Business

The top 10 customer relationship management services

CRM
Image Credit: Jirsak / Shutterstock

Businesses grow when they maintain healthy relationships with their customers. For your local deli, that might mean a quick chat to go with your pastrami sandwich. But for companies with more complex operations, customer relationship management (CRM) software is often essential.

Every CRM solution comes in a different flavor — and at a different price.

There’s CRM software that enables employees to create, assign, and manage requests made by customers — so when you call your cable company, for example, a representative can pull up your file to view your prior service history and log new information. CRM sales software provides companies with a suite of tools to manage the entire sales process, from initial lead qualification to opportunity management, forecasting, and eventually deal closure. CRM marketing systems can track campaigns over various channels, such as traditional mail and phone efforts, email, search, and social media.

Most CRM solutions include all of that functionality, though cheaper options may only offer bits and pieces. Some software runs on-premises, while other systems operate as cloud-based services and might even run on your phone or tablet.

Sure, CRM isn’t the sexiest software market, but it’s an extremely valuable one: Gartner predicts it’ll be worth $36.5 billion worldwide by 2017. And it’s important that companies know which CRM solution to choose; a system with a million and one features that nobody can figure out or wants to use is useless. That’s why we’ve put together this top 10 index of CRM offerings. Services on this list should be:

  • Innovative
  • Accessible
  • Validated by the market

Our intention is to point to the players with the most momentum in CRM today. As part of this effort, VentureBeat is researching cloud platforms, specifically marketing automation. Help us by filling out a survey, and you’ll get the full report when it’s complete.

Salesforce

When it comes to CRM, Salesforce is the undisputed leader. The $37 billion company basically invented cloud-based CRM and has come to dominate the CRM landscape. It has about 14 percent of the CRM market with an estimated $2.5 billion in 2012 sales, according to Gartner. Customers from tiny businesses to massive enterprises generally seem to like its sales-, marketing-, and service-management capabilities, which are only available in the cloud.

Salesforce CRM integrates with some of its other services like Chatter (its enterprise social network) and works across iOS and Android devices. Mobile has historically been a weak point for the company, but Salesforce is hoping to change that with Salesforce1, its third major mobile effort, which it unveiled at the Dreamforce 2013 user and developer conference.

The Salesforce CRM package ranges in price from $5 to $300 per month per user, depending on the features you want (the widely used enterprise edition costs $125 per month per user). If you run a small business that’s just looking to automate a few processes, you might want to look for a cheaper, less cumbersome option. But otherwise, it’s a powerful system with plenty of custom add-ons that enhance its core functionality.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM

Microsoft (like everyone else) trails Salesforce in CRM market share and sales, with 6.3 percent and $1.1 billion in 2012 respectively, according to Gartner. Still, the Redmond giant is serious about its Dynamics CRM platform, which has been growing quickly over the last few years. Dynamics CRM is available either on-premise (roughly $5,000 for the server software and around $1,100 per named user) or in the cloud for $65 per month per user.

The big draw for Dynamics CRM is integration with the rest of the Microsoft ecosystem, from Outlook and Office to enterprise resource planning apps like Dynamics GP. And in November, Microsoft finally added mobile support for Dynamics CRM, which now works across iOS devices, Android phones, Windows Phones, and Windows 8 tablets.

Businesses that use Outlook should definitely consider Dynamics CRM, which makes it simple to track email for an account, contact, or opportunity. But some dislike the user interface — particularly for the browser version — because it can be difficult to navigate.

Oracle Sales Cloud

Oracle has a sizable slice of the CRM market — around 11.1 percent, with just over $2 billion in 2012 sales, says Gartner. But its On Demand CRM platform hasn’t been particularly well received. Its newer Sales Cloud, however, seems to be a significant step forward. Based on open standards, the service sports an intuitive interface, Android and iOS apps, and support for Oracle’s enterprise social network. It’s quite pricey, though: Oracle Sales Cloud costs between $100 and $200 per user per month, depending on which edition you choose (standard, enterprise, or premium).

Oracle has so much going on across so many products that it’s a bit hard to grasp the overall direction the company is taking, even in just the CRM space. But the company’s recent cloud acquisitions (marketing platform Compendium and CPQ provider BigMachines, among others) will soon manifest themselves as powerful features across its CRM portfolio — a good move as the company tries to catch up to Salesforce.

