7 powerful CRM applications for small businesses

There are a huge number of good CRMs out there which are priced to make them accessible to small businesses. I’ve spent a lot of time searching these out, giving them a try and even running with them for a while in one of the businesses I’m involved in.

This post is the summary of my findings to date. The right CRM for you may be different but I hope this post will help you on your search. Please share any insights  by leaving a comment.

Capsule CRM

This is the system that I have used most and currently use at White Fuse. It’s very simple and I am often tempted to try something else but for a business of around 10 employees it is a good solution.

Key benefits:

  • affordable

  • simple to use

  • good integrations (Mailchimp, Wufoo, Google Apps)

If you want more info read my full review of Capsule CRM.


This app is built by 37 Signals, whose ethos is all about simplicity. I introduced this app at Jigsaw Consult because I was working with people unfamiliar with CRMs and wanted something with a low barrier to entry.

I can completely understand why 37 Signals have seen so much success with their products. Simplicity has a lot of advantages. However, in the end I moved away from this system because it lacks any Google Apps integration. There were a few third party tools to help with this but when I last looked they were incomplete solutions.


PipeDrive adopts the ‘Kanban’ approach of visualised workload and applies it to the sales pipeline. This works brilliantly. I have still not come across a more intuitive or helpful sales pipeline dashboard.   The system is also built by sales people and is very focused on results.

PipeDrive’s weakness is its versatility to perform CRM tasks that are not about the pipeline. It’s contact management system is clunky and it does not intuitively serve the purpose of maintaining existing client relationships. It has invested solidly in improved Google Apps integration but still lacks the breadth of Capsule CRM when it comes to third party integrations.

For a bit more info read my full PipeDrive review.


I investigated Salesforce because I thought that if it was used by so many huge companies it must be good. Indeed, when it comes to integrations and flexibility, it’s impressive. But I was left feeling that it lacked the agility of smaller and newer platforms and was therefore lagging behind and existing on the basis of its corporate clients who are too tied-in to leave.

As an example, the interface was a slower and less responsive than other systems I have tested. You are also buying into a very expensive platform so you need to be sure you are going to get full value. To do this I suspect you need a business that has grown enough to have a dedicated sales team with a number of sales people collaborating on a day to day basis.


In my role at White Fuse Media I often find myself singing the praises of open source technology, in which the company is heavily invested. However, it’s important to note that if you want a hassle free hosted CRM platform like the other options here then wrestling with the open source version of Sugar is probably not for you. A fairer comparison is with the paid version.

This is a solid competitor of salesforce and has good enterprise credentials. For a small business I was put off by the interface which struck me as clunky and old school. However, I realise this is quite a superficial judgement and I can see how it could be a powerful system.


Batchbook is great when it comes to integration with other systems. It has a really collaborative spirit and a generally friendly and supportive approach. This is all very attractive to a small business.

I ran with Batchbook for a while before they released their new interface. I was really excited about the new design as I saw this as the main weakness of the system. However, I was then very disappointed at the quality of the ‘new’ user interface they released. It’s a real shame but the current interface is still, in my opinion, pretty poor.


The idea behind this system is an upgrade on the basic spreadsheet without losing entirely its inherent versatility. Think of it as an Excel – CRM hybrid.

I can see the attraction of this system if you have unusual requirements. You could then use Smartsheet to build a system for yourself that is much better than a tyical spreadsheet. However, as a business wide system for managing contacts, customer relationships and new leads the versatility is actually a weakness.

Other options

A few others that I’ve had a quick look at:

Zoho CRM – neat interface, Google Apps integration

Nimble – social integration

Work etc – a system attempting to address both CRM and project management needs with the obvious advantages of using a single system

Base – neat and simple system but seems overpriced when compared to Capsule, Batchbook or Highrise without having much more functionality

Nutshell – potential but questions around quality of user experience

  • 倍返し おもてなし

    Time ripens all things, No man is born wise. This post of each CRM product is very informative to me due to your own experience that you have tried them.

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  • Mack Willson

    Though Salesforce and pipedrive are amazing crm with simple user interface but they are also expensive,Therefore we chose Onsitecrm a lesser known but good for pricesmall business crm that could fulfill all over demands.

  • Trevor Hatfield

    If you are on HubSpot or interested in using it the new CRM that is free for customers is great for a simple and clear CRM catered to small businesses. I’ve seen a lot of businesses move from Salesforce to it recently who felt Salesforce was overkill.