Businesses live and die by their customers. Build a healthy customer relationship, and you’ll thrive. But, consistently offer sub-par experiences and your business will fail, no matter how great the product. One type business software is centered entirely on tracking and addressing this core business need: CRM, or Customer Relationship Management.
With the right CRM, you’ll ramp up your ability to convert leads while cutting down on churn at the same time.
Not only is the CRM software market competitive, with over a half dozen top-quality options available, but the array of features and add-on integrations can be confusing. Each CRM is different, with unique functions and potential extra costs – you can compare the latter using our handy CRM pricing quotes tool.
Best CRM Software for Small Businesses to Choose
Which CRM is best for a small business? We’re glad you asked.
Below, we list the best CRM software providers you can choose. Each has tiered plans that can help a small business scale and grow, so you can find affordable packages that may help you to start small.
Salesforce— The biggest and best known brand in CRM, and one that’s trusted by thousands of businesses worldwide. It combines various platforms, such as Sales Cloud and Marketing Cloud, for its different functions, and has a modern, simple interface plus powerful data functions.
Hubspot — A “freemium” CRM service, this software’s basic package is available for free, and comes with a simple learning curve. Additional platforms address more specific CRM categories, such as marketing or sales. This is a good option for businesses just dipping their toes in the CRM market, though they’ll need to upgrade to a monthly payment plan to access the most worthwhile features
Microsoft Dynamics — A great choice for companies already well-versed in Microsoft products, this offering comes with features beyond just CRM: It can provide an integrated platform for finance and talent recruitment as well. However, third-party integrations beyond Microsoft are limited.
Zendesk — Originally known for its ticketing and call desk tools, this software also helps usher leads down pipelines and close deals. Structured as a suite of apps under a single platform, Zendesk lets users pick and choose which features to focus on, and integrates easily with other CRM services. A good pick for a business in need of a customer support desk for tickets, live chat, and phone.
Zoho — A feature-rich CRM option with support plans that scale with a business: The smallest plan is free and available to three users, while the mid-tier plans offer access to unique abilities, most noteably an AI that analyzes sales data to form predictions. It supports 20 languages, making it an attractive option for international operations.
Apptivo — This CRM is a serviceable option that no-frills customers should enjoy: It includes the basic features in a simple, intuitive interface with a low learning curve. Strong security options are a stand-out feature.
amoCRM — This CRM offers the basic CRM features and it also supplements them with robust integration options for third-party apps from Facebook to MailChimp. With just three service plans, all at a low price point, amoCRM is an easy-to-understand option.
Here’s our closer look at the pros, cons, and unique abilities of the best CRM software vendors available today.
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Data cap in basic plan
10GB + 5GB/20 users
1 GB base + 512 MB/user
Social media integrations
Intuitive, easy to understand
Live Chat Support
Cheapest paid plan (user/month)
Most expensive plan (user/month)
A market leading CRM for good reason and a great all-rounder
A strong CRM system with an attractive free tier
A robust CRM platform that embeds brilliantly with Microsoft products
An inexpensive, simple CRM tool that can combine with other plug-ins and apps.
Flexible, friendly and effective, Zoho also starts at low price plans
Stripped-down but a solid CRM platform
Intuitive and simple, AmoCRM is a CRM suite that impresses
If you’re looking to get started with a CRM solution for your business, it’s helpful to understand the type of costs you might expect. CRM pricing varies depending on the types of tasks you need to carry out, plus the size of your team and customer base. For a simple way to compare CRM costs, we recommend using our helpful CRM pricing quotes tool, below – simply fill in a few key details of what you’re after to get started:
The Salesforce software option remains one of the most popular. How popular? Not only does it serve thousands of large businesses worldwide, but its cofounder just bought Time magazine on a whim. Salesforce CRM offers almost an overwhelming amount of features and strong analytics, wrapped up in a simple interface. Like many CRM offerings, Salesforce consists of a suite of services. Called “clouds,” they cover core CRM needs as well as more tangental ones. Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud, Community Cloud, Commerce Cloud and Analytics Cloud can all be accessed through a main interface hub, and companies can pick which ones are most relevant to them. This interface comes in two styles, Salesforce Classic and the superior Salesforce Lightning, though our review focuses on the Lightning interface. Additional services can be layered over the clouds, too: Einstein analytics, an artificial intelligence-driven analytics service, and Chatter, an internal messaging network, are useful add-ons. On top of all that, an app store allows users to buy additional third-party integrations.
