Is CRM Software for Free Better Than A Paid Solution?


Why is customer relationship management (CRM) important for small businesses? As a small business owner, you should aim to expand your customer base quickly. But the problem is the tons of customer data you get can overwhelm your marketing, sales, and support teams. It could well slow them down and make them respond less quickly to opportunities, market trends, and customer issues. The net result may well be customer dissatisfaction.

A good quality CRM solution can prevent all this from happening. It can help you manage large volumes of customer data and glean valuable insights and sales opportunities from them. This Forbes article reveals that businesses utilizing CRM improve sales by 29%. Other advantages are:

  • Your sales reps can identify more opportunities and close more deals
  • You can engage your customers consistently through the sales lifecycle
  • You can automate and streamline customer-related processes
  • Plus, you can effectively leverage customers’ social media activities

To maximize the potential of the CRM platform, you should train your employees to feed quality data into it and keep the information accurate and updated.

The CRM scenario for small business

The good part is there are lots of good CRM software for free that you can select from. Most of these platforms are cloud-based and therefore easily accessible from multiple devices. Plus, their pricing packages are flexible and scalable. A lot of small business CRM program also offer advanced tools for fast-growing companies.

In this article, we list the top 12 CRM solutions in our database as selected by our review team. We provide you details about their unique aspects and features to help you understand if they are the right fit for your business needs.

We have selected Pipedrive, HubSpot CRM, and Freshsales as the top platforms based on their intuitive design, ease of use, flexibility, and feature set. These products give us a benchmark on the desirable features of CRM systems for small business.

Top features to look for in CRM solutions for small business

  • Ease of use: Your employees should be able to learn to use the system quickly and easily without needing much training. It should be easy to set up and should offer a user-friendly interface. This will help you to get all your employees on board and kindle their enthusiasm to utilize the app effectively.
  • Contact management features: Besides storing contact details, the platform should link the related details together including emails, social sentiments, leads, conversations, transactions, associated deals and tasks, and customer profiles. This consolidated contact data can give you an all-round view of your customers.
  • Lead-generation tools: These can help to capture online leads and automate the steps to nurture and organize them by priority levels.
  • Sales and marketing tools: The product must provide a clear sales pipeline that shows the sales stages where leads move to deals and closures. The app should allow you to customize the sales stages to suit your needs.
  • Employee-tracking capabilities: These empower you to monitor sales reps’ performance, compare current activities versus targets, and generate periodical reports on individual as well as team performance.
  • Customization options: The product should be flexible and customizable so that you can tailor it for your unique processes. You should be able to customize the reporting metrics, dashboard widgets, workflows, fields in web forms, and the sales pipelines. These customization options can help you manage your current and future requirements.
  • Automation capabilities: You should be able to automate common manual processes such as lead capture, daily reports, and admin tasks. This will help your sales reps to save time and spend it on important sales work.
  • Third-party integration: The CRM solution should integrate seamlessly with popular business systems such as collaboration, communication, document management, and email platforms. This integration can help you expand your CRM capabilities and ensure your software can scale to meet future growth.
  • Analytics and reporting: The software should help you to analyze the large volumes of customer data and convert them into visual insights such as charts. Plus, you should be able to generate customizable reports that present only the important metrics.
  • Mobile access48% of CRM users today utilize their smartphone to access the solution, while 45% use their tablet, reveals a Superoffice article. Therefore, it is essential that the vendor offers iOS and Android apps with core CRM features.

An Innoppl Technologies study indicates that mobile CRM is vital to reach sales targets:

12 recommended CRM platforms for small business

1. Pipedrive

Pipedrive offers an intuitive and neat interface to help you visualize related contacts, tasks, and deals. As its name suggests, Pipedrive is a leading app for designing visual pipelines. Its simple yet robust tools give you clear transparency and visibility across the sales pipeline.

The product’s main goal is to enable you to associate all data on deals and view the next steps. You can start by configuring a pre-built sales pipeline to suit your processes. Plus, you can simply drag and drop items or perform actions with just a few clicks.