SugarCRM

Founded in 2004, SugarCRM offers an open-source, lightweight CRM platform that’s proven popular among small to medium-sized businesses. It has both onsite and cloud-based versions that range from $35 to $150 per user, per month, or you can just buy it outright.

SugarCRM has mobile apps for iOS, Android, and BlackBerry. The desktop version integrates with several email, calendar, and file-management apps, including Outlook, Gmail, Lotus Notes, Google Apps, and Box. And since it’s open-source, developers can easily customize it out of the box. Before you build a feature, however, make sure it doesn’t already exist on the SugarExchange, a marketplace for SugarCRM module extensions, themes, and language packs. SugarCRM also offers a number of industry-specific editions.

SugarCRM is not as feature-rich as Salesforce, but not every company needs a Salesforce-style solution, and SugarCRM is certainly a more affordable offering.

Workbooks CRM

Founded in 2007, Workbooks Online employs a freemium strategy for its web-based CRM software, which is only available as a cloud-based service. Two users can use the basic Workbooks functionality for free, while CRM and Business editions cost £19 ($31.19) and £39 ($64.03) per user per month, respectively. Workbooks CRM is targeted specifically at small to mid-size businesses, who really seem to love it.

It features a clean user interface, so it’s easy to pick up without training. The Workbooks API enables developers to integrate third-party applications like Outlook, and it has mobile apps for iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry phones. Customers criticized Workbooks’ reporting features, but a September 2013 update overhauled its reporting system. But the main draw here is price: Workbooks is not feature-rich, but it’s quite inexpensive.

Insightly

Founded in 2009, Insightly offers a freemium, cloud-based CRM solution for small businesses. Insightly has more than 350,000 users worldwide, according to the company, but an investor told us only tens of thousands pay for the service. It’s probably the cheapest service on this list: The free plan supports up to three users, while the starter ($29 per month), advanced ($49 per month), and pro ($99 per month) plans cost just a few dollars per user.

Tight integration with Google Apps, Gmail, and Google Drive drove Insightly’s early growth. Support for those Google services remain its defining feature, but it now integrates with Evernote, Office 365, Outlook, and MailChimp, too. Its mobile app works with iOS and Android devices.

Insightly isn’t powerful enough for enterprises, but it’s an appealing, affordable CRM option for startups.

Nimble

Nimble is another relative newcomer to CRM. The company, which got its start in 2009, offers a web-based CRM app that features integration with social media services like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+. It links all your customers’ social accounts to provide a (so-called) better picture of their relationship with your business. It also has a mobile app for iOS. And at a flat $15 per month per user, it’s an inexpensive CRM option.

Zoho CRM

Zoho CRM is a freemium offering from Zoho Corp., which was founded in 2005 and launched its web-based CRM offering the following year. It’s free for up to three users and costs between $12 and $35 per user for monthly across its three tiers (standard, professional, and enterprise). It integrates with the expected social networks, Google Apps, Outlook, and QuickBooks. It also has an API for developers who want to build custom integrations. Zoho CRM has mobile apps for iOS, Android, and Blackberry devices.

NetSuite CRM

NetSuite, which has been making cloud-based business management software since 2007, has a CRM solution targeted at companies of all sizes, but it probably works best for small to medium-sized businesses. NetSuite isn’t very forthcoming about prices, but it’s a fairly costly solution: The basic package starts at $79 per month per user, while Netsuite CRM+ starts at $129 per month per user. That’ll get you some useful, highly customizable options for sales force automation, marketing automation, order management, sales forecasting, and more. It’s lacking in mobile options, though, as NetSuite only offers an iPhone app so far.

Veeva CRM

Veeva differs from all the other CRM solutions on this list because it’s built specifically for the life sciences industry (pharmaceuticals and medical devices), which has a unique set of regulatory requirements and sales challenges. Veeva’s cloud-based software can track prescribing habits and complies with industry regulations. It’s built on Force.com, but doesn’t resemble Salesforce’s CRM. The company recently had a successful IPO on the New York Stock Exchange, which might prompt others to begin thinking about industry-specific CRM solutions.


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