Salesforce offers the Sales and Service Clouds, its main CRM services, as a bundle with the Lightning interface. Core features include management for leads, contacts, and opportunities; Outlook and Gmail integrations; analytics software that lets users build reports with drag-and-drop options; team collaboration tools to help users communicate with their team members; and chat options to allow users to message their clients individually (via SMS text, live chat, or Facebook Messenger).
The Sales and Service Cloud bundle comes in three service plan tiers: Lightning Professional costs $100/user/month, Lightning Enterprise costs $175/user/month, and Lightning Unlimited costs $325/user/month, all billed annually. Live support options including 24/7 phone support and developer support are available, but for an additional fee (unless you have the Unlimited plan). You’ll have access to plenty of online documents, videos and manuals for free, however.
Hubspot’s CRM is available for free, though users will need to upgrade to a paid plan in order to access the best features. However, a free CRM is nothing to sneeze at: Hubspot’s free tier offers better functionality than any other major free CRM software on the market. The service splits its features into three “hubs,” Sales Hub, Service Hub, and Marketing Hub, all of which come with free tiers and can be accessed through a main dashboard interface.
Noteable core features of the three hubs include the ability to import, customize, and create new contacts, deals, and leads; Gmail and Outlook email integrations; the ability to create and publish SEO blog posts or social media posts from within the interface; report-building features; flexible support tickets; a mobile app available on iOS and Android; and email campaign tracking. You can read a more complete breakdown of the free and paid features in our detailed Hubspot CRM review.
The three hubs can be purchased separately at three different tiers beyond the free one, or all three can be purchased together as the Growth Suite, also in three tiers. The Growth Suite offers the best bargain, offering a tidy 25% discount. The Growth Suite’s Starter tier starts at $113/month, the Professional tier starts at $1,200/month, and the Enterprise tier at $3,600/month.
Microsoft’s greatest strength is the way all of its software products function together, and its CRM features are no different. The CRM is a great choice for businesses already powered by Microsoft, as Outlook and Office 365 integrate smoothly with Microsoft Dynamics. In addition, Microsoft Dynamics functions as more than a CRM, with a suite of applications designed to cover another acronym for a business software niche: enterprise resource planning (ERP). Some ERP applications in the Microsoft Dynamics suite are aimed at more specific industries such as retail or finance, while others help businesses with tasks like finding and onboarding the best talent. Our review covers the CRM modules, which include Sales, Customer Service, Field Service, and Project Service.
Features included in these modules cover a sales dashboard that displays up-to-date sales data; an intelligent onboarding feature that uses predictive AI to deliver pop-ups facts when needed; timelines for each lead that allow users to quickly see their history of interactions; a three-step workflow that helps users quickly close cases; project planning features with a team collaboration focus; and automated scheduling and dispatch features for businesses with field agents.
Support options are good: Microsoft offers a free online support center specifically for CRM, and 24/7 live chat and phone support options are available to paying customers. For $115/user/month, businesses can buy just the CRM tools, and starting at $210/user/month, they can buy the CRM and ERP tools as a package.
Microsoft Dynamics is a great choice for large enterprises, but admittedly comes with an interface some have found clunky and counter-intuitive: If you operate a smaller business, the power and depth of integration might not be worth the hassle of the learning curve.
Integrates easily with Microsoft products/services
Flexible pricing so you don’t pay for features you don’t need
24/7 live support
Limited third-party integrations
Interface may not be intuitive
Best for integrating with other CRM tools
Launched in 2007 with customer support ticket software as its main offering, Zendesk has continued adding applications, and now offers a full suite of apps that, combined under its open-API Zendesk Sunshine platform, cover most of the CRM basics a most businesses need. Any missing features can be covered via third-party integrations, including other CRM services like Salesforce or the bug tracking software Jira.
Still centered around its support tickets, the Zendesk dashboard allows users to share tickets with selected agents, add notes, and reassign them when needed. Ticket creation can be triggered from a wide range of platforms, even from customer’s comments on social media. The service’s CRM tools include Support, Guide, Chat, Talk, and Connect. The first four are sold as a bundle, while Connect is a unique add-on: It’s an AI-driven solution that lives within the Zendesk interface and pops up when needed, using agents’ or leads’ past history to predict what they’ll need next. It can send push notifications or suggest email text.
A self-service online help center is available to all users, but the availability of live support, including email, phone or chat, depends on the service plan.
The Professional Zendesk Suite packages Support, Guide, Chat, and Talk, priced at $89/month/user, and an Enterprise version that includes Connect and the Zendesk Sunshine developer platform is available for $149/month/user. The popular stand-alone app Zendesk Support starts at just $5/user/month when billed annually, making it an attractive option for a company that needs a cost-effective customer support desk, but not a full CRM suite.