To collect web-based leads, you can utilize the Web Forms tools. You can customize the forms to get the information you need and embed them in your website or newsletter. In addition, the app’s wide ranging integration capabilities allow you to import leads from different lists.

You can check messages inside the system as this CRM syncs your email. It integrates with Outlook, Gmail, and leading programs such as Google Maps, Zapier, and MailChimp.

Pipedrive also offers visual reporting tools. Its Live Dashboard displays key metrics such as agent performance, lead volume, and win-loss rate. You can consolidate this data to identify the least and most valuable deals, and your star performers and laggards.

Another highlight is the app’s mobile version that allows you to access your contacts, tasks, and deals from any iOS or Android device. You can also use the mobile app for search, calendar and notes follow-ups, and call tracking.

Unique features of Pipedrive

  • A neat visual sales pipeline with minimalist design and easy-to-access tools
  • Plenty of visual elements in the sales pipeline and dashboard/reporting
  • Highly configurable pipeline to suit your sales process
  • Quick clicks and drag-and-drop tools to execute functions
  • Customizable Web Forms that can be embedded in newsletters and websites for online leads
  • At-a-glance icon beside each deal that shows related schedule, contacts, tasks and other data
  • Activity Scheduler that helps you avoid double bookings
  • Mail Tab syncs your external emails inside the system
  • Configurable list views with bulk editing feature
  • Private and public filters for access to dashboard and reporting
  • Statistics Tab on pipeline connects you to live dashboard
  • Feature-packed iOS and Android apps with calendar syncing and push notifications on top of standard Pipedrive functions
  • Easy integration with third-party solutions via open API

2. HubSpot CRM

HubSpot CRM is one of the best free solutions in the market known for its rich features. The CRM module is part of HubSpot’s sales and marketing suite. HubSpot is known for inbound marketing and you get the benefit of the content and best practices of the HubSpot blog and community that you can utilize to improve web traffic through email, content marketing, social media, and SEO campaigns. In fact, all offerings including the CRM product are designed to enhance your inbound marketing efforts.

The free product includes all the core CRM features such as email marketing tools, social media integration, deals and tasks, lead management, and contact management. You can use this app to effortlessly organize contacts, tasks, and deals, and track them across the sales pipeline.

This free app can easily scale for the needs of large corporations. You can make it more effective by integrating it with HubSpot Marketing Pro and HubSpot Sales Pro solutions.

It is simple to create lists and workflows. In addition, you can add deals, link them to related contacts, tasks, and sales reps, and track their progress via the dashboard.

With a single click, you can also add contact records and log sales activities that automatically update records. Plus, the app gives you an all-round view of contacts as well as your task and communication history on each lead. It also saves LinkedIn information and related company and website details like annual revenues, number of employees, and description.

It is also easy to track emails as the platform notifies you when your emails are opened or clicked on. Plus, it works smoothly with popular mailers such as Gmail and Outlook.

Unique features of HubSpot CRM

  • Free core CRM features with no time limit (organize contacts, manage tasks, track deals, etc.)
  • Free site tracker, call queue, and email templates
  • Free unlimited contacts and users
  • Customize sales pipeline to suit your process
  • Single-click action for new tasks, deals, and sales activities
  • Manage leads with linked contacts, sales activities, and communication in one place
  • Place calls and send emails from the same place where you save customer data and leads
  • Make templates out of your top-performing sales emails with personalization and sharing capabilities
  • Extend CRM functions by using native integration with HubSpot suite and open API
  • Make use of community support to learn and implement effective inbound marketing practices

3. Freshsales

Freshsales offers a unique AI lead scoring engine that provides a rating for the conversion probability of prospects. This can help you to prioritize leads and boost sales. The lead scoring system is based on aggregated prospect’s transactions, tasks, conversations, and touchpoints with you. Based on this integrated data, the app calculates the chances of a deal. This makes it simple to predict wins and losses in your current pool of leads. Plus, you can use the app’s customizable reporting tool to organize contacts, deals, and outcomes into insights.

