A watchlist of cloud-centric services for small-biz CRM

If Salesforce.com is way more than your company needs, here are 14 other options -- most of which tightly integrate marketing automation features.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

Even though Salesforce.com dominates most headlines about customer relationship management (CRM) applications, cloud-centric options specifically targeted at small businesses are alive and well for many years and more reach market on a daily basis.

The past few weeks brought two particularly notable updates to my attention -- from Insightly, which has more than 500,000 users in more than 180 countries; and Swiftpage, the developer behind Act! Here's a recap of what's new for each:

Act! enters the cloud era: Swiftpage, the developer behind the widely used Act! Contact manager, is beta testing an all-new software as a service (SaaS) version of the application that should be commercially available this summer. Swiftpage bought the application from its original developer, Sage, in early 2013. Among other things, Act! Cloud will let small businesses work with contacts consolidated from many different places including Outlook, Gmail, LinkedIn and Facebook. The service includes integrated email marketing features and allows SMBs to track interaction histories for customers.

Insightly revises mobile app, adds more languages: There's now native language support for Spanish and Portuguese along with new instructor-led training options for the cloud service, which is one of the top-ranked applications in the Google Apps Marketplace. Next up is a French version, planned for later this year. The new mobile app update also was redesigned to take advantage of the Apple iOS 7 operating system.

From an overall standpoint, approximately 41 percent of all CRM sales in 2013 were cloud-based, according to Gartner's May 2014 report on the category. Clearly, Act! and Insightly aren't the only options for small companies seeking a SaaS-based CRM option. Here are other players that I've got on my SMB CRM watchlist.

Avidian – The company's Prophet CRM tool works directly inside of Microsoft Outlook, providing analytics that help teams quickly gauge the status of leads in their sales pipeline.

Highrise – The application allows small companies to track notes and email conversations for up to 30,000 customers and contacts, as well as share the status of proposals and deals with small teams.

Infusionsoft – One of the latest additions to this comprehensive option is a sales and marketing assessment tool for small businesses that provides recommendations for ways to improve these processes. It rates three phases of the sales lifecycle: Attract, Sell and Wow.

InTouch – Designed for a U.K. developer, this offering puts a big emphasize on its integrated email and marketing features. Like several of the other offerings mentioned in this article, it maintains a freemium version.

Maximizer – The company killed its Entrepreneur edition in January 2014, devoting more attention to its cloud service for "small enterprises." It boasts extensive features for marketing and customer service automation.

Microsoft – If your company prefers sticking with just one vendor for its productivity tools, it makes sense to look at the tightly integrated Office 365 plus Microsoft Dynamics CRM online option

Nimble – This application is pitched as a "Social CRM" tool that makes special use of the social Web to help small companies with prospecting. One of its latest features is "Smart Summary," which helps individuals automatically create dossiers about contacts that can be shared as part of business introductions.

Pipeliner – Pitched as a CRM app developed with a salesperson's sensibility in mind, this service was updated in May to build social profiling features into each contact record, two-way synchronization with Google Apps and Microsoft, lead scoring and new mobile apps for Android and iOS.

Really Simple Systems – If your businesses is super small, this company touts a free offering (up to two users and 100 accounts), but you have to pay if you want to use the mass email marketing capabilities.

Stride – This application focuses on automating and analyzing sales processes, offering insights about how effectively teams are collaborating and underscoring potential bottlenecks that could be slowing down the pipeline. It can be integrated with more than 250 other cloud services, including Gmail, Outlook, Github, Dropbox, Trello and Basecamp.

SugarCRM – Although not strictly meant for SMBs, the company is likely to focus more attention there after the April 2014 of a new chief product officer, Bill Hunt, who boasts a deep background in this segment. The company had 1.5 million users as of the first quarter. 

Zoho – The company enhanced its flagship app in late 2013, with new territory management features and tighter integrations for social media platforms. More than 50,000 companies use this CRM service, which starts at $12 per month per user.

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