Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Three best free CRM tools for startups

You’ve just launched a startup and need customer relationship management tool. It’s likely that your first concern is cost – you want something that’s either free or reasonably priced, because you can’t afford SalesForce ($60 per person per month 2 year minimum contract) quite yet. Your second concern is probably what your CRM can do other than just keep contacts – because you already know that you could use spreadsheets from Excel to Zoho to Google Docs – but they just don’t integrate with all the other tools you are using (bulk e-mails, project management, invoices) all that well. So lets look at the options you have

1.    Bitrix24 CRM. Bitrix24 is probably the best known startup friendly CRM for obvious reasons – it’s totally free for 12 users and, if your startups is qualified, you actually get the top $2400/yr plan free for one year. Not a bad start. The second advantage (I am going to skip features, because it pretty much has everything you need) is open REST API which means that if you have coding skills, you can make it work with any tool or service you use, provided you have their API access as well. Finally, because Bitrix24 is a collaborative enterprise social network, all the modules in includes (CRM, project management, file sharing, planner, meetings, tasks, instant messaging, business process building, records management, etc) work together. Bitrix24 also comes with disadvantages – because it’s feature-rich and very flexible, the learning curve is actually quite steep. For instance, I discovered that Bitrix24 has their own ‘Skype’ that lets you have videochats with you co-workers or clients, only six month into using it.

2.    Streak CRM. If Bitrix24 is the best known CRM for startups, Streak is probably the least known one. Probably because Streak is still in development and is a beta. The good thing is that it’s 100% free while it’s a beta. The bad news that getting an invite can be tricky (edit – no longer an issue). But if you decide that help out a fellow startup, where’s what you need to know. Streak is a GMail based CRM, which is very, very cool, if you do most of your prospecting, pitching and communicating with GMail. Second, Streak can be used to track bugs, hire new employees, perform basic customer support duties and, obviously sales (it is a CRM, after all). A bit raw, but very promising solution for tech startups.

3.    Nimble CRM. Jon Ferarra is a CRM legend, being a GoldMine CRM co-founder. He disappeared for many years after selling his company, only to come out of nowhere last year with a totally awesome new CRM concept. Nimble isn’t anything like Bitrix24 or Streak. It’s not feature rich, not flexible and doesn’t do e-mail tricks like Streak does. Heck, it doesn’t even have a rudimentary project management module. However, you absolutely should give it a try, because Nimble is a new generation of CRM tools, known as social CRM. Where as traditional CRMs track client’s address, e-mail, phone number and history of interactions, Nimble’s main objective is your client’s social footprint. Nimble works with FaceBook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+, keeping you informed about any and every social activity of people in your CRM. Because so many sales are now initiated in social networks (LinkedIn for enterprise sales and increasingly Twitter), this is increasingly important and Nimble CRM is clearly up to the task. It’s free only for one user, unlike Bitrix24 and Streak, but $15 per user per month puts Nimble within the reach of all but the most desperate startups. Also, out of the three solutions discussed, Nimble’s marketplace offers the most readily available apps you can use to expand Nimble’s  rather limited functionality.