For any business, small or large, developing strong relationships with customers is a critical factor for success. Using customer relationship management (CRM) software can help companies organize important data from multiple locations into one convenient interface. The ability to track and analyze every interaction with a customer or prospect increases customer engagement and keeps the customer where he or she belongs – at the center of your focus – and helps you close more deals and win more business.

Research has shown that a properly integrated CRM solution can generate ROI from approximately $2.50 to $5.60 for every dollar invested in the solution. Salesforce, one of the leading providers of CRM software, found that using a CRM solution can increase sales by 29%, salesforce productivity by 32% and sales forecast accuracy by 44%. Today's competitive landscape is more crowded than ever, and the ability to tailor your engagement process to fit each customer is an advantage that will help your company stand out.

The right CRM software will make your salesforce vastly more efficient, and help to identify cross-selling and up-selling opportunities. You can also take advantage of inbound marketing techniques that leverage your website and search optimization, combined with a content library, to bring more qualified prospects into the fold. CRM software will capture extremely detailed information about customer behavior and preferences that can inform targeted marketing, product development and sales activities. The right CRM software can help you raise your business to a new level.

Given the role a CRM solution can play in a company's success, it's vital to find the right provider who can offer the features and customization capabilities to fit your business needs. We've reviewed a number of software offerings on the market. The choices are myriad, but we've identified some of the best providers for the small-to-medium sized companies. We'll give you the pros, cons and bottom line on some of the best-known names in CRM software so you can make a decision that will help grow your business.

Best CRM Software for Small Businesses

Salesforce CRM is one of the most recognizable names in CRM software, and for good reason. The company is the world's largest CRM provider, and consistently ranked at the top of industry surveys. They offer a cloud-based solution that reaches every stage of the customer life cycle and is flexible, mobile and fully customizable. It's also easy to learn and use, and offers an intuitive interface that's easy to navigate on mobile and desktop devices. It can be expensive for smaller companies, but many users contend that the lower training costs offset the higher subscription fee. Prices start at $25 per user per month (up to 5 users), with progressively more sophisticated versions including Pro ($75 per user), Enterprise ($150 per user), and Unlimited ($300 per user). Add $25 per user for the service module and $75 for the sales and service analytics module.

Best Free CRM Software

Zoho Office Suite may be free, but choose this option and you won't be forced to compromise on capabilities just because you're not a paying customer. This cloud-based The Zoho CRM solution was created with the needs of small and medium-sized businesses in mind. Users enjoy all the core functionalities of pricier options, and the interface includes tools such as sales and marketing automation, product configuration, reporting, and customer analytics. There's also a gamification feature that adds a bit of fun to the sales process and rewards salespeople who achieve targets. The mobile version gives users access to sales and customer information on iPads, iPhones and Android devices. The free edition is restricted to 10 users, with upgraded services starting at $12 per month. While users report that considerable customization can be necessary at the outset and customer support can be limited, Zoho is a powerful tool for small businesses that are not ready to pay subscription fees.

Best CRM Software for Startups

Hubspot is another fully functioning CRM that is free for users and includes many of the tools a startup needs. It can track and organize contacts and offers a complete overview of the sales pipeline. Hubspot CRM also offers a sales add-on, in free and pro versions ($50 per month), which include email notifications and templates, document tracking, and in-app calling. Moreover, Hubspot offers all the basic features necessary without the complexity that can make other CRM software difficult to use for newbies. It's also a certified, premier Google partner, easily integrates with other software, and can be used in a variety of industries. Unfortunately, there's no phone support for free users, but that would be a little too good to be true.

Best CRM Software for Companies that Want Customizable Solutions

Apptivo is a web-based CRM solution that offers a variety of customer relations, project tracking and financial management functions. Users love the customizable app features that allow them to pick and choose the functions they need for their companies. The software is highly compatible with Google applications and users rave about the highly responsive, 24-hour customer service and great live chat support option. Altogether, one of the most flexible and affordable CRM tools available.

Our Methodology

To find the best CRM software for small businesses, we began by talking to business owners themselves, as well as some of the professionals who advise them. We asked them their choice of CRM software, what features are the most important to them, what informed their choice of provider, what they love about their current CRM software, and what they would love to change. We discovered, not surprisingly, that ease of use and the ability to customize are important features, as is cost. The top features that business owners look for include: contact management, the ability to track interactions, scheduling and reminders, email marketing, pipeline monitoring, reporting analytics and integration with other platforms. They highly value customer support and extensive help desk functions.

We also did extensive research online, reading hundreds of consumer reviews and complaints, and poring through numerous review web sites. Then we narrowed down our list of CRM software to the most commonly mentioned names.

With the short list of 10 CRM software packages in hand, we scrutinized each company's website to compare and contrast the options offered. We watched their tutorial videos and reviewed the customer resources offered by each.

Based on our research, we developed these criteria, which we used to evaluate each outsourcing company.

  • Range of functionality
  • Analytics capability
  • Ability to integrate with other platforms
  • Customization
  • Ease of use
  • Mobile access
  • Social media integration
  • Automation
  • Workflow management
  • Customer service
  • Help desk availability
  • Training requirements

Here are the remaining companies we looked at during our research.

Microsoft Dynamics offers a look and feel familiar to Office and Sharepoint users, with a user interface that's easy to use. This makes the software a great option for Microsoft users and it's optimized for performance with Microsoft products, meaning that it can be slightly clunky if you integrate with other products. The solution can be deployed via the cloud, on-premises or via a hybrid combination, but the on-premises option is great for companies that have data security concerns. The range of functionality is comprehensive, but it's a sophisticated product that can be difficult to use. It's a better choice for companies that have well-defined processes. It's great for companies that need contract management capabilities, but can be expensive and difficult to use for smaller companies.

vTiger CRM is an all-in-one option designed for small businesses. It offers sales automation, email, project and inventory management, forecasting, workflow automation, case and lead management and a customer portal. There are also training, migration and email marketing packages available separately. vTiger easy to learn and affordable, with a tech support desk that's quick to respond. The biggest drawback is that it can be difficult to customize.

Nimble is a good choice for companies of any size that want to unify disparate data and improve their social media integration. Unfortunately, there's no Facebook or LinkedIn message integration since these social media forums have removed API access, although Nimble CRM works well with Twitter. The software automatically populates profiles and interaction histories from contact lists, email and social media. The interface gives a comprehensive view of to-dos, key deals, engagement opportunities and more. Best of all, Nimble has a rules engine that helps the software learn from user behavior and predict increasingly relevant contacts and activities.

Suite CRM is an open source CRM that is scalable for any business size. Designed to offer enterprise-level functionality, the software can be deployed in a private cloud, directly on private servers, or on a public cloud. Suite is highly customizable and offers a free option for sophisticated enterprise users. However, it takes considerable skill to administer and is only suited to advanced organizations.

Act! manages contacts and leads while offering reporting and third party integration that includes basic accounting, client history and pipeline reports. Available in a cloud version that requires no IT support, as well as in a server-based version. The software offers built-in email marketing tools and integrates with phone systems. However, some users reported that the interface is dated, the software can be confusing to use and social media integration could be better. This difficult-to-use CRM is not for the faint of heart and feels more like a jazzed-up contact manager than a fully functional CRM.

Goldmine was among the first contact management and CRM tools. The software is still good for maintaining a centralized contact list, but it's less appealing as a sophisticated CRM. According to some, the email function can be troublesome, in particular, and some users have reported it is prone to crashing. Further, feedback indicated that many of the features available through Goldmine can be found elsewhere at a better price and with better functionality.