Network Hippo is a new startup taking direct aim at the open source and SaaS CRMs so popular with small business. On top of contact management, it adds the ability to handle documents, manage tasks and business deals, and rate the strength, importance and opportunities for each relationship listed in your network.

Network Hippo is a project of Mercury Grove, which has also made other business software, including a CRM. Network Hippo’s niche is fine-grained control of business relationships, rather than just a one-size-fits-all pipeline of leads. But unlike social CRM offerings, Network Hippo is something of an odd duck. It’s not just a CRM, but it’s also not really connected to the social Web.

Network Relationships, Not Customers

Despite being targeted at business users, the site focuses on being a “network relationship application” rather than something to manage customer relationships. This means that it does away with a lot of the sales-related functionality that is at the core of a CRM.

The concept of network management is a much more sophisticated one than simple contact and customer management. Basically, the idea is to import your contacts from email and social networks, separate them into different networks, and then rate and classify them. Once you’ve got it all going, Network Hippo provides a dashboard with some interesting metrics and reports on what’s happening in your network.

Not A Replacement

There may be a lot of posturing on the site about being an alternative to CRM, but in our estimation Network Hippo isn’t likely to draw many businesses away from their CRMs.

It’s offered on a freemium basis, with the paid options either $19/month or $29/user per month. The steepest price is the only one that gives you “deal management” and document importing.

The fundamental problem with Network Hippo’s value proposition is that network relationships are too personally oriented, rather than something fit for an organization as a whole. To position the service in opposition to CRMs but only serve the needs of individuals is a recipe for failure.