Freshsales is flexible when it comes to leads. It allows you to follow your intuition and monitor deals across the sales stages. Plus, you can sort, filter, and manually change deals based on recent events. The event tracking feature enables you to look at previous conversations and draft future ones based on your past discussions. Even if you have a high number of leads, you can quickly remember each one’s issues, interests, and specific interactions with you in the past via the event tracker.

Similarly, Freshsales notifies you about important emails. It is also a useful collaboration tool as you can work with teams and send fast and accurate responses to high-value leads. Plus, you don’t need to install any hardware or application to accept calls in the system.

Another highlight is the top rate email campaign tool that enables you to send bulk emails utilizing a personalized template. You can sync your email campaign with your calendar and automate future messages. Plus, you can link your emails with contact records so that you can use related data of the recipients in the context of the email campaign.

Finally, Freshsales offers an open API for integration with third-party apps.

Unique features of Freshsales

  • AI-powered lead scoring system helps you prioritize high-value prospects
  • Fully integrated phone, email marketing, and marketing automation system
  • Native integration with helpdesk app Freshdesk can improve your customer response time and accuracy
  • Auto-profile Enrichment maps social data of leads
  • iPhone/iPad app
  • Single-click phone feature within the solution
  • You can send personalized bulk emails and track open emails and clicks
  • Activity Capture featuring libraries that gather web visitors as contacts and leads, and track their activities on your specific website pages

4. Zoho CRM

Zoho CRM is another free app that offers core CRM features such as contact management, sales force automation, and lead management. The catch is the freemium plan is offered only for teams with up to 10 users. For more users and advanced features, you need to subscribe to the paid packages.

Zoho CRM helps to automate your daily sales and marketing tasks to track sales performance, deals, and customer engagement. It organizes timely follow-ups to enable you to keep high-value prospects engaged. Plus, the solution offers good sales forecasting and tracking features. In addition, the CRM can be accessed on multiple devices and operating systems which offers flexibility to your field reps and remote users. Mobile access is also handy when attending trade shows, sales events, and seminars as you can quickly access the system in the field and enter sales info or customer data.

Zoho CRM enables you to manage accounts in different contexts: from customer buying history, from associated products or demographics, from another linked account, and from a shared database. You can analyze customer data to identify sales opportunities. Plus, the app offers great social media integration capabilities. You can add your leads’ Twitter and Facebook info including their interests and brand mentions. Plus, you can track leads’ social media behavior and habits with keywords. This can help you to draft relevant messages and conversations to engage their attention.

Zoho CRM integrates with popular business solutions such as cloud connectors (OneSaaS, Cloudwork), email apps (Gmail, Outlook), mailers (ConstantConnect, MailChimp), and calendars and task management solutions (Google Calendar and Tasks).

As Zoho CRM is part of the Zoho suite of more than 30 business apps, it offers an extensible environment for all your business processes.

Unique features of Zoho CRM

  • Core CRM features such as social media integration, sales force automation, marketing, tasks, contact management, and lead management
  • Embeddable web forms to capture online leads
  • Limited features with freemium edition for up to 10 users
  • Opportunity Tracking tool consolidates profiles, deal statuses, contact history, etc. to identify repeat sales
  • Dynamic dashboards and reports offer real-time updates on tasks and deals
  • Quickly access all related customer data via Business Card View
  • Add Facebook and Twitter info to your contacts
  • Mobile apps for iOS and Android allow you to access customer data and sales records, place calls, and record voice notes
  • Part of the Zoho suite of more than 30 popular business solutions

5. Insightly

Insightly offers a good balance of price and features for small businesses. Its basic free plan can be used by up to two users for 10 emails per day and 2,500 records. You can use it to get familiar with this CRM tool and then move up to the premium packages later.

The software also offers core CRM functions such as transactions, projects, milestones, notes, emails, profiles, contact details, updates, deals, tasks, conversations and more. You can store all contact and lead details in a secure central database that can be accessed by authorized employees from desktop or mobile device.

