't do enough. Why enter expenses in Stitch Labs that I'd have to duplicate in QuickBooks? The QuickBooks portability function is a nod in the right direction, but it's too clunky to use in real life. When I imported data from Stitch Labs into my QuickBooks file, it created duplicates in my Chart of Accounts. In addition to my Accounts Payable, there appeared next to it "SL-Accounts Payable." Nobody needs two Accounts Payables.

Pros: Great system for managing customer orders and inventory; easy-to-understand reports

Cons: No email tracking, leads, opportunities, or task management; no iPhone, iPad, or Android app; no dedicated mobile website

Use if: Your company makes and sells products (as opposed to providing services), and you have some other way of managing your customer information.

Which CRM Service to Choose?

If you're in the market for a full-service CRM program--that is, a program that provides a wide range of business development services, such as marketing deployment and analysis, reports, and accounting integration, in addition to your basic CRM features--you can't go wrong with Zoho CRM, Landslide, or SugarCRM. Niche applications such as Insight.ly for Google Apps and Stitch Labs work great to streamline your business workflow if you already have another contact and task-management system in place

Shiyuan Deng is the owner of Double Dutch Sweets, an Oakland, California-based confections startup specializing in hand-crafted candy bars. You can find her on Twitter at doubledutchyum and on Facebook.

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