Best for international or multi-language companies
This vendor’s CRM service has been going strong for over two decades, and is one of the larger brands available next to Salesforce. Zoho’s wide range of pricing means that they can serve small businesses in need of a limited CRM for a cost-effective price as well as 1,000+ employee companies that need all the enterprise data-crunching options available.
Several of their stand-out features, including strong email marketing features, smooth Google G-Suite integrations, and support for 20 languages, make Zoho a good fit for a large enterprise.
Other core features include contact, account and lead management; team-centric options including a team calendar and direct messaging functionality; the ability to set roles for employees to determine their level of security clearance; sales forecasting; and customizable email templates.
Zoho’s international phone support team is available 24/7, which is a noteable selling point, given the more limited support options offered by most competing CRM vendors. The service plan comes in five tiers. First up is a free tier (sadly, capped at three users), followed by the Standard plan at $12/user/month, the Professional plan at $20/user/month, and the Enterprise plan at $35/user/month. The final plan, Ultimate, is $100/user/month and is defined by additional storage, premium support, and data enrichment. The amount of tiers make Zoho a scalable, flexible option.
Small to medium businesses might consider Apptivo an attractive option, due to its serviceable range of features, strong third-party integration options, and below-industry-average pricing. The simple interface makes it a good choice for companies with basic CRM needs that anticipate needing additional integrations in the future. That said, the main features of the CRM can’t be easily customized, which may deter businesses hoping for more in-depth abilities.
Core features of the cloud-based Apptivo CRM center on three goals: Tracking contacts, automating tasks related to sales, and streamlining customer support. Projects, deals, contacts, and leads can all be managed via a centralized interface. The same raft of apps is available on the Apptivo interface regardless of the pricing tier, though the amount of features available through each app grows as the plans become more expensive.
Apptivo has four pricing tiers: Starter is free, Premium costs $8/month/user, Ultimate costs $20/month/user, and the Apptivo Enterprise plan is only available for a custom quote. Email and phone support options are available, depending on which service plan tier businesses are subscribed to, but 24/7 live chat support is available to all, even those on the free plan.
amoCRM’s service is aimed at allowing a sales team to easily monitor and analyze their leads and tasks. Strong analytics tools, a decent range of third-party integrations, and a high-quality support team are all selling points. The structure of the CRM interface is that of a sales pipeline, with the dashboard structured by columns. Each lead is assigned a card that can be dragged and dropped as a user moves them down the sales pipeline. The columns can be customized to best represent each business’s unique sales pipeline.
Phone, email, and live chat support are offered to all paying members, though only during work days from 12 a.m. to 5 p.m., PST. Online support includes a knowledge base and a developer-focused help center.
With just three service plans — Base, Advanced, and Enterprise — amoCRM’s pricing is easy to understand at a glance. To make matters more simple, the Advanced plan offers the most features at the best cost, and is likely the plan that amoCRM would prefer to funnel businesses towards. It includes features covering process tracking reports categorized by team, not just individuals; the ability to build third-party widgets; a sales forecasting ability; and auto-created tasks, which allow pre-determined team members to be auto-assigned specific tasks or lead tickets.
Picking out the best CRM software can be a little overwhelming: There are so many features, and often a lot of overlap between the abilities of each CRM. Price might be a factor, but you also don’t want to lowball a software service that will majorly impact your daily communication with your clients. It’s tough to know which CRM is genuinely the best deal.
Here are a few tips to use when finding a CRM for your small business:
Know what features you need — Certain CRM services are primarily designed for specific elements of customer relationships. Zendesk is a great customer support desk, while amoCRM provides a great sales pipeline.
Learning curves matter — A CRM is only effective if your entire team knows how to use it. If the learning curve is too tough, your business’s efficency could take a hit for months or years. Don’t underestimate how long it can take employees to pick up new tricks.
Mobile access matters — Similarly, mobile apps are becoming more important: Both clients and agents will likely move faster if they can access the CRM via mobile. Consider using your free trial of a new CRM service to test how it performs on a smartphone or tablet.
Consider the future — If your company might grow, you’ll likely need a higher priced CRM service plan: Make sure you don’t pick a CRM vendor with an attractive low-tier plan, but a less cost-effective higher tier. Once you pick a CRM, it’s tough to change to a new one.
Analytics features help you grow — If your business is small, you might not have much data to crunch. If you’re staying small, you won’t need to. But if you’re a startup with growth on your mind, the more granular your CRM’s data analytics features are, the better informed you’ll be about your strengths and weaknesses. It’s a virtuous cycle: the larger you grow, the better your data becomes.