In addition, you can set privacy controls for records and create contacts by connecting them with contacts, priorities, and companies. Feed a record into the pipeline as a deal and track its progress. Even if you have lots of deals, you can easily delve deep into each record’s detail to ensure your engagement has context.

With Insightly, you can also create templates for activities for each stage. This enables you to run your pipeline on auto mode till you prioritize a deal and engage the prospect. The advantage is you can separate priority leads that need your attention from regular leads that need standard nurturing.

Insightly is easy to use for small business employees as they can quickly add new users or teams with just a few clicks. Plus, you can automatically assign new leads by individual, teams, or region.

A major highlight is Insightly’s integration with the business analytics app Microsoft Power BI which can help you to derive actionable insights from large amounts of customer data.

Other top features include: email tracking for open emails and clicks, feature-packed iOS and Android apps, and reporting that can be customized by organization, user, pipeline stage, etc.

Unique features of Insightly

  • Free edition for up to 2 users with 5 email templates, 2,500 records, and 200 MB storage
  • Paid pricing starts at an affordable $12/user/month
  • Facebook-style interface that clearly displays an activity feed that you can filter by user or type
  • Clear navigation links to emails, reports, opportunities, projects, contacts, leads, organizations, and tasks
  • Allows you to build an activity set, a template of automated actions for each pipeline stage
  • Integration with Microsoft Power BI enables you to analyze customer data for operable insights

6. Salesforce CRM

Salesforce CRM is a suite of cloud apps designed for on-demand sales, marketing, and support. This software caters to needs of both large enterprises as well as small businesses. Its main advantage is you can use the Salesforce ecosystem for all your CRM processes. This all-in-one solution offers sales management, customer service, marketing automation, and partner relationship management tools.

The small business edition is a bit expensive but offers a comprehensive feature set to manage customer relationships. You can add modules to organize customer accounts, conduct marketing campaigns, track sales leads, and offer after-sales support.

The best part is you can make use of different modules to kick-start your small business CRM. The Salesforce for Outlook module allows synchronization of contacts, tasks, emails, and calendars in both systems. As your lead management grows in complexity, you can upgrade to the small business edition to capture leads, monitor events and deals, handle tasks, and analyze sales performance. This package also offers sales forecasting, reporting, and territory modeling utilizing real-time data to derive insights.

A big benefit is this CRM belongs to the Salesforce cloud architecture, which means it can take care of your enterprise CRM functions and needs. As your sales cycle becomes complex and lead volume grows exponentially, you can smoothly scale to advanced features to create business workflows, layer in call scripts, set up automation and approval processes, and develop in-app tools using the API. Plus, you can extend your CRM effectiveness by integrating this product with other cloud systems such as TeamSupport, Zendesk, FinancialForce ERP, and

Unique features of Salesforce CRM

  • Core CRM functionalities such as partner management, sales data, marketing automation, and lead management
  • Feed First helps you prioritize important key metrics based on your settings
  • Extensible functionalities using the AppExchange
  • Contact management links records to their related social engagement, communications, discussions, and activity history
  • Dashboards and reports offer real-time view of sales team’s discussions for weekly analysis and reporting

7. Nutshell CRM

Nutshell CRM is an ideal starter app for small teams. They can use its features to automate and streamline their sales processes, and track and improve sales reps’ performance. This solution is designed for inbound marketing, but you can also utilize it for cold calling and outreach as its contact management functionality can connect related records to give you the needed context for a pitch. The glitch is this software cannot scale to advanced features.

A major highlight is Nutshell’s social network-like interface in which the feed shows you updates on team activities. You can look up contacts, leads, and deals, post comments on statuses, and send notes to team members. The same window displays the sales pipeline with the number of leads, emails, and activities. Sales reps can easily see new assigned leads from this interface.

For a small business CRM, Nutshell is a bit complicated when it comes to sales tracking. You need to define industries, markets, and territories to link a lead to a product. But after the lead is linked to related products, organization, people, and competitors, it’s simple to track it down the pipeline.

In addition, you can view related records in the contact management section. For instance, it is simple to find out where the lead came from. You can configure the record further by adding fields and notes.

