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Common Questions and Answers
Big corporations will often spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to acquire just the right CRM package for their sales teams. This makes sense when you consider that a good CRM program can have a dramatic affect on sales — which means all that money the company invested upfront will come back to them soon enough, and then some. But if you aren’t working for a Fortune 500 company, your employer may not be able or willing to shell out a lot of money even to support the sales team. Fortunately, there are plenty of free CRM programs that will do just fine for a small sales team.
The first question to ask yourself is whether you’d prefer a software or service CRM program. A software CRM program installs directly onto your computer and/or server, and all the data that you add also stays on your own system. As a result, software packages offer a bit more security. Your data stays right in your office, and you have control over the program itself and any upgrades that the provider later offers. On the other hand, if something happens to your server you could potentially lose all your data — a truly hideous disaster. You will be responsible for keeping the program running, with perhaps some help from the manufacturer’s tech support team.
A service CRM resides on the provider’s system. You access this kind of program online, and the data that you enter into the system will also live on the provider’s server rather than your own. The provider is responsible for maintaining the service and keeping it running, which usually means that they have plenty of backup servers and redundant systems in place — the odds of your losing data to some catastrophe are pretty slim. The drawback to services is that you don’t have control of the software that keeps the service running, and your data is also in the provider’s hands.
Most free CRM programs are services rather than software, so unless you have a compelling reason to go with a software package you should probably choose a service — it will give you a wider range of choices. Many of the free CRM providers also offer a paid package that’s a more sophisticated version of their free one, so if you outgrow the free package you can easily upgrade without having to re-enter all of your data. That being the case, take a look at the features the paid version includes so that you can be sure you’ll be happy with it if you do choose to buy it later.
SugarCRM — This software CRM is a special case because it’s open-source, meaning that the code is freely available — you can download a copy and modify it as you please to build yourself a custom CRM. If you don’t feel like bringing in a programmer, you can instead use Sugar Community Edition, which is an off-the-shelf CRM package. SugarCRM also comes in a paid version (SugarCRM Pro) which comes with a bit more technical support.
FreeCRM.com — Hey, it’s got the word ‘free’ in the name, right? FreeCRM is a service that can serve double duty as a CRM and as a tech support trouble ticket management system. The truly free version allows you to enter up to 5000 customer records. If you grow beyond that point, you can purchase FreeCRM Pro, a service with unlimited storage and more features.
ZohoCRM — A popular CRM service that has a free version supporting up to three users and up to 100,000 customer records. Zoho.com also has two paid versions: Professional and Enterprise (for companies with really big data and/or tech support needs). If you like some of the paid features but don’t want the whole package, you can instead buy a plug-in or two with the features you like.
Pipeliner — For those preferring a software to a service, Pipeliner is an excellent choice — it received a 5-star editor review from CNET. This free software package not only has the standard lead management tools, it also includes a prospect tracking timeline and built-in address book.
About the author
My first sales position was a summer job selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door. I continued through a variety of sales jobs ranging from retail sales for a storage company to selling bank products for a Fortune 500 financial institution.
As a small business owner, I now focuses on selling for my own company, Tailored Content, a website content provider. I write on a wide range of topics but my primary focus is sales and how to sell effectively.