One of the most important aspects of business is customer relationships. After all, it’s customers that keep your lights on.

If your small business is looking for a way to make its relationships with customers even better, take a look at these free Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools. Some of the tools are hosted in the cloud, and some of the tools require you to install them on your own hardware, but all four would do a great job of keeping your business running smoothly and more efficiently.

1: Zoho CRM

Zoho CRM (Figure A) is my go-to tool for managing customer relationships. With Zoho CRM you can handle all of your CRM needs, which includes:

  • customer management
  • day-to-day business automation
  • associate social profiles with customers
  • sales tracking
  • connecting using mobile apps
  • easily communicate with customers
  • integrate CRM with other Zoho tools

Many small businesses will appreciate that there is no installation — Zoho is purely a cloud-based tool. This means you don’t have to pay for hardware or server or software maintenance. As long as you have a browser or a mobile app, you can get to your Zoho CRM tool.

Caveat: The Zoho CRM Free account is limited to three users. For a very small shop, that’s fine, and even some medium shops might be able to get away with only three users. But once you have any need above that user number, you need to start looking at the premium accounts. The Zoho CRM Standard account is $12 USD per month, and I think the benefits you gain from Zoho CRM are well worth that nominal cost. Get more details about Zoho CRM pricing and all four editions.
Figure A

Zoho CRM (Click the image to enlarge.)

2: openCRX

openCRX (Figure B) is the free CRM tool if you need to manage enterprise-wide coordination of sales generation/fulfillment, marketing and service activities to customers/partners/suppliers/intermediaries. openCRX includes groupware, account management, product and price management, sales pipeline, advanced activity management, issue tracking, and more. But don’t think openCRX is only designed for larger companies.

openCRX is a true open source, browser-based tool and is platform independent. Because of its open source nature, openCRX is ideal for SMBs. The only requirements are that your server runs Apache Tomcat and one of the major database management systems (MySQL, HSQLDB, PostgreSQL, Microsoft SQL, Oracle, or IBM DB2).

A very nice feature of the groupware component is that it features AirSync, a drop-in replacement for ActiveSync that allows you to connect with any ActiveSync client such as iPhone or Android devices. You can also purchase paid support using one of the openCRX affiliates.

Figure B

openCRX (Click the image to enlarge.)

3: CiviCRM

CiviCRM (Figure C) is one of the most powerful open source tools available for businesses that focus on civic, volunteer, or community-driven efforts. CiviCRM is especially ideal for event planning and management. This web-based tool offers: membership management (including member access and rules), customizable online signup and renewal, membership appeal campaigns, and more.
Caveat: CiviCRM works on top of an existing CMS tool; you can install CiviCRM into your Drupal, Joomla!, or WordPress platform. CiviCRM requires PHP5.3.x and MySQL 5.1.x.

Test drive the CiviCRM demo, on top of various platforms, from the Demo Site.

Figure C

CiviCRM (Click the image to enlarge.)

4: Zurmo

Zurmo (Figure D) is touted as the gamified, social, and mobile CRM platform. “Gamified” means that Zurmo rewards end users with scores, badges, achievements, and statuses. This “gamification” can create a competitive environment that could drive up productivity within the CRM.

Zurmo offers a fairly standard feature set: contact/activity management, deal tracking, reporting, workflow, and campaign management, and it works with most mobile platforms.

The software requirements for a Zurmo installation are: Apache (>= 2.2.1 or IIS >= 5.0.0) and MySQL Server (>= 5.1). This software is recommended but optional: Apache mod_deflate and Memcached.

To get a better idea of what Zurmo CRM has to offer, try this Live Demo. Demo credentials are Administration panel: Username: super and Password: super. Standard user: Username: jim and Password: jim.

(Figure D)

Zurmo (Click the image to enlarge.)