Nutshell CRM stands out for its excellent reporting feature that includes detailed tables, charts, and high-level summaries. You can select from four kinds of templates: team activities, sales comparison, sales forecast, and sales analytics. On top of that, this product boasts top rate importing tools and can be used by an unlimited number of users.

Unique features of Nutshell CRM

  • No caps on records, storage, and user limits
  • Wallboard gives you a quick view on daily and monthly achievements such as top performers and closed deals
  • Highly customizable dashboards and reporting allow you to process only the metrics you want
  • Lumps together potential deals with leads and opportunities
  • Four report templates for sales analytics, comparison, forecast, and team activities

8. amoCRM

amoCRM is a typical lightweight CRM for small business with standard features such as task management, contact management, and lead management. It stands out for its excellent analytics as it can break down the sales pipeline into important performance metrics such as lead count, revenue, and sales reps’ performance. In addition, its lead scoring tools helps you to identify hot prospects.

If you are deluged by a large volume of post-campaign leads, amoCRM should be your choice. The app empowers you to automate and streamline leads. Its Lead Grabbing and Digital Pipeline features enable you to approve incoming leads and requests, before they get automatically fed into the system. Then, you can nurture leads based on priority. The advantage is you get clear visibility across all stages and can focus on next-step tasks.

amoCRM offers communication tools to help you monitor your sales reps. It integrates with Gmail and Outlook, and uses unique tags and custom fields to organize and link contacts and deals. You can set up follow-up alerts for emails and meetings, and the system automatically links calls to a contact or lead. This enables you to keep the context as the lead progresses through the sales pipeline. Finally, you can extend the app’s effectiveness via API and third-party integrations.

Unique features of amoCRM

  • Dedicated communication tool helps you monitor sales reps’ progress and performance
  • Smart notifications can be set up for emails, calls, appointments, and tasks that are easily linked to a contact or lead
  • Instant lead entry using business card scanner, where prospect’s info is quickly entered into the system and linked to related entries
  • Click-to-Call dialing tool can be embedded in your website to enable prospects to contact you easily

9. Base CRM

Base CRM provides small businesses a full feature set that allows them to streamline lead-to-conversion processes. Besides core CRM functions like sales pipeline, lead management, and contact management, the app offers predictive analytics for forecasting and measuring feedback.

Setup is simple as handy tips are offered in the dashboard. When you log in for the first time, you are given a sample data to introduce you to the user interface and its tools.

After getting the hang of the CRM, you’ll find it easy to track sales activities and match them against targets. The sales pipeline allows you to evaluate whether the team is succeeding or falling behind quotas.

The contact management feature is straightforward. You can key in info manually or import a CSV file. Base CRM matches the info with pre-built fields, but you can also map the fields manually by ticking them from a drop-down list. You can label people as a lead or contact and store their details as a record for effortless referencing. Plus, you can filter deals in the sales pipeline based on your metrics such as current volume vs. goal, win vs. loss, etc.

Base CRM stands above the competition because it uses a predictive algorithm. It enables you to set up triggers to get an alert if an email contains negative sentiments. Thus, you can take quick corrective action to avoid losing a deal.

If Base CRM has a drawback, it is the limited third-party integration. But the software has an open API that makes up for this lacuna.

Unique features of Base CRM

  • Base Voice allows you to call or text contacts inside the system; it also records the call and links it with the contact
  • Smoothly integrates with Google Calendar to sync and manage your schedule; Google Calendar details can be accessed from the system and viewed by day, week, or month
  • Predictive analytics facilitates accurate and reliable sales forecasting
  • Machine learning can measure email sentiments for positive or negative comments
  • Push notifications alert managers about deals that are losing traction

10. Apptivo

Apptivo is a suite of business apps that includes a CRM module. You can integrate non-CRM functions to build an end-to-end solution. Aside from standard features for managing leads, contacts, tasks, and the sales pipeline, you can utilize enterprise-grade modules for field service management, supply chain management, and project management.

