When people think of customer relationship management, they often think of vendors like Microsoft, Salesforce.com, SugarCRM, Zoho and a host of others that provide CRM services. Each of these companies has been around for years providing businesses with the tools and services they need to manage their customer base.
But for every one of these long-standing, well-known providers, there are literally thousands of smaller niche players that either have traditional CRM offerings or provide services that are "CRM-ish"—meaning they do something that impacts customer engagement in a significant way.
If you're in the market for CRM tools that can help you manage your customers better, take a look at three companies that may not be well-known but are definitely doing some pretty cool things you should be aware of.
Small But Powerful
1. Zapier. These days, we use so many different apps to in our efforts to find, catch and keep good customers. A service for email marketing, a tool for holding webinars, one for creating landing pages ... the list goes on and on. But having to manually jump back and forth between these systems can be time consuming. And time spent on routine tasks keeps us from spending time building strong, long-lasting relationships with our customers.
Zapier (free to $95/month) helps by creating connectors that allow many of the apps small businesses depend on to work together without anyone having to manually intervene. For example, if you host a webinar series as a lead-generation activity, there are potentially a few apps you’ll use to manage the whole process. You may want to create a registration page on your website for people to sign up for the webinar. You’ll want their contact information to go into your contact management /CRM database so you can keep track of them. You’ll also want that information to create a registration record. And once the webinar is over, you’ll want to send a message to those who attended thanking them and a message to those who registered but couldn’t attend to let them know how they can view the recording of the webinar.
With data having to pass through three or four different systems (landing page, contact management, webinar, email marketing, etc.) to make things work, you've got your work cut out for you. Zapier allows you to easily set up what it calls "zaps" that connect one system to another. When certain actions take place in one system, it kicks off a trigger to cause another action to take place in the connected app. For instance, if someone fills out a registration page created with HubSpot, when they hit the submit button, the information goes into Hubspot as a new contact. Zapier then uses that same information to create a registration record in GoToWebinar, removing the need to manually enter the information.
There are hundreds of apps you can connect with Zapier's zaps to automate important tasks, including popular services from Google Apps, GoToWebinar, Salesforce.com and more. Some of these connectors are free, while others from premium services cost as little as $15/month based on the number of zaps you need to use.
2. Nearstream. Out of its merger with marketing automation platform LoopFuse, Nearstream (free to $1,295/month) now has a platform that offers both traditional marketing automation capabilities (email marketing, lead nurturing, lead scoring, etc.) and social marketing activities management. This combination allows Nearstream to provide often-used online marketing capabilities around email marketing and landing page management tools—critical tools in the SMB marketing tool belt. But where the company can really help is in underutilized marketing automation areas like lead nurturing and scoring. Nearstream is also developing tools for managing social profiles, social advocates and influencers, as well as in the advanced areas of predictive analytics and social signals.
As small and midsized businesses recognize the need to go beyond the online marketing basics, they’ll need an affordable platform to help them with lead scoring, lead nurturing, predictive analytics and advanced reporting. With more expensive tools like Marketo and Pardot focusing on the needs of larger organizations, and companies like InfusionSoft focusing on the under 25-employee space, Nearstream can help by providing tools for those that fit somewhere in the middle.
3. UserVoice. UserVoice (free to $95/month) offers products that enable companies to provide better service and feedback capabilities at scale in order to improve customer retention efforts. Through a mix of tools—including help desk support, satisfaction surveys, self-service, product feedback and analytics—UserVoice provides a central location for all those channels, giving small business what they need to build better relationships with their users.
A key component of its tool box is the Instant Answer functionality of its apps. As an end user starts typing their question into the help box, UserVoice starts suggesting relevant knowledge-base articles and feedback posts—anything from a web page to a mobile app. And it provides analytics to see which articles and feedback posts are successfully driving resolutions.
By using an in-app experience to get users to provide quick feedback, UserVoice helps companies increase the likelihood of getting their customers to respond. UserVoice reports that its SmartVote functionality gets as many as 10 times more customers to provide feedback and that each of those customers is providing twice the amount of feedback as those coming through feedback portals.
With customers wanting better, faster service responses and providing more feedback (while expecting to see their ideas and suggestions factored into the designs of the products and services they love), being able to capture this information and quickly act on it will become even more critical as big data grows even bigger. UserVoice's platform allows a handful of employees to engage with hundreds of thousands of users to help improve the likelihood that these customers will stick around for a longer amount of time.
If you're exploring your business's CRM options, these three tools are worth a look. They might not do everything traditional CRM products do, but they poke into niches that impact how your business can relate to today’s tech-empowered customers. And that definitely makes them CRM-ish.
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