Once you know what features you need, what service tier is best, and what learning curve your team will enjoy, there’s just one step left: Getting quotes. To figure out what CRM services will offer your business the best deal, take just a minute to fill out Tech.Co’s quote form below.
Be Clear About How CRM Can Help Your Business
The most important thing to do before you even start researching different CRM brands is to establish your business priorities and what you need the software to do.
If you need software that will provide you with qualitative insights about how your sales teams interact with their clients at every stage of the sales process, the most important functionality you need to consider is how the system tracks lead activity.
However, if you are looking for ways to automate some of your more manual tasks when it comes to nurturing prospects, you may want to look at software options that allow you to send scheduled email marketing campaigns.
It’s easy to get preoccupied by all the clever features on the market but several reports reveal that the biggest challenge for many businesses already using CRM software is irrelevant functionality. Choose a system that fits in with your organization’s primary goals – don’t pay for any add-ons unless there is a clear business case for how it will positively impact performance.
CRM software has been designed to help optimize your sales process, not overcomplicate it. If you introduce a system with lots of sophisticated tools that is difficult to navigate, it is likely that your sales team either won’t use it at all (making it an unnecessary and costly investment) or they will end up spending most of their time inputting data and trying to work out how to use the platform instead of nurturing relationships (which defeats the whole purpose of CRM).
When looking at different CRM providers it’s important to consider how good the user experience is – be sure to ask for a comprehensive demo and a free trial for some of your sales team to test out the different options.
This will not only make your employees feel part of the transition process, it will also give you valuable insights into how user-friendly each option is before you make a final decision.
Pick CRM Software that Can Scale as You Grow
Your startup might only be 10 people strong now but what do the projections for your workforce and customers look like over the next three to five years? A team of 50 managing 200 accounts? As your business grows it’s important that your CRM software is able to scale with you.
Earlier we mentioned some of the challenges business owners face when convincing their organization to adopt new a new process or technology.
Now imagine that your workforce has doubled quicker than you had originally anticipated, and you’ve hit the maximum user capacity on the CRM system you rolled out just six months ago; how difficult will the communication strategy be with more people?
Most importantly, how long will it take to train your teams up to learn an entirely new system when they have just got to grips with the previous software? What impact will this have on the business?
Opting for a system that is scaleable is likely to cost a little more but could mean fewer disruptions further down the line, so keep your long-term ambitions in mind when looking at the different options.
Know if You’ll Need Mobile CRM Software
If your sales representatives spend a lot of time out of the office it’s important that they are able to access your CRM system while on the go.
Whether they need to see the sales history of a customer just before a meeting or they’ve just closed a deal and need to update the system so that your marketing team can push the button on a new digital campaign, having mobile access means that your teams can still get things done no matter where they are traveling from and to and you have real-time updates on how your sales force are getting on.
Choose CRM With Excellent Reporting and Analytics
The more you understand about your customers, the more success you will have when selling to them.
Reporting is the most valuable feature of any CRM system because it helps you draw meaningful insights from the hundreds, or even thousands, of complex datasets collected and inputted by your sales team.
CRMs with a comprehensive analytics function allow you to generate a variety of custom reports in real-time that will help your sales managers make better and more informed decisions that are driven by data. Some of the most valuable benefits of reporting include:
Identifying your most loyal customers, their buying patterns and knowing exactly when to reward them with special deals or discounts
Understanding the reasons behind losses, big wins and being able to spot new opportunities
Improving the accuracy of your sales forecasts so that you have a better overview of your cashflow
You will want to choose a system that visualizes the data in a way that is easy for your sales team to digest, so make sure you compare the different reporting formats and how the dashboards are presented.
There is no doubt that CRM systems have the ability to transform your sales process and help your organization become truly customer-led, but it’s important to find a solution that suits your needs and fits in with your long term objectives.
Conclusion: Next Steps Getting a CRM System
Once you know what features you need, what service tier is best, and what learning curve your team will enjoy, there’s just one step left: Getting quotes.
To figure out what CRM services will offer your business the best deal, take just a minute to fill out Tech.Co’s quote form below. The system you choose today could transform your business’s future.
By clicking to compare, you’ll receive quotes from various suppliers, tailored to the needs of your business. If you enter into a contract with a provider, we may receive a payment for the introduction. This helps Tech.co to provide free advice and reviews. It carries no additional cost to you, and doesn’t affect our editorial independence.
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Adam is a writer at Tech.co and has worked as a tech writer, blogger and copy editor for the last decade. He's also a Forbes Contributor on the publishing industry (and Digital Book World 2018 award finalist) and has appeared in publications including Popular Mechanics and IDG Connect. When not glued to TechMeme, he loves obsessing over 1970s sci-fi art.