The plain truth is Apptivo is a bit complex for small business users. The system can be hard to master, but once you get the hang of it you’ll appreciate its comprehensive CRM features. In addition, you can configure the processes to suit your needs.

Apptivo’s designers know that CRM cannot be isolated from other important business processes. Establishing profitable customer relationships also involves ensuring product quality, delivering orders on time, and being available at least during working hours. With this idea in mind, Apptivo wants you to integrate inventory, estimates, invoicing, and shipping tracking into your core CRM.

The major advantage is Apptivo can easily scale to meet growing demand which means you can count on it as your business expands in the future.

A notable feature is the News Feed filter which allows you to track team activities. You can view the contacts being served on the same stream and drill down to details. The app leads you to the right module related to the contact.

Apptivo also offers robust iOS and Android apps that you can configure to use only essential features on your mobile device. Finally, the CRM integrates seamlessly with more than 50 business systems.

Unique features of Apptivo

  • Comprehensive small business CRM with supply chain, field service, and project management features
  • Powerful free account includes helpdesk, basic order tracking, estimates, and invoicing
  • Personal User dashboard combines different modules on one interface to put common system features within reach
  • Project management tools include templates, estimates, invoicing, and Gantt charts
  • Supply chain management tools include tracking supplier, inventory, and shipping data

11. Bitrix24

Bitrix24 has established a reputation as a reliable one-stop CRM and collaboration solution. It functions as a social intranet that centralizes your collaboration and communication processes, including CRM tasks. As a CRM app, it connects you with the sales team in real time and enables you to track contacts, leads, and deals across a clear pipeline. This product offers a wide range of features, but small business users need not worry as they can watch introductory videos to get familiar with them.

There is a free edition available for up to 12 users and with 5 GB storage. This package offers core CRM tools as well as document and task management features.

Bitrix24’s social intranet boasts a familiar Facebook-like interface, but it goes beyond newsfeed. For instance, you can combine templated and customized workflows for your requirements. This helps you to log conversations and contacts, record calls, sync emails, issue invoices, and delegate leads to the right reps.

In addition, the product offers web forms to capture online leads. The forms are easily configurable and you can add fields such as company, leads, invoice, and quote. You can utilize the drag-and-drop designer to give your forms your chosen color and text style.

Finally, Bitrix24 integrates smoothly other popular business tools such as Gmail, Basecamp, Zoho CRM, and MailChimp.  

Unique features of Bitrix24

  • Free for up to 12 users with standard CRM features, document management, and task management
  • Provides a suite of communication and collaboration tools such as employee management, calendar, project management, in-system call, and IM chats
  • Time management features for task planner, daily work reports, and check-ins and outs
  • Intranet services for tasks, shared files, wiki, photo gallery, and internal conversations
  • Document library supports user permissions, versioning, and WebDAV
  • Highly configurable web forms to collect online leads

12. Capsule CRM

Capsule CRM is a basic platform for small business. You can use its simple interface for basic tasks such as organizing contacts, managing leads, and identifying opportunities.

The surprise element is case management. This feature allows you to create cases that link related emails, tracks, and contacts. Tracks are processes that enable you to streamline opportunities and nurture them into deals.

Capsule CRM is an ideal CRM for small businesses with simple needs. A highlight is its social management feature that allows you to track leads’ social accounts and link them with related contacts, emails, tags, records, and deals. You can also organize records into lists and attach schedules to them to get alerts for urgent appointments and tasks, and priority leads.

Unique features of Capsule CRM

  • Offers basic CRM functions such as sales pipeline, contact management, schedules, and tasks
  • Integrates with Google Apps and leading third-party solutions such as helpdesk, mailers, telephony, time trackers, and VoIP.
  • Allows you to calculate the probability of winning a lead, a metric that guides your sales pipeline analysis
  • Dashboard provides a summary of opportunities
  • Configurable filters in the sales pipeline to glean specified metrics

About Author

Kate Stephens is a young and creative graphic designer as well as the mastermind behind her own startup company aimed at providing customers with reliable and often cheaper alternatives to various popular brands and products from all possible markets.

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